Stinky, wonderful Bangkok is the exception, but generally if I’m in South East Asia and travelling in a town for pleasure, I use open vehicles rather than enclosed, air-conditioned vehicles.
There’s something about the smell of South East Asia that I love, particularly in rainy season: a mix of mud, moist vegetation, decomposing garbage and car fumes, cowshit and coriander, all in that sauna-like humidity. You might mock, but that smell defines the region for me.
So, to travel round to the temples, I’ve chartered a tuk-tuk for the last couple of days. My driver is named Nhan (pronounced “Nyen” or ”Nee-en”), and the hotel use him to pick up guests from the airport, so I figured that if they trust him, I can. He’s seems a good guy; he’s genuinely enthusiastic about the temples and artefacts, he drives safely, he’s on time, he quotes sensible prices and he’s pretty mellow about not always trying to sell me stuff.
Sure, he’s tried; he understood my disinclination to go to the shooting range, where you buy a live cow and rent an AK47 to kill it with (it’s apparently very popular with Americans, so I just said, “I’m not American” and he accepted that). He probably thinks I’m mad that I didn’t accept his offer of taking me for a “boom-boom massage”, particularly when he’d already gleaned that my wife is in a different country. I can’t blame him for trying, though; in a country where the average annual income is hundreds rather than thousands of dollars, commerce is commerce.
Nhan’s quite a character. He giggles to himself and points every time we pass western woman with huge breasts, which is most of them in comparison to the very petite Cambodian women. It’s tricky not to warm someone who chuckles with glee at the sight of enormous ladybumps, and you’d think the novelty would have worn off by now – there’s lots of tourists in Siem Reap.
Another great thing about Nhan is his motorcycle helmet. I liked that he had one and wore it, as any man who actually wears a helmet cares about his own personal safety, and as I’m on a small vehicle being towed behind him, it means that I too will hopefully benefit from that care.
While staring at the back of it as we bumped down some entertainingly-surfaced track, I noticed that it was branded ”Space Crown”. I immediately felt massive respect for the anonymous marketing manager in some South-East Asian helmet factory, for he had done to me what every soap-powder advertiser dreams of: he’d made the mundane exotic.
I’d been thinking of boring motorcycle helmets, but those two words ”Space Crown” made me think of exotic, heavily-armoured royal headgear worn by warring intergalactic emperors. I tried to think if I could devise a similarly exciting brand-name that might make me a crash helmet millionaire on my return to the UK.
All I could come up with was ”The James Bond Bionic Time-Travel Tiara” which should be even more thrilling, but I feel its potency is diluted by all those syllables.