3rd June 2009
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
11°33'36.66"N 104°55'0.31"E


So, here we are, back in the biggest open sewer in the world. Again. Didn't the last blog entry start off like this? Peter keeps saying it'll grow on me. I think the only thing that would grown on me here would be fungal. This is a capital city where the only two tourist attractions are the Killing Fields and the The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, where people spent a couple of days or weeks or months being tortured before being shipped off to the Killing Fields. Still, coming here was the better of two evils. Last time we took the 10 (which turned into 13) hour trip on a 'VIP' bus with so many boxes of cargo stuffed under the seats you couldn't stretch your legs out from Sihanoukville to Saigon. Decided to overnight in Phnom Penh to break the journey, which should be 8 hours. Yeah, right.

We only stayed in Sihanoukville for 2 days - the reports we've been hearing over the last couple of months were right; it really has gone downhill since we were there last. The place was empty - all the nonsense going on in Thailand means nobody wants to fly into Bangkok. If the authorities in Thailand decide to do nothing to stop a bunch of unarmed protesters close down the airport for more than a week leaving hundreds of thousands of people stranded, then they really don't deserve to get tourists, but for Cambodia and Laos, Bangkok is the way in for everyone coming in from Europe and Australia, and neither country deserves to be on the receiving end of the knock on effect of Thailand's lunacy, especially as tourism is a huge part of GDP for them. Thailand too, but their problem is of their own making.

It wasn't just the lack of people though. The whole atmosphere seems to have changed. Fewer tourists mean that the most aggressive touts in Cambodia are twice as aggressive now. As the bus pulled into the new bus station, there were a couple of dozen of them crowding around the door. Far more touts than passengers, and they were all clambering to get business so it was almost impossible to get off. We were near the front and literally pushed our way through in case our bags had been offloaded from the hold and were sitting on the pavement waiting for someone to run off with. It was horrible. I really don't think they understand. The last thing you need when you've just done a 3 (which turned in to a 4) hour journey on a boneshaker of a bus is to be surrounded by people shouting "Taxi" "Moto" "Motorbike". It's so overwhelming you just have to get out of there, and being rude and pushing is the only way you're going to get out of that particular scrum. Bags in hand, the worst things anyone can do in such situations is look indecisive. The bus station was in a different location, but we'd both watched carefully as we had arrived and knew we were just in front of the market, just around the corner from the main road. We'd already decided to overnight at the Marlin and I knew the direction so just steamed on through. Peter told me I'd gone in the wrong direction, but as I said, you can't look hesitant or your a goner so he followed. It was the right general direction, but Peter wasn't sure if you could get out onto the main road through the market or if it would be a dead end. Fortunately it wasn't, and a bit of a short cut to the way Peter would have gone but not much difference. Once on the main road, we were about 5 minutes walk from the Marlin but right in front of us was a brand new guesthouse - I think we may have been the first guests. It was all shiny and new and cheap and we were both tired so we decided to bunk down there instead. Just as well really; the Marlin changed hands a couple of months ago and is under different ownership with a different name. Maybe it's just as good, but if we'd walked the extra 5 minutes being stalked by half a dozen drivers and it wasn't, we'd have been pretty ticked off.

Every time we stepped so much as a foot outside the door they were there. Usually we just say no thank you (gets a bit hard to keep up the politeness after saying it 5 times in the space of a minute, but we manage most of the time). They really got to Peter - don't know if it was the heat or the humidity or sheer number of them or their head spinning aggressiveness and inability to understand that some people actually enjoy walking, but it wasn't taking him long to leave out the thank you part, which is very unusual for him. Once, with a really persistent one who was following me whilst walking alone got to me after about a kilometre - I'm not exaggerating - and I turned. I'm wearing a skirt, why would I want to go on a motorbike? It's OK. You have no spare helmet. It's OK. No, it's against the law. It's OK. It's dangerous. No, it's OK. I don't want to go on your motorbike thank you. OK? He nodded, but followed me for half another half a kilometre or so. I always carry an umbrella to keep the sun from my delicate facial tissue, so it was quite easy for me to just block him out of sight.

We walked down to the beach, and it was pretty much the same there - even for low season it was depressingly quiet, and we were stalked by several touts for ages before they got the message. We arranged the Vietnam visa ourselves- it would have been a pleasant half hour walk if we hadn't been constantly harangued. It actually took us longer to write out the forms than it took for them to process, and they gave us books to read for the 2 minute waiting time. Quite possibly the nicest embassy/consulate I've ever been to.

Two days was more than enough, so we headed for Kampot and it's the best move we've made this year. Kampot isn't anything like the other parts of Cambodia we've visited - in fact it actually redeemed the country to me a bit. We only intended to stay there a day or two then head for Kep on the coast, but we found the Rikitikitavi, a magnificent place to bunk down, and ended up staying on for 10 days and missing the beach out altogether. Kampot is a lovely, quiet riverside town with great views, no touts hassling the tourists and a really good community of ex pats, most of whom seem to be into dirt bike riding. Peter was always going to go for a bike trek, but there was always heavy rain or a heavy hangover or some other reason not to, and he was happy to just kick back and read - there's a surprisingly good book exchange shop just around the corner from the Rikitikitavi. Highly recommended as a place to just relax and chill out for a while when you've had enough of the madness of Asia.

It was possible to get to Vietnam directly from Kampot, which on the map makes a lot of sense but would have been too much like hard work - negotiating fares with drivers to the border, on bad and/or unsealed roads then being at the mercy of the motorbike taxi drivers once over the border to take you to the nearest town, then wait for a bus to Chau Doc then a mini bus onto Saigon. Probably wouldn't have worked out any cheaper than getting the four (which turned into over 5) hour boneshaker bus to Phnom Penh (it was 122km; 5 hours - imagine the state of the roads) then overnight here and on to Saigon tomorrow morning, which should be 8 hours. Yeah, right. Peter's looking forward to catching up with the Praba again - it's only been 3 weeks. I'm reaching the conclusion that Praba is a very, very bad influence.

So, the ticket's are booked, the bus looks half decent and this time tomorrow we'll be out of here. Woohoo!