Pochentong Airport, Phnom Penh

Tuesday, November 11
A Travel Day

There's not too much to report today. The next stop on our itinerary is Vientiane, the capital of Laos, but there are no flights directly from Phnom Penh until Friday. So we must take a circuitous route - from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, to Bangkok and Udon Thani, all by air; then, a minibus to the Thai border town of Nong Khai. We'd spend the night there before crossing into Laos and making the short drive to Vientiane.

The flights all went smoothly, though the four-hour layovers got old rather quickly. But the day got a bit more interesting when we drove into Nong Khai at 8pm. We were heading to The Meeting Place, a bar and guesthouse run by an Aussie expat named Alan Patterson. Alan arranges visas for Laos, so I had emailed him ahead of time in order to have our paperwork ready when we got there. The Meeting Place was a dusty old teak house with a large bar downstairs and bedrooms upstairs. Near the bar we found Alan and his Thai wife, an Aussie couple who had stopped by for dinner, and a toothless, very drunk Brit named Joe. Joe was hitting on the Aussie woman, but her husband ignored it almost as well as she did. A large brown boxer sat on the floor next to a much smaller chestnut poodle.

Alan's wife offered us accommodations upstairs in a large, cobwebbed room with two hard beds, a rusty fan and screened windows that barely kept out the mosquitoes. At 150 baht - about four dollars - it was better than wandering around Nong Khai in search of a better place. I returned downstairs as the Aussie couple was heading out. That meant Joe, the cockney drunk, would have only us to talk to. He immediately began to teach Susanne some Thai by demonstrating how he would hit on a Thai woman. I was a bit concerned about this guy at first, but it was pretty obvious that old Joe was totally harmless. "Iz shee ya woife?" he asked me. "Yes," I lied, hoping this would have some implications. "I'm jus' goin'ta show 'er 'ow I'd 'it on a Pretty Thai Lady," he said, his head swaying around while he tried to sustain eye contact with me. "I jus' don't wannta get punched in me noze by you forrit." "I won't punch you," I responded, "but maybe she will." Joe then took Susanne by the hand and said in an innocent voice, "Khun cheu arai? Khun cheu arai?" Susanne looked at me for translation. "What's your name, he asked." "Oh... Susanne."

This went back and forth as Joe asked Susanne about where she was from and if she liked Thailand. Despite our attempts to convince him we were ready to go to bed, Joe insisted on telling his life story, which went something like this. He was 61 years old and hated living in Britain. A long time ago, his wife died, so he and a friend left the UK to wander South America for many years. One day back in England, his friend suggested they move to Thailand and open a bar. Joe wanted to go back to Peru instead. So they decided to settle it with a game of cards. Joe lost, so he suggested they try a coin toss instead. He lost again. Darts. Lost. Snooker. Lost. So they moved to Thailand, bought a bar and married two local girls.

Joe was doing well and was happy with his young wife, but his friend drank constantly and fooled around with prostitutes, so they ran out of money and the bar went bust. Joe and his wife moved on and made several attempts at starting a sod business. "I tried North English grass, Kentucky bluegrass, you name it," he said. "But none of the grass would grow. You know why? 'Cause it doesn't f--ckin' grow in Thailand, that's why!" Once he realized his strategic error, Joe started a rubber tree farm. He's kept at it, and now he has around 3000 trees. I couldn't exactly picture this guy growing rubber for a living, but at least his story was colorful enough for 15 minutes' worth of entertainment.

Just as we got ready to head up for bed, a middle aged man with a crewcut, tatooed arms and fatigues began to bang on the locked gate. "Where's Alan? That Aussie bastard," he hissed at us. "Wake him up. Tell him it's Bob from Canada. He owes me a thousand baht." Joe started hollering "Alan! Alan!" prompting Alan to holler back through his bedroom door and eventually get out of bed. Joe then turned to Bob and said, "Bob from Canada, were you in the military?" Bob scowled back, "F--ck no!," as if it should be obvious by his fatigues and tats that he's a dyed-in-the-wool civilian. We took this as our cue to go to bed, so we headed upstairs and crashed in our house of cobwebs. The dogs barked and howled most of the night.