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Published: December 7th 2012
A new obstacle
On the road from Kampot to Sihanoukville.
The driver picked us up in his trusty Camry and ferried as away from the lovely seaside village of Kep. We had a quick stop in Kampot for an ATM and had just enough time there to admire its crumbling facades. It sure looks tired and hot. After three hours of winding our way around the usual obstacles on the road (one chicken played his last game and an elephant was a new entrant) our driver stopped in front of 'Utopia' and proclaimed, "We are here!" Well, Cambodia is pretty cool but this wasn't where we were supposed to be dropped off. Our accents have been misunderstood everywhere on our travels, but this misinterpretation is the best so far. Dean had originally told him, "Royal Pier". Realising his error, the driver pronounced it with a French accent. Right, of course! But that still didn't actually help.
After picking up a case of wine and some bags filled with stuff, he made a couple of calls and then drove us to a port. "We are here," he declared again. We climbed out, blinking in the sun and off he drove. We were standing in a car park, next
The political spectrum
Fishing village on the left - luxury resort on the right.
to the water. It didn't look promising. I asked a lady who had just disembarked from a fancy motorboat where she had come from. She replied that boats to Songsa Island ($1000 a night!) departed from here. We were definitely in the wrong place. Some men appeared from under trucks and a nearby shed. This was something they didn't see every day. Four obviously lost tourists. One spoke very good English and was able to help us locate the right pier. He rang a tuktuk for us and directed us where to go. Some bored men on motorbikes came down to see what was going on and offered to take us to the pier. I wasn't too happy with this suggestion and they thought that was hilarious. A deluxe model tuktuk arrived and we were soon hurtling along dirt roads to the correct pier.
The last act in our comedy of errors was yet to be played, however. In Dean's multitasking madness of the night before, he had neglected to write down the name of the place we were staying. Although he did write down the name, 'Kevin'. It was like saying the magic password. A guy who was
about to try and sell us a boat ticket told us to follow him. We boarded a boat, waited for a couple of other passengers and then the engine started. It did take a little manouvering to wedge past a couple of other boats, but once the captain gently pushed one out of the way, we were out to sea.
Two long hours later, we arrived. A cold drink, some lunch and a swim and we began to relax. Brad and I launched our 'Clean up Cambodia' campaign by moving washed up rubbish into piles so that I could properly enjoy this island without junk in my peripheral vision. It's sad that rubbish is such a feature of roadsides here, but the amount of pollution in the water and on the beaches here is awful.
Once we had given the beach a bit of clean, Brad and Eleanor commenced a sand castle building competition, with Brad declaring himself the winner after dropping six small crabs in his dry moat. Eleanor thought the crab protecting her keep was a worthy prizewinner. I felt slightly nauseous thinking of all the crabs living under my feet and retreated to the bungalow
Electricity is non-existent, except between 6 and 11 when the generator kicks in. Once the sun set, we had an enormous BBQ dinner which wouldn't have been out of place in the burbs back home. More meat than you could poke a stick at, coleslaw, a baked potato and just to add to the carb loading, a mini loaf of garlic bread each. It was enormous. Eleanor and Brad were engaged in an amusing game of darts, and when she scored a bullseye and refused to take the dart out, I realised she has taken her hoarding to a new level. I retired early, following crab tracks back to the bungalow. Dean and Brad watched the march of the hermit crabs before also succumbing to the lure of the mosquito net.
I had a fairly sleepless night due to the exceptional stillness in the air. I found the heat oppressive. Brad asked why I didn't use the fan. What fan??? What power source drives this mystery fan??? His bungalow was equipped with the magical cooling device. Our South African host assured me that I too could have one. Within minutes, two fans were delivered.
THey're so lucky - they get to overlook the $1500 a night resort opposite!!
One electric powered, one battery. I could use the electric one until 11 when the power cut out, and then he assured us the battery one would last for another three hours. I began to feel relief already. Earlier in the morning I was contemplating abandoning this place and jumping on the 7am boat back to Sihanoukville. Dean just told me to toughen up.
The rest of the day was spent idling about and reading. It wasn't as hot as the previous day, and the breeze was a welcome relief. Brad, Eleanor and I went kayaking over to Songsa Bungalow resort (a mere $1000-$1800 a night) for a sticky beak. Not sure if it is worth it, however I did envy their individual pools, 24 hour electricity and a magnificent bathroom. Our $20 a night bungalows may not have flushing toilets or air conditioning but they do have a rustic charm of their own. I bet nobody on the other island has a giant gecko watching over them as they sleep.
Dinner was a more sedate affair, thank goodness. I think I was still digesting food from the night before. After the meal, and in keeping with their
competitive natures, Brad and Eleanor decided to race hermit crabs. They drew a circle in the sand, selected their creatures, and waited. I think it did take a while but I didn't stay to find out. Eleanor's won eventually she informed me. I hope she hasn't hoarded that too. I fell asleep quickly due to the blissful whirring of that fan.
In the morning, after breakfast, I was coerced into a game of beach Volley Stars (kiddy volleyball). It was really hot again and I didn't want to have to exert too much energy so was unable to contribute much to Dean's dreams of winning the Gilligan's Island cup. It was a bit of a laugh but I was glad Eleanor and Brad finally won and I could retreat to the shade. Dean, Eleanor and I walked to the local store for some pineapple and I wish I bought the camera. Dean decided to have a taste of the wine in the jar. Like all the other 'wines' he has tasted since touching down in Japan, this one too smelt like it could do more than just be drunk; remove nail polish, clear drains and polish
silver. The lady had a laugh and we trudged back to the camp clutching our freshly chopped pineapple. Delicious.
We departed at 1pm on the boat bound for Sihanoukville with joy in our hearts, well, mine mainly. I was looking forward to a good shower. The boat chugged along merrily for a couple of hours and arrived at the pier (definitely not Utopia) by 3pm. A tuk tuk transferred us to a hotel in the heart of the backpacker district. Not an ideal location for a family with a 10 year old girl I later thought, but it had a pool and an ok shower. It wasn't until I had sat poolside for a while when I felt things were a little dodgy but Dean and Brad had a lovely time in the evening with the Estonians, so why was I worrying??????
I wasn't hungry (all that island food) so the three amigos left me in peace and wandered down to the beach for a seafood BBQ feed. It was a 'fun night' (Dean's usual response) had by all and we awoke in the morning refreshed and ready to take on the day.
Brad departed at 9
Driving to Phnom Penh
Caught up in the convoy to the factories.
for a bus back to Phnom Penh. His flight was leaving the next day and he wanted to make sure he was on it. Didn't he enjoy playing the role of Rusty Griswald?
Dean put on his travel agent hat once Brad left and planned our next few days. After much thought, we decided to fly to Luang Prabang in Laos, despite the enormous cost. We couldn't face buses for extended periods and thought once we factored in time and energy, it was worth paying a bit more to go where we actually wanted to without wasting time in buses and border crossings. Once that was sorted, he then booked us into the 'cinema' at 6pm. A trip to the local market for lunch (noodle soup) and then we spent the rest of the afternoon poolside.
The 'cinema' was an experience I'd never had to pay for before. A large screen TV in a room with a couch and some comfy chairs. Sounds like a lounge room? Yes, it could be said that we were sitting in an airconditioned lounge with on-demand movies. It just happened to be in front of our hotel. Eleanor spied the Snickers and M&Ms in the fridge, and pretty soon we were munching on those too. An interesting evening, topped off with a pizza for dinner. Back to rice and noodles tomorrow.
The alarm sounded at 3:30am and we reluctantly arose, dressed and packed, ready to be picked up by a taxi to take us to Phnom Penh airport at 4am. It took a little while to sort out the bill. Lucky the Estonians don't sleep and could get us some change. Also lucky that our room hadn't been cleaned in the two days we were there so when we were going to be charged for consuming a number of products from the minibar, I pointed out that they could go and check the bin for evidence. Couldn't wait to get out of there by this stage.
The taxi arrived and it was the usual Camry, however a brand new one. A luxury model; TV screen in front and on the head rests in the back. Not that a Cambodian driver really needs the added distraction of watching Bruce Willis movies while driving. Our driver initially settled for Cambodian Karaoke love songs and then Madonna Live in Buenos Aires, although I think he was trying to interest us in the Bruce Willis film, Red
. The roads were really quiet for the first two hours and very well made. No bumps, not too much veering into the left lane (only when turning corners) and quite relaxing. As the sun rose, more traffic joined us. Convoys of minivans and small trucks laden with factory workers on their way to the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Our driver told us the minivans would hold about 30 people (some were lucky enough to be able to sit on the welded addition in the back) and the small trucks held about 50-70 standing in rows. Earning about $70 a month for a six day week, but they could earn more if they worked 7 days a week, maybe $120 a month. It certainly was an interesting spectacle. Amongst all this traffic, small children were riding bicycles to school or I noticed some in the fields working with the animals. I guess if we had not woken up so early, we never would have seen this, so I am glad I saw another aspect to life here.
Three hours after departing Sihanoukville, we arrived at Phnom Penh airport, ready to start the next chapter in our adventures.
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