trails & tribulations

by Jakob





From within the bus I watch the landscape of Cambodia: very flat, many rice fields, houses on high stilts, it all looks green and friendly.
The majority of the ride is on a well maintained or perhaps new road, only the last part of the journey is on a unpaved road and the clouds of dust caused by the traffic covers the houses and everything alongside of the road with a gray layer of dust​​.
The bus arrived much later than planned in Phnom Pen.
The guesthouse “Nomads Guesthouse” had a free pickup service arranged for me -an unexpected service for such a low budget guesthouse! – only the tuktuk driver was allready waiting for me for a couple of hours sitting.
Quite nice of him that he was still waiting for me, although he was slightly to me about his loss of income because of the waiting”, please, don’t blame me” I told him. With hindsight it was actually also a bit of a game, because his day consists of waiting for clients in front of the guesthouse, perhaps he hoped that I would give him some extra money.

The guesthouse was run by Martin, an Englishman, who settled here for about 15 years ago. Upon arrival Martin overcharge you immediately with great inside information about the city and I had to concentrate quite well to take it all in me.
In the dormroom were a lot of long-stay guests, they worked mostly as a volunteer somewhere on a good project, there were also regular backpackers.

Together with Javier, a backpacker who came all the way overland from Spain to SE asia, we agreed to visit the Killing Fields the next day. Actually quite bizarre, the Killing Fields have become a kind of tourist attraction, a visit to the Killing Fields seems to belong in the itinerary when you visit Cambodia.
After a ride of about 3 quarters in a tuktuk we arrived at the Killing Fields in the village of Choeung Ek.
At the entrance you get a device with a headphone, where you can choose which language you want, also Dutch is available.

About the history of Cambodia during the Red Khmer I already had read and heard quite a lot about, but now when I hear the witness statements and see how and what had all happened here and in countless other killing-fields of Cambodia, the picture is quite different than if you only read or see something on television. It grabs you, anyhow …. I hang my bracelet, given to me when I was in a Buddhist monastery in Krabi, between all the other bracelets in the tree … the killing tree ….. it makes you silent …

Our tuktuk driver was, as agreed, still waiting for us after our visit to the killing fields and asked if we wanted to the shooting range …. there you can let off steam by shooting with AK-47 machine guns … in my opinion it’s quite weird, especially after visiting the killing fields and Javier thought the same about it, no, absolutely no shooting for us.
A visit to the killing fields also includes a visit to the prison s-21 in Phnom Pen. It was originally a school before the red khmer took it in use as a prison and interrogation room, or better said, a torture room. It is practically still in the same condition as when it was found when the Vietnamese liberated Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge … a visit to s-21 is shocking, nothing more and nothing less ….

Back at the guesthouse and everything is peace and harmony again. We go to the market to get some food. There are no tables and chairs, but you order what you want at one of the stalls and sit on one of the floormats, the whole square is covered with woven mats, it looks like a picnic in the city and, like everywhere in Asia, the food tastes great.
On the boulevard, a short distance away, it is different: many restaurants with European prices, sometimes even more than European prices, nevertheless I found there a restaurant for my breakfast: unlimited food, croissants, fresh baguettes, good coffee and all for little money, well, you’re a Dutchman or not … (for those who don’t know: Dutch are known for their eagerness / thrift)

Phnom Pen is a friendly, safe city, sometimes it seems like a big living room, but this city gets also modern cosmopolitan traits, different skyscrapers are in the making and it makes the contrast with the old city more bigger.
Although the people are all very friendly, it is sometimes quite tiring to be always polite with a smile and to thank that friendly tuktuk driver that I don’t need or want a tuktuk, it’s part of the culture to say thanks with a smile. Yes, the people are all very friendly, but sometimes I wish I did not always had that dollar sign above my head, I think my next destination will be Singapore …..

The dormroom in the guesthouse is great, in the sense that there is a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere, many young people from all regions of the world and we, because there soon is a kind of a we-feeling, entertain us especially with doing nothing, a little chat mostly about travel experiences, a little coffee, tea or something else and in between a quick break to retrieve to catch a take-away meal. I just had booked a ticket to Singapore and so I came in a conversation with an American who just came from Singapore and was very enthiousiast about this place, I actually thought that Singapore was a bit boring, but maybe it’s different, I’ll see. The next day, late in the morning, I took one of the tuk-tuk drivers in front of the guesthouse to take me to the airport.
Cambodia, the country has given me quite an impression, it will not let go to me right away.

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