We enjoyed our last couple of days in Cambodia as much as every other day – that is, we loved every minute of them. Despite planning to leave from Kampot for the southern most border in Vietnam at Hat Tien, we ended up returning to Phnom Penh.
On the way back to Phnom Penh we stopped in to see the Caves and Karst mountains around Kampong Traech. This is a natural wonderland but sadly has it’s own grim tales of recent horrors. This is where 3 backpackers, including Australian David Wilson, were kidnapped and murdered by the Khmer Rouge in 1994. The pics to follow give an idea of the amazing caves, many of which lead into mountains and then exit to natural valleys and rock pools surrounded entirely by un-scalable cliffs.
We didn’t cross to Vietnam in South Cambodia because the island resorts on Phu Quoc to the south of Vietnam seemed to be a bit full. We took the No Vacancy signs (well, the no room in the inn emails!) as a pointer to get back on the horse……which horse? A Cambodian River ferry of course.
What better way to leave one country and enter another than by traveling along a mighty river. And the bonus is that this boat has no air-con! Why is that a bonus? Because the windows open, the breeze flows through and it is like an afternoon on an Aussie beach with a steady Nor-Easter blowing from off-shore. And on today’s boat there are only 26 internal seats with room for about 16 people out back (aft we’ll call that), all up capacity for ……well, over 40. So the 6 adults, 3 kids and 2 crew are pretty comfy!!!! A French couple, a Norwegian family and us!
As we leave Cambodia I again want to point out that never have I been so repeatedly surprised by the honesty and simple integrity of the people we have dealt with here. And dealing with Cambodians is always a happy experience. Sure they are new to tourism and dealing with masses of westerners so some things get lost in translation but we never felt that there was a malicious intent behind any event of the last few weeks.
Sadly it is hard to visit Cambodia and not spend a long time contemplating it’s recent past. Whilst it is now a land of great opportunity, it will be a long time before the masses reap the benefits. Talking to young Cambodians can be intriguing. We met Touch at a pizza restaurant, he is working there whilst studying law. His mother passed away when Touch was Molly’s age and his father remains in the country, farming. Somehow he pays US$400 each year for his university fees. He is doing well and yet has no idea how he will get work when he finishes his degree. When I suggested he should be open with his lecturers about his concerns so that they could provide direction on suitable avenues to explore he just smiled, explaining that if they knew of work they would give it to family members and friends first. At least Touch has ideals and dreams of helping himself and his country, even if he is struggling to imagine how they can be realised.
I guess the last observation of Cambodia is that it has so much more to offer than just Angkor Wat. Phnom Penh is a very cool, smart Asian capital neatly packaged along the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers. The southern coast has beaches and islands with steady development to meet all tastes. There are hidden temples everywhere, caves throughout the country that rival similar attractions in Thailand and Vietnam and there are waterways and towns that are just begging to be explored.