Speed and Sadness - Warning: Graphic photo content

Trip Start Sep 18, 2010
Trip End Jul 27, 2011

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Where I stayed
Encounters (formerly known as Nomads Backpacker's Hostel)

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Friday, January 28, 2011

If you've never traveled on a speedboat, let me tell you that it's worth lining up to get a seat in the back. Me, I went to have breakfast instead of lining up and got the front (bow?) seat, Titanic style. I'm the Queen of the world! It is not a ride for soar or bad backs! My mom's titanium vertabraes would not take it too well. You will thank your trainer or work-out discipline for any core workout you've ever done. You might think you're not that fat, but this ride will make you jiggle in places you didn't know there could be fat. Even your face will behave like Jell-O if you open your mouth. I had tears in my eyes. Not because it was quite that emotional, but without glasses, the wind is so strong. With glasses you'll end up looking like you've just come from a dive and took off your suction mask, its shape still imprinted on your face. Had I worn contacts, I think the wind would have blown them right out of my eyes. Catching up on sleep from a late night before: Unthinkable! In summary: What an exhilarating ride!

I'm on my way from Koh Mak island in Thailand to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Next is a mini bus ride to the border, confusion, my pack dis-appearing on a wheelbarrow. I trust that I will get it back and will get to where I need to go as usual. There is always someone shoving you in the right direction. More confusion. Someone checking my temperature. I pay for a health check, sign some paper about H1N1, have my picture taken, finally get my visa and passport back. People wanting tips, my backpack re-appears. I act like a bitchy tourist, the lack of sleep is getting the better of me. More confusion, more waiting.

Then, a motor cycle ride. My 20+kg pack between the driver's legs in front, me and my small pack behind him. Hello Cambodia! Country of my travel dreams, place I wanted to see most on this earth. My final destination is Phnom Penh, but breezing down the dusty road, sun- and fire-scorched grass on each side, wind burning my face, I have to laugh. I thought I booked a direct bus and didn't expect to have to change vehicles, much less to end up on a motorcycle. This is not your average tourist trip! To stick with my mom's example (who happens to be an avid traveler herself, just not quite as unorganized in style as me), this trip from Koh Mak to Phnom Penh would not have gone down in her best travel memory log or been something to be amused about. In the end, just like I expected, I magically find myself on a coach bus, rather wind-swept, salty and dusty, but all bags and senses in tow.

12 hours after that 1st journey part on the speed boat, I find myself in Phnom Penh, exhausted, sticky, dirty, hungry. I have no small change or local currency, so I ignore the dozens of tuktuk drivers and motortaxis and walk to my hostel asking for direction along the way. Martin, the Englishman who runs the place, briefs me on a few things. It's not dangerous. But don't talk to police men and don't carry a bag after dark. Huh? Of course, it was police men I asked for directions on my way in. Duh! Now, I recall what I read in my SEA Lonely Planet. "...corruption has been elevated to an art form.. Democracy has been supplanted by kleptocracy, governance by theft,...". And don't carry a bag? Are you kidding me? Long pants are the only piece of clothing I have with pockets on them. And it is way too hot for those here. And anyways, where should I put my lip balm, kleenex, carry-on toilet paper, notebook and pen, little flashlight, map, bug spray, disinfectant, not to mention cameras? By the next evening I found a solution: Money goes in my bra, anything I don't care if lost goes in a decoy plastic bag, and my smaller camera I hold in one hand, strapped to my wrist and wrapped in a map. I am convinced I have been and continue to be every pick-pocket and thieve's night mare. My hope is they will find easier targets. I've been called paranoid before. But better safe than sorry, right?!

Next challenge: Cold shower. This is the first place I booked knowing that the shower will be cold. Brrrrrrrr.This is what will never make me a true backpacker. I hate even just the thought of it. But - it turns out, the cold shower is not so bad, at least with the sticky heat. Manu is arriving tomorrow, so we might move then. She won't mind the cold shower. But maybe the dorm or shared bathroom. We will see. The extra 50 cents to $2 might be worth it. On the other hand, that would be a beer or full meal here in Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh is dirty, sticky, hot, busy and surprisingly touristy. I find it charming in its own way. A delicious meal for $5 at a fancier restaurant is considered splurging. There is a vibrant bar and restaurant scene and nice hotels can be had for very little money. I find that I very much enjoy Khmer food. Adding that as #3 on the favourite cuisines list (1 = Lebanese, 2 = Spanish). Few people speak English well enough to make out what they are saying. But they are so nice, it doesn't matter that they might not bring you exactly what you ordered or respond to something you never asked, leaving your actual question unanswered.

A day later Manu rejoins, arriving from Beijing in the evening. You'd think we haven't seen each other in months. There seems so much to catch up on. So a late night it is.

We could easily just hang in the city for a while. But there is some very sad history to be retraced here. Visiting S21, the former high school turned prison and torture camp turned genocide museum and the killing fields of Choeung Ek, gives us a glimpse into this country's horrifyingly brutal past. I picked up Loung Ung's book 'First they killed my father' as historical facts don't mean much to me. I need some personal history and real people's stories to wrap my head around what happened here. You sure get that in this book! It's a captivating read though not for the faint of heart. This 5 year old girl's story takes you from one terrifying experience to the next. When you think her family's (and Khmer people's) fate can not possibly get any more appalling and sad, it does. Again and again. I find it impossible to imagine what humans can do to each other. The pain and suffering this country has endured during Pol Pot's communist Khmer Rouge regime stands in stark contrast with the beauty we see in Cambodia and the gentleness of its people.
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Kelly G on

I love it, Henni. Takes me back to Cambodia... some of the most kind, humble and generous people I've ever met. I also remember saying the same words in my adventures in many areas of the world, "how can so many human beings treat so many more other humans so horribly." Altered my view of the world's history sometimes. So happy and a bit envious of your adventures - very proud of you!

Pablo on

Hummm, lovely Henni start appreciating (noticing) a strong change on the way of your writings, I think the trip already made a change in your way of being with no return way.

Will be for good for sure, I think you got already what you were searching for with this trip.

Good night and good luck! (¡¡don´t let vietnamits screw up your good karma!!)

henniterness on

@Kelly - merely following the path of inspiring people like you :) I'll be looking to you for advise on SA if I make it there on this round.

@Pablo - thanks, I did indeed get over a few material attachments. Mission accomplished. I regret to tell you though that I still try hard to not put my small pack on the floor ;) It makes for some uncomfortable bus rides. But you'd be proud to hear that I did get over myself with my big pack.

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