After Battambang we were headed the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. I think we experienced the most user friendly easiest bus experience in the history of travelingbetween Battambang and Phnom Penh. We could walk to the bus office in Battambang so we did that and booked our ticket direct (which cut out the $1-2 commission charge the hotel/travel agencies charge for booking the ticket). Also it allowed us to get on the bus that local people take (instead of be herded onto a tourist only bus--never good). And then we walked to the bus stop in themorning(saving on taxi/tuk tuk fare) and they shuttled us to the big bus for free so the whole thing cost us $6 for the 6 ish hour trip. In Cambodia (and probably everywhere), you just learn that whatever amount of hours the bus company says a trip will be, actually add 1-3 hours to that as the realistic amount of time you'll be on the bus for...once you do this bus math, you'll be much happier and settled bc it's always never on time ;)
We got on the bus and this quirky little elderly local lady with red stain (some kind of chewing thing) all up in her teeth and dripping down her chin was sitting across the aisle from us and was just enamored with Bridger! She kept trying to talk to us but didn't have any English so we communicated through gestures and sound effects haha...and then when the conversation was quite obviously not able to be continued, we faded out, looked forward and we could feel her eyes still staring at us waiting for us to look again! She initially touched Bridger's sunburned shoulder and made some cheeky comment in Cambodian and laughed. Then she pointed to my nose hoop and made a funny noise that your grandma would make in shock about what you've done and then laughed. And then at some point Bridger had stomach problems so had to get up for a long sit on the toilet. Well she loved that! She kept looking back at the door and then to me. And then eventually she pointed to his seat asking me where he was so I gestured to my stomach and made a face to say that he was sick and she thought that was hilarious and laughed and laughed!
We got to Phnom Penh, a much more developed and beautiful city than lats time I was there (or a different area, not sure) and oh my goodness the food options!!! We were in heaven!!! Haha again after making concerted efforts to eat locally for most meals, we were so blown away by all the western food options that actually were delicious (in most places, you're best off not ordering western food because it's usually so so bad) that we literally decided to stay an extra day and spend a whole day glutinously eating everything we wanted! We ate chai latte's, good coffee, dominoes pizza, schwarma, mashed potatoes, beef jerky, donuts, cliff bars, chicken kiev, delicious hamburgers, safe and normal salads, cookies and cream milkshake, tacos, chocolate cake (do you know how many places chocolate cake is on the menu but then you ask for it, "oh sorry, all out"-chocolate cake, I'm convinced is actually a farce to draw tourist into the restaurant with never an intention to actually stock chocolate cake--this hypothesis was all but confirmed later in Cambodia...), aaaaaaaamazing!!! I ate so much in our first delicious dinner that it lasted approximately 10 minutes after completion before I had to leave Bridger to pay the bill while I ran off to the toilet for the rejection party.
In keeping with the "consume everything" motto that had come to define Phnom Penh, at another restaurant I decided to actually treat myself to a rum and coke which I pointed to and ordered.And then I saw CaptainMorgans on the menu so I revised my order and said I wanted Captain Morgan's instead. When I got my drink it was absolutely terrible and I drank it through gritted teeth just to get it down. It all made sense when I got my bill and I was billed for rum and also captain morgans and also coke--ahhh I get why it tasted awful... in the messy ordering, somehow the waitress thought that, even though I'm certain that this has never been done in the history of the world, that I wanted a double shot mixed with whatever brand of rum rum is AND a shot of Captain Morgans-yum! All in, my hellion of a drink cost me somewhere around 8 USD. Ahhh, communication breakdowns! While we were sitting at said restaurant Bridger had his cell on the corner of the table. A little girl like 8 years old came around selling flowers which we politely declined. After she made her rounds in the restaurant she passed by our table again and said to Bridger something like, "Watch your phone mister" and swiftly disappeared into the street. Haha I'm not sure if it was a friendly warning of threat from outside or a warning that she was going to swipe it if he didn't put it away but a bit ominouseither way!
Phnom Penh itself, as with Cambodia in general but more so here, has a particularly gritty reputation especially known for drive by purse (and other bags) motorcycle thefts off your body and out of tuk tuks you're riding in (they literally reach in and grab stuff right out as they drive by and zip away on their bikes long before you can do anything about it).Many tuk tuks have installed either curtains or netting on the side to offer some level of protection from this. Anyways in lots of places you travel, there is always a risk of drive by motorcycle thefts so advice has always been to wear your purse straps across your body instead of just over your shoulder because its not an easy pick-off so you likely wouldn't be targeted. Well Phnom Penh is a special type of place where the thieves actually don't care-they'll just grab and knock you down, drag you, whatever until you wiggle out or the strap breaks...plenty of horror stories about tourist injuries from this.In Phnom Penh this happens so often that you always meet people with the stories of this happening and where guidebooks and guesthouses make a particular point of warning you. Even though I've always carried my MEC purse and felt comfortable doing so, I've made it general practice in Cambodia everywhere to leave the purse at home and just tuck my wallet in my waistband under my shirt and carry my phone in my sports bra. Haha actually this trip I've been pleasantly reminded what good storage units boobs are--Ive stored phones, cash, bank and credit cards in there so far...I'd say pretty well on a daily or almost daily basis! So often that I feel bad for men because seriously, how do they carry their stuff with no boobs and pockets that are a perfect place for well trained assholes to pickpocket you?! I still don't know the answer.
Around this time we entered the stretch of our lives that Bridger and I like to call "check in. Check out!". We didn't know how long we were going to be in Phnom Penh so we just booked one night and then extended every day. Except the hostel we were staying in was so busy that we had to move to a different room every day for 4 days straight nights--first the family room, then the private room, then the dorm room then a totally different dorm room. AND "check in. Check out!" didn't even end there...
There were nice parts of Phnom Penh and then there were the absolutely well done but appalling historical sites where you could get a better understanding of what happened during the genocide in the 70's. During the genocide, the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot essentially took over the country with a dream of turning society into a peasant-based agrarian society and with that, murdered everyone who was perceived as a threat through their occupation, intelligence or defiance. In the end, approx 25% of the population, millions of people were murdered, especially the educated or those working in professional or police jobs. Many of those that weren't killed were put in essentially slave labour work camps and died of disease or starvation. To this day many people on Cambodia are still personally impacted by the genocide and Cambodia has a comparatively very young population as a result of it-approx 40% of the population is under the age of 16.
We visited the Tuol Sleng prison where political prisoners came to be interrogated and tortured, only most of these people were innocent men, women and children and often railroaded into confessing things they did not actually do. The prison is haunting because it used to be a high school before being converted into the prison. Inside there are numerous torture rooms, cell blocks and signs with outrageous and oppressive rules of the prison.
Then we went to the "killing fields" which was essentially a mass extermination camp where prisoners were taken to be executed and disposed of. The Khmer Rouge were utterly barbaric in their torture and killing methods and refused to use "precious bullets" and instead used knives, garden hoes and other blunt objects or the serrated edge of a tree frond to kill people and then threw their bodies in massive pits. They even killed children by smashing them against a tree trunk.
Around the site today there is literally still bones, teeth and clothing fragments that periodically work their way up to the surface even though the mass graves themselves have been cleared.
There is a monument that is full top to bottom of skulls of those found at the killing fields and visitors are encouraged to take a moment of silence before or after the tour to honor the dead.
The irony of the killing fields, a place of so much ugliness, was that it was literally surrounded by farmers fields and a beautiful little lake which seems a serene backdrop for what took place there.
I visited these sites back in 2006 and what I found mind boggling back then as I do now is how little people know about this genocide even though millions of people died in the most horrific of ways and it happened so relatively recently under the noses of the international community?!? Actually I found out this trip that at the height of the genocide when there were unconfirmed stories leaking of the atrocities being committed by escaped refugee, Sweden for whatever reason I can't remember was actually invited in to Cambodia by Pol Pot during this time to report back on the state of Cambodia. Shockingly, Sweden emerged from this visit with the verdict that Cambodia was experiencing a peaceful revolution in which the people appeared to be content and jovial with no evidence of wrongdoing! So with renewed support from the international community he continued his rampage on the innocent people of Cambodia until they were eventually liberated by Vietnam. Touring these sites gives you an even larger appreciation for and admiration of the Khmer people who should be so hardened by these events but instead are such resilient, welcoming and friendly people! It's no wonder Cambodia continues to lag behind their SE Asian neighbors in terms of development as their society and people as they knew it were literally obliterated. It is outstanding really how they have rebuilt not only their lives but their entire society back up from scratch and in spite of their continuing challenges and dangers, should be wholeheartedly commended for their efforts! We love Cambodia!!!
While in Phnom Penh, we decided in a last minute move that we were going to make a trip to Myanmar (Burma) now that it is open for tourism. That meant that we dropped our passports off at the Myanmar embassy and had to wait 4 days before we got them back and our visa was approved. Well eventually it was time to move on from Phnom Penh and our visas weren't processed yet so....we left our passports at the embassy in Phnom Penh and set out for the beach...without our passports. All we had was a copy and hoped that would be good enough. Some strange to travel without your passport but also kind of liberating too because you never really had to make a plan for how to protect it when you left your room! Anyways, unfortunately as it was Phnom Penh leave time, it was also time for Chinese New Year...this was very bad for us. In hindsight, we should have taken more note of what this actually means because people made a point to mention it a month in advance, buses did not pick up from hotels as usual because it was Chinese New Year etc. etc. Instead we proceeded as normal and figured this wouldn't impact us too much...WRONG!!! We are stupid. We took a bus out to Sihanoukville, Cambodia's main beach hub and our first clue that this day wasn't going to go that well was when we were waiting for the bus on the street and we heard this insanely loud pop--the bus drove over a full water bottle and basically shot a projectile high pressure stream of water...across the street...and directly on to Bridger. Haha he described it like being in slow motion where he saw the stream coming but just couldn't do anything about it. So he was soaked and I and others around were pissing our pants laughing before we even got on the bus! We eventually made it to the seedy coastal vacation town of Sihanoukville and then made our way directly to Otres Beach which I had heard so many good things about as such a "chilled out" spot. What I've since learned about "chill" places was that it could mean it is a quiet, serene and peaceful OR it could mean it is a hotspot for pot smoking hippies who play pool all day. Otres Beach, in our experience of it anyways, was definitely the latter. Even though it wasn't what we expected and our ultimate goal was to make it out to the surrounding islands, we thought it wise to just stay put bc of Chinese New Year and accommodation was insanely tight (since then we became aware of what a solid choice that was as we've met several a people who slept on concrete roofs of hotels or in hammocks on the islands because all accommodation was full but people just kept on coming).
Anyways, we pay $10 freaking dollars to get to Otres beach from Sihanoukville to find out it's literally a strip of dirt with accommodation on each side but EVERYTHING.IS.FULL. We asked SO many places and they just short of laughed us out of the place for thinking they might have room and basically said they might have some openings on Sunday or Monday. It was Friday. Turns out not only are the Chinese on holiday, so are all the Khmers and where do they want to go-to the beach! I usually havetraveled in low season in the past and have never experienced anything close to this cutthroat for accommodation and I was starting to panic thinking that we're going to have to sleep on the dusty street. Until I remembered an extremely well rated on tripadvisor hostel in the town a ways away. I called and they had two dorm beds left so I snatched them up and we were on our way. Turns out this hostel is another hippie commune and the dorm (granted it was only 4 USD/night) was a big wooden room with holes everywhere and windows shutters and doors that just stayed wide open all night AND no mosquito nets!!! Great now we're stuck in a place we clearly don't belong (I'd love to be a hippie but it's not in my DNA) and now we're gonna have spiders and cockroaches crawling in our stuff and on our faces all night long! Oh well, no choice, it's Chinese New Year. Whatever, we figured we'd put our head down and put the fan on (luckily each bed had one) and hope that keeps the bugs away and get through it. Fine, we go to the restaurant to have some drinks to hopefully increase the probability of sleep and I order a bottle of water as well. I open it and sure enough, it's not sealed, hmmm. I was a little nervous but there was a big jug of water behind the bar and it is not uncommon for people to do small bottle refills with a jug of filtered water and it's atourist hostel so I drank it tentatively thinking I'd be ok. WRONG!!! Sure enough Im up in the middle of the night with the shits AGAIN! On the one night I was just desperate to drink myself stupid and pass out to make it through the night in this odd dorm room, I was up every two hours running out of the dorm to the outside shared bathroom to crap. SO fun! I guess those dorm doors that never closed all night turned out to be a blessing in disguise! The only thing that got me through the night and my lone misery (Bridger was passed out) was that that day we had booked for the next night the only other place with availability in Otres Beach...and that was only because they opened two days prior...and it was a super expensive $50/night but beautiful place with white fresh private bathrooms!!! So there you have it... my record is pretty shitty (pun intended) as I've been sick in every country so far!
I made it through the night and we continued the "check in. check out!" legacy...we checked out of the hostel the next morning as the guy from our new expensive hotel told us to come at 10:30 so we could check in. The day prior we had paid a $10 deposit but becausethehotel was new, I think our name got written on a random floating around piece of white paper so not overly comforting that it would be honored the next day. Already panicking that they'd give the only room in Otres Beach away and wed have to slink back to the hostel we just left and re-check in, we got there at that time. The new guy at the reception (who was a total weirdo) at first tried to tell us theres no booking until I was next to clawing behind the counter to find that random scrap of white paper that my name was on...which I did and my name was on it. Too bad they gave away the room I signed up for but luckily they still had one more available which was OURS! But he told us to come back at 1:30. This is not ideal because I know I'm goingtohave to have my regularly scheduled after two hour shit up my guts and I don'tknow where I'm gonna do it but whatever, we'll come back at 1:30. We did...we were told its not ready, come back at 2:30. At this point I'm freaking out that again they're not gonna give us a room and now its even later so our crappy dorm room is probably not even any option anymore and we're back to dirt sleeping OR they're gonna give us the room and when they realize that we don't have passports (every hotel always wants to see your passport on checkin in Cambodia) they were going to tell us that we can't stay. We get back at 2:45 and the guy stares at us silently for awhile and then says "do you want to ask me a question?". What the fuck, you know what we want, this is the 4th time we've come back!!! But I cant say that because we don't want to make anybody mad that can take waythe last available room in Otres! So we grit our teeth and politely ask for our room. It's not ready yet. BUT, this time we can go over there, the cleaner is just cleaning it (I dont knwo what she was doing since 10:30?!) so shows us our room adn walks away without giving a key. Now we have to go back to him and ask for a key. He doesn't have it, housekeeper lady has it. So now we have to go back to housekeeper and ask for the key. Well she doesn't have it, reception guy has it. You have GOT to be kidding me! Now the one available room in Otres beach over Chinese New Year has no key??!?! We (I mean Bridger!) march back to reception and inform him that she said he has the key so he comes back to our room with an entire bucket full of keys and starts randomly trying every key in the bucket in the lock. He was literally at the last key when that key finally worked and then he smiled at us and pulled the wooden room number keyring out of the bottom of the bowl--oops, it had fallen off the key, no wonder nobody thought they had it, grrrrrr!!!! Either way, we're SO sweaty but we're finally in! We were a little sick about paying $50 a night (we usually pay between 10-20) but it had a beautiful pool so we hung out in the pool and played volleyball afternoon to make the most of our splurge.
The next day, guess what..."check in. check out!", we moved again to a slightly cheaper but still more than we usually like to pay hotel-like place down the street. By this point we were going on day 7 of packing up and moving every day and we were pretty flipping done with that life. Luckily this one was much less dramatic and we got in with some day left for fun and we were able to stay two full days there!! We were pretty sick about the cost of it all, not to mention that Otres food was super expensive, but we tried to think about it as desperate times and also as more of an average of accommodation costs across days $8 + $50 + $30 + $25 and that made us feel like we weren't in as rough of shape! By this point, the roads are so dusty and we had walked up and down them so many times asking about accommodation and moving btwn accommodation that my feet were actually chafed raw by the dust/textured bottoms of my flip flops abs were so sore. I tell ya, clean feet is one thing that I take for granted in my regular life that I'm really looking forward to experiencing again after traveling, not that its reason enough to come home any time soon!
We went out for breakfast and a lovely young boy came to take our order. The meal was "2 eggs with bread" so I ordered fried eggs and Bridger ordered scrambled eggs while pointing to the menu. When the young guy who didn't speak so much English confirmed it sounded a little something like "3 scrambled egg and fried egg and scrambled egg and fried egg and 2 scrambled egg?" to which we tried to explain one order of the 2 egg meal each. I said to Bridger "I think we're gonna get way to many eggs!" and he said "no I think it's ok". Sure enough, about 30 seconds later a waiter with a bit more English and clearly completely confused by what was written down and why two foreigners would want 13 eggs came over and confirmed that we in fact wanted one order each and not many, many, many orders! It's so funny how messy ordering can get sometimes and I have no idea how but always a good laugh! The restaurant staff usually don't speak too much English which is totally fine, we speak no local language so they're better than us, but they take it seriously to write what you want and then confirm the quantity which is always where most of the confusion arises. And then it leads me to wonder how many tourists in the world are ordering multiple meals each?! The mysteries!
We actually got to go to the beach one day after all the checking ining and outing, though, the beach was nothing special and the water was really surfy and not that clear. One awesome thing was that somebody had built a floating raft with a hammock on it way out off the shore so we swam to that and literally hung out there for hours until sunset and got some really lovely pictures. Bridger (remember, the most assholiest person in the world in heat) was in his glory because he could be in the sun AND in the water at the same time!
I was still having really shitty shits (though not nearly in as bad of shape as Railay thank goodness) so spent some of the time relaxing and some of the time hoping it didn't have to squat off the end of that raft and unleash in the water! Luckily, even though my stomach rumbled a few times, I made it back to land. By this time I had once again, shit and wiped so many times that my butt was rubbed raw BUT this time I had a solution-the butt hose! All over SE Asia every bathroom has a bidet type hose that many tourists bypass, myself included. Until this moment when I realized I could use the butt hose and NOT wipe and give my butt some time to recover. It worked wonders and I've since become a butt hose regular. Bridger, not so. I was a little worried because I was supposed to get my period in like 3 days which would mean I would have problems from every angle but luckily the shits evened themselves out before I left Otres. Which as it turned out was a really really good thing because the next place we went would have been impossible...
Though we spent most of our time looking around for and waiting to check in to accommodation, wesurely had some good times in Otres. But overall, not sureif it was the place itself or the particularcircumstance but neither one of us cared for it too much. By the time Chinese New Year ended and we were no longer stuck in accommodation survivor, we were more than ready to get out to Cambodia's famed islands.