When I arrived for my Cow Cart experience here in Cambodia and they handed me the special hat and scarf that goes with the whole experience, I, of course, immediately felt like Karen Blixen and had to fight back the words, ‘I once had a house in Arfrika.’ Although I would very much like to one day say ‘I once had a house in Siem Reap’
I love this country so passionately that to leave it in a few days will cause me the same physical pain it always produces. I laugh so much here. Not only with family but with the Cambodian people too, who are just fabulous. I’m lucky to have family living here but even so it is easy to make friends here and there are some wonderful places to stay which do not charge the earth.
The Cow Cart experience alone was hysterical. A wonderful enterprise set up by Cambodian students. What a great idea. As we prepared in my step son’s flat to leave, the rain just fell down. From the window we could see the children running out into the downpour to enjoy the monsoon while all we could think was, ‘It would piss down now wouldn’t it?’ Typical Brits off to do a Cow Cart ride through the heart of Cambodia in a monsoon, made me smile. Every time I choose to do something unusual here, a monsoon comes. Memories of my Bamboo train experience came flooding back and I immediately turned to Andrew who I saw had a rain mac. Why is it he always comes prepared?
‘They have some at Apsara market,’ says my daughter in law, helpfully.
Apsara market is the equivalent to the local coop, in case you were wondering.
I look at Andrew pleadingly. Well, I don’t have any head covering or a jacket at least he has a rain mac already. He gives me that despairing look, tells me to stop scratching my bites (of which I have thousands, at least it feels like thousands)
‘Okay, I’ll go and get one,’ he says.
Ten minutes later he returns with a bright pink rain mac. I don’t like to complain. I look at my daughter in law.
‘I hope this isn’t like a pink rag to a cow,’ I say, which sets her off laughing hysterically before we even leave.
The Tuk tuk has arrived and we all climb in. Within seconds I am scratching like mad. The plastic from the rain mac is making me so hot that every bite I have goes insane.
‘Stop scratching,’ says Andrew.
‘Take an anti-histamine,’ says my stepson. I don’t like to say I have well overdosed on anti-histamines now.
The tuk tuk ride to the farm where we are to meet the cow cart is pleasant and the rain stops. But just because the rain has stopped doesn’t mean it won’t start again and of course just thirty minutes of a monsoon means everywhere is flooded. The tuk tuk stops suddenly.
‘You walk,’ says the driver.
Of course we have no idea where we actually have to walk to, but the frightening conclusion we come to is that is must be the only dirt road that we can see which is now water is logged. I’m wearing sandals so the thought of negotiating this dirt track is not terribly appealing. But of course we do it, arriving at the Cow Cart village with muddy feet but very dry bodies, if not itchy (in my case). We are shown our carts and wonder of wonders the sun comes out. Our adventure begins. If you ever do visit Cambodia and I can’t recommend it enough, you will never regret it. I never want to return home but if you do then you must do the cow cart experience for an experience it truly is. If you are anything like us you will have great fun. In our case because the weather was so bad one of our cow carts couldn’t get down the dirt track but no one told us this. At least if they did we didn’t fully understand it. So when all five of us tried to climb into one cart you can imagine the fear in our eyes.
‘You do two hour trip?’ the girl asked.
God, I’ll be scratching myself to bits, I think, and in these cramped conditions I won’t have to worry about DVT on the flight home, I’ll most likely get it on the cow cart. Not to mention my daughter in law who was already complaining about cramp in her foot where I was sitting on it. I had visions of them amputating it after two hours of this. Off we go, or should I say off we bumped. Twice we nearly lost Andrew, not to mention my womb and my stepson’s hat. We giggled so much that I’m surprised we didn’t all fall off. A few minutes later we arrive to where another cow cart waits and we all sigh with relief. We will have one each. We alight and wander off to the rice wine making factory, picture below.
and just make it before the rain pours again.
Obviously we all had a good swig of the wine first. Believe me I felt we needed it. A Cow Cart experience may be better slightly pissed I thought. But then Cook luck set in and soon the sun began to shine and we climbed into our separate carts. This is no easy feat let me tell you, especially after a glass of rice wine, or should I say plastic mug. First we have to jump up into the cart backwards. I barely do things that well when I am going forward so you can imagine me trying to jump up backwards onto a cow cart, then again maybe you don’t want to imagine it… Once I’m up I have to dangle my legs over and remove my sandals so the mud doesn’t dirty the cart. Finally, one big heave backwards and I am as intimate with the cow cart driver as one can be. Andrew then follows and I push my legs down the side of him and off we go with bump and a strange noise from the driver. I seriously thought the guy had a bad case of wind until I realised his odd burping sounds were instructions to the cows. I don’t know what I imagined this trip would be like but I have to say it was an experience of a lifetime and the beauty of Cambodia is breath taking. There was one scary moment when a bike got in our way and we had to veer into the water. But amazingly the cart stayed upright. We stopped at a crematorium and Monastery and had a break for a drink (this time water) before travelling through the villages and countryside. Once the cart tried to leave without me almost sending me sprawling into the mud as I was about to jump on, much to Andrew’s amusement. As it got late we went to where the families fish and have family time. It was the most intimate I have been with the Cambodian people in all my visits here. Our two hour trip lasted much longer and by the time we got back to the farm I could barely feel my bum. But it was worth every minute as you can see.
We thanked our Cow Cart hosts and paid and were taken back down the dirt road to meet our Tuk Tuk driver who was going to drive us back to my stepson’s apartment. The journey was like tuk tuk Grand Prix. We were thrown all over the place. Meanwhile James my stepson is asking,
‘Do you want a takeaway Indian when we get back?’
‘Yes,’ I say in a shaky voice as we go over a huge bump and my handbag jumps up and whacks me in the chin.
‘The usual butter chicken,’ he asks, obviously more used to bumpy tuk tuks than me.
I grab the loose handle hanging from the top of the tuk tuk as we bounce around a corner and I almost slide out. My daughter in law laughs hysterically as James asks do we want poppadum’s.
‘Why are you asking me this now?’ I ask scrambling to grab my camera before it smashes to the floor as we take a corner on one wheel (a tuk tuk only has two)
‘I know what you women are like. I may not get your attention later.’
Like he’s getting it now. I say this to him only to have him fall about laughing. Or maybe he just fell about because the tuk tuk went over another bump.
I ask you, men!
Go to Cambodia and go on a Cow Cart and preferably get a tuk tuk home like ours. Life is fun, and here you can have the best fun of your life. Enjoy the smiling people for they are the best company ever.
You can find The Cow Cart experience here Facebook here.