Cambodia on a whim

My trip to Cambodia was a total whim.

Not to my surprise, I leave in the same kind of unorganized manner…

I have changed my plans so many times in the last two weeks I have forgotten what route I had laid out in the first place.

I was loving the North of Thailand, and I think I would have loved Laos even more, but making the crossing over the rivers, mountains and jungle to Vietnam would have been too time consuming albeit beautiful.

After a few wonderful days trekking the hillsides of Pai, and a wild night pub crawling the bars, I caught a nightmare of a speed bus to Chiang Mai and a way smoother flight down to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

I had been talking to my friend who lives in the Cambodian coastal town of Kampot about either coming to see him in November, or lending his house in October. After all the changes I made to my itinerary I did neither.

Instead my one week experience of Cambodia turns out to be one of my traveller through’s: divided between the two major cities Phnom Penh and Siem Riep.

In Phnom Penh I have been hanging out with the expats, people that have come here from all over the World to teach English or work with one of the hundreds NGO’s. The hotel I’ve stayed at, Sundance Inn & Saloon, run by an old Texan man, seems to be the meeting and melting pot for all these very diverse characters. I don’t blame them, the pool area is great, the beers and burgers are cheap and everyone is welcome. And believe me when I say that there is an interesting bunch of people.

I also had a few nice walks along he river, checked out the amazing Phnom Wat temple, ate undefined but delicious food at the night market, had some of the best ice cream since my last visit to Italy and admired a Nations love for its king, as flocks of people gathered by the Royal Palace to share the loss.

In Siem Riep I met two aussies which I spent some days and nights with, checking out the wonder of Angkor Wat in the sunrise, the bustling night markets and the pub street with it’s surprisingly nice little restaurants.

The time spent on the bus between the cities offered some contemplation, and while we passed through stretches of wet fields and dusty small villages with the cutest children in the world, biking home from school or playing with hens and chickens, I thought about how I would have liked to have gotten more involved.

Cambodia has suffered so much and the wounds from the Khmer Rouge regime, ending no more than 33 years ago, is still fresh in people’s hearts. It is estimated that almost 2,5 million, a forth of the population, were brutally murdered in the genocide that lasted four years. The least I could do was pay my respect with a visit to the Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields, which have now turned into a tranquil memorial site with in-depth raconteurs and photographs.

At the Genocide Museum there was also one of the men that has survived, but only after being brutally tortured and emotionally bruised for life, having lost everything and everyone he cherished. He was probably over 80 years old, his eyes were pale blue, almost sightless. Or it could have been the tears that started blinding my own. I took his hand and bought his book for 5 dollars.

Taken by the day’s event I needed to unwind with some cheerful chats and chew’s. And that’s exactly what the restaurant opposite Sundance is called.

It turned into a night with of interesting conversations over some very dubious wine and the watery blend they call beer.

I was supposed to leave with a bus this morning. Having read everywhere that Scandinavians need not worry about visas to Vietnam, they could get it on arrival, I was assured I could just jump on the bus. But the bus company insisted that I should get it before hand, that there was no such service at the border. Neither the Swedish embassy in Ho Chi Minh or Stockholm could answer my question and my friends only had experience of arriving at the airports.

So I was left with no choice but to apply for a visa for 40 USD, stay the day, and catch the night bus to Ho Chi Minh at midnight.

This could have been a great opportunity to support or volunteer at one of the 40 NGO’s mentioned in the booklet Stay Another Day in Cambodia but in all honesty, I ended up just hanging out by the pool, chit-chatting with the crew, drinking more beer and playing with the dogs.

Often times, plans change for the better.

See you in Vietnam.