Day 44 and 45: Aranya Prathet to Battambang

We got to Aranya Prathet, a scam filled transit town on the Thai side of the border, at about 5pm – there was no fucking way we were going through Poi Pet at night time so we found some accommodation. All the gaudy, brightly coloured guesthouses offering cheap rooms and potentially sexy massages were booked out so we got a room in the only ‘fancy’ hotel in town, Aran Mermaid Hotel. Alice described it like this:

“This is what Aliens would build if they were given the description of a fancy hotel but they run out money.”

We had two options:
1. Just the room – $23 (the cheapest one of course)
2. The room and an all you can eat breakfast buffet – $28

I have this weird relationship with eating and stinginess. If something is free – it doesn’t matter if it’s rehydrated goat turd and I’ve already vomited from overeating – I will eat it. The same goes for finishing meals. I find it incredibly hard to leave anything on my plate, doesn’t matter how awful it tastes or how full I am, I can’t handle wasting food.

So when it comes to all you can eat buffets I see an opportunity for exploitation. I didn’t matter how shit the hotel breakfast was, I needed to eat enough to not only cover the $5 meal cost but to ensure I was so flabbersizably full that I wouldn’t require any lunch – thus, in a round about way, reducing the cost of the hotel room I was so annoyed about.
This is what I ended up eating:
1st course: a bowl of pork congee with fresh ginger, chilli and sugar
2nd: fish porridge with vinegar, fresh ginger and chilli
3rd: fried noodles with egg and chicken with some orange juice
4th: fried rice with crab, carrot and mushrooms
5th: chicken rice with fresh cucumber
6th: cucumber soup
7th: omelette with capsicum, luncheon meat and onion with a coffee
8th: fried egg and butter on toast with a glass of milk
9th: green pea soup
10th: bowl of syrupy ginger broth
11th: Fruit – pineapple, watermelon, rockmelon and paw paw

“I was expecting armageddon.” – Alice on Poi Pet.

I had spent the morning prepping Alice. Like a father with a young daughter at the horizon of a zombie apocalypse, making sure she knew what kind of hell was approaching and how to deal with it.

There was no apocalypse. Poi Pet was nothing like how I remember. What was once the Earth’s crustiest most shit covered section of rectum is now a relatively easy and stress free border-crossing. The only vestige of it’s inglorious past is the sand, there’s still fuck loads of sand but all the pimps, conmen and smugglers are gone. Now they have trees, free shuttle busses and government employees who drift around only to offer free advice to confused travellers. The poor guy who latched onto us must of thought I was such a paranoid freak, it took me so long to trust him.

I could hardly believe how easy it was. At first I thought maybe my memory had betrayed me – when I first came to Poi Pet I was only 19; I probably saw one conman then immediately shrank into a sheltered cocoon of mistrust and self-pity. But our helper guy reassured me. He said since 2008 they’ve been planting trees, getting rid of con-men and putting in helpful stuff like him.

I was strangely disappointed. Some things are so shit they become interesting, like North Korea or fermented fish guts, Poi Pet is one of those things. Although I happily missed out on all the anxiety and stress I also missed out on sharing a unique bonding experience with Alice. Poi Pet is still shit but it’s just not shit enough to be interesting anymore.

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Hanging out with Daisy is like being a willing participant to one of those evangelical sermons they hold in stadiums. You become imbued with a strange energy that propels you to say and do silly things, your limbs and voice box flail like cordial children and your cheeks tire from smiling. You come out of it feeling tired, happy and hopeful about life.

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Daisy lives in beautiful terrace house in Battambong, an intermittently hectic city full of statues, pharmacies and coffee. She’s been living here for two and half years working for CCT – an NGO that gives Cambodian kids futures*. We’re going to spend a week here hanging out with her and her work mates, eating, maybe get some massages and doing pretty much nothing else.

* Here’s their website http://www.cambodianchildrenstrust.org and this is what Australia story said the founder http://www.abc.net.au/austory/specials/thehouseoftara/default.htm

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