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.
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!