"Tuk-Tuk, Tuk-Tuk? Mister want a Tuk-Tuk, taxi, or Motobike?" asked a chorus of Cambodians lounging on a side street in Phnom Penh the capitol of Cambodia. It was week six of a 6 month trip through Southeast Asia and my wife Jaime and I were really settling into a good travel rhythm. Sometimes it can take a little while before the rhythm is found.
We had both given up good jobs, she as a teacher and mine at Marmot as the Warranty Manager, put all our belongings in storage, packed for an adventure - oh and then we got married in September.
Within seconds of stepping out of our guesthouse and onto the sidewalk three or four smiling tuk-tuk drivers were inquiring about our mode of transport. With a wave of the hand, a friendly smile and "Akun" (thank you) we kept our stride down the street. The tuk-tuk is a real workhorse in most Asian cities as it is a hybrid of sorts, part motorcycle on the front end with an attached carriage at the rear. It was a love-hate relationship with the Tuk-tuk depending on the amount of traffic you found yourself in.
One maddening tuk-tuk trip stuck in Bangkok's smoggy rush hour traffic was enough for us as we nearly coughed up a lung, careening through diesel trucks and buses. However in Phnom Penh with only 1 million inhabitants (compared to 10 million in Bangkok!) the whole tuk-tuk experience was more like a luxury when free of the traffic and smog. Most of the time we wanted to stretch our legs and walk amongst the food stands wafting with strong smells of fish sauce, ginger, and then a few unrecognizable scents.
Our most harrowing mode of transport so far had to be the 150 kilometer taxi ride from the Thai-Cambodian border town of Poipet to Siem Reap to visit the world heritage site Angkor Wat which dates back to the 6th century. The preferred vehicle here was the Toyota Camry and soon enough we found out why. Our average ground speed was 20km/hr as we were jostled, thrown, shaken back and forth as our expert driver negotiated craters, huge ditches and jarring rocks like technical single track. The red clay road was dusty at first until the sky began to open up with a deluge of water.
With miles and miles of lush green rice fields extending in every direction we pulled to the side to refuel by hand out of old coke bottles filled with petrol. We were warned to stay on the "road" since there were still reports of mines exploding as farmers tried to regain their land from the days when the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia. Despite the mass genocide of nearly 2 million Cambodians and 30 years of war the people that we met were so full of happiness and warmth towards us. After six hours of being worked over by the "road" and feeling like every internal organ had been shaken and stirred we were relieved to arrive in Siem Reap and can truly attest to the power of the Camry, but most of all our driver and his deft skills at the wheel.