here i go again on my own

Sat in my hostel room in Kuala Lumpur to be precise. It seems a little odd to be back on the road ‘alone’ again, sorting out logistics such as airport buses and monorail tickets without a partner in crime as support. Still, I subconsciously enjoyed having that full responsibility again, finding my way to the hostel in the heart of Kuala Lumpur without any dramas at all. All of this after I said my latest farewell this morning to Fred, back in Phnom Penh. You’d think I’d be used to saying goodbyes now, but this morning was a strange one as barring any mishaps I won’t see any family till next April now.

The last time I blogged we were down on the south coast of Cambodia having an excellent time exploring the rural countryside of Kep. The morning after our marathon bike ride we took a trip to a little island offshore called ‘Rabbit Island’ I’m told it is called this because someone once announced he thought it looked like a rabbit from the air – no one else seemed to agree with that said persons view, but still, the name stuck and it stands today. Not seeing the island from anything other than a few feet above sea level who am I to question the likeliness? Anyway, the island itself was beautiful – golden sands, clear, warm waters, palm trees all mixed in with peace and quiet.

After hopping off our personal little boat, Fred decided it would be a good idea to go for a walk through the jungle. I reluctantly followed – I was suffering from sunburn to my left shoulder from the previous day as well as having my first case of travel weariness, so wasn’t in the greatest mood of all time. The walk started averagely as the first beach away from the beautiful one we had just left was covered in washed up drinks bottles, rubbish and the like which ruined the setting somewhat. As we walked deeper into the jungle my mind went back to Khao Sok – I really didn’t want another jungle trek. Especially in flip flops. Luckily the trees thinned out and we came to a tiny secluded beach well away from the tourist beach at the arrival of the island. Stupidly I forgot my swimming shorts, but seeing as I was with someone who has seen me starkers in hotel rooms round the world, it was hardly an issue….the decision was made to skinny dip! There was no one around and I wasn’t going to swim around the Gulf of Thailand in boxer shorts. After a short clamber over some rocks we were out at sea enjoying the warmth of the water and the beauty of the island again. It was brilliant to swim in water as warm as your average bath, especially as the shower back at Veranda was freezing cold that morning too.

Talking of Veranda, I haven’t actually told you what a cool place it was. Located on a hillside in thick forest, Veranda’s main restaurant overlooked the sea, giving spectacular views across the open Gulf. When the weather was clear, you could see as far as an island that belonged to Vietnam. Our room was a rustic affair, positioned on stilts above the forest. The adjoined bathroom was just like the bedroom, open in places to the outside world, which led to some noisy nights what with the insects and animals that reside nearby. The balcony had a hammock, which was a cracking place to dry off after a morning or afternoon shower. The guesthouse pool was massive, its waters warmer than a hot tub – something of a bonus given the places I have stayed at in the recent past with pools in Kingston, Jamaica and Durban had freezing water!

After our morning at Rabbit Island we took an evening tuk tuk out of town to a place down the road called Kampot. Our driver was a lovely bloke, pulling into his own driveway half way to briefly say hi to his family as well as batten down the tuk tuk hatches to protect us from the imminent rain storm. These guys put in incredible hours at work, waiting around for us tourists to eat and drink for several hours just to give us a lift home. If you consider you don’t pay them till the end of the night, they show a great deal of trust letting us disappear off into the night after driving us for a good hour without any advance payment. The countryside on this journey from Kep to Kampot reminded me of Sri Lanka; stunning natural beauty, the rice fields and the happy, waving people at the roadside houses and cafes. Travelling back later at night we commented on the community spirit that rural Cambodians appeared to have – every village seemed to have an open hall, bar or restaurant where all the villagers were congregated round the television. I’m not sure how good Khmer soaps or entertainment shows are; the only experience I had of local television was the endless karaoke programs they have blaring out on the bus rides – not so good.

Yesterday on our return to Phnom Penh we decided to eat at arguably the countries most famous restaurant, ‘Friends’ This is an eatery set up as a charity that gives street kids the chance to learn a trade and earn money by working in the restaurant. The students all work their way up the ladder, starting at the bottom as a waiter or a kitchen assistant, working their way to a position where they can start teaching new students that come in.

After an afternoon chilling we took another tuk tuk to the outskirts of town where the CCH orphanage is based. This was the site that my sister spent most of her time, teaching the kids English and generally just being a mentor. On our arrival we were met by one of the older lads who has achieved some incredible things through CCH – meeting the King of Cambodia through my sisters photography project being the most impressive. He was embarrassed when I mentioned that I’d seen a clip of him on the Kings website! After a quick look around the site, we were soon surrounded by very excitable kids who had just returned from a boat trip. Once I had said an individual ‘hello’ to what must have been twenty or thirty kids, I decided to join one of the more excitable ones in playing a game of throw the tiny mouse key ring through the basketball hoop. The enjoyment he and several of his mates got out of something so basic was incredible. It shows you how spoilt kids (and adults) really are back home and across the developed world. The games continued for a good hour or so, the main one involving a bouncy ball that appeared from nowhere – throw the ball into the ground and chase after it, the winner gets the privilege of being the thrower next time. It was crazy! The kids at CCH are very impressive – from their ability and hunger to learn English to happily welcoming in strangers into their homes to play ball games with them. Not to mention their general upbeat demeanour. All of this on the back of upbringings such as working and living on rubbish dumps. It was a very humbling experience and one that I’m proud my family members are continuing to support despite now being back in the UK.

So, I made a sweeping statement after a couple of days here that I may have found a new favourite country in Cambodia. My thoughts are still very much in sync with this first thought. What was this other country I hear you ask? Well, that was the island of Sri Lanka which I visited for a few weeks back in 2007. On that tuk tuk ride to Kampot which I spoke about above, I had a moment where I realised some obvious similarities in the countries. The main religion in both countries is Buddhist. They have both been through recent pain with civil war and atrocity and shown great signs of coming through the other side. The people are so genuinely happy to see you visit their land, not after anything in return for the sake of a smile. The countryside is in places very similar, certainly on Cambodia’s south coast. The rice fields, palm tress and picturesque beauty are present in both. You can even get clean and tasty local and western food in both countries without the fear of illness – a massive tick in the box.

Although Cambodia is not going to knock Sri Lanka off its perch at the top of the palm tree just yet, it’s a definite front runner. I suggest people visit soon – word will soon get out about this truly remarkable country, get in quick before others do!


3 Responses to “here i go again on my own”

  1. 1 Martin Chapple
    October 24, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    The photos are great and the blog fascinating, well done matey. No news from the Northern Chapples re baby arrival. We are off to Wimbledon to look around a prospective Uni for Em on Tuesday and then we are going to the Houses of Parliament on Weds to attend Prime Minister’s Question Time.

  2. 2 Donna
    October 24, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    I very much enjoyed reading this Richard…and envious..of your beaches, sea, eating out, etc especially as the nights are drawing in here! And, its getting colder…frost tomorrow!!! I hope you don’t miss any of us at all!!! We are with you in spirit anyway! Congrats on getting to Kuala Lumpar..new territory for me to read about…

  3. 3 Donna
    October 24, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    I find myself stalking you on the net! Equator Hotel 70, Lorong 1/77 A | Off Jalan Pudu, Kuala Lumpur 55100, Malaysia..anyone would think I miss you ha ha ha

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