Sunday 1st Nov
Phnnm Penh to Angk ta Saum
Last night we went out for a few (too many) beers, normally we’re tucked up and in bed by 9.00pm but we stayed out until the early hours of the morning, as we wanted to watch the Rugby final. As the final didn’t start until 11.00pm we went to a bar where they were holding a halloween party, it was full of young backpackers and made for good people watching. As is often the case when we went to watch the rugby we got talking to a fellow westerner and ended up missing most of the game. At the end of the evening to try and soak up some of the drink we stopped for some food (I was definitely having one of my ‘feed me, feed me now’ moments). Whilst we were eating our meal we heard a lot of shouting an elderly white (we presume british) man had touched his much younger Cambodian girlfriend in appropriately in public. In Cambodia it is rude and disrespectful to touch and kiss each other in public. One of the locals had seen this behaviour and probably fuelled by drink to great offence and hit the elderly guy on the nose. The old guy looked a little shocked but didn’t move away so ended up getting hit again. Fortunately there were a lot of other locals around to handle the local man but he was clearly very agitated. It does look so wrong to see these old guys with these young Cambodian girls and for all we know this particular girl could have been related to the local guy.
Woke up feeling tired and with a bit of an iffy tummy and know we say it every time we drink too much but ‘never again’. This was the first time since Rhodes that we had drunk excessively and probably will be the last until we get home.
Feeling worse for wear is not a good feeling when you’ve got to cycle 46 miles in the burning heat. I was so thirsty and at each stop I downed several cans or bottles of water
It was an overcast morning as we cycled out of the city and was threatening to rain, I was secretly hoping it would, more for me to drink and it would have cooled us down it was really hot.
We followed highway 3 all day which was a boring flat road with a horrible road surface. We passed through a number of towns today which were holding meat markets, this didn’t help my tummy, there were long lines of stalls selling large lumps of meat including whole legs and tables with offal, the smell was disgusting.
We also passed lots of rubbish today, it seemed to have been thrown in a designated area in each town therefore it might be for collection rather than a lot of dirty towns but again the smell was over powering.
Arrived at our destination at 3.30ish the first hotel was full but we were not overly concerned as google maps showed several more. We found one with rooms at $15 with air conditioning. As we unloaded the bikes the receptionist came out to help me with my bags, as she bent down to pick them up I warned her they were heavy, I don’t think she believed me until she tried to pick them up. Se struggled to carry them into the hotel and rather amusingly she then asked several other staff members to feel the weight of them. They were also suitably impressed, and looked at me and said ‘so strong’ I didn’t feel, although my tummy had settled from the drink I felt tired and need of a shower but I smiled sweetly and said thank you
As I underdressed to shower I could see I was red and blotchy, my body is definitely struggling with the heat in Cambodia, it is not hotter than other countries but for some reason seems to affect my skin, I can only imagine it is because we are closer to the equator
We had dinner in the hotel opposite as our restaurant wanted to charge us $5 each for a meal, this was twice the amount we paid for the same meal across the road. Ordering our meal was fun, we were the only customers, I initially asked for noodles with seafood and the waitress (manager) said no seafood, so I asked if they had any fish, she replied ‘no fish’ but a voice came from the kitchen and the manager retracted and said ‘yes we have fish’ Gary ordered Chicken with pineapple and the same conversation played out ‘no pineapple’ and again the voice from the kitchen piped up and the manager retracted ‘yes we have pineapple’ it was funny. I had hoped the same would happen when I asked for a sprite which was on the menu but unfortunately they really didn’t have any sprite or coke, the manager seeing my disappointed face went to the door of the restaurant and shouted to the lady across the road who had a street stall but she didn’t have either of the drinks I requested. Not to be defeated I got up and crossed the road to the lady to look at what drinks she had and returned with a beer for Gary and an apple juice for me.
After dinner we headed back into town for some cake, we had wandered into town earlier in the day but I had not been in the mood to look around. As we were ordering our cake a young boy approached Gary saying he was hungry, he did look a little dishevelled so we bought him a cake too. We took our cakes to eat in our room whilst the young boy took his to eat later, I kind of hope it was to share with a sibling it was a large piece of cake.
We were woken by a huge thunder storm at 11.30pm and both had a restless nights sleep.
Angk Ta Suom to Kampot
Interesting start to the day, we decided to have breakfast at the local market on the way we passed a woman in her 40’s or 50’s, she looked bedraggled, wearing old men’s clothes that didn’t fit her. We passed without passing comment to her or each other but as we walked to the market I thought if I see her on our way back I will stop and offer her some money, hoping that I wouldn’t cause offence. As we approached the market the smell and noise put me off eating there so I sent Gary to eat there whilst I grabbed something to eat in the room. On my way to bread stand I saw the same woman and she was buying cigarettes (here they are a fraction of the price at home), my view of her changed in an instant and when she approached me for some money I was reluctant to give her any I am not sure if this was a reaction to what she would spend it on, or her manner, she was not begging in, she didn’t say please, or smile, she simply stood next to me as my purse was open and arrogantly held out her hand to be given money, as if it was her right or my duty but as my conscience was shouting out to me I reluctantly gave her my change (a couple of pounds). This was the same woman I was willing to help less than an hour ago so I found myself asking the following questions
do we give money to help others? and if we do are there strings attached?
or do we give money to make ourselves feel good?
These thoughts played on my mind all day, If I had offered the woman money when I first saw I probably wouldn’t have given it a thought in fact i would have probably felt like i had done a good deed instead I had judged her because she was a smoker and I had taken offence that she assumed I would give her money almost like i owed her and she hadn’t shown any gratitude. It made me realise how judgmental I can be, in her position (here I am making a huge assumption that she is down and out and that she hasn’t chosen to wear ill fitting old mens clothes and that she has a genuine reason for her current state) I may also turn to some form of substance to get me through the day and who knows what her thoughts are about westerners given the countries history but I clearly had money and she didn’t why should she beg or even be grateful at the end of the day I had only given her my change and I clearly could have offered her far more.
Charity was to be a theme for the day at our first stop we hypothetically discussed the possibility of setting up a business in the UK where we could possibly purchase products made in South East Asia and other deprived countries to sell in the UK as a not for profit venture. We realised this is already being done to varying degrees and we need to draw a salary as we still need to pay bills etc.
Finally as we were cycling through a town we passed some men dressed up with hats with money in them, I was lost in iPod world and thought they were selling something but Gary pointed out they were raising money for the school so we stopped to make a donation.
Back to the cycling – It was a much easier ride than yesterday, although it was the same road I didn’t feel hungover which made all the difference. We stopped to take a number of photo’s on route including a tree growing out of a building, children actually in school and a workman making cement tubes. As we got closer to Kampot the scenery changed and we could see more hills in the distance, less towns and the fields were a little greener.
At one of our morning breaks one of the locals was keen to engage us in a conversation, we really struggled to understand her but she was lovely and persisted. She wanted to know my age and eventually resorted to writing her guess on a piece of paper, she wasn’t far off guessing I was 35-40 years of age and seemed genuinely surprised when I informed her I was 47. She went on to enquire about Gary’s age and again seemed to be surprised. Through a number of drawings and giggles we were able to share information about our children including sex and ages. It’s amazing what information you can gain from each other even though you don’t share a common language.
On our travels over the last couple of days we’ve noticed a number of children playing with play guns, they look pretty realistic and not something that is that common now in the UK.
I was really hungry and with only 4 miles to go I insisted we stopped for a quick snack (Gary; Ginette transforms to the plant in the little shop of horrors FEED ME, FEED ME NOW), as we sat eating our apples and crisps the children were glued to a flat screen TV set showing a very cheesy animation in english with english subtitles. We’re not sure they understood the narrative but it was definitely keeping them entertained.
Arrived at our hotel really early and had time to explore Kampot, after looking in several tour agents windows we’ve decided to hire a motorbike for the day. This will cost $5 compared to the $18 dollars each for the fixed tours.
We had a beer to cool down which cost us a staggering 32p each! On our way back to the guest house Gary dropped the camera and broke the lens, we are hoping to get it fixed tonight in the night market.
tourist day and old lady tit flash
The day started with a school boy error we went to hire a bike and forgot to take our passports, we should know the score by now. So after a false start and a little bit of negotiating we took in the following sights:
Gary; Hiring a motorbike here is easy, hand over your passport pay and go, no forms. It is illegal to ride in Cambodia without a Cambodian license but no one pays any attention to this law, the hirers never ask to see a license of any description. If you damage the bike then you have to pay for the repairs as there is no insurance, if the bike is stolen then you need to pay for a replacement.
Kep – a lovely seaside town, we visited the sea food market and had squids on sticks, they were lovely served with a little chilly sauce. The beach was almost deserted with only a couple of westerners sunbathing. There were lots of dragon flies around which although harmless did not bode well for a relaxing half an hour on the beach, so we decided to go on to our next destination.
Bokor National Park – it cost a mere 50p to enter and had several attractions including a Wat (temple), old church, casino (both old and new), waterfalls, caves and a restaurant, all of which were placed at the top of a 26km mountain. As we reached the first attraction a viewing point with a big buddha we noticed that we were low on petrol but we needn’t have worried because although there were no designated petrol stations a woman happily sold us 3 litres of petrol from some coke bottles. This is common in South East Asia the petrol is simply poured in via a funnel.
On our way up to Boker National Park we stopped for a drink as our backs and bums were aching and much to our amusement a little old lady sat at our table and commenced talking to us. We tried to explain that we couldn’t speak any Cambodian and didn’t understand her but this didn’t deter her. Not wanting to be rude we asked her grandson to interpret for her, but he couldn’t help and went in search of his sister. His sister had some basic english and explained the lady was her grandmother but she couldn’t help much more than that. Mean while her grandmother continued to have a very animated conversation with us, she obviously felt very relaxed in our company because at one point she went to scratch her breast and simply lifted her top exposing her naked breast to both of us. We didn’t know where to look but she continued smiling and talking as if nothing had happened. She may have had dementia but she seemed happy in her own little world.
Talking of people not noticing when they do something private in a public space we have seen numerous children weeing in the streets. Not discreetly as you would expect but quite blatantly squatting down and having a wee, more disconcertingly they even call out ‘hello’ and wave to us while mid squat which draws attention to them. They are so uninhibited and although we’re not prudes it doesn’t feel right talking to a young girl having a wee in the street.
It was an over cast day and we covered a lot of miles so as we reached the bottom of the mountain I opted to go back to the hotel room whilst Gary went in search of some rapids. He returned about 1/2 hour later disappointed as they were a mere trickle, whilst I had happily researched some diving options for the end of the week, drank a nice cold bottle of Anker beer and had a packet of crisps. Gary; we have had a role reversal, Ginette is now that one that is always eating.
We had dinner in an Ex Pat’s pub, as the region is famous for it’s pepper, I had a Kampot Pepper Squid dish with rice, the peppers were served on their stalks it was delicious. Gary had a burger which he later regretted. As we sat chilling we got talking to an old guy who had done quite a bit of diving and was heading South West to do a live a board.
We’d agreed to check out a bar on the seafront before going back to the hotel, it was on our way and as the heavens opened we were glad that we’d stopped. Again we got talking to another older white man. I couldn’t really hear him so I turned around talked to some young Australian and New Zealand backpackers, one of which was cycling from Japan to Turkey very slowly.
As we walked back to the hotel we reflected that we’d seen a lot of older white men in this region
Kampot to Sihoukville
We had breakfast at the hotel before setting off on a hot long bike ride down to the seaside.
At our first stop I was amused by Gary’s hair he’d washed it in the morning and it was all fluffy and girly. Gary; She is only jealous.
The road was fairly flat until the end of the day when we had several climbs to do. The scenery was fairly interesting we passed through several fishing villages and every now again we were treated to a view of the sea. Gary; we could smell the fishing villages before we could see them.
Three boys on a bike passed us in the morning and then rode at our pace looking back occasionally and giggling. I thought the were harmless enough but when they started to throw stones at a stray dog, I felt compelled to give them one of my stern looks, they seemed to take note and rode off. This was clearly a pass time for them as they had stones on the bike ready to throw grrrrr
We continued on our journey south until we saw a snake in the road rode it had been tempted out of the bushes by a dead bird. As we were taking a photo of the snake two German cyclists stopped us they were cycling to Phnom Penh and wanted some advice re road conditions and accommodation. Like us they’d heard the roads were really bad but we assured them that the road surface was good if not a little slow and gave them details of where we’d stayed on route. Although they didn’t have a lot of luggage (one bag on the back of a bike) one of the guys was carrying a lot of weight and looked quite hot in the heat. They were also on road bikes so perhaps could have cycled the route without stopping but it would have made for a long day.
Just before our lunch break we crossed a bridge with some large lumps on it, we were riding fairly fast when we hit the lumps which is not normally a problem but on this occasion Gary lost the tent and a big bag, I swerved to avoid being hit by the flying obstacles. Fortunately no-one was hurt and the bags were OK although Gary later realised his back wheel was undone, not sure I would have avoided that had it come off.
For some bizarre reason our appetites are not in time with each other, Gary is happy to eat breakfast and cycle all day without food whereas I need food at lunch time, preferably cooked food. With this in mind I started to talk about food at about 11.00am in the hope that this would stimulate Gary’s appetite, We agreed to get food at the next stop but unfortunately the restaurant didn’t appear to be doing food, the few customers who were in the restaurant were too busy watching a more modern version of ‘Monkey’ in Cambodian. I wasn’t that hungry and agreed I could wait until the next stop, however Gary stopped just a mile down the road as there were some fairly decent looking restaurants, I passed suggesting we could wait until the next 10 mile mark. This turned out to be a mistake as all that was on offer was food from run down shacks. We stopped and had some fruit and cake and reflected on the following:
we no longer feel inclined to give pregnant dogs or dogs with enlarged teats food from our plates whereas in Turkey I couldn’t resist feeding a pregnant bitch – this is because all bitches look like they’ve just had a litter or are pregnant
we drink the local water
we no longer think twice about sitting on stools which are made for children
we are used to eating our food with flies all around us (although this can still be a bit annoying)
Whilst we were eating our lunch a woman sat on a bench doing cross stitch, we’ve seen a number of women in Cambodia doing this craft to relax.
It appeared to be another rubbish collection day as there were piles of rubbish in some of the fishing villages however it is hard to tell because there is so much rubbish along the roads, which is a real shame because Cambodia is very pretty.
We arrived at our destination at about 4ish. Once we’d unpacked we went to enquire about a diving trip and ended up booking two dives each for Friday along with a free nights accommodation (our tent) on a secluded island. We’re both really excited and looking forward to the trip.
To celebrate we had a drink in the bar next door to the dive shop, but the staff were rude and lazy so we moved on to another bar. Unfortunately as the evening wore on it appeared all the Cambodian staff had forgotten how to smile, this attitude supported some of the blogs we have read about Cambodia, where people have commented on the attitude of Cambodians which is a real shame, because in our experience they’ve been really friendly and welcoming. The friendliest greeting we got all evening was from a barmaid from Oxford! Sihoukville is full of westerners both holiday makers, backpackers, tourers and staff members.
The area we’re staying in could be any seaside resort anywhere in the world. There’s lots of tacky bars and restaurants all serving overpriced poor quality food and cheap beer. That said we had a pleasant evening talking to a couple who were 3 weeks into their gap year. The woman didn’t sound like she was enjoying the trip at all and she missed her sons who are in their 20’s.
On our way back to the hotel we got soaked in another down pour. We’e hoping all the rain doesn’t affect the diving conditions on Friday.
Thursday 5th November
We decided to have breakfast in a local market in the hope of finding some friendlier Cambodians and some authentic local food but unfortunately we didn’t receive either.
On our way back to the hotel we took great pleasure in watching a young 5 or 6 year old girl playing in the road, she kept running out of her shack and laying down in the puddles, kicking her legs, giggling and running back inside. It was lovely to see someone so uninhibited enjoying herself.
Once we’d bought a few much needed items we headed to the beach, we had heard Serendipity Beach was rubbish but we really enjoyed the laid back chilled vibe. We did get a few locals offering us services but not in a pushy way, as it was fairly quiet they were happy to stop and practice their English whilst trying to sell their services or wares. One lady persuaded me to have my leg hair threaded, I had shaved them that morning but I had done them haphazardly and their were several patches with hair still on them. She found this amusing and convinced me a) she wouldn’t hurt me and b) that her treatment would keep my legs as smooth as a baby’s bum for 2 to 3 months. We agreed a price of $5 (originally offered at $20) which seemed reasonable, just as she started doing one leg another lady joined her to do my other let, it was quite enjoyable but we’ll wait and see how effective it is. Whilst the two ladies were working on my legs, a lady was trying to persuade Gary to have his feet pedicured, he is so ticklish that every time she toughed his foot he kicked out and giggled it was really funny to watch and distracted me from the pain of those longer hairs being tweezed out. (Gary; she then tried to pluck the hairs out of my ears, I was having none of that) Later in the morning a young lad sat down with us, he was selling friendship bracelets, we made it clear that we didn’t want one but he seemed happy to talk to us, he assured us he went to school every day (7am to 11am) but when we asked him what he’d learnt that morning he replied his abc which didn’t quite fit with his level of spoken english. Gary asked him what he wanted to do when he left school and he replied ‘he would like to become a guide’ with a bit more practice his english would be good enough and the area is ripe for tourism so hopefully he will achieve and exceed his ambition.
It was an overcast day and when it started to rain we retreated to a local bar, where we purchased some lobster from a street lady and had a soft drink. Still hungry we went in search of food, we stopped at a cheap looking cafe and ordered tomato soup and tuna salad, both were disgusting, Gary ate a bit of his soup but it wasn’t very tasty more like a broth with some tomatoes thrown in it. I didn’t touch my tuna salad, it looked like a cat had thrown up on my plate, yukkkk. I can be such a fuzzy moo.
The rain set in for the afternoon so we spent the rest of the day in the hotel, reading, researching and sorting out bags for the dive trip it was a very chilled afternoon. Early evening we ventured out and played a couple of games of pool (badly) and went for an Indian meal which was really tasty.
Friday 6th November
Early start as we had to be at the dive shop for 7.00am.
The day was overcast and wet which was fine for us but most people on our boat had booked a day’s snorkelling and sunbathing or were heading directly to the island, where there was very little to do.
The journey out to the island took 3 hours, which gave us plenty of time to talk to a lovely couple who came from Barcelona and Berlin, they were in their 30’s and really good company. At one point during the trip we all went on the upper deck to enjoy the hammocks. These were great for about 1/2 hour after which time I started to feel sick. We went below deck in the hope that it would ease my queasiness, which worked to a certain degree. We later learnt that the worse place to be on a rocking boat is at the front and on the upper deck, add to that laying in a low lyiing hammock and it is a recipe for sea sickness. I was glad to see dry land and have a little break before setting back out to dive.
We did 2 dives, with our guide/instructor who was a big guy from London called Jo and two others who had passed their Padi course the previous day. Although from my school boy error you would have been forgiven for thinking I was the novice of the group, I’d completely forgotten how to clear my mask. I
I didn’t enjoy the first dive, visibility was poor and my mask didn’t fit properly. The second dive was much better but the pace was really slow, so I got cold and a little bored, I much prefer to swim around and stop when I find something of interest but the group barely moved a few meters the whole time we were down and we were only at 8 meters. This type of diving suited Gary, it is one of the only times he is laid back and happy to do nothing but watch the world go by.
Gary; I love scuba I find it really relaxing, Joe our dive leader had a slow pace underwater which suited me just fine, in the sea everything is swimming around you so there’s no need to go dashing around, plus you use your air quicker if you are working hard.
The boat docked at the island at about 4 in the afternoon and after some discussion we were told we could set up our tent on the beach. One guy had helpfully told us that they were not allowing tents this early in the season as it was still very stormy and that they’d get blown out to sea. I don’t think at this point he realised we were camping and had our own tent. We didn’t take any risks and in addition to using the tent pegs we also used some very big steaks to secure the tent.
Gary, I had to use drift wood sticks as they could be pushed deeper in the sand, the tent pegs were useless for this environment.
Once we’d set up camp we went in search of a beer and to chill out, I managed both whilst Gary played volleyball with some other guests staying on the island. I was tempted but I only had a short dress on and didn’t think it would be very lady like if i was to dive for the ball so I passed and happily watched from the comfort of my chair.
In the evening we met up with the couple we had met on the boat and had a lovely meal in a beach side restaurant. The food was delicious, I had a vegetable curry and rice, it was really spicy, full of vegetables in a coconut sauce whilst Gary had Sticky Egg Curry with rice, both were excellent and probably the best meals we’d had in Cambodia. Conversation was good and flowed easily it was a really enjoyable night.
There were only three restaurants on the stretch of beach we were on and only accommodation for 100 people, we didn’t try the other restaurants but if you’re ever on these islands we’d definitely recommend Huba Huba’s
Gary; This remote beach is a great sandy beach with clear flat blue sea, only accommodation for 100 but I would guess at only about 30 people here at present.
On our way back to the tent we had to use head torches as the island only has electricity between 4.00pm and 8.00pm. We were very cautious about where we stepped as we’d seen a snake earlier in the day on the beach and there was a lot of bit hermit crabs on the beach.
A day on the island
After a very hot sweaty night in the tent we had a lovely day on the island. The day started with a swim in the sea, which was warm and still, it was beautiful just watching the day break whilst we floated around. Gary made us some breakfast at the tent nothing exotic, some noodles and coffee but the simplicity was heavenly, we watched the clouds and wondered whether the east (cloudy) or west (sunny) would win the weather fight for the day, fortunately for us it turned out to be a sunny day. We spent the morning making some creative artwork on the beach before having a lesson in Krav Maga with Sebastian. We had met Sebastian in a bar the night before and he’d offered to give us a taster session. Krav Maga a self-defence system developed for the military which consists of a wide combination of techniques which have been adapted and developed to use in real life situations. Sebastian was a good instructor and spent over an hour teaching us on the beach some of the principles and techniques needed to protect ourselves if we were to get attacked. We really enjoyed it and recommend you give it a go if you’re in Cambodia details can be found in the dive shop.
After another swim in the sea we had lunch in the same restaurant as the previous evening and food was just as good, I had a tofu salad and Gary had Calamari and rice both were excellent although more expensive than the main land both costing approx $5 each. Whilst we were waiting for our food to arrive we saw a black squirrel playing on the stair rail, unfortunately as our camera was broken we didn’t get a good shot of it.
The boat journey back to the main land was uneventful, the sea was a lot more choppy and we got to see a lovely sun set. Once back on the main land we booked into a hotel and went in search of more food, this time we had a lovely mexican meal. As it was a Saturday night and the town was buzzing we went to watch some live music but the band wasn’t very good and as we’d not slept well in the tent we decided to head back to the hotel.
Gary; Our new friends had already booked a bus to Phom Phenn and by the time the boat had docked were already late, they did make the transfer bus to the station so we hope they didn’t miss the main bus as there room in Phnom Penn was also booked.
Although it was only 10.00pm I was out for the count before my head hit the pillow. It had been a beautiful, relaxing day interspersed with exercise and creative play.