It’s almost three years since my last blog post. That’s how long it’s taken to finish setting up our home base in the beautiful NSW Northern Rivers and to extricate ourselves from the familiar comfort of our peaceful hermity forest home. Our life’s baggage is now sorted, scanned, filed and packed in boxes in the shed or uploaded to ‘the cloud’.
It’s been such a long haul to get out of Australia, and finally on the road, that we arrived in Sihanoukville Cambodia totally exhausted. In the last minute rush to leave home anything not stored or abandoned just got chucked in our packs to be sorted out later. I’ve unearthed a strange assortment of luggage items, including a teaspoon. It’s actually quite useful. I don’t know why I haven’t packed one before.
Sadly, Sihanoukville is forever changed by Chinese investment. They say that just four short years ago it was a laid back paradise but, from what I saw, it’s now a massive destruction/construction site, much of the forest gone, huge trucks everywhere, ugly high rise buildings and all covered in clouds of dust. Even the recently pristine Ko Rong islands are being overwhelmed by plastic pollution. As a wise local expat pointed out to me though, it’s a double edged sword. The Chinese investment is bringing infrastructure and modernisation to a country that desperately needs it but displacing local people and industries and destroying the environment in the meantime.
Otres Beach, just down the road from Sihanoukville, is still lovely but I fear the huge development monster will open its ugly maw and devour it soon. It was such a relief to land in our simple bungalow overlooking the river in Otres and feel the outside world fall away. Just for this short time at least this place still exists. The local Cambodians say they need the ‘good tourists’ to come and use local services, not the big tour groups who only give their money to the Chinese companies.
Unfortunately I got sick as soon as I arrived in Otres, so spent my whole time sleeping on the cool and peaceful veranda and didn’t see anything else at all.
JH and friends had a horrible experience on our last night in Otres. They discovered a young English guy on the bottom of the swimming pool in the restaurant. They pulled him out and tried so hard to save him until an ambulance arrived. Unfortunately it was already too late and he didn’t make it. So very sad and everyone was traumatised. The next morning we left for Kampot.
It was wonderful to come out of the dust and into the green lushness of Kampot. The Chinese are building the highway to Kampot but it hasn’t reached there yet. Fingers crossed that it never will. We met up with a huge group of old and new friends from England and Australia for Christmas in Kampot. There were nineteen of us! We hired a very cool boat with a driver and spent Christmas Day cruising up and down the river. It cost us $20 each – $10 for boat hire and $10 for food and drinks. A perfect day.
While in Kampot we did a tourist circuit to Kep (full of dead sea creatures and people eating them), a cave with 101 steps up to a beautiful temple, and to a pepper plantation. Kampot pepper is apparently very famous, so we bought some.
The most gruesome place we visited is known as the ‘secret lake’. It’s very beautiful but is actually a dam that slave labour was forced, by the Khmer Rouge, to dig out by hand. Thousands of people died and their bodies thrown into the lake. It’s a mass grave littered with bones. The story goes that, up until just a few years ago, random groups of four or five people were periodically shot and thrown into the lake to appease the hungry ghosts. It’s a chilling reminder of the horrors that lie just under the surface everywhere in Cambodia. It constantly amazes me how these poor people, who have endured so much, manage to remain open, positive and beautiful.
The rest of our time in Kampot was spent in the gorgeous fancy pants hotel where most of us were staying. There were many late nights, much merriment and cheap cocktails. Not for me though as I still had a dodgy tummy and was treading very carefully.
At last we left Kampot and, after a nine hour journey in a minivan, we finally arrived here in Siem Reap where we plan to stay for a while.
Breathe out. I can feel my wings starting to unfurl. This is the beginning of a great adventure.