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Long route home Our trip all the way home, trying to catch no planes and stay on the ground like civilised people. It's taking us via India all the way to Europe from Japan, the furthest of the Far East...

Happy Kampotters

CAMBODIA | Wednesday, 14 July 2010 | Views [1172]

From Ha Tien, we had the bus all to ourselves. After all the warnings of scams and 'extras', the border crossing to Cambodia was pretty simple. We paid $1 for the pleasure of filling out a 'medical check' form, and climbed aboard the waiting bus on the other side. The road was fairly basic and bumpy and we were held up by a truck breaking down - but it was the most-hassle free border either of us has ever navigated.

The first surprise when we arrived in Kampot was that the bus driver didn't try to hassle us to stay in his friends guesthouse. In fact, for at least 15 minutes, nobody tried to sell us anything! The second surprise was to find an informative tourist information office, with a free map of Kampot and also not trying to sell us anything! The third surprise came much later, when we watched the most beautiful sun set over the river.  Two days in Kampot became five, as we relaxed in this wonderful town. The Magic Sponge guesthouse really felt like home from home, run by really friendly people, who clearly know and love the area. Actually, infinitely better than home - warm weather, laundry facilities and the best fried breakfast we've had in years...Blissful (guesthouse/bar next door), was also a treat, with the football showing every night for Oli, and interesting guests and lovely Dutch barwoman Zee for Emma to talk to. We spent 3 nights there until very late, chatting and listening to music.  It's good when the staff from one place nip to the neighbours' for drinks - no cut-throat competition here!  We met a few characters who had been buying primates (to save them from the chopping block), racing motos and one guy who was a professional cave diver (more of that later).  We also got talking to a Khmer lady at WunderBar who had won a prize at work and got a trip to Paris out of it.  She described how perplexed she was and how much misunderstanding there was between her and the Frenchies.

We didn't actually do very much in Kampot. The danger of relaxing too much in a place is that you forget you have to get up and do anything! We managed a day trip to the Bokor National Park, where we saw the abandoned derilict buildings from French colonial times, complete with bullet holes from its time as a Khmer Rouge base. We were very happy to see a snake and a lizard (which attacked Oli, haha) and to hear the sounds of the gibbons nearby. We were less happy to collect over 25 plastic bottles, and see the impact of the new road works everywhere - in a few years there will be a five star hotel/casino/golf complex on the top and no more riding up in the back of a pickup truck 20 odd strong and with folk on the roof. We got absolutely drenched in the afternoon rain (no umbrella or rain coats like the other sensible tourers), and the day ended with a 'sunset cruise' (more a damp, cloudy, mosquito-ey boat trip).  Emma got a great massage from a blind masseur, fixing the bad back she'd got from all those bumpy buses, and we spent a great evening at a local orphanage/school where the kids were doing traditional dancing. Otherwise, we enjoyed the cafes, slept and totally lost track of time.  When we finally got up early enough to make the 11am bus to Sihanoukville, it was a shock to the system. We had been warned that it was a place of "bad expats", "bad tourists" and "locals with little respect for foreigners".

Our stop for coffee on Serendipity beach made us targets for an endless stream of bracelet sellers, massage / waxing ladies (Emma was delighted to have her hairy legs pointed out!) and other touts. The rather insiduous "Remember me lady, if you change your mind, you buy from me OK?" is testament to the high numbers of sellers and low numbers of tourists.  We made a run for Otres beach in a tuk tuk, arriving to discover it was about to be shut down! There was (and still appears to be) much confusion about what was actually happening, but it seems the foreign run places were all being shut down, while others still had a few more months to trade. A new beach resort is being built so the government want to shut down all the shacks along the beach. It was certainly not our best night's sleep - we stayed in a bar rather than one of the proper guesthouses becaus so much seemed shut. Emma was worried by the stories of men with guns coming in the morning, Oli chose not to tell her about the rats he had seen in the room earlier, the pillows were damp, and the music played until very late because, of course, it was eviction night...

The best thing about Sihonoukville was the snake restaurant. It's run by someone who clearly loves his reptiles, with snakes in the tables, and in glass tanks all around the place, a crocodile tied up in a pond on the edge of the restaurant, and 30 more in a pit just outside. We heard that he was very popular with the locals as he had the anti-venom to look after anyone who's been bitten - that's his day job. The only place there was no snake was on the menu!  After that, with less than 24 hours spent in the fleapit that is Snooky, we cut and ran to Phnom Penh...

If you're going...

- Magic Sponge and Blissful, just up from the pepper planter's roundabout - both excellent
- Wunderbar - should be by the river now...also excellent
- If booking trip to Bokor, they all end up in the same pickup truck and you will have to be fairly fit/strong

- The snake house - not cheap, but not expensive and unigue
- Otres isn't all that, a bit of a faff to get to and although a lot less hassle, not any prettier


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