Moving on from Vietnam I have entered Cambodia, and finally a border crossing that isn’t in the middle of the night! Always entertaining is the fact that you put your bags through an x-ray scanner that has no one behind it rendering the security check somewhat redundant but I guess they’re not too worried about what’s coming through the border check. Again it was all very straightforward. Passport, stamp, new visa, stamp, enjoy Cambodia!
My first stop was Phnom Penh, the capital. First impressions aren’t great. It’s very dirty, it seems a lot poorer than Vietnam, also more expensive (although I think this has to do with them using the dollar). All that being said the people seem very friendly and trying to make a quick buck dishonestly but are easily brought round to your thoughts on what is an appropriate fee. There’s a large expat community in Phnom Penh, many of them with Asian brides on their arms. I’m saying nothing!
Phnom Penh’s main attractions are equally, if not more, disturbing than the last sight in Vietnam. Home to S21 or Tuol Sleng genocide museum and the killing fields. Both stark reminders of the reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. A tragic history that is reminiscent of the dark ages where an attempt was made to eradicate all that bore knowledge or any form of progress. Regressing to a purely agricultural state void of creative culture. A terrible history that I won’t go into detail about, if you want to read about it there’s plenty on the internet.
What I will mention about it however is that so many people alive in Cambodia today, above the age of 40, will have lived through this. There are still a few survivors of the Second World War, but slowly they are dying and we will have no living memory of the events that took place. This is still incredibly fresh in the lives of Cambodians today, it’s fairly horrifying. Not only this, but I found out that countries such as the U.K., U.S.A., France, Germany and other nations welcomed the Khmer Rouge into the U.N. where they had a seat. It’s things like this that really make me question the people who make decisions in our names.
I would like to ask anyone who was alive during the Khmer Rouge’s reign if they heard any news of it in mainstream media?
I made some new friends in Phnom Penh and that’s always nice but I couldn’t wait to get out of the city to head to Kampot. The bus ride was quite fun, more of a mini-van than a bus or coach but there was plenty of room. I arrived at Kampot and had already decided I preferred it to Phnom Penh as I saw children playing football on the streets. Walking around the riverfront it was made me think of Cat Ba as it was a very western crowd. That being said it didn’t seem to detract from the natural beauty of the place like it did at Cat Ba’s pier.
Kampot is very chill and there isn’t loads to do but there are a few sights to see. I opted for Bokor National Park and also just to drive around to neighbouring cities exploring some caves and the ‘secret’ lake. Departing at 7:30 for the park was definitely a good choice as the roads were relatively quiet and the drive up the mountain side is very enjoyable with lots of lush scenery. After pausing for a moment you were surrounded by a very loud chorus of animals that illustrated how densely populated the canopies and forest floors were. This is why it’s a shame that upon arriving at a showcase they have a model village showing you what the future of the mountain side is. Intense housing developments, casinos, hotels (with a capacity of 10,000) and all this just echoes what I’ve stated before about how tourism is great for the locals until they start destroying habitats in an effort to acquire more money.
The top of the mountain happens to be the site of a duel between the Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge. Stationing themselves in an old casino and a catholic church you can see the bullet holes in the buildings like scars of the past. Upon hearing about it I was led to believe that they were very close and it was like an old west shoot out. It wasn’t so. They were actually further apart and more the bases for them to retreat to after skirmishes.
The rest of the day was spent mooching around just driving from here to there and by the time I had arrived back at my hostel my upper arms and neck were a distinct lobster red. I thought I had evaded the sun, and I DID put sunblock on, but to no avail. My dorm friends were more than sympathetic understand my plight as a pasty skinned British boy. Oh yes my new dorm friends. So they’re all solo travellers, again similar kind of ethnic mix of German, American and this time quite a few Brits. We all went out for dinner, had a few drinks and as usual shared the obligatory 3 conversations of; Brexit, Trump, and where have you been. It turns out they’re all going in the opposite direction to me having started in Thailand and working their way towards Vietnam so we really are crossing paths.
Just driving around this southern coastal area of Cambodia is relaxing. Seeing everyone working in the rice fields or just going about their life is really relaxing for some reason. Kids playing in the streets (or on train tracks) slumbering pigs, it all seems relatively peaceful.
Kampot truly is like a honey trap. It’s very simple, very relaxed, enough of a scene to ensure you can eat well and have fun but quiet enough to not burn you out (but it will burn your skin!). Fortunately I have my next destination booked so that forces my hand a little and makes sure I can’t get TOO comfy whilst staying here but it has been a nice little break from cities, giving me a chance to recharge my batteries.
Whilst I am moving on from this very relaxing setting, it is to go to an island that has electricity only for 4 hours of the day and no wifi etc. so hopefully it will also be quite the relaxing place. Also at $2.50 a night you really can’t complain!
See you in Siem Reap