Monday, March 8, 2010

Snack Attack Phnom Penh and Cambodia's South Coast

Upon our arrival in Phnom Penh, we found Nomads Hostel and its manager Martin from the UK. He was most helpful in acclimating us to the city and instructing us that there is no good street food, just authentic street food (an unfortunate omen, to be sure). We wandered around finding only shitty-looking street food, then we returned to the hostel where Jaakko (Finland) and Connor (Australia) and company were drinking some strong rice wine and offered me some. The taste wasn't bad, but the aftertaste sure was. We went to the night market, got some cheap but good spring rolls and chatted with our fellow travellers. That night we slept on the balcony under the stars (and our mosquito nets) because Martin had overbooked. We got a $1 discount, so it only cost $3 instead of $4. Traffic around Phnom Penh was quite crazy, and we saw a shirtless fruit man.

The next day was not only Valentine's Day but also Chinese New Year, and we went on a tour of the Killing Fields (basically mass graves of Cambodians killed by the Khmer rouge) and S21, the Genocide Museum, a high school that was turned into a prison/torture site. It was absolutely horrific. I had no idea how many bombs the US dropped on Cambodia during the Vietnam War and just how awful Pol Pot's reign of terror was. I took a few pictures of the "mugshots" taken of prisoners upon their arrival, as well as my favorite shot: a beautifully symbolic gesture where several busts of Pol Pot were encaged on the floor. Out of respect, I did not take any shots of the memorial constructed to honor and remember those who died in the Killing Fields, but it was a stupa in the middle of the field with actual skulls and bones and clothes found in the mass graves years later.

That night we were invited to a Free Thai food buffet. It was at a bar where friendly female company also was for sale, but we couldn't pass on free food (bad decision, it turns out). Jaakko, Connor, Snack and I (heretoforth known as The Guys)brought 3 new friends (Sinead from Ireland and her 2 female friends), so that the girls from the bar would leave us alone. The food was not very impressive, but what did I expect? It was free. It was the most uncomfortable meal I've eaten thus far on my trip. 7 people squashed around a table for 5, at most (Connor was sitting on the arm of the couch). The female staff were glaring at our girl friends. The owner was staring at us, waiting for us to leave and free up a table for actual paying customers. Needless to say, we left in a hurry for a drink at more comfortable environs. Definitely the weirdest way to spend Valentine's Day, to date.

The Guys decided to head down to the south coast (Sinhoukville, to be exact) after an all-you-can-eat breakfast for like $2USD (and this is where things get interesting). It was amazing: eggs, pastries, fruit, toast, more pastries, potatoes. You get the picture. About 2 hours into breakfast, I realized that something was not right with my stomach. It could've been breakfast, but I think it was more likely than not the bad food from the night before (karma, I swear). Hence our 4-hour journey to the coast was not quite pleasant for me. We refused to pay the high price for a taxi or tuk-tuk, so we decided to walk down toward the beach where all the accommodation was. We had underestimated how busy it would be due to Chinese New Year, and we were having a really hard time finding anything cheaper than $35US. Finally we took our new friend Sinead's recommendation and walked to Khin's Guest Shack, where we saw this sign:

We inquired within and found out that the free accommodation was in an attic where she housed her staff. We ordered food right there on the beach, surrounded by fireworks, vacationing locals and tourists.

The next morning we were all feeling quite sick, so we went for a quick swim in the ocean (where I forgot about feeling awful). I hitched a ride toward town so I could go to the pharmacy to get Ciproflaxcin for my stomach pain. I got in the back of some random truck with at least 10 faces staring at me and offering me some kind of thick brown liquid. I was quite distracted and ended up riding past town. When I asked if there was a pharmacy ahead, the main spokesperson kept saying "Yes," but 30 minutes later I just got out to hitch a ride back into town. I caught a ride right away, but he only went about 5 minutes in my direction. The next man to pick me (I learned) was agreeing to be my taxi for money. We went to 3 different pharmacies til we found the correct antibiotic, then he returned me to my guesthouse. I tried to pay him with a nice cool drink, but he wanted money too. He spent at least an hour with me, and he went substantially out of his way for me, so I obliged. After that adventure in the hot sun and my stomach still jolting with pain, I agreed with the other 3 to make the rest of the day a movie day, and we watched The Dark Knight, A Serious Man, District 9, and part of The Road (until the DVD stopped working). We were hoping to make it a full day by adding Sherlock Holmes, but it went missing while we went to get ice cream. Oh well, at least it only cost $1.10 in China. :)

The next day I was still in a lot of pain, so the other 3 rented motorbikes and explored the area without me. I took a long nap, did some journaling, and watched An Education. Nice, relaxing day, and I felt ready for food when they got back from their biking adventure (super dirty and exhausted).

Snack and I returned to Phnom Penh the next morning to retrieve our passports (with the Laos visas now attached) and headed to Siem Reap on an overnight bus.

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