Speed and Sadness - Warning: Graphic photo content
Trip Start Sep 18, 2010
86Trip End Jul 27, 2011
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I'm on my way from Koh Mak island in Thailand to Phnom Penh in Cambodia
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
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.