Southern Cambodia

A curious but still timid girl, southern Cambodia

Cambodian four hours equals roughly seven regular hours and it is the amount of time to reach Kampot by bus. We discover another pleasant city, whose once slow life bustles on when you visit a marketplace. The local market is divided into sections making some sort of a logic. In one corner I see stands with twenty sewing machines and exhausted tailors still involved in sewing dresses and trousers to order. Just nearby are further stands with fresh fish, pork brains, live ducks, geese and already slaughtered but still plumaged chickens. On Friday evening just before dark the place slows down and a moment later – becomes nearly deserted. All is left are the evening food stands with some unsold food in massive pots. So are scavenging rats.

I lay a cake we bought yesterday on a floor. Clearly “Something” is picking a styrofoam container next to my bed for several minutes. Bess assumes it is my loose hand wandering somewhere on the floor while I’m asleep. After a while she puts the light on, rises to her feet and wakes me up shouting “There is a rat in our room!”.

The bastard must have escaped somehow, I thought, seeing that the rodent is neither under the bed nor on the floor. The styrofoam package is clearly bitten. What should we do? I put the box outside our room, then I switch off the light in the lobby and put on the light in our room (a clever trick to attract the rodent towards a dark place with a sweet bait). After some time we simply close the door and clearly hear crunching just outside. Done. Now we can peacefully go back to sleep.

An old Khmer woman, the Kampot outskirts

I’m excited from the very morning. We increase your daily budget to rent a 500cc engine cross bike. However, it appears that the bike is in a terrible shape with a nearly dead engine, so following the logic we switch back to a regular semi-automatic scooter, which is both faster and three times cheaper.

We stop at the famous crab market in Kep. Paradoxically, nobody sells crabs here, but I treat myself to a tasty squid barbecue for breakfast. It’s also a place famous for durian cultivation, the most controversial fruit ever known. The whole thing comes from the fact that durian is considered (among some) to be the most supreme fruit in the world, while on the other side its stinky smell is sensible at a distance, it has a distinctive taste of sweaty socks and a barely perceptible note of fruit. Worth to try, but next time I am going to choose mangoes and bananas.

Among the rice fields

We pass dirt roads cutting through the rice fields. A deep burning red incredibly contrasts with lush green fields in the early stage of vegetation. These are unbelievably vivid and intense colors.

Allegedly in this area there are several caves, but we fail at being able to find at least one we are looking for. We meet two twelve- or fourteen-year-old boys who invite us to another, "more interesting cave“.

A wild narrow path cuts our way through dense shrubbery to reach a place completely inaccessible to accidental passersby. Having climbed some sharp granite rocks we enter a spacious chamber filled with stalactites and stalagmites. Narrow and dark tunnels lead to the further chambers.

Bicycle is universal means of transportation in rural Cambodia

We can only rely on an already fading natural light, because we do not have any flashlights. Transitions between the chambers are getting narrower and with next-to-nothing you can see, every path the boy chooses seems to be the least logical decision. We are always guided through the darkest and most narrow slits. I guess it is about trusting each other. Bess takes out her camera and with its help we can see a tiny little bit. Having good hope and trusting entirely the young boys we follow them into the dark, tapered tunnel. Hence, there is no turning back now, there is only fear and adrenaline. As the largest of the group I barely squeeze through by an inch – it is completely dark. After a few minutes climbing we reach out to the surface. What a relief!

On the way back we pass a quarry. To my surprise, even on Saturday afternoon, adults with their small children work hard crushing stones.

Free time

Fortunately, there are some Cambodians, who have a day off today. In a casual village we meet a bunch of people playing cards at the back of a family-owned store, while others are playing bingo under a straw umbrella. P├ętange arouses most emotions, it is a very popular game similar to ours where you have to throw balls on the sand as precisely as possible.

Another obsession is Khmer karaoke. Listening and watching Cambodian disco DVDs is a complete craze. It has necessarily to be done at full volume and if possible, also with two different, independent sources. Then just put on the third TV to play a football match and you have a pure and absolute chaos.

On the way back we cross deep mud, the bike gets stuck many times and puts on several kilograms of red mud. Is constantly wet and slippery, causing many dangerous situations, but we manage to pass without any serious accidents.

Sihanoukville

Message in the bottle (sent long time ago), Sihanoukville

Sihanoukville is a seaside village in the south of the country. As one person identified, it can be considered the Cambodian equivalent of the Indian Goa. Every turn you meet accidental travelers who got lost here a couple of months ago, I guess. No one seems to be departing, nor changing the place. In one of the hostels I see the notice " Check out anytime, but you’ll never leave! “.

I talk to group of guys playing cards on a porch – So, how is Sihanoukville? – I ask, not expecting any real answer – It’s a great place, we have been here a few months already, there is so many people from around the world, endless parties, the sea is just nearby, the town has great atmosphere and on the top of that you get free shots and a beer for just 50 cents. What else do you need?

It’s probably the best description of Sihanoukville, which de facto is not so bad. What is true it is more a Hippie settlement rather than anything close to Asia, but is it so important? We blend in quickly, I appreciate the cheap drinks and big barbecued lobsters for $0.50 a piece.

It is a crazy party with all-night long baths in the ocean until somebody wakes me up morning – a guy from the snorkeling company. I nearly forgot about snorkeling off the nearby islands. All day passes underwater enjoying the company of coral reefs, thorny rocks, poisonous jellyfish and plenty of colorful fish. Sihanoukville’s sandy beach has merely a couple feet width, but there is nothing to complain about. The cheap prices have a word for not complaining.

In addition, there are lots of people here returning from Australia. So on the occasion I learn from an Italian couple I met a useful tip about Australia. It is by far cheaper to buy a car in Melbourne or Darwin to use it for a few months traveling and then simply sell it for more in Sydney. Perhaps it is worth remembering for the future?

kh south