There was a time when I was once backpacking around Thailand, I was deep in a market that was so large it had a map to get around it, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day: and I was absolutely drenched. I looked like someone had poured a bottle of water over me. Melons, Brit abroad, sunburn for days, shiny as the day is long and a consistent look of saturated beetroot have never conquered South East Asia. I don’t know why I thought this time would be any different. I am making myself sound like the least attractive woman on the planet, but come on girls; and guys for that matter- we sweat, we don’t ‘glow’, and we complain, for hours and hours and hours until I in particular, have a beer in each hand and am sitting under several powerful fans. The red face will remain for actual days (the main contributor to me not going to the gym, though realistically I just don’t want to) and the persistent shame of being the whitest person in Asia, will follow me around for an eternity; along with constant odd strap marks that single me out as English, aka unable to put sun cream on correctly.
Cambodia happened completely by chance, I was in the queue for the previously-mentioned-in-the-last-blog-post and exponentially despised emergency passport from hell, being told all the countries I could not enter with it: although needless to say I could, and the British Embassy in Sydney needs to read the book again about how to actually do their jobs- and Cambodia was mentioned as a goer. Which turned out to be the polar opposite of what it actually was. As I found out mid way through my trip, and for any people out there who are thinking about travelling to Cambodia on a Emergency Travel Document: you cannot leave Cambodia on the same ETD that you entered with. Therefore you have to spend another £100 to get a second document, wait 2 days and then for another 4 hours for the people in the office to fix their printer, whilst you’re googling tattoos on their office computer out of sheer boredom. You also have to buy and wait three days for an exit visa.
So all in all, up yours British Embassy in Sydney, you owe me £150.
Whenever you arrive in countries you are backpacking in, you can be very overwhelmed by the amount of people screaming ‘TUK TUK MADAM’ in your face as you come out of the airport. You learn quickly to walk solidly away and go for whatever driver of a vehicle that is not heckling you to get on his glorified moped for a ridiculous price. I then arrived at my hostel, which to my shame was Mad Monkey, the number one party hostel of SE Asia, which I vowed never to stay in again, and then continued to stay in a total of three of them in one country. To be honest it’s a pretty good way to meet people, and to ease you into backpacker life, practice your beer pong skills, attempt to become a pub quiz champ and to make you entirely more sociable with the help of many, many joss shots- aka shots that taste like dip dabs and may or may not induce a heart attack (Illegal in the UK? We will soon find out as I have a box of them in my bag for the Brits to try). It was on this first night out, a pub crawl of the truly tragic bars of Phnom Penh that I met my Cambodia travel buddies who I proceeded to have an absolute ball with for a few days with some, and the rest of the trip with one. Lucky sod she was.
Previous to this I had spent a day with some people I had just met in the hostel, and went to the S21 Museum and the ‘Killing Fields’ with. For those who do not know about these places, they are preserved spaces that demonstrate the devastation of the Cambodian Genocide under the Khmer Rouge, detailing in graphic, explicit and very real detail the torture, murder, suffering and unimaginable pain that was brought down on the Cambodian people for a number of terrible years. Being a history grad, particularly one who for my Masters studied Public History, I always find exhibitions hard to ‘just see’ because I automatically analyse how its been portrayed and how the audience is reacting. But this museum and space were some of the most emotional and raw depictions of the capabilities of the human race, and it was enthralling, disgusting and a whole range of emotions that I encountered and felt compelled to understand and learn from. From that point onwards it became very evident that the recent history of the Cambodian people was still very much felt in their present, from day-to-day living, to the building of cities, to the fact that a number of Cambodian people I met told me their entire families had died or vanished in those days and they still lived and remembered in the same place that it had happened to them.
The strength of people is inspiring.
So, as usual I don’t want to get too ‘travel blog’ here. What follows are the main points of what I did in Cambodia, what I did and didn’t like, again as usual- what I can remember, and how many joss shots I consumed at a rapid and probably debilitating speed:
1/ Following Phnom Penh, we ventured on to the ‘cultural capital’ of Cambodia Siem Reap. Siem Reap is great for amazing temples, incredible sights; and getting royally fucked up. Do the sunrise tour for Angkor Wat along with every other white person in the city on that day. You have to go to the ticket office first, where your photo is printed on the ticket and mine resulted in me looking like the self-professed aunt of the Milky Bar Kid. It was a laugh to get up with my friends Alice, Imy and Kate, and piss people off waiting for the sunrise at Angkor Wat (someone told us to shut up so we obviously got louder) with our constant and early-morning-hysterical chatter, and make friends with a ‘cafe’ holder on the site called Mr Jon who made incredible pancakes and found us a good spot to watch the sunrise in exchange. However, we did do the long tour of the temples; and I love a temple but after getting up at 4am, by 930 I was over it and couldn’t give a toss what walls Angelina Jolie pretended to climb once in a film (Tomb Raider) where she does the worlds worst English accent.
2/ So as mentioned the other top selling point of Siem Reap is the nightlife, again we stayed in Mad Monkey which with its rooftop bar and pub quiz was actually pretty fun- minus the pool parties when your dorm is next to it and you are hanging out your arse to the rafters and back. There is basically a road called Pub Street, which is full of what are essentially tuk tuks with bars on them. The best thing about this is that they put their laptops facing out so you can blast whatever music you want, which resulted in DJ Melons playing some top quality cheese, and having tuk tuk battles with idiots playing Ibiza Anthems, whilst we danced, sang and screamed to the likes of Steps, Five and S Club 7. Whatever you have to say about this, our tuk tuk was always the busiest. Highlight? A solid section of the street doing the YMCA.
3/ Went to Battambang to ride the bamboo train which was in fact closed. Slept in the highest bunk bed in the world, which was terrifying. Had the nicest tuk tuk driver/tour guide, went to see millions of bats fly out of a cave: something that was a true spectacle that hundreds of people turned out to see every night- I forgot my glasses and couldn’t see a bloody thing. A French girl didn’t know what rouge meant, saw a woman cutting heads of a lot of fish, ate my weight in oreos.
4/ We got the night bus to Kampot, which was actually hilarious as it was a load of nearly single sized bunk beds on a moving bus, where if you didn’t know the person next to you then you would essentially be spooning a stranger. Luckily for me I was with my friend Alice. Alice takes sleeping pills and was knocked out for the entirety whilst I watched Netflix and ate more oreos: staple snack of SE Asia. At one stage in the eight hour journey also really had to pee and had to get the driver to stop about 3am in the arse hole of nowhere, he pointed at a small building which was in fact a random blokes shack, who motioned to me to go to the back of said shack, where I was so happy it was pitch black as if I had seen the toilet/hole in the ground I peed in I think I probably would have died. Obvs no toilet roll. We then arrived at the bus switch point in Phnom Penh earlier than scheduled at 5am where Alice was still drugged to her eyeballs and I had to frog march her off a bus where we sat on the pavement waiting for the next one for 2 hours. I then fell asleep on the entire back row of the second bus. In Kampot we stayed at a good hostel called Karma Traders, ate hipster brunches and an amazing Indian, and were bad at culture. Made friends with several dogs. Went up a hill to a load of abandoned buildings for reasons still unknown to me. Highlight being the minibus driver bought his own amp in the van so he could do karaoke on his own at every stop.
Cambodian Michael Buble was a great moment.
5/ Went to Sihanoukville. Don’t bother to stay there, its crap but its where you get the boat to the islands from. Made friends with a cat and ate a chip butty with Marmite and had a PG Tips cup of tea. Expat central.
6/ Went to yet another Mad Monkey (why? Every single time they destroy me) on Cambodia’s castaway island Koh Rong Samloem. Arrived to a fucked up booking which meant there were no beds and we had to sleep on bean-bags, which were essentially in the bar. We were very grumpy and sat there watching films on our devices and refusing to speak to anyone. No I will not share my viewing of Jurassic World with you. Got beds at midnight and infinitely cheered up. Koh Rong Samloem has no WIFI, so that aspect of being cut off is great, but it also means that literally the only thing to do is get drunk. Which we did. Sunbathed, sat in hammocks/swings in the sea and talked shit with Alice. It was great, minus the hung-over boat journey on the way back.
7/ Journeyed back to Phnom Penh to complete the various tasks so I could get yet another Emergency Passport, get an exit visa and complain about it every second of every single day. Bought some nice trousers in a market. Fell out of a tuk tuk at the airport and bruised my vag bone for life.
All in all Cambodia was brilliant. It wasn’t as easy as the rest of SE Asia to travel in, but the people are friendly and helpful, minus being a bit creepsville- but hey reading my blog you can tell that’s my target man audience. I expected Cambodia to be a lot like Thailand but it’s a few years behind, given its past and also its economy it’s no wonder that its not a version of Koh San Road. But saying that, there were loads of backpackers there. Yeah you get idiots like an English guy I met in the bar on the first night ‘Angkor Wat is just a load of bricks innit’ but everyone I met loved Cambodia. Sweat central prepared me for my current life in Sri Lanka where the humidity is extreme, and the saturated beetroot could not be more out in full force. As always with these places, the friends you make along the way make the trip, and mine conquered countless beer towers, sang Shania Twain at the top of their lungs, shouted in people’s faces when they wouldn’t join in screaming along to Wonderwall, consistently sang the soundtrack to Moana throughout the entirety of the trip, never once judged each other for the sheer volume of mozzarella we could consume in one sitting, and always had a laugh.
Mr Jon was a bloody ledge.
Sweat/beetroot face remains a consistent issue.