Thursday, after a disgustingly long lie-in and my morning visit to Café Sentiment (the waitresses remembered my name!) I headed up towards Boeung Kak Lake, stopping at the rarely used National Railway Station on the way. There are no longer any passenger trains, although they did run up until about a year ago, but it was an awful journey taking 12-14 hours just to reach Battambang (which is 5 hours by road). Nowadays there is only one cargo train every other day traveling up through Battambang to Poipet on the Thai border. Back in the 1990's passengers used to be able to travel in the first couple of carriages for free - but they took the risk of being blown up from landmines on the track (which sadly was a regular occurrence).
I arrived at Boeung Kak, which is pretty much 'back-packer city' with its maze of small streets featuring cheap guesthouses & restaurants (including one called Indian Curry Pot which offers free beer) and sat on the balcony of one of the small restaurants with a bottle of coca-cola which cost 2000 Riel (25p) looking out across the peaceful lake, which is surrounded by thatched bamboo huts, home to hundreds of families. The Government wants to drain the lake and build on it, which will be such a shame. It was so peaceful that it was hard to believe that I was still in the capital. A French lady called Delphine struck up a conversation and we enjoyed chatting to each other for more than an hour. She is traveling throughout the whole of Asia on her way to her final destination in Australia, and commented that she had fallen in love with Cambodia but wasn't exactly sure what it was that had made her feel that way. I just smiled knowingly . . .
The monsoon started around the usual time tonight (5pm) and the streets were completely flooded, so after a spot of wading I decided to spend the evening in the hotel having a 'carpet picnic' and watching a $2 DVD I bought from Soyra Market a couple of days ago. Amazingly the film was only in the UK cinemas last month ;0) Not wanting to go out to a restaurant and not being able to have food delivered in (there's a sign in the lobby saying you can't) I stopped en route at Lucky Supermarket where I bought roast chicken thighs, Asian pears, French bread, and some brie. Eating out in Cambodia is definitely cheaper than eating in - I needed a small mortgage just for the cheese!
Today, Friday, I am hiring a Toyota Camry and heading off down Route 3 to Kampot and Kep, on the southern tip of Cambodia and only 30km from the Vietnam border. It should take about 4 hours but I've been told I have to stop off at a very famous shrine on the way to ask for good luck and safety on the road - hell I'm doing it - you need all the luck you can get on the roads here! I'll be staying at Kep Lodge www.keplodge.com which is only a small place, with half a dozen thatched bungalows overlooking the Gulf of Thailand, Bokor Mountain, and the Kep National Park. Up until the 1960s, Kep was Cambodia's premier seaside resort (Sihanoukville now holds this title) but since the war most of the beautiful French colonial villas have been left in ruins and the area gets very few tourists. This, however, helps retain its 'out of the way' feel with its jungled mountains, empty beaches, and traditional Khmer daily life. Kep is also very famous for its seafood, particularly fresh crab, so I'm very much looking forward to my dinner tonight!