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Kat & Andrew's Worldwide Adventures

Phu Quoc, Vietnam / Kep & Kampot, Cambodia

CAMBODIA | Sunday, 3 November 2013 | Views [3368]

In Ho Chi Minh we squeezed our bags onto a local bus to get out to the airport. Our flight on a tiny little plane with a propeller took an hour to the island of Phu Quoc. We arrived at a bare and empty, brand new airport. We hadn't pre-booked accommodation as usual so we had no pre-arranged transport, the only option was a taxi and it cost the amount of one night in a hotel... ouch. We went to the islands main centre thinking that it would be easy enough to find somewhere to stay. 


All the decent accommodation is stretched out the length of Long Beach and down long driveways so walking with our bags in the heat for a long distance wasn't an option. We ended up getting a place in town for the night but it was more expensive than what we ended up paying on the beach! Nice places started at $30 and air con rooms were almost double the price of fan rooms. The next morning we rented a motorbike and went searching for other options. We found a nice fan room at a hotel right on the beach for our usual budget of $10 US a night (Called Lien Hiep Thanh). Score! It was down a street with tourist offices, restaurants and bars so we didnt even need to go into town again. Andrew ferried all our luggage back and forth between hotels on the bike then we set off down to the south part of the island to have a look around. The island has a grim history - it is the home of the one of the main prisons the Americans used to keep and torture Vietnamese during the War. 


The first part of the Long Beach stretch catered to tourists but most of it was deserted. The island is the quietest place we've been in all of Asia so far (until we got the Kep & Kampot in Cambodia). We drove for 20 minutes along the stretch of sand on a dirt road and only passed a few shacks and fishing boats. There were signs everywhere with pictures of new resort developments to come though. They looked incredibly fancy - I would say that in 10 years time we wouldn't even recognise the island!  We went to Sao Beach which is supposed to be the nicest on the island - turquoise waters and powder white sand. Unfortunately though, we didnt catch it on its best day. Due to change of seasons the beach was covered in washed up bits of wood, rubbish and seaweed, the water was murky and rough and even though it was hot, it was overcast which sucked the colour and feeling of paradise out of the surrounding palm trees and bush. At the moment there are a few basic restaurants there and thats it. Im sure this will change!


I pinched a nerve in my lower back and over a few days it became very painful. I got a massage which is my fourth so far in Asia and its the first time I was actually in a private room and on a proper massage bed with a hole for the face. There was even a fish bowl under the hole for my viewing pleasure! The massage felt great but it was very soft so didnt help the pain.


We spent the entire next day on sun-loungers under thatched huts on the beach outside of our hotel. The first half of the day was overcast and then the sun come out and the whole beach and sky instantly became bright and divine. The water was clear and blue, and the sand a soft orange. We read, swam and ate all our meals on the sand. We even saw a lady's pet monkey playing in the water like a toddler. When the day turned to night after a brilliant sunset, squid boats glowed out in the ocean, coloured lanterns lit up, soft music set the mood and it became very romantic. Being Halloween, a bonfire was lit further down the beach and a small relaxed party began.

Halloween 3 years ago I flew to Canada. A week later I met Andrew. Halloween 2 years ago we were in Colombia. Last year - New Zealand. Next year - Australia. Phew!


We bought a combined ticket of transfer to the wharf, 1.5 hour boat ride to Ha Tien, bus to the border of Cambodia then onwards to Kep. We couldve done it on our own but it wouldve been more hassle and cost alot more. It is known that taxis and even border officials over charge tourists because they can. Of course though, with the combined ticket, it is just another chance for someone else to make more money. In Ha Tien we were taken to a cafe where they said we had to buy our entry visas for Cambodia. It seemed a bit of a weird process but there were 20 of us together so we all just went with it. We waited at the cafe for an hour (so we had the chance to spend money buying food and drink of course) and then were told to get into a van to go to the border to pick up our passports. Once we got there, there was more waiting and we didn't really know what was going on. But in the end it all worked out. We walked in the boiling heat over the dusty road that marked the crossing and had to pay a compulsory $1 for a "health check". A plastic thing was held up to our foreheads to test our temperature. Right.


Back in a van and Welcome to Cambodia! Half an hour later we were dropped off in a tiny town in Kep. It wasnt what I expected, there was next to nothing there, and a small basic orange sand beach but it had a little charm. As Andrew was finding somewhere to stay and I waited with the bags, a local told me in broken English that New Zealand women are beautiful and he would like a New Zealand girlfriend. Ummm thanks! It was sweltering hot so we treated ourselves and paid extra for air con. Hammocks under thatched covers lined the beach and whole families sat in a big circle eating their meals together. They all play in the water together fully clothed. Its nice watching them all smile and seem so happy.


We only stayed one night and then headed half an hour to the next town of Kampot for one night. Its a small grid of streets (only some were tar-sealed, the others were dusty and muddy) next to a pretty river. There isn't much to see unless you get out into the National Park but it also has some charm. We wondered around for as long as we could stand the heat. We ate a cafe where all the staff were deaf and ordered by ticking next to pictures and words of what we wanted. There were also a few massage places that were operated by the blind. How fantastic that no one is discriminated! A local girl told me that she works 12 hours a day, 7 days a week and only gets paid $90 a month. All of that goes to support her elderly mother. She was fascinated that we could afford to travel so long. It made my heart break and bleed for her and all the people like this in the world. Still, she is fortunate and has what is considered a well paying job here. Teachers for example only get $30 a month.  


Little bit extra about Cambodia:


  • The country uses the US dollar. US currency is what we get out of the ATMs. But they also use their own currency of riel, although tourists mainly use them for small purchases only. 
  • You can try Duck Embryo, Grilled Tarantula, Crickets and fermented Fish paste here. Urgh.
  • To begin with, Cambodia was influenced by China and India. Then the Angkorian era lasted from AD 802 to 1432. Thailand sacked Angkor in 1351 and again in 1431. From 1600 to the arrival of the French in 1864, the Kings swayed between being mastered by Thailand and Vietnam. If the French had not arrived, the country would have ended up falling to one of them. In 1907 the French persuaded Thailand to give back much of Cambodias land including Siem Reap and the famous Angkor Watt.  Cambodia declared independence in 1953.
  • Cambodia got badly damaged during the Vietnam War. Much of it is still unusable from the American bombs that still danger the rural jungle areas. The country has one of the highest numbers in the world for limb loss.
  • A revolutionary group called the Khmer Rouge emerged in Cambodia and in 1975 they attacked Phnom Penh. I recommend reading a book called "First they killed my father"by Luong Ung. Its a true story of what happened to her and her family during this time. Everyone was forced to march into the countryside and work as slaves for 12-15 hours a day with barely any food. Almost 2 million died of starvation and sickness or were killed because they were educated, spoke another language or were monks. All art, books, musical instruments, religious and Europen buildings were destroyed except luckily, most of Angkor Watt. The horror continued for almost 4 years. Vietnam intervened. The book describes it in so much detail, and is so heartbreaking and horrifying, that I found it hard to believe it is real. Suddenly all the small problems that we face in our day to day lives seemed so trivial. 
  • After the liberation, rice wasn't being planted so there was a massive famine. The country has slowly been getting back to its feet ever since. There are around 15 million people in Cambodia, and the country is half the size of Vietnam. Life expectancy is only 62 years old. Most people are either Buddhist or Hindu. 


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