Forgotten Passport, AKA Just One Example of Why I Love Cambodia

When I arrived in Phnom Penh to Okay Guesthouse, I went to pull my passport out to give it to reception so I could check in. After I realized it was not in my wallet, an immediate feeling of dread came over me.
I realized I left my passport under my pillow at a tiny guesthouse where no one spoke English in the non touristed town of Kompong Cham. This place barely had electricity and definitely didn’t have business cards or web site, can’t yellow page or google that shit (yes I tried).
I wrote down a bunch of phone numbers of surrounding businesses, none of which were correct, and the amazing manager (Phally) at OK Guesthouse calls all of them. in an attempt to figure out if there’s a phone number for my place (there’s not). He hangs up and tells me the bad news, and helps me book a bus ticket back so I can hopefully find it. Oh and the entire time this is going on I’m trying really hard not to cry, as its important to save face and stay composed, but I can’t help it, the emotional American girl side of me is definitely coming out, I’m fighting it, but I am still crying, just a little, and the manager’s wife is rubbing my arm telling me it’s ok.
Then the phone rings. A random Khmer lady Phally had accidentally called went and found my passport and is holding it for me to come pick up tomorrow.  When the good news came, all the staff cheered. The manager wrote down everything in Khmer for me and gave me his phone number in case I had problems and told me to call him when I figure it out tomorrow. I LOVE CAMBODIA.

What it looks like when you rip your bag apart in a desperate attempt to find a passport that is actually hours away
What it looks like when you rip your bag apart in a desperate attempt to find a passport that is actually hours away

Kompong Cham and a Morning on Koh Paen

Yesteday was another early morning after a sleepless night. The downpour started a bit after sunset, with whipping winds and buckets of rain. The restaurant I was sitting at, with a view of the Mekong, even closed early. Sleeping in my own room in a city where no one knows my name, with that crazy storm going on, did not equate to comfortable sleeping.

My alarm went off at 5, and even though I had listened to Vegan Fitness podcasts (no joke) til after midnight, I jumped up feeling ready to rock out. I was on my bike, cruising along the riverside, before the sun had risen.

Kompong Cham Koh Paen Mekong sunrise 2
Sunrise over the Mekong – so beautiful I had to get 2 photos
Kompong Cham Koh Paen Mekong sunrise biking backpacking
Sunrise over the Mekong

After some confusion, I found the path to the bamboo bridge to Koh Paen, an island in the Mekong. I’m so bad with directions. (To find it, follow the road along the Mekong until you see an opening in the barrier that follows the entire length of the walking path along the road. Or just ask anyone “bamboo bridge”)
The bridge is amazing. Built entirely of bamboo every dry season, every monsoon it is washed away. It is strong enough to withstand the weight of any vehicle, even trucks. Its springy surface of flattened bamboo makes for an uneven, off kilter ride, and combined with the lack of side rails to prevent you from falling into the river, it’s quite the scary experience. Add the motorbikes rushing past and the horse carts charging by (yes, horse carts are a very common sight on Koh Paen – awesome!), it’s one of the more unnerving bridges I’ve crossed. (Bridge fee is 1000 riel with return)

Kompong Cham Koh Paen Bamboo Bridge biking
Koh Paen Bamboo Bridge
Kompong Cham Koh Paen Horse Carts
They still use horse carts on Koh Paen

Once on Koh Paen, the terrifying bridge crossing just a memory (until you have to go back!), it’s impossible not to relax. The 5 hours I was there, I didn’t see one other tourist. Success.

Kompong Cham Koh Paen Bike Path Biking
Path on Koh Paen

As usual in the more rural villages, small children greeted me with a chorus of ‘hello!’s, and even the adults smiled and waved. A girl on her way to school biked with me for a bit, asking the usual questions. She was shocked when I said I was 24 and not married. She told me she was 17 and wanted to study instead, that’s why she wasn’t married yet.

After seeing the majority of the island, including the temple, schools, rice paddies, and livestock every where, I headed back to town to pack up my stuff, have lunch at Khmer Food restaurant (lovely tofu salad for $2 right on the Mekong), and catch my moto to the bus, so I can get to Phnom Penh today.

Kompong Cham Khmer food restaurant salad
‘Khmer Food’ Restaurant Tofu Salad

The bus didn’t have air con. Of course. ( Sorya sucks. Take any bus company but them if you can manage). But I did meet 2 peace Corp members from Colorado currently stationed in southern Cambodia (they were on vacation and traveling back to work from Ratanikiri). Reignited my curiosity in joining up. Hmmmmm.
I found an awesome guest house named Okay and splurged the extra $2 for air-conditioned luxury. When I went to pull out my passport, I realized I had forgotten it in Kompong Cham. Ughhhhh.

Kompong Cham

I got up at 6am to change some baht into riel (moneychangers in Kratie also often sell phones or jewelry, you know they change money because they display different currencies in glass containers on the counter) and grab my last sticks of krolan for the bus today, which I got on at 7am.
The bus was supposed to take 4 hours to the little city of Kompong Cham (where the current Prime Minister was born) so of course it took 6 (to determine length of public transport in southeast Asia, this is the formula : ((time you were told) x 1.5)= actual time). It’s just the way it is, and I plan on it. No reason to stress, the scenery is pretty, and though the Cambodian buses are usually far from comfortable, I am beyond thankful if at least the aircon is working or the windows open.
A moto taxi offered to take me to my hotel for 1000 riel (25 cents). His English was excellent and seemed like a legit guy so I asked for his recommendation for a guesthouse under $5. He took me to a place next to the river, and waited while I checked it out. 3rd floor, fan cooled, PRIVATE bathroom (!), and even better – my own balcony!! Definitely. My moto translated for the guesthouse manager, who spoke no English, and I paid them each their due, was given an extra set of padlocks, and went upstairs to nap off the heat of the day.

Kompong Kampang Cham Balcony Budget Cheap Guest House Mekong
View from my balcony
My guesthouse

I wandered around the riverside for a bit, staking out ideas for a morning bike ride tomorrow before I take a bus to Phnom Penh. There’s an awesome bamboo bridge to an island in the Mekong, rebuilt after every monsoon season. Definitely thinking that’s my destination tomorrow morning before I hop the bus (or will I go wild and splurge that extra dollar or so for the much faster minivan? Living fast and furious here)

While an awesome budget find, my place lacks wifi. Or, I lack the language ability to ascertain whether there’s wifi. There’s a nice little coffee place a few doors down across the street – Destiny. It supports an NGO, and had fast/free wifi, friendly service, and great shakes and food (at reasonable prices).

Kompong Cham is definitely not on the tourist short list. Aside from the manager at Destiny, and one European couple at a restaurant I passed by, I haven’t seen any other Falang. Which is awesome! But also slightly lonely – I would love to meet some Khmers, but aside from staring at me, no one is very interested (language barrier is a much bigger issue in non-touristy areas). Except for the teenage boys, who shove each other until one of them shouts an embarrassed ‘hello!’ and then covers his face in his hands while his buddies giggle and cheer. And the toddlers, who all smile big and wave nonstop while yelling ‘halloooooo halloooooo!’ Sometimes women my own age will try to talk to me, the usual questions – where are you going, where are you from, why are you in Cambodia, are you alone?- but then eventually the words run out and they turn to their girlfriends and laugh, and I’m not sure whether it’s at me, for being a sweaty and unusual looking foreigner so out of place.
I’m still getting used to the nonstop attention and blatant, curious stares. It is totally harmless and innocent, but somewhat disconcerting and isolating.. To know you are the center of so much attention and discussion that you can’t understand.
I bought a bus ticket for $4.75, and rented a bike (with basket and lock) for $1 from Mekong Daze bar/restaurant, then grabbed some dinner at Mekong Crossing, had an awesome, big western style salad with perfect Italian vinaigrette for $2.. Oh goodness I’ve missed those salads (seems like salads in southeast Asia are always small, light on veggies and heavy on thousand island or mayo based dressing)! My waiter was super nice, had perfect English, and after chatting came to find out he’s a final candidate for one of 6 scholarships for Cambodians to go to West Point (VERY VERY prestigious academy in the US). Rock on and best of luck!