Everyday of travel is just like the old (Chinese/Japanese/Taosit) proverb of the farmer. You know the one – Today was a prime example.
I had a bus ticket to Kampot this morning at 8:00 AM. My tuk-tuk driver picked me up right on time. I asked him to take me to buy a bottle of water first, so I could break a $50 and pay him his $1. The first shop was closed, what bad luck. The second shop was opened, what good luck. They couldn’t break my $50, what bad luck. The driver got me to the bus depot, and I told him I couldn’t pay him. Yesterday I paid him well above the $10-$15 dollar range for a day, and he said no problem for today. What good luck.
The bus ride was in a nice, air conditioned mini bus, with single seating on one side. The countryside was beautiful. Bright sun, azul sky and the verdant rice paddies, dotted with mounds of trash. I couldn’t stay awake to watch it, but I also needed a washroom, good luck/bad luck. We made pit stop at a Tesco gas station (not a disgusting nameless shop like my last Cambodian bus ride). The line to the women’s was ridiculous (bad luck) but the men’s was empty (good luck), so I just used the men’s. I bought Pringles to break my $50. Good luck. I never buy Pringles at home, but for some reason when I see them here, I want them. Maybe because they are one of the few junk foods I recognize.
We arrive in Kampot, and I am a little dazed and confused. I’m disoriented and don’t know where to go. They’ve dropped us off at a travel agency, so I ask for a town map. They don’t have one. Bad luck. But there are plenty of tuk-tuks who are willing to take me. Good luck. They tell me my hotel is out of town (bad luck), but it had free cancellation (good luck), so I’ll stay somewhere else. The moto taxi wants to take me on a tour for $2, but this town is small, so I’ll just walk. After a few steps there seems to be nothing here (bad luck), but the moto taxi is persistent, so I let him take me (good luck). Now new town blues are getting to me. Don’t know where to stay, what to see, where to eat.
He drives me half a block, and I spot Tourist Information. I go in and ask for a town map, and mention that I don’t know where to stay. The Frenchman at tourist information says he has a guest house not too far away. Rooms are $7, and he can take me there right now on his bike. Good Luck! I pay my driver $1 for his trouble (is that bad luck?).
Sebana Guesthouse is in a nice solid building (good luck!). The lobby toilet is a squat, with gravity flush (bad luck?). I check in, but the rooms won’t be ready until 2:00. The Frenchman gives me a map and tells me I can eat lunch at the market for cheap, $0.75.
It’s hot when I get to the market. I don’t know where to start, because most of it isn’t food, it’s clothing and housewares. I see the sugar cane juicer, and order a drink, $0.25. I watch him run the sugar can through an amazing crushing machine, and I finally get to have a drink with a plastic bag holder!
I venture into the market. It’s intimidating. It’s a maze of stalls. I’m sure I’ll get lost, but I am also sure that if I walk in any direction for long enough, I will get out. It’s cramped, and the floor is muddy. I see a women selling rambutan by the kilo. I’ve had plenty of lychee and longan, but I haven’t had rambutan yet. I buy $0.50 worth. Then I’m not sure what to eat. I would just like to copy another customer because it’s not like pizza by the slice, it’s like Subway and I don’t know how to order.
I see what looks like shrimp muffins (their eyes are looking at me), and that seems good, I like shrimp. I try to ask her to buy one to try, but she serves me a plate with leafy greens, and dipping sauce. I gesture for utensils, and she gestures that I use my hand. I try to pick out the shrimp head, realize that’s ridiculous, and take a bite. Good! Tastes like shrimp muffin. She gestures me to dip it in the sauce and add the leafy greens. I do, and it is very good. I’m surprise that the greens are so yummy. It’s just lettuce, mint, and other herbs, but unlike at home, it tastes like something. Good choice me!
Back at the hotel I take a quick rinse, and ask Monsieur about renting a scooter. I have really regretted not knowing how to drive a scooter. The islands would have been a great place to ride, but a terrible place to learn. Here is quiet, slow and flat. Monsieur asks if I know how to ride a scooter, and I say I will learn. He tells me Mr. Kim can help me (what good luck!). Meanwhile, I chat with Madame, and she tells me all the places to go. She says the ride up the mountain is the best highway in Cambodia and very few people drive on it. What good luck!
The scooter is delivered to the guesthouse in one minute, and we ride across the street to Olympic Park. The scooter won’t start. Bad luck! Within a minute, the a new scooter is delivered. Good luck! Mr. Kim gives me a lesson. He says take it really slow, and look 30 meters ahead. I give it a few tries, and feel good. One more lap, he suggests.
Madame suggests I go ride through the countryside. The highway is in good shape, and marked at 80km/hr. I go less than 40km/hr. Lots of vehicles pass me, but most of them are other scooters, and cars are used to passing bikes. I’m nervous, but I take it slow. My fingers are numb from the death grip on the accelerator.
Once I get on the country road I can relax. It’s a narrow dirt road, but there’s no one on it. The countryside is beautiful. I love the breeze in my face, and I’m finally a comfortable temperature. This is fun.
Back in town, I take my time exploring. I come to the riverbank, and there are quite a few charming guesthouses, and restaurants. Then I see a sign for “Seeing Hands Massage”. They teach the blind to give massage, and it’s been days since my last one, I must stop. My masseuse is a young Cambodian man. It wasn’t the best massage I’ve had, but I still was relaxed enough to doze off. I pay $5, and to my surprise get $1 back. One hour massages are $4.
Then I try to find the Kampot Traditional Music School, which teaches music to orphaned and disabled children. The hotel’s French Lonely Planet tells me they have concerts every day at 6:30 pm. Despite the map, I can’t seem to find it. I pull over at a gas station, and a Cambodian stops by and says “Hey sister!”. He gives me directions, and I finally find the place, but I’m early. I’m quite thirsty, so I’m looking for a drink. I can’t find one anywhere. Finally I see a shop with a locked cooler out front. The water costs me half a quarter. Water at the gas station costs me $0.50! Lonely Planet is out of date. There’s no concert today. Bad luck.
Now it’s dinner time. I recall reading that there are restaurants that are for charity too. I find one, but it only does lunch. Bad Luck! I skim the list of Kampot’s best restaurants and am not inspired. So I decide to try the fresh noodle place I saw when I was lost. The fellow was making Chinese noodles like I’ve only seen on travel shows. The place is dead, but I give it a try.
The menu has four things; dumplings, noodles, fried noodles, and dumpling and noodle soup. I get the dumpling and noodle soup ($2.50), of course. I look around to find the name of the restaurant, but everything is in Khmer or Chinese. When I login into the wifi I discover I’m at Eran Noodle Shop, one of the best restaurants in town. Good luck! As soon as I order, people start showing up for dinner. The noodles really are delicious. Fresh noodles are quite special.
My email updates, and I get a notice from my employer. They want me to start on the 24th instead of the 27th. I’ve already booked my flight for the 27th. Bad Luck.