Monday, 17 October 2011

A long journey for a lake, Banlung, 24-25 April 2011

It's dark, the air rushing past my head is warm and full of flying insects. I'm wearing my sunglasses to protect my eyes, but it means that I can't see a thing. Between the driver and I is Nicky. All three of us are squeezed on this tiny 125cc motorcycle and Tom is riding next to us with our bags. The road is nicely paved, leads out from the centre of Banlung and eventually reaches the Vietnamese border. Of course we are not going that far. Nicky had booked us some beds in an eco-lodge a couple of kilometres out of Banlung. The street lights disappeared and the stars brightened in the sky above.

The town centre had long disappeared and we were now cruising in silence. The motorcycle lights struggled to illuminate the road ahead. Tom's motorcycle pulled off the road in front of us onto a gravel driveway entrance and we pulled up beside them. “Is this it?” The gate was closed. Initially I thought the motorcycle drivers were trying to fool us by bringing us to a closed place so they could take us to their alternative hotel instead. We hoped off the motorcycles and inspected closer. The Cambodian riders warned us to be careful as it was dark, so I retrieved my wind up torch from my bag and lighted the way. There was a sign on the gate to prove that we were in the right place but having looked through the gate, we saw no lights nor life.

The three of us stood there for a moment in disbelief.  The motorcycle engines had been cut off and darkness enveloped around us as the symphony of crickets and insects buzzing and clicking filled the air.  How could this journey become any more aggravating!?  Nicky had booked this place the previous day on the internet and had been assured that they had a 24 hour reception.  By the looks of it, the reception hadn't been open for a long time.  Our shouts and pleads to open up went unheard.  Nicky had enough and grabbed my wind up torch and climbed over the fence to the disbelief of the motorcycle riders who warned him to be careful of animals.  Tom and I stood watching through the gate as the light from the torch grew dim and disappeared.  Nicky was on his own.  

The minutes passed slowly by as we waited for Nicky's return.  We held on to a hope that the day's events may just turn around into a positive and the gates would open to a paradise beyond.  In the distance an intermittent whirring sound could be heard, I looked through the gate and could see a white light flickering and growing stronger as it got closer.  It was Nicky winding the torch to keep it powered.  He was alone and a little bit angry.  I looked over at Tom in anticipation of a barrage of Fs but there was only hushed remarks, however, I could tell that internally he was visualising BBTs (Baby Bashing Trees).  We had to get out of there before someone got hurt, before the anger boiled up and started spilling over the edges of his self control.  

Banlung - Main Street
Luckily, the motorcycle riders knew of a perfect hotel that we could stay in for the night so Nicky, Tom and I hopped back on the bikes and headed back towards Banlung.  The motorcycle with Tom on it had disappeared behind us.  I was a little concerned not for his safety, but for the motorcycle rider's.  Nicky and I waited for him at the Pink Hotel for around five minutes uncertain of their fate.  We were shown a room, quite a long room with two double beds and a massive bathroom that could fit a football team in.  We had decided that we should just go for the room as it was far too late and we'd been on the uncomfortable road for far too long to care anymore. 

By the time we got downstairs Tom had just pulled up into the parking lot.  Apparently they had run out of fuel.   Half way back.  Of course, it turned out that the motorcycle riders were very much linked to this hotel by blood.  Once they started bellowing for their Mum who was this short, friendly looking lady who came downstairs to cook us something to eat just before we headed off to bed.

CROAK!  What the hell is that?  I though as a load croak echoed the other side of the door and woke me from my sleep.  The way the hallway echoed and amplified the croak temporarily freaked me out a little but I was too tired to have an issue with falling back to sleep and dreaming of the good old days lying comfortably in my upper bunk on the Trans-Siberian train as it chugged through the white deserted Siberian plateau.  Comfortably warm, listening to the Russians joke and laugh whilst eating and drinking.  Even though Yekaterinburg to Irkutsk took 3 days, it now seems like a walk in the park compared to the trip from Siem Reap to Banlung….  I just hope this volcanic lake we came to see is worth all the hassle!

The next morning we grabbed our bags and checked out of the Pink Hotel in search of the Lake View Lodge. The dust from the road filled the warm, stale air as we walked in the general direction of the lodge. The streets were largely empty apart from a few stalls selling drinks and snacks. The locals smiled as we passed by and were helpful in our bid to find were we wanted to get to. The lodge was indeed by the lake and we were greeted by the manager, a friendly guy who showed us to our beds, Nicky and Tom were in a private twin and I was in a five bed dormitory.

We had arranged with the manager three motorcycle drivers to take us to the volcanic lake that afternoon. It's mad to think back at how concerned I was at the thought of getting on the back of some crazy South East Asian's motorbike in Hanoi to now, where it now seems like everyday life. We arrived at the lake early afternoon just after the midday heat had been subdued slightly. This was our last day in Cambodia and all we wanted to do was relax by the lake and have a refreshing swim in the 700,000 year old Yeak Laom volcanic lake. I had been dying to get into some water for a swim ever since leaving Sihanoukville. In a way it was worth the journey, the water was beautifully refreshing and we spent a good couple of hours jumping in, swimming around and forgetting about the previous days journey.

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