I recently published my first fictional book entitled ‘Drip By Drip’, a thriller set in Cambodia, and I will be reproducing some excerpts on my websites over the coming weeks.
The book follows a middle-aged English couple Bill & Rachel Brown as they embark on a dream holiday, only to find themselves embroiled with a ruthless criminal gang.
This first excerpt describes their emotions as they exit Phnom Penh Airport into the early morning heat and dust of the Cambodian capital, their first trip outside Europe for a quarter of a century.
The thrill that the pair felt as they touched down in Phnom Penh was palpable. Bill punched the air with delight, whilst Rachel shed a joyful, nostalgic tear.
They had anticipated the moment for nearly two months. In truth they had been longing for it for a lot longer.
The Indonesian capital Jakarta had been their entry point all those years before and Bill had wanted the initial experience to be pretty much ‘same, same’.
As soon as they exited the airport, memories came flooding back of what it felt like to be in that part of the world.
The late summer early morning heat warmed their faces and the evocative dust of Asia entered their nostrils, intoxicating them both and instantly transporting them back to simpler days.
Love rose up in their bodies, not just for each other, but also for Cambodia and all she represented.
Bill could not help himself, picking up Rachel and holding her airborne in a warm embrace. “We’re back!”
“Yes, darling we are, isn’t it simply wonderful!?”
Rachel looked remarkably similar to how she had been many years before. Still a petite size 10, wearing her trademark blue jeans and with her blonde hair scraped back into a ponytail, her skin still teenager fresh.
She even had her original rucksack from the ’80s as did Bill of course, no point throwing away something that still had plenty of use in it. Bill had expanded a little over the years, but still looked at least ten years younger than he actually was.
Their two daughters had politely refused the offer to borrow their vintage rucksacks for their own trip. Emma had actually joked that by rights they belonged in the British Museum, not on her shoulders.
Whatever, Bill and Rachel were glad to be reunited with their old buddies. The faded luggage just added to their sense of nostalgia and the notion that they would be re-enacting a spirit of adventure.
Shunning all taxi drivers and touts, they crossed the street to where a row of tuk-tuk drivers waited hopefully.
“Just because we can afford a little more luxury than before, doesn’t mean to say we have to buy it,” Bill had asserted.
For once Rachel utterly agreed with Bill’s money saving scheme.
Synonymous with South East Asia, tuk-tuks are similar to a horse and cart only with a motorised contraption resembling a motorbike replacing nature’s beast. Slower than taxis, they have always nevertheless been hugely popular with travellers.
You can get a taxi anywhere in the world, but step into a tuk-tuk and you know you have arrived somewhere magical.
You feel at one with your location as opposed to being cocooned in an air-conditioned saloon. Your open carriage invites the sounds, the smells and the sights to come and sit right up there next to you and slap you jovially in the face.
Occasionally vendors of various varieties of fruit or paper handkerchiefs virtually do climb in with you as you wait at one of the few traffic lights in town.
Being full of barely contained excitement was exactly what the riveted couple experienced right then as they took in the scenes before them.
The highway code of Cambodia did not appear to be written anywhere, but everybody knew it. Drive at a sensible speed, approach junctions with caution and just merge without hitting anybody.
“I bloody love it here,” exclaimed Bill as he politely shooed away a young girl selling oranges.
Rachel just smiled and rested her head on her husband’s shoulder. She felt peace, tranquility, excitement, love and anticipation in equal measure, feeling that she could combust from all that emotion at any minute and questioning herself mentally as to why it had taken so long to come back to the region.
As their driver skillfully weaved in and out of traffic, Cambodian life played out in front of the enthralled couple like a movie reel.
Impoverished locals sat in their wooden crate homes in the damp grime of the cracked and puddle strewn pavement and chatted happily to each other; some kids played a game tossing a rubber-band ball against a wall so that it bounced back into a target area they had drawn in the dirt; stall holders cooked up stews and rice dishes, other vendors sold weird looking vegetables and squashes, or exotic looking flowers and lotus pods that resembled green shower heads, to be offered up to Buddha.
Traffic policemen stood in the road directing a variety of transportation, seemingly being totally ignored but presumably having a positive effect in a way known only to themselves and the road users; chickens scratched around in the gutter searching for anything edible; a huge pig sniffed the air and grunted.
Bill and Rachel lapped it up. Holding on to their hats, they drank in the scenes around them, both with huge grins on their faces.
They had agreed not to speak lest they consume an unwanted flying snack, however words were not necessary. They knew exactly what each other was thinking. They were so incredibly happy to be there. Neither had really realised quite how much they missed Asia, but both knew it at that moment.
Thoughts turned to potential future trips in Asia, to the likes of Burma, Bhutan and The Philippines. So much to catch up with.
Such was their enjoyment of their open-air ride, they were almost sorry when they arrived at the Blue Mango Hotel, their home for the next four nights.
You can see a few photos from my own visit to the Royal Palace of Cambodia here.