After the horrors of the previous day we decided to lighten things up a little with a visit to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Santuary - a shelter for rescued animals. After several near misses in out tuk-tuk on the way there we were a little disappointed with our first sight of the sanctuary - it appeared deserted, depressing and underfunded,almost completely run by kids.
Some kids sprang from nowhere, offering to be our guides, and led us the entrance, where a pregnant deer with a broken leg was grazing. Tugging at the heartstrings, the kids offered to sell us some bananas and coconuts as food for the animals. I thought this was supposed to be our fun day, with none of the sadness of the previous one? I didn't think I could take another tear-jerking day of grief.
It is bad enough seeing all the human victims of landmines, without meeting all the animal ones too. Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, with an estimated 6 million unexploded landmines still littering the landscape.
"Never EVER stray from the path" , warned the Lonely Planet. I hadn't even thought of mines as I'd gone into the bushes to answer the call of nature the previous day.
The sanctuary turned out to be better than expected, even if the streetkids DID relieve us of precious dollars every time we came to another orphaned or maimed animal. I didn't realise that bears ate coconuts,and stared wide-eyed as the children tossed in our overpriced purchases. The baby bears tore them open and drank the juice before devouring white flesh. (the coconut's not mine, fortunately)
And so the tour continued..my favourite animals were the gibbons, swinging like gymnasts with ridiculously long arms from their many poles.
When we came to the footless baby elephant, I began to smell a rat. Once again,we were asked for cash, this time for a new foot for Chouk. Bereft and now skint too, we politely declined. When I asked what had happened to her foot,the keeper said she had got stuck in a snare. Her foot is probably an ashtray now, or maybe an umbrella stand.
After fleecing us of any "spare" cash (as if any traveller has spare money knocking about) we sat down to lunch with our driver. Seeing as tourists pay around 3 times what a local would pay for food, we decided to let Sambath order. Big mistake.
The "food" arrived. Thinking it was beef in black bean sauce, I began serving it onto my plate. Then, on closer inspection, I realised it was actually the bony knuckles and kneecaps of chicken. Oblivious to my disgust,Sambath began tossing these knuckles into his mouth, crunching bones and cartilage before spitting the remains back out.Gross.When I saw a whole chickens foot, complete with claws, on the plate I had to subtley put my lunch down and turn away, pretending I was full after only a few mouthfuls of rice.
The sadness of Phnom Penh, combined with the dodgy meals and an abundance of lone middle-aged Western men with questionable motives for visiting the city, meant that we were eager to leave for Sihanoukville...
Unfortunately the Vietnamese Immigration Department would only issue us with a 15-day visa for Vietnam, bought for us through our hotel reception for 30 dollars each. This meant that we had to leave immediately for Saigon, since the clock was ticking on our visa, yet we hadn't even visited Sihanoukville yet. Any dreams of beach life were banished as we packed our bags and hurridly left for Saigon in Vietnam, now known as Ho Chi Minh City. Another bustling city. Oh well,we'd just have to squeeze some beach action in later....