I totally dug Thailand. Truly. But Cambodia…now Cambodia is something special (minus all these itty bitty ants that keep biting my feet as I type this). It is off the beaten path, beautiful, exotic, and *my favorite part* I still feel like I am discovering something.
Filled with mystical ancient temples, ample undeveloped coastline, picturesque countryside, a history that is both turbulent and inspiring and natives whose smiles can make your heart melt, I have already extended my time in this Southeast Asian country of 15 million so that I may further discover its riches (again, which doesn’t include these d*mn ants. Egads.)
To get to Cambodia from the island of Ko Samet was a boat and 3 mini-bus rides. Six hours later I was straddling the border between Thailand and Cambodia. A skinny Khmer sidekick, that I somehow picked up in line to get my Thai departure stamp, made the entry process into the Kingdom of Cambodia seamless (he also gets the photo credit for the above pic). His aid was likely motived by the knowledge that there was a supremely strong chance he was going to be extracting $50 from me afterwards to have a private driver take me to my first destination in this country, the beach town of Sihanoukville. After some negotiating, he guessed right.
A little fuzzy for sure…and I am not just talking about the picture. These border control agents’ interpretation of the visa fee to enter Cambodia was a bit fuzzy as well. While most entry points into the country do charge the legitimate $30 visa fee, I chose the one where the guys in charge were more loosey-goosey (or you could read that as corrupt). Forty dollars was my fee…$37 for my visa and $3 because I didn’t have a passport picture to attach to my application. I could have sat there for 30 minutes and protested it, but it wouldn’t have gotten me far. And in this Buddhist country that believes in karma and reincarnation, my one hope is that in their next life they will come back as the ants that currently plague the floor around my feet (hence easily squashable).
Next it was off to Sihanoukville.
My first room in Cambodia, and it had a view…into the bathroom!
During the 4 hour drive through the mountainous jungles of the Koh Kong province in route to Sihounkanville, I became completely charmed by Cambodia. The vast lush rice fields dotted with conical hat covered workers, myriads of stilted houses with chicken and children running beneath them, elephant crossing signs, herds of cattle that blocked the roadway and smiling towns people with missing or blackened teeth were nothing short of enchanting to witness.
Less enchanting and more bizarre, was my first room in the country. I arrived to town a day earlier than my reservations at a more elegant beach resort, so I chose to stay in town and along a popular backpacker and expat street called Serendipity Road. While my room didn’t have a view onto the neighboring beach, I still could look out onto water if I had chosen to fill my bathtub.
Given my view into the bathroom from my bed, this sign at my hotel room door might have been giving mixed messages.
Dinner at Sandan.
To further add to my immediate Cambodian love affair was my restaurant choice that first evening in town at Sandan. What made it unique and downright delightful was its concept and purpose. Sandan is part of an NGO that trains youth from disadvantaged backgrounds (many former street children) as waiters and kitchen staff – an opportunity they may not get otherwise. Gracious and adorable young servers did their best to make sure all my needs were met (the watchful eye of their teacher always a few feet away) and the chefs-in-training who created the menu and put forth the “creative Cambodian” food did such a superb job that they had me trumpeting from Facebook that Cambodian food is better than Thai!
The fresh shrimp spring rolls at Sandan served in the lovely garden terrace…a haven in Sihanoukville.
This was the evolution of my room’s view once I got to my second accommodation in Sihanoukville, Ren Resort.
The beach at Ren Resort….the sky was ominous my entire visit.
I quickly learned that monsoon season in Cambodia is no joke. While my first and second day in Sihanoukville were just dotted with downpours, the third day was a full on demonstration of a true monsoon rain day. The skies opened and ceased to close. All. Day. Long.
What to do at the beach when it is raining? Watch the Olympics!
And since I am in Asia, that meant a lot of ping pong, badminton and weight lifting (I can tell you the difference between “snatch” and “clean and jerk” weight lifting with relative authority now).
….and I took Instagram photos!
Part of my Sandan restaurant experience was also shopping in its attached boutique that showcased handicrafts made by the parents of the “street kids.” The funds from their endeavors are used to put their kids back into the education system and keep them safe. Their work was top notch, and I procured handwoven cotton scarves like this one and beautiful handbags made from saris and Thai fabrics for the shop.
…and I reflected on how different life in Cambodia is from back home.
The above photo is of a lovely young Cambodian woman named, Mao. I met her my first full day in Sihanoukville at a bar owned by a group of Australians and Englishmen called “The Big Easy.” Since I had two hours to kill while the handicraft boutique packaged all the items I curated for my shop, I went there for a drink (or two). The barstool I chose was in front of Mao as she worked, and having one million limes to cut and juice (no exaggeration) she made for a wonderfully captive audience to all my questions.
During our two hour conversation I learned some of these details about her life:
- She is 19 (although she does look 12) and she use to sell bracelets on the beach before getting this bar job
- She makes $120 a month working 7 hours a day/6 days a week at this job (everyone in Cambodia works 6 days a week)
- After this job she goes and works another 8 hour job at a hostel down the street which earns her an additional $130 a month (according to her many people work two jobs)
- She wants to go to college, but isn’t sure if she will be able to save the $500 a year to go
- Most of the money she earns she gives to her family. She pays the $50 a month rent for the home her mom, stepdad and stepsister live in now.
- The money the stepdad earns goes partly to pay off the bank loan they received to buy rice paddy land in the country side. Mao’s grandmother works the rice paddy fields. On good years, when the water doesn’t rise too high, they are able to harvest and eat their own rice…sometimes even sell it. But not every year is a good year. She was doubtful about this year.
While Mao was happy and seemingly satisfied with her situation, her story, like many others I have encountered during my travels, only reinforces my belief that by simply being born in the U.S.A. I have won one of life’s lotteries. Even with our imperfections and foibles, opportunity and education are abundant and accessible back home. Couple them with an individual’s dedication and hard work and literally nothing is unachievable. This is indeed one of America’s greatest and exceptionally unique attributes, and it is one we should continue to celebrate.
Cure for the cabin fever caused by my monsoon rain day? A visit to the Popokvil Waterfall in Kampot.
Since my time at the beach didn’t allow for a lot of beach time (remember those clouds!), my escape was a nearby waterfall.
While frankly it wasn’t much to look at, it did give me the rare opportunity to hang out with just locals. My favorite part was actually using the Cambodian Riel when I paid for things versus US dollars like I did everywhere else.
I did happen to find a 10,000 Riels bill on the ground there (equivalent of $2.50), and I am certain I have ever felt so guilty bending over to pick up lost money. BUT I did, and I did my best to spend it all during the visit. My found money bought me a Coca Cola, a little beaded ring and a handmade flower crown…and I still had 2,000 reils left over (which I may still feel guilty about).
Some of the local tourist girls like me!
They were dressed in traditional costumes to have a souvenir picture taken of them down by the waterfall. Little did they know when they were dressing themselves up they would become one of my souvenir pictures too!
How the Cambodian’s picnic!
These “cabanas” were built on stilts over the river. Floor mats lined the wooden planks for sitting and eating and hammocks hung from the support posts. Large groups of kids who looked like they had escaped parent supervision for the day and families filled these huts. Most had brought their own picnic lunches or bought from the food stalls near the entrance. All were having a lovely afternoon on the water.
A scene near the waterfall.
Kids anywhere can have fun with the simplest of things.
My flower crown…which I promptly gave back to this lovely lady so she could resell it. She was pleased :).
It must have been “bring your daughter to work” that day :).
Beach time over! Next stop the airport to head to Siem Reap and Angkor temple country!
While I didn’t get much beach time in Sihanoukville, there is a marvelous pool here at my hotel in Siem Reap that has already made up for it. So off to jump in and leave all these former border control agents (aka; the miniature ants that have been biting my feet) behind.
Maybe I will squish a few before I go and contemplate what their next life may be (which may depend on how good of an ant they were)…although that might diminish what I come back as in my next life. Hmmmmm. A little Catch 22 this Buddhism :).
from One Girl’s Adventures http://ift.tt/2bh6VUy