Cambodia, p2

Written by on February 15, 2013 in Asia, General with 1 Comment

We arrived at the bus station in the scruffy center of Sihanoukville just after dawn and caught a tuk tuk about 4kms out of town to the beautiful Otres Beach, thanks to a tip from the cool Spanish chicas I’d met in Johannesburg. Muchas gracias Laura y Ginny!  Our driver dropped us at the wrong guest house, so I went on a scouting mission and found a place with 2 bungalows available right on the beach for $25/night. Sold!  We quickly changed into swimsuits and claimed our spots on lounge chairs on the gorgeous and nearly empty stretch of white sand where we spent the entire day soaking up the sun.

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There was no need to move from our chair, other than to cool off in the water, as anything you could want/need seemed to appear at just the right time.  Care for a snack?  Our new friend Hannah came by every couple hours with fresh fruit (on her head)! and was happy to slice up a mixture of the sweetest pineapple, papaya, mangos and/or bananas for about a dollar.

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Want a massage?  There was no shortage of ladies passing by that were more than happy to give you one for about $3.  Need a manicure or pedicure?  Also about $3.  Who needs to go to a beauty salon – we had one right here on the beach!

We ended up having lunch and dinner at Chez Papou, the French restaurant attached to our bungalows. Lazy and amazing day and sunset, which was exactly what the doctor ordered after Angkor Wat and overnight bus ride.
We woke up pretty early the next day and took a long walk down the deserted beach to see if there were some more remote bungalows.  Just gorgeous!

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After working up an appetite, we tried the place next door for breakfast and then settled back into our beach chairs for the duration of the afternoon until we had to say a sad farewell to Vix, who had to head to Phnom Penh to catch her flight back to NYC.  So sad to see her leave!  But so happy she was able to fly so far to hang with me for the holidays.  Thanks again!  Missing you long time!

Her taxi was kind enough to drop Liz and I in town near Serendipity Beach so we could check in with Scuba Nation to get kitted up for our liveaboard dive trip leaving the next morning.  We had dinner at one of a dozen similar barbecue places on the beach in papasan chairs a few meters from the ocean.  You could tell this was more of a party beach as there was competing music blaring from several random bars up and down the stretch, and every few bars we passed were offering free cocktails.  Surprisingly, neither of us were up for it as we had another very early morning the next day.

Last year Liz had come to Thailand to do her Open Water course and we were both excited to finally dive together.  Cambodia is not known for its scuba diving, but we sought out the best possible option, which was to go on liveaboard dive boat to an island called Koh Tang, which was too far to dive in just one day.  And, she got a screaming deal to get her Advanced Open Water certification done here, so we figured, why not?  Over the next couple days we did 4 dives plus a night dive. The first few dives were pretty ordinary.  The only thing extraordinary were the size of the spikes on the sea urchins.  OMG – some were 2 feet long.  Glad I didn’t accidentally step on one of those!  Explosion reef was good, the rest pretty ordinary. Nice to be out on the boat though.

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After a couple of long days on the boat, we decided to try to head straight to a little riverside town called Kampot, however we couldn’t get taxi that night, so we checked into the nearest hotel, which was steps from the beach and our dive shop. We had dinner with a couple of the guys from the dive boat and turned in early once again.

The taxi to Kampot didn’t take long and soon enough we had checked in to a twin room with an ensuite bathroom at the Blissful Guesthouse (which was not so blissful) for a whopping $7/night and found a tuk tuk driver to take us out into the gorgeous countryside to check out and clamber down through the pitch black temple cave called Phnom Chhnork, with the help of our new friend…and his flashlight!

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One thing I really love about Cambodia is that it seems like every kid under the age of 6 will wave at you and flash a gigantic smile every time you wave or sometimes even look at them.  It’s like they are soooo excited to see you…it’s awesome and so sweet.

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Our tuk tuk drove us back to town and dropped riverside where we walked for a bit and and settled on drinks at Rikitikitavi, a cute bar with happy hour specials where we found a great table to watch the sunset.

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We ended up having dinner there, too, and then headed back to the guesthouse to join their Wednesday night Texas hold ’em poker tournament. 3 hours later my K-10 lost to a J-4 in heads up play when my Belgian opponent caught runner runner 4’s on the turn and river. Dammit!! Oh well… with $0.75 beers and a $5 buy-in, I was still content and turned in for the night.

Ned the tuk tuk driver picked us up for the hour long bumpy and dusty ride to Kep, a cute seaside town that is a weekend retreat close enough to Phnom Penh and also known for its crab.

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We had heard that Rabbit Island had the best beaches in the area, so we hopped on a ferry to spend the day soaking in more sunshine and enjoying the peaceful and rustic setting.

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It was hot and we soon gave in to temptation and forked over $5 for a blissful massage on tables a few meters from the sea. Between the massage and the sea lapping gently at the shore, I was probably the most relaxed I’ve been on the trip in awhile. Too bad we had to cut the afternoon short and head back to kep as we had to get to Phnom Penh that night and our ride was leaving from kampot at 4pm sharp. We did have time to indulge in some crab, which were picked live straight out of cages  in the sea and boiled in a big pot nearby.

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A lady helped us crack them open and we dug in. Delicious! Too bad we hadn’t brought more cash and there was no ATM in Kep, or we would’ve bought more.

We had an uneventful 2 hour drive to Phnom Penh, where we checked into the gorgeous Blue LimeHotel, a boutique hotel I found online.  Another “splash out” at $50/night was a nice reward after the $7 guesthouse in Kampot. By the time we were showered and feeling clean, it was already 9p, so many restaurants were closing. Our hotel told us to check out a place called Malis, so we jumped  in a tuk tuk to check it out. Amazing!  It was the most expensive restaurant we’d eaten at in the last few weeks, but we didn’t care. $25 each for a fantastic meal and 2 glasses of wine apiece…fine by me.  Definitely a flashpacker day! We were too full to go anywhere else, so grabbed a bottle of wine from a shop near or hotel and retreated home to watch a movie and take it easy for the night.

The courtyard by the pool made for a beautiful setting for breakfast.

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I almost wish we could have stayed another day to just enjoy the pool!

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But, we were in Phnom Penh for a reason, and met our tuk tuk driver to head out to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, a harrowing and heart-breaking place otherwise known as the Killing Fields.  The capital city was dusty and dirty and our driver made a stop to buy us our own cute pink face masks – so sweet of him!

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We took the audio tour and needed some time to regroup after learning more about the shocking recent history of how the Khmer Rouge killed 3 million Cambodians just over 30 years ago (nearly one-third of the entire country’s population!).  So tragic!   This is from the memorial stupa at the Killing Fields that houses the bones and ragged clothes found in the several mass graves in the area.

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As if that wasn’t enough horror for one day, our tuk tuk drove us over to the Genocide Museum, aka Tuol Sleng, formerly Security Office 21. S21 was created on orders from Pol Pot as a detention facility, which was where the Khmer Rouge interrogated, tortured and killed detainees after forcing them to confess to crimes they did not commit.  A quote by Pol Pot that stuck in my head…”It’s better to kill an innocent by mistake than to spare an enemy by mistake”.  Here was the English translation of a sign explaining the “rules” for the prisoners.

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I still don’t understand how they were able to get away with this…how the world stood by and let this happen?!?  The museums don’t address this.  I never learned about this in history class.  Definitely need to read to find out more.  What is the most shocking to me is that there were virtually no people held responsible, and the Khmer Rouge still holds several high ranking positions in the Cambodian government today. WTF?!?

After just a small dose of Cambodia’s recent cruel history, it amazes me even more how genuinely happy and smiley the people here are.  Must different than the Vietnamese.  They are so poor, but yet seem much happier.

I’m not going to go into my views on the mostly gross older western men walking around with young Cambodian prostitutes as I’m sure that’d be obvious.  So sad, especially as it’s so common and signs like these are on your hotel room doors.

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Liz and I flew back to Ho Chi Minh City for one more night together before she had to fly back to San Francisco.  Another sad goodbye!  Thanks again for coming so far – I had a blast!  🙂

Liz had written down a list of funny “Cambodianisms” that she noticed as unique to Cambodia that those of you who have been here should relate to, and I’m going to steal to finish off this blog post:

“Ok $1”
“No like, no buy”
“Pinky promise”
The women wear pajamas all day
They honk when they pass cars or motorbikes
Everyone is selling something
Hammock time
Everything is sold and handed to you in a plastic bag
“Good luck to you”
Karaoke tv in place of a rear view mirror as our taxi drives us to Phnom Penh
Hour long tuk tuk rides
Weak cocktails
“Same same but different”
$100 bills from ATM machines
Being served by men wearing only a towel
Angry birds obsessions
Game playing on iPhones/iPads
No over night guests (prostitutes) allowed
Kids that want to be President or Prime Minister
Being called “lady” or “Madame”
Gasoline being sold out of large plastic coke bottles
Using every inch of the road
Cows and chickens eat garbage
Lazy dogs
Stopping for gas after the bus or tuk tuk picks you up
Pit stops!
5 on a motorbike!!
Crosswalk cowboy vs strong guy…slow walk to fast run when light is about to change


 

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  1. Herb Glatter says:

    Impossible to understand Khmer Rouge atrocities.

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