As if changing currencies every few weeks isn’t confusing enough, we’re now in Cambodia, where they use two different currencies simultaneously. Everything is priced in dollars and cents, except they don’t actually have cents, they use Cambodian reil as their smaller unit, and the quantifies don’t match up. So we’ll pay for something that’s $3.25 with a $5 note and receive back a $1 note and a seemingly random array of reil notes. Very confusing.
Anyway, so far Cambodia seems absolutely beautiful. It’s lusciously green, the people are so friendly and the food is incredible. For saying it is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, they’re really getting their act together environmentally. They charge for plastic bags in supermarkets, they don’t automatically give out plastic straws and usually give metal/bamboo straws as an alternative, their waste management seems miles ahead of everywhere else we’ve been, and they have charity clothing collections and other schemes to help alleviate poverty. It’s really refreshing.
Unfortunately, when travelling for an extended period of time like we are, it’s not always possible to plan our locations around the best season to visit them. Hence, we have found ourselves in Cambodia in the depths of the rainy season. It seems to come in bursts, with nice bouts of sun in between, so we can’t complain really. It does mean the trees and plants are at their peak, making everything look colourful.
We had a glorious two days in Sihanoukville, sunbathing (in between showers) and eating delicious food. This morning, we hopped onto the “speed ferry” to take the hour trip over to the island of Koh Rong. Unfortunately we chose to travel during a storm, which made for an extremely uncomfortable journey. I wasn’t sure if it was anxiety or actual motion sickness but one of the two was steering me in the direction of throwing up. Thankfully it was all worth it when we arrived at the dreamy little island. We went exploring this afternoon; this island has the perfect combination of white sand beaches, jungles, beach bars, Asian food and wooden huts and guesthouses. You certainly have to be at one with nature here, as there are a LOT of bugs and insects everywhere.
We’ve walked to a cafe just down from our guesthouse for breakfast. It’s been raining all morning, but it looked like it was stopping. Nope. The path that both our guesthouse and this cafe are on is a slope, which has turned to a fairly deep river as it’s lined with concrete buildings both sides, so we’re staying put for now. What amazes me, is that every time there is a torrential downpour like this, the local children all go out to play in it! They absolute love it! There was a little girl here who I assume is the daughter of this cafe’s owners, who jumped up off her chair in a pink fairy-esque dress with a big netted skirt (and French plaits, she reminded me of me as a child), and frollocked out into the path *now river* to play! I haven’t seen her since, I hope she wasn’t washed away.
Yesterday we were lucky and had a glorious morning on the beach. It was drizzling a little, but still hot and mostly sunny, so if anything the drizzle helped keep us cool. We had woodfired pizza for lunch at Treehouse Bungalows, next to their own little private beach. The afternoon was much more stormy, and long story short, we arrived back at our guesthouse with saturated clothes and bags, and broken umbrellas (RIP, those Disney umbrellas have served us well since we bought them in Luang Prabang).
The little girl and her brother have just arrived back looking very bedraggled, and are currently taking it in turns at dipping their heads under the drainpipe run-off from the roof. Children are funny.
What an adventure we’ve had today. Before you read this Mum and Dad (or Lesley), just know that we’re both absolutely fine and safe, and we had fun.
So we’d seen that there was a jungle trail connecting our town to the huge beach along the west coast of the island, over a mountain. We asked the guy who owns our guesthouse about it, and he said it would be extremely treacherous in this season, and unless we can see a clear path, he wouldn’t recommend going into the jungle. Perhaps against our better judgement, we decided to go anyway.
We set off up the mountain from our town. It was steep and wet, with pretty difficult terrain, but it was ok. The path was a stream for a lot of the incline, which I assume wouldn’t be the case in the dry season, but at least it was a little cooler for us. When the stream became calf-depth we started to wonder what might be lurking in the water. We saw crabs (I didn’t know crabs lived in rivers!), and a frog, but no snakes. We also saw some huge ant colonies (huge both in size of ant and population), which we quickly moved past. The jungle became really dense, but we could just about make out the path. Alarm bells started to ring when we’d completed three quarters of the distance of the trek, and were still inclining.
We finally reached a boulder, which seemed to signify the beginning of the descent. We could see the sea, so we thought it couldn’t be far. How wrong we were. We peered over the boulder, to see the rock face we were expected to descend down. I won’t talk a lot about this as it was quite terrifying; steep, slippery and probably pretty dangerous, but I did take a few photos so you’ll get the idea. We did pause a short distance down to discuss a protocol for if anything bad were to happen (first sensible move of the day).
After what seemed like an eternity, we found ourselves on the beach; exhausted, eaten alive by mosquitos and god knows what other insects, scratched by trees, and absolutely filthy. We now had to walk the 6km length of the beach to the “town” (I use the word generously). After about half that distance, we were fed up. Walking on sand is really really hard for any great distance, let alone after our trek! We finally reached the town, where there was a single restaurant open. We were absolutely starving by this point, so we would have taken anything. We had a glorious fish and chips, looking out onto the water.
Believe it or not, this is where the fun really started. We had planned to get a water taxi back to our beach, but upon speaking to the lady on the pier, it was apparent that the sea was too choppy. We wandered around a bit looking for inspiration, when a lady and her family obviously sensed our stress. They couldn’t speak a word of English, but got a family member on the phone to us who could! We said we were looking for a taxi back to Koh Touch beach, and he said he could get us moto-taxis (yikes). We didn’t really have another option, so we agreed. Minutes later, he and another guy arrived on scooters for us. I had the guy we spoke to on the phone, so I knew he could speak English, so I thought it best to inform him I’d never been on a scooter in my life and thought I might fall off. He laughed, and gave me some helpful advice! Anyway we set off, and all was going well until about half way, when the road became a mud pitt. Elliot’s guy managed to get his bike through, but mine got stuck, so the plan was for Elliot’s guy to take Elliot, and then come back for me. Minutes later, Elliot’s guy rang mine to inform him he was stuck too. My guy and I started walking to catch them up. After another few minutes, a pick up truck already loaded with people approached. My guy spoke to the driver in Cambodian, and then informed me I was to hop on the back and go with them! I must have looked a little apprehensive but he assured me it was fine. My guy then rang Elliot’s and said I was coming on a truck, and Elliot was to hop on too. We finally arrived back at our beach, and thanked the random family that had taken us on their truck.
This all sounds chaotic and dodgy, but at no point did I actually feel unsafe. Elliot was unhappy with the plan for him to be taken first on the good bike and for the guy to come back for me, but really we had no other option by that point as they were already ahead. Riding on the back of the scooter was actually really fun once I’d been taught how to not fall off.
I’ve taken from this that Cambodian people are absolutely lovely. The family needn’t have even helped us get transport in the first place. Then our two riders really did everything in their power to ensure we got back. Everything always just seems to turn out fine for us, and we were extremely grateful to everyone that helped us. Of course, the fact that it turned out to be a rainfree day definitely helped us; I dread the thought of that rocky descent in any of the storms we’ve seen here!
We’re just on the pier waiting for our ferry back to Sihanoukville. Yesterday, the day after our trek, I woke up feeling like I’d been hit by a train. I guess our general lack of exercise here is really showing! We went for another great pizza at Treehouse Bungalows, and then just lay on their beach all day. There are three dogs that I assume live there, that seem to just play on the beach all day, what a fabulous life! Despite the weather, we’ve had an absolutely glorious few days on this little paradise island; relaxing, eating, and partying at the Police Beach jungle party. And really we’ve seen more sun than rain during the day so that’s all that matters. It’s a clear day today so hopefully I won’t feel so sick on the way back to Sihanoukville.
After getting the boat back to Sihanoukville yesterday (which was actually fine), we had a relaxing afternoon around the pool. We fancied something a bit different for dinner, so went to a little barbecue place owned by an Australian family. It was incredible; we had chicken, corn on the cob, baked potatoes, sweet potato bacon hash and garlic bread. It made me happy. We’re now waiting for our bus to Phnom Penh, where we’ll be spending the next couple of days. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time here at the coast and on the island; now back to city hopping for a little while!