Well, New Year has come and gone and I think This month I was looking forward to recounting the tale of how I met the king of Cambodia. Unfortunately I didn’t meet the king of Cambodia and, as I assume the majority of the people on this planet have never met the king of Cambodia, telling of an adventure where I failed to meet his royal highness isn’t really much of a story.
I was however in the ‘Kingdom of Wonder’ recently. Ostensibly to hook up with a couple of friends and the king, or whatnot, but also to see whether I’d fancy living there. A number of conversations I’ve had recently have turned to where one would move to in Asia if it continues to go tits-up here. Cambodia, with its seemingly easy visas, lack of ridiculous restrictions and fresh opportunities is the most obvious option.
Cambodia is similar to Thailand in a number of respects. A big, bustling capital city with an impressive waterfront; a second city to the north with plenty of things to see and do; there are beaches to the south where one can get into a spot of bother with jet ski hire shops and there is a whole new language for an immigrant like me to mangle. Actually, come to think of it, I may have just described most countries in this part of the world.
If I was going to exchange Chiang Mai for Cambodia I suppose the obvious choice would be the northwestern city of Siem Reap.
I was last in the gateway to the temples of Angkor some years ago, and blooming heck how it has changed. I arrived in the town centre in the small hours and after a slight altercation with a tuk tuk driver over how, even if Cambodia had the inflation rate of Zimbabwe, the agreed fare of two dollars could not possibly have increased to 25 dollars a few streets later. I could have explained that I was almost a guest of the king, but thought better of it, paid five and was on my way.
Siem Reap was still moving to the rhythm of bars and clubs when I was dropped off. As my tuk tuk driver disappeared in a cloud of dust, presumably to swat up on a bit or John Maynard Keynes economic theory, I popped into a bar for a post — midnight bottle of beer. This is a definite plus in Cambodia. Booze is cheap and readily available. A drinkable bottle of plonk can be bought in any mini-mart without having to sell ones scooter first. However, even though the lack of prohibition in Cambodia is a big selling point there is something intriguing about watching the powers that be using Chiang Mai as a test bed for their latest, somewhat bizarre plans to ‘tackle’ the consumption of alcohol – I sort of relish the challenge they are laying down.
My trip to Siem Reap also taught me something a bit disappointing. It appears I have become a less tolerant, less adventurous, traveller over the years, and this saddens me. My jaw no longer drops at the sight of a pig on the back of a motorbike. The phrase ‘let’s explore some temples today?’ is now met with a less than enthusiastic response from me. I now find that being offered a tuk tuk every seven seconds irritating — Cambodia lacks many things, but a shortage of tuk tuks is not one of them — and am ashamed at some of the things I said in reply to the constant offers of ‘boom–boom sexy–time with young boy’ from ubiquitous curb crawling teenagers.
I very rarely get offered boom-boom sexy–time with anything in Chiang Mai, for which I am usually quite relieved. And the tuk tuk drivers here have mostly given up on asking if I want to go and play with a tiger or visit a pretty temple on a hill, for which I am also thankful.
I like Cambodia. It’s exciting. It’s vibrant. It’s moving forward. But I love Chiang Mai. I fell in love with the Rose of the North as soon as I arrived many years ago. I love the people here, the generally laissez faire attitude of everyone going about their business while I’m allowed to go about mine without any mention of boom boom sexy time – usually. It is genuinely beautiful here. I like being able to see mountains, I adore the slightly smug feeling of pride when first time visitors exclaim that I live in paradise. It has also taken me years to create my own risible version of the Thai language, and I’m not sure I have the heart to start anew demolishing the Khmer one.
So despite all the befuddling actions being instituted by them that cannot be mentioned, I intend to call Chiang Mai my home for as long as it will have me.
I fully intend to return to Cambodia to meet the monarch. Especially as when I mentioned to the esteemed editor of the magazine you are reading that I had almost met the king, she casually replied “Oh, he gave me a massage once”. Now that’s a story.