After my adventures in and around Siem Reap I only had a few more days left on my visa to explore Cambodia. I had been planning to enter Thailand via the Aranyprathet/Poipet border, so a stop in Battambang seemed natural. Aside from my original plan I encountered many travelers along the way who had nothing but good things to say about the city, so I made sure not to miss it. Upon my arrival, I found the city to be quaint but without the charm of Kampot. I made a last minute booking at Chhaya hotel, mostly just because they would pick me up from the bus station. My tuk-tuk driver started immediately with his sales as he whipped out his book of tours he operates, but I must say he did so with some tact, I was not in the least bit annoyed. I wasn't going to join any but when he mentioned he was taking a Swiss man to the bat cave that night I decided to join.
There are countless articles online promoting, bashing, critiquing and otherwise inspecting all that Facebook has to offer, it's often a topic of conversation between both young and old. The opinions critiquing the good and bad of Facebook could fuel the fire for many heated debates and arguments; there are those that absolutely despise the site and refuse to ever sign up, but then there are the so-called 'Facebook addicts'. I myself fall somewhere in the middle of the road, seeing valid arguments from each side. Sure, it can suck up a majority of your time while providing little in return, other than pangs of jealousy or resentment at your friends pictures. But if you use it correctly, Facebook can also provide you with some great information, connections, and if you're lucky some awesome experiences.
While I was preparing for my trip through Cambodia I thought I'd check Couchsurfing for any cool hosts or people to meet up with along the way. I'd had great success with this during my previous travels in both Malaysia and Taiwan so I figured it was a definite possibility for Cambodia. I didn't bother looking around the Phnom Penh area since I already had plans to stay with friends but I did search in Siem Reap. There were a few different hosts offering their couch but one profile stood out to me. Sokhom Khit was looking for volunteers to help teach at the Angkor Tree School a place he started with his wife to offer free English and Japanese lessons to the local village children. The offer didn't exactly fit the Couchsurfing criteria as he asked for a donation in return for room and board, but I was still interested in helping.
After spending a day touring the temple of Angkor Wat I had a revelation: I'm a people person, but not in the typical sense of the label. I'm not a bubbly, chatty, "Good morning how are you and where are you from" type of person, rather I'm like a fly on the wall. I like to observe people, watching them, creating my own story of who they are, where they've come from and what they're doing. I'm not sure when this started but I'm pretty sure that growing up with years of people watching alongside my mom didn't hurt. I found it fascinating to watch the people that work in and around Angkor Wat. Tourists may be slowly destroying the temple grounds, but at the same time the millions of visitors are providing jobs for hundreds if not thousands of Cambodians. From the tuk-tuk and moto drivers , to the tour guides and grounds workers, even the children trying desperately to sell their post cards and bracelets, it was these people I wanted to spend more time observing.
My tour of the temples started bright and early when Dara picked me up from my guesthouse at 5 am. I had planned on wearing shorts and carrying a sarong for when I wanted to enter the temples but Dara advised me that "No, not possible, longer is better", so I changed to my trendy elephant pants. Seeing as it was just me I told Dara that taking his motorbike, rather than tuk-tuk would be fine. Unfortunately, Dara is not yet licensed as a guide for Angkor (although he plans to complete this soon) so he could only drop me at the entrance and give me a few details before entering.
Even though I was just there a few days ago it's hard to believe that I've actually seen and explored the massive, world-famous-sites of Angkor Wat. I've read about the temples in text books, seen numerous pictures on the internet, travel books, blogs, painting and post cards, but now I've seen it with my own eyes. Everyone says you can't imagine how massive the temples really are and even after being there it's hard to wrap my brain around it. Aside from the well-known main temple of Angkor Wat there are various other temples in the national park, if you wanted to you could easily spend days, if not weeks exploring this place, if that's your thing anyway.
After a few days I was beyond ready to get out of the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh and so I set my sights on the smaller city of Kampong Cham. I didn't know much about what there would be fore me to do there but I figured if it was anything like Kampot I wouldn't have any problems. The bus ride was bearable but would have been nicer if they let me put my big backpack under the bus, instead of stuffing it in between my feet. Also I've decided that no matter where your traveling to or from in Cambodia the estimated travel time is 5 hours.
I knew my time in Phnom Penh was winding down but there was one more thing on my 'to-do' list. I've always had a love for cooking [and eating] but never actually shelled out the money to take a course (they wanted upwards of $50 in Korea which didn't seem worth it), but all of that changed recently. On one of my first days in the city, I heard about a cooking course offered by Frizz restaurant which I added to my list of things to consider while visiting. I checked out the website and read a few reviews, for $23 it seemed like a pretty good deal, the course would start with a trip to the market followed by full instructions and hands-on work in making a 4-course meal. I didn't get a chance to participate before heading south for my adventures in Kampot but while on a boat there I met a woman who spoke highly of the course, so I added it to my must-do list for when I returned to Phnom Penh.
Well, every trip is bound to have at least one adventure, I just didn’t expect it to happen in the first week of my travels. I guess I was getting too lucky with my first few days of traveling from Korea to Phnom Penh, via Kuala Lumpur, going so smoothly. After a few days in the city, I decided it was time for a change of scenery and booked a bus ticket to Kampot. Referred to as a sleepy riverside down that tends to kidnap its inhabitants I was intrigued by what I would find there. I went middle of the road and booked a bus ticket for 9:30 figuring that if all went well I’d arrive sometime in the mid-afternoon, but when does anything ever go according to plan.
After falling head over heels in love with the city of Kampot I had a tough time trying to decide where to next. My original plan was Sihanoukville, the touristy beach town to the west, but I started having second thoughts. After hearing that the city was overrun with loud hostels, bars and tourists looking for a party I decided that's not the scene I was looking for. Another option was Kep a sleepy beach town to the East which boasts delicious seafood, a small natural park, close access to the pepper plantations and even a little beach, much better. I considered doing a one day tour to the city which included a boat trip out to Rabbit Island but since the tour wasn't running the day I wanted to go I decided to spend a few days there instead. Cambodia does a really good job of being accessible for their tourists offering many different maps, visitors guides and 'pocket guides' for dining and nightlife. It was through my Kampot/Kep Canby Guide that I found great guesthouse and restaurant recommendations including the Tree Tops Bungalows in Kep, a Khmer family run hideaway tucked into the side of the hills of Kep National Park
Only recently has this country shown up on the SE Asia tourist route. With a dark, harrowing past it's amazing to see the smiles spread across the locals faces. I've met travelers with mixed impressions, but if you're lucky enough to connect with a few locals I'm confident you'll fall in love.