Cambodia part 1 – Phnom Penh and Kampot

It all started rather rocky at the border crossing.  Me and one other Dutch guy were the only foreigners on the bus and we both needed to get visa’s on arrival, which meant it took longer than the others.  Firstly they wouldn’t accept my $50 note because apparently it’s an old note and they only use new notes in Cambodia?  Then they tried to overcharge us each $5 but we ended up just paying the $30 fee and I had to borrow $5 from the Dutch guy because I only had $25 other than the $50 note they wouldn’t accept.  Then the bus left and parked 2km up the road and they tried to get us to pay $1 each to get a scooter there but we flat out refused and so had to walk there.  Clearly this is a scam they pull to try get a few extra dollars off foreigners.  I could have just paid it but it’s principle of the matter – if people just give in then they keep doing it.  Fortunately the rest of the trip was calm and uneventful.


When we got to Phnom Penh I walked with the Dutch guy to a petrol station which luckily accepted my $50 note, so I could pay him back the fiver.  Then he helped show me where my hostel was because stupidly I hadn’t downloaded the Cambodia section of Maps.Me, an app everyone uses in South East Asia to navigate because it works offline.  I didn’t do anything that night as it was late by then so I just went to sleep early.


My hostel was a bit crap so the next day I booked into another really cool hostel called Luvely Jubbly which has a stupid name but an amazing swimming pool!  Turns out it was the same hostel the dutch guy was staying at!  Some other guests said they were going to watch a Cambodian kick-boxing match for $10 and including unlimited free beer, so after swimming and chilling by the pool for a few hours I

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joined them.  We all piled into tuk-tuks and drove off around town for about an hour drinking beer and talking crap.  Finally we arrived at the kickboxing match and all went into this huge stadium to watch.  It was a Thai team vs the local team and we all took a few bets with each other, me backing the local team.  It started well and looked like Cambodia was winning but in the end the Thai team won, so I lost a dollar.  I definitely drank well over $10 worth of beer though!

Back at the hostel my friend Shenaz from Vang Vieng had arrived as I had told her earlier I was staying there.  We all went out to dinner together with the Dutch guy and his friend, and some of the people from the kickboxing and I ate frog for the first time, which is surprisingly good!  Very much like chicken but a bit better.


In the morning we got up early as we had arranged a tour of The Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum.  We started at the Genocide Museum which was pretty interesting, if a little bit depressing.  It’s set in the actual S21 prison where the Khmer Rouge imprisoned and tortured most of the Cambodian population under the dictatorship of Polpot, and still has all the original torture devices and cells. 

The Killings Fields, which are about 45 minutes out of town, is where the prisoners were sent to die after being tortured.  In the centre is a tall square building full of the skulls and bones they excavated from the mass graves that surround it.  Pretty bleak stuff but I guess it’s important to remember history and not repeat it.


Back at the hostel I chilled by the pool and chatted to some other guests until evening when me, Shenaz, the dutch guy and his friend all went down to the river to get some food at the street market.  Phnom Penh has a surprisingly beautiful riverside promenade that reminded me of Seapoint in Cape Town, and we sat on the grass and had some vegetable fried rice before heading to a nearby hostel and bar that has free beer.

 

The next day I went for breakfast with Shenaz and then packed up and started walking towards the road out of town so I could hitch hike to Kampot.  I couldn’t get a lift out of town so I ended up paying $2 for a motorbike taxi to the airport where the road splits off to Kampot.  I made a little sign and a girl on a scooter picked me up and took me to the bus stop but I didn’t want to get a bus so I kept hitching.  A guy sitting on a scooter nearby said he can take me some of the way.  We got chatting and he asked why I didn’t take a bus.  I told him I had no money so he offered to pay for a local taxi for me, but I tried refusing.  I said I would rather just hitch but he wouldn’t take no for an answer and he waved me down a taxi and gave me $10.  The taxi was only $3.50 and I tried to get him to take the change but he refused that too.  I felt bad because I didn’t need the money but now I had already told him I had no money so what could I do.  The kindness of strangers never fails to amaze me.


So I headed off in this local taxi which is a very strange thing for foreigners to do and everyone was looking at me weirdly.  We had to change taxi’s about 4 times and it took almost 3 hours, but finally they dropped me off in Kampot and I wandered off towards the backpacker area.  I bumped into some Geordie’s who told me there was a spare bed at their hostel so I followed them there and checked in. 

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After showering I walked down to the riverside to watch the sunset and wandered onto a boat just as it was leaving to do a sunset cruise.  I had some food and a beer and watched a beautiful sunset.  When it got dark the boat stopped under some trees that were full of fireflies and we watched them flying around with a huge sky full of stars in the background.  As we were heading back to the pier some girls sitting nearby started chatting to me.  Turns out they were German so I got to practice some of the German that I learnt last year and they invited me to join them and their friends for dinner.

Towards midnight they said they were heading to bed so I went back my hostel and got chatting to the girl working the bar.  After closing we headed out on her very old but awesome motorbike to get another drink at a bar on the river before heading home.


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The next day I rented a bicycle and cycled to Arcadia which is an amazing hostel on the river with a bunch of rope swings and waterslides.  I ended up drinking free beer for most of the day on a floating, shaded raft with the owners and some other staff and guests.  One of the owners, Timmy, was leaving the next day to go back to Australia so they were having a farewell party for him.   I also went down the huge slide a few times, which flings you tumbling through the air into the river.  Towards evening I bumped into Jimmy again and we sang some songs along with this guy who plays guitar very well, and then had a few more drinks before I had to head home.  It was fun cycling back drunk at midnight and fortunately the roads were deserted, but by the time I got back my hostel was all locked up and I hadn’t booked another night so I ended up sleeping on a mattress I found in an abandoned construction site.


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The next day I collected some of my washing, bought some rope to tie up my hammock and headed off to hitch hike to Sihanoukville.   I had to walk quite a long way in the boiling heat and I found some cardboard to make a sign but it didn’t look like anyone was stopping.  After walking for about 2 hours I stopped for lunch in a local roadside restaurant and had some really good grilled chicken and rice.  Eventually two guys in a pickup truck with a boat engine on the back stopped.  The one guy could speak fairly decent English so we chatted about the usual – where I’ve been travelling and where I’m from.  They never ceased to be amazed that I’m a white guy from Africa, it’s funny.  As is becoming quite common, he also bought me a drink.  They weren’t going all the way to Sihanoukville but very close, and after they dropped me off I ended up getting a taxi by mistake because I thought the guy was giving me a free lift.  When we arrived in Sihanoukville he wanted $2 but I only had about £1.25, and luckily he didn’t seem to mind.  $2 would have been too much anyway for that short distance.  And then I headed down to a place called Otres Beach, which is a whole other crazy story…

 

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