I know, 4 topics for one blog is a little ambitious. But I’m an ambitious, amateur, pessimistic blogger. Devyn and I are currently in Bangkok (funny reference) and I personally hate this city. More on that later, let’s focus on the other 99 percent of the trip.
After a quick stay in Phnom Penh, we booked a bus to take us to Kampot. An alleged 3 hour bus drive doesn’t sound too bad at all. That is, until you hop on the bus. You need to give bus rides an additional 2-5 hours extra time because during your commute, you’re stopping every 15 minutes picking some random person up, or tagging along for their personal errands. No joke. We did a minor grocery store run as well as wait for the driver to make a personal call.
Once you get closer to Kampot the scenery is both breathtaking and heart breaking. It’s a vast landscape of rice fields and greenery. But this is where you notice how severely poor Cambodia is. Many of these houses are on stilts or no bigger than an average bathroom in the states.
As hard as it is to see people living under .93 cents a day, being in these environments for over a month makes scenarios like this almost common place. The real trick is not to get used to it and remain appreciative of what you have. However, as grim as the conditions are, there’s oddly a sophisticated atmosphere to the poverty stricken lifestyle that is Kampot. These families embraced their relationships and did not appear to take for granted what little they had. Out of this simplicity, comes true happiness. In a way, I envied them.
Once in Kampot, at dinner we had our first unpleasant encounter with a Khmer person. It was just poor service, nothing like Bangkok. They just appeared to be irritated by us, or more specifically, westerners. It’s not the worst thing in the world. We get profiled at airports so we learned how to just take it with a grain of salt. After that dinner, we found our way to Kampot Pie and Ice Cream Palace. It’s a few doors down from where we were staying and thank goodness for that. It has a superb menu from breakfast to desserts, solid coffee, and a warm atmosphere. It’s basically Brad and Devyn’s restaurant baby. We love anywhere with hearty meals and a home like atmosphere. It harkens back to our love for Hobbiton. Its owner, Les, is this unique gent from Canada who owned property his whole life and ended up in Cambodia doing just that. He won’t steer shy from saying hello.
The following day, we found a tuk tuk driver and hired him for the day. Unlike our driver in Phnom Penh (who crashed into a car), this guy was a salty pro, but with a smile. He took us to their caves and the scenery on the way is, need I say again, stunning.
The caves themselves are these gargantuan, cathedral like phenomenons. It’s a short trek, but you do some serious crawling and ducking. The coolest parts of the cave were not captured. It got too difficult while crawling through the dark.
Afterward, our awesome tuk tuk driver took us to a Kampot pepper field. It’s a lot like a winery, but with Kampot peppers; these tiny little balls of fiery goodness.
Serving wine at the pepper field wasn’t too shabby either. The coolest parts about taking a tuk tuk to these locations were seeing the people in their day-to-day lives on the way, as well as the awesome Khmer kids not skipping a beat when it comes to waving to you. It’s almost like being a celebrity. We were told that it’s just in the Khmer culture to display kindness and you certainly see that with the kids. I mean, I’ve rambled about Khmer kids already haven’t I?
Phnom Sor: The Search For The Witch Of The White Mountain This was something we found randomly in a pamphlet. We saw the words “hike” and “witch” so we were in. It wasn’t a tourist attraction and that has proven to provide the most fun days. Anything off the beaten path or locally recommended is the way to go. Nothing through tourist vendors or driving sightseeing tours.
Phnom Sor is more like an exaggerated hill than anything, but according to locals and others, it’s a 30 minute vertical hike to the top where an old witch lives.
After taking a bit of a dodgy road, our tuk tuk driver stopped in a school yard. He thought we wanted to see the temples on campus, but we reiterated hike, mountain, and old woman he immediately asked anyone he could how to take the most direct path to the White Mountain.
We ended up recruiting these two schoolboys who said they go up to see the witch all the time. This is a prime example of why you should find off the beaten path activities when traveling. It’s so awesomely random to end up being led to witch mountain by two boys after your tuk tuk driver was unsure how to get there. The boys led us along a long dirt road and you could see Phnom Sor’s looming presence. Dare I say, it has a Tolkien Lonely Mountain element to it. Refer to the the picture a few photos up.
Once you reach the foot of the mountain, it’s almost a vertical hike to the top up rigid rock stairways. The scenery all over is breathtaking. The higher you get, the better the view gets. As our tuk tuk driver kept reiterating while walking up: “beautiful”.
You almost forget you’re looking for a witch, being distracted by the great views. Once you get near the top, it gets eerie. It’s dark stones decorated with offerings leading up to a metallic hut. It is a place where a witch would live. The whole group kept their voices down to not disturb whomever we may encounter. So with our wits about and a $5 bill ready, (you’re supposed to bring an offering or you get cursed) we made our final steps to the top.
Through the hut, there were more offerings and it led to another rock staircase leading down into the back of the mountain. There isn’t much walking room near the back and it’s where we found the creepiest aspect; the cave entrance to the woman’s rest area.
We didn’t find the witch and the boys said she may be out and about collecting supplies. She must be a tough lady. I’ve seen photos of what she looks like and she is a small, frail looking gal. To make that hike is impressive. We paid our respects through prayer with our tuk tuk driver and just soaked in the views before hiking back down. If you’re ever in Kampot, this is something you should not miss. It’s a great hike and if you’re lucky, you will meet the legendary witch.
The next day, following the high of an awesome day previously, we proved my earlier point; don’t do sightseeing tours. While some of the sights are neat, it’s relatively a waste of money and caters to tourists. It takes away the magic of it all. Here are some photos of the neater sights we saw.
We both really like old, abandoned buildings so it was cool having this catered to our tastes. Other than the sunset cruise later that night, it was a pretty “meh” sightseeing trip. Luckily the company was good.
Siem Reap: We had to bid a sad farewell to Kampot at one point. With the warmth of the community and how often we frequented Kampot Ice Cream Palace, we started recognizing faces, being recognized, and felt like locals.
The bus drive to Siem Reap was a 12 hour endeavor which included a transfer. Fortunately, the bus provided humorous Chinese music videos and films dubbed in Khmer. Once in Siem Reap, our tuk tuk driver couldn’t find our accommodation. It made for an interesting night and it was a moment where Devyn and I practiced our “don’t mess with me” looks, just like we do in Bangkok.
You know what, Siem Reap was a pretty low key point in the trip. When you’re gone for so long, you can’t have every day be adventurous or a “go-go”. It burns you out. For the most part, we stayed out of the heat by frequenting a coffee shop, read, did Christmas shopping at their awesome daily night market, and discovered Asian countries can’t do Mexican food.
Of course, we checked out Angkor Wat and the other temples. These are awesome sights to see, but overwhelmingly filled with tourists. It truly takes the magic out of it all. I’d suggest checking out some of the smaller temples on the outskirts. These are more decayed by age and are overgrown by vines and trees. To Devyn and I, we found these temples much more appealing.
During our temple of doom run, we were ripped off by monks. They insisted on praying with us, burning incense, and making us bracelets. Of course, where there’s religion, comes asking for money. They expected donations the whole time. I gave them a few bucks and they saw a $20 in my pocket. Naturally, they wanted more. We took off fleeing and mind you, this was only a 15 second ordeal, so anything more than a few George Washingtons is a little excessive. Here’s a picture of me being frustrated after:
But, we did have an awesome last night in Siem Reap. We wanted a romantic night together and we found this charming restaurant called Bugs Cafe. We enjoyed an insect fondue with each other. It’s love baby. Yup, just a cricket and silkworm dessert.
The place is cleverly put together though. The owner told us he stresses that the restaurant be spotless clean to help customer’s psyche when eating bugs. The menu items are mixed with normal food items as well, so it’s not too overwhelming. A solid end to Cambodia.
Bangkok: Ok, so if you follow me on Facebook, you’ll know I haven’t had much positive things to say about Bangkok, Thailand. I’m keeping this brief. The flight from Siem Reap to Bangkok is hilariously short. Without exaggeration, it’s like flying from San Diego to Los Angeles. I listened to a song on my iPod before they announced we were descending.
We met a German couple who were coincidentally staying at the same place we were. Good thing too because the ride from the airport cost 400 baht. ($12ish USD) This commute shouldn’t have been more than 150 baht, but Don Meung Airport has a clever way of running taxis at higher rates. It is what is, and was no where like the scams we encountered.
The people in Bangkok are polar opposite of the Khmer. They’re gruff and bitter looking. You get an unwelcome vibe in the city and they appear to be pissed off all the time. On top of that, everyone is out to rip you off. Our driver this morning to Siam Square filled up gas after picking us up, but kept the meter running. We told him to restart it and even though he knew he was caught, he was livid with us and rushed us out of the car once we reached our destination. Lonely Planet has sound advice about avoiding these notorious scams. Drivers will often offer flat rates that are three times what it should be or “forget” to turn the meter on and charge you a flat rate.
We checked out Siam Discovery which is a mall that of Singapore standards. Their malls are huge. We spent time in that part of town to avoid the heat and scammers. Getting home was a different story. After turning down two drivers trying to charge 500 baht for an 80 baht ride, we had to settle for the third driving offering 150 (originally 200). It was here that we realized during their rush hour, they scam foreigners with flat rates saying their meters don’t work. But, they have functioning meters when it comes to Thai people. It only takes a few looks in other cabs to witness this.
Basically, Bangkok sucks. The rest of Thailand is supposed to be amazing, but Bangkok sucks. Everything I wrote and more of the stuff I didn’t is the epitome of why Bangkok sucks. Everyone is trying to rip you off and those that aren’t, scowled at you and make you feel unwelcome. We take off the Vietnam tomorrow and we are ready for it.