From the Island…

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We travelled over and through the stunning Cardamon Mountains for 3.5 hours… from Sihanoukville to Koh Kong. We played something like 20 hands of Uno as the bus lurched over the mountains, through blind corners in excess of 60 kph, horn honking every few seconds.

We stopped in a rural bus station, which was so clean and so yummy. The boy purchased a cup of freshly squeezed cane juice on ice for something ridiculous like Australian 25 cents. It was bright tasting, kind of like sunshine. We perused the tasty wares, but he settled on more pringlesque chips, we spotted them in a specialty store the other day and he gleefully pointed them out. Asia memories have quickly become associated with food for him.

We arrived in Koh Kong to a dusty, red soiled shed. Motorbike drivers and a lone tuk tuk were awaiting our arrival. I snagged the Tuk Tuk, quickly purchasing a few gifts at a stall (the only time there was a massive language barrier, but we got through). I’d sorted our accommodation previously and off we choofed!

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To this little piece of paradise. That’s the boy setting the chess board up in the shadow of the cardamon mountains. Strangely, the mosquitoes weren’t as bad as I imagined they could be. We got in to Koh Kong at about 1pm and just lounged in the bungalow… watching TV, reading books, conversing with other travellers. It was down time at its best. There was one more fabulous thing…ImageWe spent a lot of time here!

When we woke up in the morning, we swam, had a leisurely breakfast and then caught the Tuk Tuk to the border where we entered Thailand.

Koh Kong has certainly captured my imagination, though. I’d really like to do a hike through Chi Phat and possibly stay at 4 rivers next time we pass through. The boy just wants to go back to this place, impossibly perfect and the most wonderful place to reflect on an incredible week in Cambodia.

I didn’t take many photos in Cambodia, just because it felt like the country hadn’t made the beds before company arrived… I want to go back. The boy wants to go back and that was the aim of this trip, to get the boy excited about travelling. Mission accomplished!

 

Phnom Penh

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Phnom Penh, almost as expected, was the city that I struggled the most with.

Transported from Singapore, we arrived to the city in the early evening. Our passports were taken away, I paid $10 for the boy’s visa, then his passport was given back. I was waved on to another line. My name was called, my passport handed back. $20 for me. Confusing, aye. The boy, normally impeccably behaved, had decided that this was the time where he would spin on the tiles… and spin he did, followed by running around and not listening when I called him over for the customary wave at the camera/fingerprinting/passport part of the trip.

We grabbed our luggage and emerged into the warmth. It was lovely. I love the way that the heat envelopes you after you leave the plane and you begin to wake up and realise that you are somewhere new, different and the adventure has truly begun.

I grabbed a taxi and made a rookie error that I didn’t make again on our trip – I didn’t ask how much the fare would be or negotiate. It was an airport taxi, it should have been a flat $9. I am rubbish at negotiating fares, so thought that going for one of the airport ones I would avoid the trouble… well.

We got stuck in peak hour traffic, the 7km trip took 40 minutes.

It was at one of the first intersections where the most gorgeous little girl knocked on our window and asked for money. I’d prepped the little man that we were not going to give money to children begging… Further up the road, a little boy who couldn’t even see over the door of the car knocked on my window.

Then my taxi driver started taking me on a “tour”, past the independence monument, past the poorest streets, complete with small children urinating onto the “road” on and on, until we got to our hotel and the doubled taxi fare.

*sigh* It was not pretty, dear readers. I quibbled and wavered. I ended up negotiating down, slightly. In retrospect, I should have given him 9 and stormed off to our hotel and let the reception staff deal with him if he’d followed. One word: Sucker. If that had happened at the end of our trip, well, things would have been different.

We carried our bags up the 5 flights of stairs to our top floor room, surveyed the beautiful sunset past Wat Botum and Botum Park and then contemplated dinner. We spotted a playground and made our way there, crossing the roads bravely (no organised crossings, remember!). We meandered, then got hungrier and hit up Suki Soup… It was disastrous as we realised that we had major communication issues, had drunk drinks without establishing if they had filtered water in them, then had no idea how to cook the food.

We ordered off the easy part of the menu and found a bottle of water.

And called it a night. I was questioning why Cambodia, why by myself and with the responsibility of getting the boy to enjoy South East Asia.

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Our first full day we went to Phnom Tamao, which will be getting its own picture heavy post. Things really turned around when we went to dinner that night, to be greeted with the royal palace and surrounds to be all lit up with fairy lights. It was extraordinarily beautiful and felt like being in an Eastern Paris. I fell in love with Phnom Penh in that moment.

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We hit up the Russian Market, as seen above, purchasing the boy a digital watch with a calculator, a few factory seconds from Osh Kosh, Zara, H+M and Adidas. We toured the silver pagoda, but not the royal palace as the King Father’s body was still lying in State. We went to the Riverside and had dinner and a drink at the Foreign Correspondant’s club.

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There is a lot I purposely left out of Phnom Penh and more that I want to explore next time. We avoided the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng, people told me that I would regret it, that I was missing the soul of the country… Next trip, perhaps. We didn’t go to Angkor Wat on this trip, either. Certainly, next time.

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We left 3 sleeps after arriving. An early morning trip with a pair of lovely travelling American ladies to the Island. I was sad about leaving the thriving, teeming, changing beautiful mess of Phnom Penh. A complete 360 degree turn around in 2 and a half days. I can’t wait to explore more of the crumbling buildings and see the new surprises when next we return. The city isn’t one of those light ones, you can feel a menace in the shadows. It’s a two faced city – a proud, smiling face for the foreigners and you just know that there is darkness happening in and around you.

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I was scared of things going wrong in Phnom Penh – of my passport being stolen, my big camera being taken (hence why so few photos were taken, I didn’t feel comfortable), being separated from my beautiful boy… yet, circumstances didn’t really prompt that. It was all the talk leading up to the trip – people saying how scary Cambodia was, even the guy next to me… and I bought into it, again. Things on our final full day were much more relaxed, until we caught a tuk tuk home after dinner and the driver turned around and said “be careful, Miss” and pointed at my bag on the floor…

The thing is though, I was alert, but never really scared. I keep saying “next time” over and over, I cannot wait to share this city with my partner and see what he thinks of it. I want to explore so much more, but I am so glad that I’ve started the explorations!

 

 

Koh Rong

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Koh Rong is currently one of THE hotspots of South East Asia.

It’s a little island off the Coast of Sihanoukville in Cambodia and is developing quickly… so quickly in fact that in the time since I’d booked accommodation and arrived (less than 3 months), there were already two new accommodation spots on the island, with another one being built.

The thing that is drawing people there in droves is that it is being touted as what Thailand’s Southern beaches were like 30 years ago, before the touts, the resorts, the rampant sex industry. I know that’s what got me there along with the fact that I could stay in a treehouse, lounge in a hammock and do little else for the duration of our trip.

The Island has been sold to a developer who is going to turn it into an eco resort… before I went I had strong feelings that this simply shouldn’t be allowed to happen, but after our visit, well, things have changed.

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The island has beautiful resources – pure white sandy beaches that are 28 degrees celcius warm during the day, undisturbed jungles in the middle of the island and dive sites in the warm waters. It is a haven from this mad and busy world.

With the level of building currently going on, though, how can this be preserved? The island is growing in popularity and the number of guests growing… as is the amount of sewage, food required, number of boats… on and on. This is not being managed to preserve the natural beauty of the island at the moment, or so it would seem, so having a managed plan might actually be the best way of preserving the unique elements of the island… but then, apparently there is a golf course planned, so perhaps not.

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We stayed for two nights in a treehouse bungalow (US$30 a night), which was magical, even if our bathroom made us squeamish. It’s not the Ritz, for sure!

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On our full day, I paid $75 for two refresher dives from a boat (group of 3 with one dive master and a DM in training) and for the boy to snorkel. The boy didn’t enjoy the snorkelling so much, so I skipped my second dive to hang out with him and do flips off the back of the boat… still major fun and super inclusive. We were stung by jellyfish spores, which sounds a bigger deal than it was, but stayed in the water anyway. I have a video of the boy jumping in and rising to the surface in a pile of bubbles, but no need to bore anyone!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn our second full day we lounged in the water, hammocks, beachside cafes and more. We swam so much in that turquoise water and caught up with people we’d met on the boat. There is a smug kind of smile that every guest shares on the island, like we’re the ones that have discovered a secret paradise and know how lucky we really are.

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It was also the only place on our trip that I really felt comfortable enough releasing the boy off his big Western leash. The man assisting me with our booking gently chided me for babying him too much, a sweet reminder that I’m attempting to grow a person, not a child.

Ohhh, a few more things about the island:

There are dogs everywhere.

There are two Khmer island communities… These are townships made up with corrugated tin homes, boilers, single room houses and the trappings of poverty. This is a community that is currently reaping the benefits of cashed up tourists who are too lazy to do their own laundry (like me. I paid US$1.75 for all of the boy and I’s clothes to be washed by someone else). It’s not for the faint hearted, though, as the smell is intense. It offers bonuses, though, like the wedding we got to witness!

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I guess the big thing is, ultimately, whether we enjoyed it or not. That is an absolute no-brainer. We loved it and cannot wait to return with my beloved spouse as soon as possible. I don’t know if we’ll stay on Koh Rong on the busy side, again… I think we’d either stay on the other side of the island or on Koh Rong Samloen. For this trip, though, being close to people was important as it was just the boy and I.

I seriously miss this Island way of life so much and the idea of it being years before we return makes me immeasurably sad. Sooner, rather than later is the order of the day for Koh Rong.

How to get to Koh Rong:

Catch a 2.5 hour ferry from Sihanoukville. You can liase directly with Koh Rong Dive (who operate Treehouse Bungalows and Coco’s) or book through one of the Sihanoukville travel agents.