‘Don’t eat fruit that can’t be peeled’, said the guidebooks.
‘Don’t eat citrus fruit because they inject them with water’, said a self-proclaimed expert.
‘Whatever you do, don’t hang your bag on the back of the toilet door because they will almost certainly reach over and nab it while your knickers are still down’, said another.
Armed with this wisdom and advisory distrust, we set off for Cambodia. I’d love to say that as soon as we got there we realised it was all nonsense, but our guide added to the general feeling of anxiousness at the border. We mustn’t let our bags out of our sight, he explained as he loaded them into a cart, exchanging words with the man about to pull it. People plant illegal substances in them and it’s the death penalty here for those offences, he calmly elaborated as we watched our belongings disappear over the border without us. He presumed everyone had their valuables on them? I was pleased to inform him that I had only taken worthless items with me and therefore it didn’t matter whether I ever saw my bag again complete with clothes, anti-malarials and the travel journal I had been keeping for the past year.
Luckily, on the other side, things started to improve. Our bags awaited us with everything still inside. Although the heat was crazy and the road equally so, the views were astonishing. Some of our group were feeling a little jaded (those damn oranges no doubt), but all managed to lift their heads from their paper bag muzzles to absorb the magical land ahead. The fields skirting the road were emerald green as if they had some secret water supply that evaded the dust-clad locals. Temples climbed out of the horizon in vibrant gold and orange, simmering like a mirage behind the heat haze. Bicycles swung about the ramshackle van like dolphins playing in the wake of a boat, averaging four bare-headed people to each set of precarious wheels, shirts flapping in the petrol cloud from the exhaust.
That evening, I ate Amok from a hollowed coconut and sipped a cold Angkor beer as local children peeped at us and giggled shyly from behind the counter. On the way I had met a boy of about six who called himself Spiderboy for no apparent reason, and who had tried to sell me postcards of the temple ruins but hadn’t run off with my bag. He had no accomplice. I was ready to quash the advice that I had been given in favour of judging things for myself. I looked up from my coconut husk- ‘Where’s Julie?’ I inquired. ‘Bad orange’, I was informed. Ok, so there was one piece of advice I would stick to.