New Year's Eve in Cambodia
2006-01-24 11:13:04 (link)
We woke up early on December 31, 2005. Dan and I skipped hygiene and breakfast and checked out of the “not so” Royal Highness Hotel—in the middle of Phnom Penh—a few minutes before 7 am. My friend Neil’s apartment was next door and was the meeting point before we started the trip up the mountain.
It was only Dan and my second day in Cambodia. The day before, we had arrived at the Phnom Penh International Airport in the early afternoon from Bangkok, and slept for most of the day and night. Now, presumably rested, we were ready to party. Our ever-resourceful host, Neil, had managed to haggle us a pickup truck complete with a driver the previous day for $120 U.S. dollars. Divided by the number of (paying) riders, it would be $12 per person. Not bad, one might say, not knowing the truck was a shit-awful piece of crap. There were two benches in the in the back covered by a tin roof, that was far too short for anyone over 5 feet tall. The inside wasn’t much more comfortable, but it didn’t matter because the “girls” got to sit there. Prudes.
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Our destination was an abandoned casino and hotel at the top of a mountain in Bokor. A relic from Cambodia’s days as a “colony” of France, the casino had been the main attraction of a French-built, mountaintop resort in the early 20th century. For the last five or six years, however, it played host to an annual New Year’s Eve party/rave.
Traveling with us that day was a scattering of foreigners residing in Phnom Penh, along with a few extras. Brandon—a well-traveled, funny Canadian; Katie—a somewhat hazy, but kind Brit; Zach—20 years old, Canadian and undoubtedly the most mature of the bunch; Ash—a quiet, tatted up Australian; and Barb—his quiet, modestly-tatted up girlfriend. Katie’s extremely British mom, who looked to be approaching her sixties, came along as well, as did Neil’s kid sister, Natalie, who was visiting from the U.S.
By 8:00 am, we were off. The first order of business for the Phnom Penh crew (note: this doesn’t include Leif and Dan, drug police of Japan) was rolling spliffs while traveling at 80 k/hr and being bounced around like a bunch of people being bounced around in a shit-poor pickup truck. Not surprisingly—living in a country where rolling spliffs can be and is done at anytime and place (restaurants, dentist’s office etc.)—they were quite skillful. Our driver needed to take an annoyingly elaborate route to get out of Phnom Penh to avoid the police. Oh, there are no “tickets” given out in Phnom Penh, but we (THEY! * cough* ) would have had to give the police some money. There would be none of that though.
Only minutes outside of Phnom Penh, the Cambodian countryside takes over and overwhelms with the simplistic beauty of its surroundings and people. Children running around naked while parents cook, clean, converse and the animals roam freely. Then I started paying attention to what our driver was doing. He had seemed so mild-mannered, but he was actually a fucking nutter. I don’t know how fast we were going, but it felt like way too much for the dirt road we were on. My friend Neil describes the rules of the road in Cambodia as “big fish, little fish.” The “biggest fish” are the SUVs, but on the Cambodian country roads, a pick-up truck—even if it’s in shocking shape—qualifies. So we were passing all of the little harmless motorbikes, and tuk-tuks and nearly hitting all of them. We routinely came inches from hitting oncoming traffic, as we attempted ludicrous passes over the “median” (halfway point of the dirt road). I quickly forgot about the beauty of my surroundings, and just as quickly began picturing the various ways that we would all certainly die on this shit pick-up truck. I definitely wouldn’t have been surprised if we had gotten in a fantastic car crash with an oncoming pick-up truck loaded with 40 Cambodians, but I figured my obsessing wouldn’t change anything.
So, we reached Kampot and ate a nice western lunch. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to poop after eating my burger. (Nudge, nudge, this will end up being important later in this story…that is why I included it…remember this detail…I wasn’t able to poop!) A few kilometers after Kampot, we began our climb up the mountain, but not before buying our party/rave supplies. A bunch of the Phnom Penh crowd had come well equipped for the rave. In other words, they all had many and varying pills to take so that they could dance better, and feel light on their feet, among other things. I chose not to do that, but I still needed to replicate the effect. Whiskey had been my muse of choice in college, though it had been a while since we’d gotten together, but I figured what the hell! Also bought some “muscle wine,” which is made of deer antlers among other things. According to its slogan, though, it makes you able to “walk longer, and be stronger.” So this muscle wine could only be a good thing, I surmised.
So, up the mountain we went. Neil had warned us earlier that the road up the mountain was not in good repair, and he wasn’t lying. This was not a road. This had elements of a road. For example, there weren’t any big fucking trees in the middle of this “road.” So it wasn’t like we were driving up a mountain without a path. In fact, let’s just call it a path. It was like a suggestion of how to get up the mountain, and we decided to take it at its word.
It was 30 kilometers to the top, and after 15 k (in just under 2 hours) of slamming through jagged, broken concrete, huge rocks and “whatever else,” we were in agony. Sitting on the benches in the back was no longer a good option as doing so saw us bounced around like a bunch of dumb foreigners bouncing around in a shit-terrible Cambodian pick up truck. Sitting in the truck was impossible, because, remember, the dumb girls had laid claim hours ago. So, we all began switching positions every five minutes or so to evenly distribute the pain. Ash went on top of the truck. Up to 4 and 5 hung out the back. 2 sprawled out on the benches. It didn’t help that much, but it was better than just taking it. The pain, I mean.
We reached the summit at 5 pm, and the location really was breathtaking. (Whether it was worth the trip up is debatable, but still…nice view!). We could see the ocean, and with the sun setting, I felt like we were on top of a mountain or something.
Also breathtaking, was the sheer amount of Cambodian people that were already fall-down drunk and roasting pigs. I also noticed that more than a few were carrying hand guns, and a few even had AKs—a sight that past partying, unfortunately, hadn’t quite prepared me for.
Rather than reflect on the mixing of booze, automatic weapons and Cambodian riff raff, we explored. We walked in, out and around the hotel—I couldn’t help thinking of “The Shining,”—and proceeded to get our drink on. First, though, I went to poop on a rock, cause there were no bathrooms. (Remember, the foreshadowing earlier? I wasn’t able to poop, and I told you it’d be important later on! See what I did there? Foreshadowing, people!)
After pooping, I started with the muscle wine. It tasted like deer antler must taste, but it was making me stronger. Dan and I traded swigs like a pair of ancient, worldly, cannibal explorers. I began to wonder when people would start taking pills. “Is there a ‘right’ time to take them?” “What’s the Ecstasy protocol?” “Maybe they already took it?” “I’d better keep drinking so I can figure this out!”
The trouble was I wasn’t getting drunk. “It better not be one of those nights!” I thought angrily to myself. “Gotta keep drinking like the answer to the problem’s at the bottle’s bottom. Only way to do it!” Inspired by the voices in my head, I continued to attack the muscle wine.
The first DJ really sucked. He was playing crap, world music. Also, the muscle wine surprisingly wasn’t causing me to break out in dance. The best way to promote internationalizing at the local level of Cambodia, I decided, would be through stumbling half-drunk over to a group of them and shooting the shit. To that end, Zach and I stumbled half-drunk over to a group of Cambodian men around 10 pm and began to shoot the shit.
It was actually going really well at first. One of them spoke passable English, and our English was still passable at that juncture too, so we were able to talk a bit. They offered us crab, which we ate. They offered us drink, which we sipped. We talked about Cambodia, America, Canada and guns (they all were holding). We laughed. We understood one another. Well, actually most of them sat and stared at Zach (he’s taller than them) and I (my ruggedly handsome looks, no doubt) while we clumsily ate our crab (I have no idea how to eat crab) and talked to the passable English guy. Still, it was cool. Until, I started to feel sick. Really, really sick. Was it the muscle wine? The crab? Am I dying?
We abandoned our internationalizing at the local level early, and went back to the casino. Well, Zach did. I went to find a nice dry spot of grass to pass out in at 10:45 pm. I woke up at 11:40 pm and almost barfed. Some dumb guy was spitting ridiculous game to some poor Cambodian girl, oblivious both to how stupid he sounded and to me lying passed out in the grass below him. I got up, and really did barf. Probably ruined that guy’s game, but still…What a lame-O! Not like me, who may have nearly passed out before midnight on New Year’s Eve, but who never spits the weak game! (Am I right ladies? Ha. Thought so!)
I found Dan—hadn’t seen him since we triumphantly cashed the muscle wine—around midnight and we celebrated the arrival of 2006, which came complete with AK fire. Those crazy fuckers were shooting their guns! “Someone’s gonna get shot,” we both remarked to each other.
I still felt like shit, but there was no way I would go out like this. Like a sucker. Like a punk. I rallied. I rallied like the stand up guy I am. I am a party beast! I own this casino! I will dance you all into the fucking ground! Kiss my dancing shoes, you fucks! Hahahahahahahaha!!!!
I passed out again at 12:40 am. In a tent that wasn’t mine. Fucking Cambodian crab! Fucking internationalization!
The next day, the gang traveled back down the evil mountain path, and back to Phnom Penh. A combination of high, exhausted, sick and grumpy. On a serious note, they would also find out from the local newspaper, that 3 people had been shot at the previous night’s party. 2 of those 3 people died. None of them witnessed the shootings, and surprisingly to Leif and Dan, it didn’t seem to shock anyone.
by Leif Griffin
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