Or “Sunsets, sunsets and what else? Why, sunsets of course!”
We left Siem Reap and its temples in order to start our journey south, towards our last destination in Cambodia and (urgh, I can’t believe it!) of our adventure. After 12 hours on the bus and an overnight stop in Phnom Penh we found ourselves in the small seaside town of Kep, on the southern tip of Cambodia, facing the Gulf of Thailand. Here we would spend the remainder of our days and reflect on what we have achieved in the last 11 months, digest what we had seen and enjoy some beautiful sunsets from the pool that came with our bungalow....let’s say that we preferred to go out in style! :-)
We chose Kep because there isn’t much to do here except lie down lazily on the sun-bed, turn yourself like a rotisserie chicken and wait until you’ve become nice and crisp...We knew that if there were any activities to be done in the area we would find ourselves doing them, mostly because we had gotten so used to being active all the time, that the fact that we now had 9 full days of doing absolutely nothing, made us a little fidgety on the first day.
But after we saw our first sunset here at our little haven we knew that it was alright to relax, to do nothing except swim a couple of laps in the pool, drink some cocktails and let the last 11 months of our lives slowly but surely turn into memories...
After three days we decided that a little change of scenery couldn’t hurt so we hopped onto one of the small boats in the pier and took the 30 minute journey to the nearby Rabbit Island, one of the few islands that belong to Cambodia, its remoteness making it a little more rustic and exotic to visit. As I promised Ronni this was also the last time we would step on a boat (on this trip at least I must add...) and she took the boat ride without flinching, although I doubt that she enjoyed it as much as I did!
The sea was calm so we could watch other boats pass us by, look at the other uninhabited islands in the distance and wonder about one of the most important questions that I had since we visited Easter Island – if there is no sewage, where does all the crap go???
It was a little after nine in the morning when we reached Rabbit Island, heavy rain clouds threatening to make this relaxing excursion into a somewhat more dire experience. The beach was still relatively empty and although it wasn’t a pristine white like the ones we had seen in Mexico and the Maldives, we still liked the fact that the island was only packed with people on the weekend when all the expats came down from Phnom Penh and invaded the row of bungalows on the beach.
This was not the virgin island that we had read about, but after adjusting to that fact and jumping into the cool water, we realized that it still was a lot of fun to be here. Especially when you see this family going out into the sea to catch my lunch... :-)
So we found ourselves a little cabana in order to avoid lying in the heat (the rainclouds from the morning had magically disappeared leaving us with yet another sunny and beautiful day), packed out the sunscreen, the books and the smiles and started to...well relax of course, this is our vacation after all!
And although during the day a few more people arrived, the beach was far from being overcrowded. The background of palm trees, a little hill filled with luscious jungle trees and a cool breeze ruffling our hair, the day turned out to be a lot of fun and there is something to be said about the change of scenery, especially when it is this amazing...!
Unfortunately as the afternoon passed it was time to take the boat back to Kep and leave this little island behind us. With the afternoon sun warming our backs I took one last look at this beautiful place, engraving the memory in my mind, realizing that I would probably never return to this corner of the world. A pang of sadness passed me then, although it was mixed with the happiness that I had the opportunity to visit here before the big hotels and resorts arrive, turning Rabbit Island into yet another hipster island for the upper class...
When we returned to our resort we found out that we were the only ones left and that the other 4 bungalows were empty. Feeling a bit weird that we know had a personal chef, a maitre di, a gardener, a waiter and someone to supervise them, all for ourselves, we firstly jumped into what was now our “private pool”... :-) Dinner, of course, was then prepared by our chef, whilst all the other staff were buzzing about....What can I tell you, if this is how the rich live all the time, then it freaks me out!
One of the evenings we decided to walk the small distance to the market and taste Kep’s speciality – crab! Although we had never tasted it, we were all about trying new things now, so when the afternoon sun started its descent, we started ours down the hill. Most of Kep’s restaurants are near the crab market and this is where we found ourselves after a leisurely half hour walk, enjoying first the small promenade and the beginnings of yet another beautiful sunset...
It was then time to decide what to get and since we had just arrived in the nick of time for cocktail hour, we started with a little freshly grilled fish and a nice glass of alcohol to start the evening. Good to know that the fish, and the crab that soon followed it to our table, were caught in the freshest way possible, by an old dude who liked to wade in the shallow waters near the beach!
Since we didn’t know what exactly to expect we were a little dumbfounded when the waitress brought a cracker to, well, crack open the crab...But then this monstrosity arrived and we both had to laugh out at the sheer weirdness of how to start eating it.
Ronni had no problems to roll up the sleeves and get dirty, so she started to pick and crack open the multiple crabs on the plate, lovingly feeding me, as I reciprocated the love, by feeding her from my grilled fish...ahhhhh!
After we had finished and our bellies were filled both by excellent seafood and alcohol it was time to head back to our bungalow and start our lazy evening. If there wasn’t our small friend, Wilber the Gecko, who every night interrupted our movies and every morning decided to play alarm clock at around seven in the morning by making this weird sound... Gotcha this time my friend!
Luckily for us that night a storm arrived in the south of Cambodia, and with it torrents of rain, which after a while, made Wilber shut up, and the power to break down :-) So we had yet another fun day with no power, as this time the generator of the hotel also decided to take a leave of absence and we were left, quite literally, in the dark.
Which is maybe why my brain wasn’t working properly when I suggested to Ronni the following day that we take a hike in the nearby national park? In mid-day, uphill, in the jungle...hmmm, I must have had some wires crossed when I thought of that bright idea...
After the first uphill kilometre we reached the ‘normal’ path which lead along the midsection of the jungle. It had quite beautiful views and here I thought to myself that this wasn’t such a bad idea, although by this time I did sweat profoundly.
It was by the time we had passed the 4km sign that I had yet another bright idea. Why not cut across the middle and save some time instead of walking around the top??Hmm, let’s think about that one, especially since the sign said that only the first 180 meters were a steep uphill climb. 180 meters??, that’s nothing I thought to myself! Only when we started to ascend and I got a distinct feeling of vertigo as I realized those 180 meters were literally vertical did I start to question my decision...
Well, that and the fact that the path was almost obliterated, we were the only ones for miles around, the various insects seemed to mistake me for the local McDonalds drive-thru and God knows what other animals were just waiting for us in the bushes! But although I’m complaining now, the view was astonishing and the fact that we were alone in the jungle only added to that feeling :-)
I was however mighty glad when we returned to the big path after 1.5 hours of fighting through the jungle, my shirt drenched, my pants looking like I needed diapers and the camera wet with perspiration....
We did have us a good lunch in the only eatery around, with a clear view of the sea below us! And thank God for that icy lemonade they had, nothing in this world tasted so good....!
What remains are our last two days by the pool, a little celebration of Ronni’s birthday, which, no need to mention twice will come with a couple of cocktails, and then the last backpacking experience, what else, another bus ride!
Here is Cambodia’s Report Card:
The Good: We had downsized the days in Cambodia for multiple reasons, but in hindsight I am glad we did. This way we got to taste the best of the best, without having the non-flavoury bits in between. If it was the awesome experience of the Elephant Sanctuary in Mondulkiri, the tranquil afternoon on the Mekong watching the Irrawaddy dolphins come for air, following in Indiana Jones footsteps as we walked over the rubbles of ancient cultures, gigantic roots adding to the mythical feeling or relaxing one last time in sleepy Kep by the sea, enjoying its peaceful setting and exotic atmosphere. In the end I am very happy that we included all of these places, as they added a different spice to what we had experienced so far.
The Bad: Cambodia is a poor country, poorer than what we had experienced so far. You face it on a daily basis, during bus stops, in Siem Reap, along the riverfront in Phnom Penh, during bus rides when you see huts which have nothing but some stilts and a makeshift door. Mostly kids that beg for money and food, some holding babies, some just holding out their hands. You get used to it after a while and once we even tried helping a girl who held a baby to get some food, just because we were hoping that it was the real deal and not a scam. With the poverty we learned how to deal with, but the laziness of the Cambodian’s drove us crazy, especially the men. They seem to have gotten it into their heads that minimum input will give them maximum money, because they just lie there, sleeping, in their tuk-tuks, their hammock, barely moving, yet expecting you to pay them for, well, nothing basically! And the work they are supposed to do, they do with a frown as if it killed them to move around. Laziness can drive both Ronni and myself mad, and there is a lot of that going around.
The In-between: I mentioned the kids being used as bait to get foreigners to give them money, or buy them food that they later exchange for money. Parents sending them to the streets and not to school either because they are lazy, or because this way they have another income. This is the sad side of Cambodia’s children. But we also saw the good side; saw girls waving to us on the streets, happy to see us, smiling, happy. We saw curiousity from them as they looked at us, not because of the money we represented, but of the exoticness we stood for. I assume some of them fantasized about the day they would be able to leave this country and move somewhere as exotic as... Switzerland!
Bottom line: Would we ever return to Cambodia? Probably not. The corruption, the poverty, the heat and the malaria are not really our things. Was it important we came here? Absolutely. It was Cambodia who hit the hammer home, that whatever we were bitching about back home should be taken into its correct proportion. That there were bigger problems than making a deadline. There are real problems here in this country, and I would love to think that they are on their way out, but looking at how the locals define work, and the corruption that is everywhere, I think there is a long and rocky path ahead of them. On the other hand, who am I to judge these people from my mighty Western horse? I guess only time will tell...