Today we are leaving Bangkok (translates as land connected with water: Bang- meeting, Kok- circle of life or karma wheel or this is what I gather from what York tells us, I didn’t get a chance to verify it). Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, the land of freedom, where people are free to choose. Previously known as Siam, the name was changed in 1934. Most follow Buddhism, Thai style, as York would put it. Most of the buildings have a shrine in the front garden where Brahma resides, with an adjacent smaller one in the same colour and style which houses the ancestors, or rather the miniature versions. Food and water is placed as offerings everyday and incense lit.
Around 12 million people live or work in this city. Those who live in the city use the metro system or public transport. It is an expensive place to live and hence most people chose to live outside the city and commute everyday. They have no choice but to drive to work. This clogs up the streets during the working week. Motorbikes are a popular form of transport and there are even motorbike taxis. Tuk Tuk taxis are also popular. They weave their way past the traffic build ups and is the quickest way to get around in the city. Despite the large numbers and haphazard driving, bike accidents are very rare.
Those who commute to the city and back try to avoid the traffic by leaving home early. This results in long days at work which leaves them little time to cook. Street food vendors are a common sight. They set up stalls early in the morning and carry on till late in the evening.
Yesterday was a national holiday as it was their late King’s second death anniversary. King Rama IX ascended the throne when he was nineteen years old and ruled the country for seventy years. One of the most beloved Kings to rule Thailand. An engineer by profession, he used his palace and land to research and implement new innovations. York listed the King’s achievements. A very forward thinking person who strived to better his kingdom and subjects and they reciprocated by loving him unconditionally.
We get on the highway and start our long coach trip to the border with Cambodia. It’s time to say goodbye to York, the Frangipani plants which line the highway, the fish farms we see on the drive, the tamarind trees, the fruit of which I didn’t get a chance to savour, the land of lady boys and the friendly inhabitants. We didn’t get a chance to try out the Thai massages. Maybe next time.
At the border, we go through the control centre and walk over to the other side. Both sides of the border are busy with shops and stalls, however the stark contrast hits you as you step on to the ‘Kingdom of Cambodia’ soil. Beggars, a blind boy, a woman selling petrol to a guy on a bike from glass bottles and men pulling carts, with rubbish strewn around the place, the poverty is glaring.
We get on the coach after handing over our passports to our new guide, Buthy. He gives it to the visa guy, who takes it away with the completed forms and visa to get it stamped. The coach is colourfully decorated inside with patterned gaudy purple covers for the seats, matching curtains and bobbled drapes. We have a very long drive ahead to our hotel.
Buthy tells us that the population of Cambodia in total is just 15 million and 95% are Buddhists and Hindus. In the third century a Cambodian King married a princess from south India which resulted in the mixing of religions. Rest are Muslims and Christians. The road is a single lane with not much opportunities to overtake. Wooden huts, houses and shops line the road. Occasionally we see brick and concreted gated houses. As we get closer to the city the sizes and densities of the houses increase. Overgrown grass, shrubs and trees fill in the gaps. The lanes leading from the main road to the houses and side streets are not paved. Red earth and gravel mark the paths. Farming is the main source of income and rice is the major produce. It has just gone six in the evening and night has fallen. There are no street lights. A single lamp lights the front of each shop.
We reach our destination, Battambang, the second largest city in the country and our very nice hotel in which we are staying just for tonight.