Life has a great sense of humor, albeit a macabre one. We last left you with us heading to Danang for a flight to Saigon where we would catch a bus to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We had time constraints so we skipped the opportunity to explore Saigon, therefore our time in Saigon was limited to just a few hours while waiting for our bus. The bus trip to Phnom Penh went according to plan except for a minor irritation at immigration. Not a big deal, it just irritated the hell out of me so I need to vent. After all, I do have a reputation for being cranky.
As I’m walking through the final checkpoint entering Cambodia, the officer, sitting arrogantly across a table from me, asked to see my passport (French). I hand it to him, he gives it a cursory look, and reaches out to hand it back to me. Just as I am about to grab it he goes under my hand and drops it on the floor in front of me. I stare at him and he says sarcastically: “Oh sorry”. I picked up my passport and as I walked away, I mumbled a few niceties about border officer losers. What an asshole!
But I wasn’t arrested for insulting a Cambodian official, which I think pleased Carrie, and we arrived safe and sound in Phnom Penh. But the night, still young, had one more minor annoyance awaiting us. Although Carrie had booked our room through www.booking.com, we arrived late so they gave our room away. The only thing left was their closet room (my term); it was getting late so we took it. I could barely stand up straight when I entered the room, above the bathroom door were spider webs the size of which I’ve only seen in Indiana Jones’ movies. But a bed is a bed and we were tired. Besides, they promised to move us to a real room in the morning, which they did.
So, we’re here and it’s time to explore. As is our M.O., we walked randomly about looking for interesting things. Not necessarily the tourist book sites, although we do like to see those as well, but just the everyday workings of a place. Like all big cities, the traffic amazes. Maybe a bit more here because there are many more large, fancy vehicles, than in some of the other S.E. Asia cities. With that said, and yes, I know you’ve heard me say it a thousand times, it is the land of the haves and have-nots. Not much in between.
The river walk is very nice and the restaurants along the river offer some very good local dishes with the knowledge that you probably won’t get sick. You pay for that privilege, as the prices are a bit inflated.
But it’s not always about being safe, so we hit some of the side streets and sat down at one of the now infamous kiddie table and chair establishments for the local version of pad thai. I noticed as our waiter/owner walked over with our dishes that he was flicking something off the edge of our plates. Our dish had peanuts in it and apparently Cambodian ants like peanuts. We flicked a few more off the plates and chowed down, happy for a bit of extra protein.
There are lots of parks and monuments in Phnom Penh which make for some interesting photo ops. Most deal with war and political icons. As elsewhere in S.E. Asia the roving food carts are everywhere. We latched onto a nice smoothie cart for our daily dose of fruit.
Wat Phnom is the major draw for the city. Nice and worth the visit, but by now we had seen all the Wats that we could take, but we went anyway. I hope the pictures of this city that follow give you a taste of the glitzy part, the not so glitzy part, and the everyday life. By the way, the dollar is king in Cambodia. Although they have a national currency they prefer to use the US dollar. Even the ATMs dispersed dollars.
Remember that I started this rant with a statement about life’s macabre sense of humor? Well here is where it raised its ugly little head. 2016 is the year we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and we had plans to spend it in a spectacular place, Coconut Beach, on Koh Rong island. More on Coconut Beach and Koh Rong later. We decide to spend one night in Otres Beach, a beach town near where the ferry leaves for Koh Rong. Just as we’re leaving Phnom Penh in our private taxi (yeah, we’re doing this anniversary thing up right) I start to feel flu-like symptoms. By the time we get on the ferry, I’m feeling the effects of full-on flu. Within a day, Carrie has the same symptoms. Needless to say, our activities were limited.
But enough about us. Let’s get back to the facts. Private taxi from Phnom Penh to Otres Beach; $50 for the nearly 3-hour ride. Hotel in Otres Beach $12. High-speed ferry to Koh Rong $10 each way per person. Launcha from the main beach on Koh Rong to Coconut Beach $5/person (water landing free of charge). Coconut Beach resort $60/night. Slow boat back to the mainland from Coconut Beach $5/person. Expensive week by our standards, but still pretty inexpensive for such a magnificent place.
Otres Beach: A sleepy little beach town on the verge of full-on discovery. The beach rivals any beach in the Caribbean, but without the prices to match. As we walked along the mile-long beach we may have seen a dozen people. So, why do I say on the verge of full-on discovery if the place was nearly deserted? Construction! And I mean major construction between Otres Beach and its sister city nearby, Sihanoukville. To be fair, the beaches in Sihanoukville were not nearly as deserted, so the word is getting out. Rest assured that the money behind the construction will get the word out as soon as the construction is completed.
Koh Rong Island: The island, made famous when the TV reality show Survivor filmed a season there, is about an hour high-speed ferry ride from Sihanoukville to the main beach on Koh Rong Island. Coconut Beach is at the other end of the island so a ride aboard a launcha is required to get you there. They normally drop you off just off the beach and you wade into shore, but the day we arrived the wind was blowing hard making for high surf so they tied up to the lee side of the pier. To disembark required stepping up onto tires tied to the side of the pier and then up to the pier. Certainly not disabled friendly. Ahh, but Coconut Beach Resort! Beautifully nestled in among old tree growth on the side of a hill overlooking the most incredible white sand beach I have ever seen. And nearly empty!
The accommodations were huts up on stilts. Comfy and rustic: no internet, no phone, no A/C, just tranquility. But it takes great people to complete a great location and the owners of Coconut Beach are over the top nice.
I know Carrie detailed what they did for us to help celebrate our 25th, so I won’t repeat it here. Even though we were not feeling well Carrie did manage some beach/swimming time.
We were told that there was a village over the top of the next hill, which is where Survivor was filmed, where you could interact with locals, but our illness would not allow the hike. Still, an incredible experience and an incredible place.
So, life threw us a lemon, but we laughed in its face. Well, we sort of laughed. No, I will not tempt fate. We bow before you, life, and your damn sense of humor.
Hike Drink Live Laugh (and wash your hands often so you don’t catch the flu)
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