So if you’ve read the last three posts on my time in Cambodia, you’ll have gathered that it was a pretty packed. It was a real contrast to my first month’s ‘travel’, where I stayed in Chiang Mai, and spent time mooching round the city, visiting coffee shops and veggie restaurants, taking everything in and getting a feel for a pace and life different from my norm.
I chose a tour for Cambodia rather than going solo because it seemed the most effective way of getting a lot in without having to think about it too much. Really a bit of a cheat on the ‘planning not to plan’ front, as it just meant someone else did the planning for me. But I had a great time, got to know Cambodia, met some really interesting people and had some forced socialising which probably did me good after several weeks of not talking to anyone who wasn’t selling me something.
We went on three different boats during the trip. The first was a ‘sunset cruise’, where we went out on a tributory of the Tonle Sap lake and watched the sunset from. The boat was low and wooden, with (what felt like) an engine made out of old recycled parts of other boats, cars, and anything else. For example, the steering wheel was from an old Nissan car. This boat made its way slowly to the lake itself (where our young driver dived into the lake to fix something under the water line) but after a bump from another, faster boat on the way back, the engine died, and we had to be rescued by another boat. The trip itself was fun, and the sunset was very beautiful, and the route went through a traditional fishing village, with houses on stilts and people working at their nets as we passed.
The second boat was another sunset cruise, this time in Kampot, with a bigger but seemingly more unstable boat. This was on a much more spacious route with less traffic, and dense green jungle each side. The sunset this time was behind mountains and palm trees, and was even more beautiful.
Snorkelling and islands
One of the more adventurous (for me) things we did on the trip was go snorkelling off our third boat. This was part of a full day trip off the coast of Sihanoukville, where we snorkelled and hung out on a nearly deserted beach for a few hours, eating lunch there, relaxing in hammocks, and swimming in the sea. It was a lovely day, close to the end of the trip, and I think enjoyed all the more for that.
The photos I took didn’t capture the sparkle of the sunlight on the sea, as if a giant disco ball was constantly turning in the sky. They can’t share with you the heat of the day, with a hot sun reflecting off the lapping and gentle swell. Everyone caught a bit of sun that day, despite copious suncream. Swimming off the beach, the water was warm and clear, and I spent an enjoyable hour after my swim lying in the shade, reading, dozing, and just watching the sea do its thing. Snorkelling, which was something new to me – partly because I don’t tend to take beach holidays, and partly because the sea seems a bit scary to me – was good fun once I’d worked out how not to hyperventilate. There were a great many little stripy fish in particular which were fun to watch, and schools of other small fish all moving and turning at the same time as if connected to each other by wire. There was also lots on the bottom of the sea to look at, coral and other mysterious spiky things. I was even a little proud of myself for going in as I was somewhat out of my comfort zone.
Transport honourable mention
An honourable mention for transport goes to our trips on the public bus, which were an eye-opening education for us all, mainly due to the entertainment. This consisted of either dreadful cheap Karaoke DVDs with songs sung by heavily made-up, anguished crooners, with a sort of slow-dance line dance going on in front of them, OR the most violent kung-fu-for-laughs films we’d ever seen. In one notable scene, unlikely to be seen in this year’s Oscar ceremony, a man was cut open with a samurai sword – but instead of dying (which was usually done loudly and with gusto) he then pulled out his own intestines and started strangling the assailant with them. And all at 8am.
Accommodation on the trip was in guest houses and hotels, which was generally ok. I think my least favourite was in Phnom Penh, where I had a room without any windows, which was a bit strange. But generally the hotel rooms were clean and had hot water and AC, which is what I’d hoped for. Several even had English speaking TV! The beds are generally very hard (which I like, having slept on a futon for 10 years), and I think after our experience at the homestay this is probably a legacy of Cambodians previously having slept on very thin mats on the floor in the not too distant past.
We had quite a lot of group meals, although there was also opportunity and free time for us to find our own food. The food was cheap compared to the UK, and probably on a par with Thailand (apart from in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, which I think were slightly more expensive). Veggie curries, noodles and smoothies continued to be popular choices for me, but I parked my iced mocha habit as they tend to use ‘Sweet milk’ (Carnation to you and me) which made them a bit too sickly for me.
Other activities included…
Best, worst, thing you’d like to change
When my family used to go on holiday, we used to play ‘best, worst, thing you’d like to change’ on the way home. I’ve used this in various forms many times since, and even come across it in my professional life as a feedback tool with ‘Start, stop, continue’. So I thought I’d end with that.
Best thing – Angkor Wat and surrounds, without question. It was spectacular, awe-inspiring, amazing, and all the other similar adjectives your thesaurus can think of.
Worst thing – Seeing tho two Huntsmen spiders in the loos of a remote wayside ‘service station’. It made me paranoid about insects for the rest of the trip, and I don’t think I needed to be (although I might include mosquitoes as I got bitten at least once every single day, and one day, 9 times!).
Thing I’d like to change – the litter everywhere. There is rubbish all over Cambodia, and it’s awful to see, as it’s really bad for the environment, and also indicates a lack of basic public services. The cleanest places were Angkor Wat, which is kept beautifully (although the close-by town of Siem Reap is heavily littered), and certain key areas in Phonm Penh (e.g. around the King’s memorial etc).
Thanks for reading my Cambodia posts – this is the last one, it’s onto new territory in the next post. You’ll see topics including Inspiration, Elephants and Massage coming up, to name but a few.
Have you been anywhere lately? What was your most memorable-in-a-good-way trip? Do you have a best/worst/thing you’d change? Put it in the comments!