After rushing out of Vietnam we arrived in Kampot. A small cosy town on the riverside, a place filled with laidback backpackers, nice river views. A great spot to catch our breath after once again a chain of bus rides and border fusses. Here we got our first bungalow, a wooden house on stilts with colorful gecko-pets. Three big lizard-like animals totally accustomed to the way of life here by the riverside; completely relaxed cruising through our crib in a slow paste and chilling when they were just done moving around. Next on our itinerary was Otres Beach, a beach spot not quite as busy as the over touristy Sihanoukville. We arrived here a lot later than expected because of a 'crash' with our minivan, the driver went full speed into one of the huge holes in the road and smashed one of the pipes feeding the hungry motor of oil. After a few hours of waiting and crawling in and out of the narrow space under the car it got fixed and we could precede our trip. At Otres Beach we got a gorgeous bungalow on the beach equipped with a huge round bed, all added up to a picture right out of an expensive catalogue. Sadly, the night we had in this beautiful place was one that could be described as outright horrible. The whole night we were chased and our bodies were conquered by hundreds of ants and mosquitos sucking at our skin and leaving us covered with little red ichy bumbs. For which the endless and calming sounds of the sea could not make up, even though the source of these calming sounds was just meters away from our picturesque-not-so-humble-abode. After the sun came up I fled from our bed and was pleasantly surprised by the cool morning air, a quiet white beach, and the first dive into this salty water was wonderful!
Only few days later, we found ourselves on the way to a beautiful, charming and calming island called Koh Rong. Ahead of me laid the adventure of getting my PADI-certification. This meant I was to gain all theoretical background in one day, had to do seven dives, and pass an exam. It was fun for me to learn new stuff about a topic of which I didn't know much before I started. The exercise dives where less impressive, although getting accustomed with breathing and looking underwater without drowning or losing my lenses, getting burning eyes and blurry vision was a great feeling! The real dives were impressive for one, who has never seen colorful, curious and huge swaps of different sized happy fish in real life ever before. Taken together with the different types, shapes and colors of corals, made the experience one to never forget. I did all this in three and a half days, while Marcel did one day of diving and in the meantime was exploring the islands unexplored corners, read books and enjoyed everything this great island had to give and show.
It was on this island that we found out that we no longer were able to visit Nepal. By the time we would get to this country the monsoons and leeches would make it hard to enjoy the country to its full capacity. Despite the fact that were really bumbed out by this news, we could only look ahead and fantasize about all the different options to spend our now free time in a couple of months. We decided on a visit to Indonesia and Malaysia in the last months of our trip. For some much needed beach-time, cool nights and the prospect of diving together.
After setting foot on the mainland again we got on a bus to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. A city a lot less busy than Saigon and Hanoi, and filled with ever smiling people and monks. Cambodia has shown itself to us as land filled with people who smile endlessly. Negotiations, bargains and discussions are always accompanied by friendly smiles and assuring nods. The whole country ended up projecting itself as a relaxed, calm and friendly nation. Accompanied by red soil and rural, widespread, dry, mainly flat land in the countryside. The land is much less nurtured than we've seen in Vietnam for instance. All transport in crowded, dozens of people on small pickups and whole families on one motorbike and the sight of people on top of trucks and busses is not strange anymore. Checkered scarfs are of multi use, as head band, bag, baby carrier and as skirt, worn by man and woman. More kids are on the streets, working to contribute to the families first needs, selling souvenirs or working at food stands ect. The temples are no longer covered by dragons and other ancient protecting creatures, but are topped off with Khmer details; e.g. pointy, narrow, almost hook-like shapes on all corners of the rooftop.
While in Phnom Penh we visited the famous Killing Fields of Cheung Ek. These Killing Fields are a remainder of the gruesome genocides happening all throughout Cambodia, during the times of violent Khmer Rouge in the mid 1970's. A place that was once filled with thousands of bodies, day to day manslaughter and vanishing hope for a peaceful unified nation. Under the pressure of a violent dictator and communistic regime millions of Cambodians were murdered by their own people. A horrible time that is not yet so far in history. But which has left the Cambodians, so it seemed, not robbed of their endless smiles and friendliness. Something for which I have respect beyond my ability to put down in words.
In Phnom Penh we also visited a number of temples of which one was an exceptional experience. By coincidence we ended up in a temple/ monastery complex, a place that meant home for many monks and singing birds, and like any place in Cambodia was covered in small lizards. We got approached by this old-old man who invited us into a building just behind the main temple. After crawling through a narrow entrance he placed us before a serene, calm Buddha. He told us that this was the place that housed a real eyelash of Buddha. He gave us incents to plant before Buddha, and blessed us multiple times and washed us in rose water. A truly special ritual, it felt like a sincere blessing for us as beings and for our current journey through this whole other part of the world.
After the capital city we went on to go to Siem Reap. The centre of tourism in Cambodia because of its ancient and overly famous Khmer-Hindu temples called Angkor Wat. We bought a 24hr ticket and saw the sunset on the first day, and went for sunrise and a number of temples the second. We drove around on bicycles, just the two of us in the huge complex filled in dreadful heat (over 35°C). My favorite sight was Bayon. We arrived here around 16:00 the start of the golden hour. It just started raining but when we got to the Bayon the sky cracked open, showing blue sky, golden sunrays and clouds started disappearing while it still kept on raining a bit. All adding up to a very mysterious sight of the Bayon, a ruin with towers and walls made up of block rocks but with the appearance of faces. Everywhere you look are large faces resembling the ancient king Jayavarman VII. Once again, a special compilation of seemingly random circumstances taken together which made our experience very special, and one to never forget. The combination of these events made Cambodia get a very special place in our hearts and memory.
After Cambodia our plan was to visit Laos, but the journey towards Laos would mean we had to travel all the way back south towards Phnom Penh. The will for a different route brought us towards Bangkok. From here we would go north and enter Laos. But on our bus rides towards Bangkok we decided to take the advice of so many fellow travelers we met, and go to Myanmar. This meant we had to stay in Bangkok for about four days, to arrange our visa, plane ticket and enough unfolded fresh dollars for all our days in Myanmar. Because it is still (almost) impossible to get your hands on money other than that what you brought into the country yourself. Getting the money was about to be our biggest challenge on this impulse visit to Myanmar because the visa was easily fixed and the ticket was booked in an instant.
But first life in Bangkok...
Love and Light always,