BootsnAll Travel Network

Island Getaways and Laoward Bound

I caught a morning bus to Kep and got dropped off at the boat docks for the trip to Koh Tonsay. I found a man selling boat tickets for $15 roundtrip to the island. As this was for the whole boat, I decided to wait around and see if anyone else would show up to go. About 40 minutes later a group of four foreigners showed up. I walked over to them as they were speaking to another man about a boat. He was going to charge everyone five dollars a person for the roundtrip. Despite this being a slightly higher price, I decided to go with them as I was tired of waiting. When I said that I was going to stay overnight, the man tried to charge me $10 saying that it cost more for me to stay overnight. Despite explaining why this made no sense (I was just going to share a boat coming back, I didn’t need a special boat just for me), he wouldn’t take five. In the end I told him that I wasn’t going to spend the night and paid my five dollars. It technically wasn’t a lie because I still had plans to look around the island before ultimately making up my mind about how long I wanted to stay there. The trip out to the island in the wooden skiff took about 25 minutes.

We made landfall on a cleared beach front lined with palm trees and thatch and wooden bungalows. There were hammocks slung under several trees. The beach was narrow and the sand a dark brown color. I liked what I saw and immediately decided to jump ship and stay for two nights. I found a small wooden bungalow to stay in for $5. It basically had a bed and a porch with two hammocks. The bungalow was actually a duplex so I had an Australian girl and a Dutch girl as neighbors in the other room. The toilet was in another structure and shared. The shower consisted of a palm leaf enclosure, which went up to about my chest, standing out in the open. The island very much reminded me of being on the small islands off of Ovalau in Fiji. It made me a bit nostalgic as it has been almost a year since I was there (hard still for me to believe).

My first full day was spent in the hammock reading. I did go swimming in the evening and then walked to a small hill to watch the sunset. I didn’t use the shower until after dark due to its exposed location and my height. We had electricity from about 6:00 pm until about 10:30. I sat in the porch hammock until about 10:30 visiting with my neighbors as there were strong ocean breezes coming in. The inside of the bungalow was hot despite this, and I had trouble sleeping.

My next day, in addition to the usual swimming, hammock laying, and eating the expensive fried rice, I walked a partial way around the island on a path. On the backside of the island were small fisherman huts and the coves were full of lines and nets. I also found someone to take me back to the mainland for $3 (less than the original five) the next day. As it had been cloudy all day, the inside of the bungalow that night was quite a pleasant temperature and I slept better.

My last day on the island was the sunniest. The water finally turned a nice blue color (not South Pacific turquoise, but nice enough). My boat was supposed to leave at 5:00 pm, but at 4:00 I saw a group of tourists getting in a boat to go back. I asked if I could get in, and they didn’t mind. The boat driver also didn’t say anything so I made it back to the mainland without paying anymore money. This is the way it should have been as I had already paid five for the round trip. Once at the boat docks, I shared a tuk tuk with four other people to a guesthouse where one of them was staying. I had to spend the night in Kep as there were no buses until the next morning. The guesthouse actually allowed me to do a one for one book trade which is rare in Asia as I usually also have to put some money with it. I had depleted my book stock on the island. I traded a book that someone had left in my hotel room in Phenom Penh for “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini. This is the author of “The Kite Runner.” This book also takes place in Afghanistan and is excellent. I would recommend it to anyone who has read his other book.

My goal the next morning was to get to Kratie. I first had to take a bus to Phenom Penh and then change. Once in the city, I learned that there were no evening buses to Kratie. There was a bus to Kampong Cham which is on the way. As I had already spent a few days in the capital, I decided to go see this new town. I went with a tout to a hotel in town after I arrived. (I use touts quite a bit here as there doesn’t appear to be the criminal and violent element that goes with the touting business, as in India. It also doesn’t result in higher room prices.) Before leaving the bus station, I bought a next day ticket for Kratie.

Kompong Cham sits on a very pretty spot in the river. At night the riverfront is the place to be seen as everyone is out and about. In the distance from my hotel I could see a massive bamboo bridge going to an island. It is rebuilt every dry season as it gets washed away in the wet. I found a restaurant that night owned by a British man married to a Cambodian woman. I got a lot of good information from him about local conditions. I learned that boats no longer ply the Mekong all the way up to the Laos border. My only hope is that maybe there is still a boat from Stung Treng to the Laos border. I had also thought about attempting a somewhat rough path going from Sen Monorom to Ban Lung. From him I learned that the only way to do this is by renting a motorbike myself (I was only going one way though so I couldn’t return it, and the road is beyond my skill level) or hiring a driver ($65: definitely not in the budget). I also don’t want to spend nine hours on the back of a motorcycle. I scrapped this idea and decided to go straight to Ban Lung instead.

At breakfast the next morning I found that once again I was allowed to do a one for one book exchange at the restaurant where I was eating. This time I traded a historical fiction book spanning London’s 2000 year history titled “London” for a travel book by Bill Bryson about hiking the Apalachian trail. I haven’t read anything by him ,yet, but he has been recommended. On the way to Kratie, our bus broke down. A radiator hose busted. The Cambodians are nothing, if not clever, at making do with what’s at hand. The driver found some bicycle tire inner tubes at a nearby house. He cut them lengthwise and wrapped them around the busted radiator hose sealing the leak. The radiator was then refilled with water and off we went an hour later. Once again I went with a tout offering a $3 (my cheapest in Cambodia yet; cheapest on the trip so far was $0.25 on the Annapurna Circuit).I also booked a trip to go to see the dolphins the next day. Kratie is one of the few places left in Cambodia with freshwater dolphins. It is one of the main attractions here. Before going to bed that night, I did spend a few minutes in a monastery speaking with some very young monks (21, 19, 17). The response I got when I told them my age was “Old.” I enjoy visiting with monks, because they are always genuine and are interested in sharing their lives and learning about yours.

As my dolphin trip wasn’t until 3:00 pm, I set out to run some errands the next morning. I first found a place to drop off some laundry after much trial and error. I then ate breakfast with a Dutch man whom I had met on the bus from Kampong Cham. After eating he took me to a sugarcane juice stand in the market where he said that he had gotten good juice. Sugarcane juice vendors are everywhere in Cambodia. They feed sugarcane and limes through a grinder and give you the juice. I thought it was okay. I much prefer the fruit shakes that are made in the street stalls. I then used the Internet for a while to work on the blog. Around lunchtime, I went to a restaurant that sold and bought books. The restaurant was run by a very flamboyant American man from Arizona. He offered me $4 for my book. As the book I wanted was only $3, I used my dollar credit to buy a plate of rice and vegetables. I ate at the bar and spent an hour or so speaking with him and his Australian friend who was also at the bar. They were apparently going to have a homecoming party the next day for some lady, and it involved crossdressing.

While walking around town, I had come to realize that I had over-paid for the motorcycle. It should have only cost about $3-$4 for the trip whereas I was paying $5. I was once again aggravated at the thought that I was overcharged. These small overcharge amounts begin to add up over a long trip. I decided to confront my driver about this. I had already paid him $10 which was to include my entrance to the dolphins and the ride, so I wasn’t hopeful. I saw him outside of my hotel with a group of other motorcycle drivers. I got him to come over so that we could have a conversation in private, and he wouldn’t lose face (a very important thing to Asians). I explained to him that I thought he had overcharged me and told him that I had seen several places where the same trip was less. I told him that I thought this was wrong especially in the light that I had helped him out the day before. (He was the guy who had brought me to my hotel from the bus. At the hotel I was given a double room in which I had started to unpack. A little while later he appeared with two guys that he had apparently promised a double room to. He asked if I wouldn’t mind moving to another less nice room so these guys could have mine. I told him I didn’t mind at all.) He appeared to get angry more at the fact that others had told me the ride should be cheaper than me asking for some money back. (I was asking for a dollar). He first said that he would give me all of my money back so that I could find someone else to take me. He said he charged more because he spoke English well. As it was getting close to my trip time, I told him that I still wanted him to take me, but felt I should get a fairer price. He agreed to give me a dollar back, but only had 5000 riel notes. I tried to give him change, but he wouldn’t take it. He also said that he would arrange for someone else to take me as he wasn’t comfortable doing it now. I walked back to the hotel and went to my room. After a while my aggravation was replaced by guilt. Since we had earlier agreed on a deal, I began to feel bad about asking for my money back despite being overcharged. I felt it was dishonorable for me to go back on a deal once it was made. His act of refusing to take my change made me feel that maybe I had misjudged him. Also $1 means a lot more to him than it does to me. I walked back outside and found him by the motorcycle drivers. I once again called him over and gave him his 5000 riel back telling him that though I still thought he overcharged me it was wrong of me to renege on our previous agreement. He took the money and said he would take me himself.

At 3:00 I met him outside of the hotel for the ride to see the dolphins. We first stopped at a very large hill outside of town with some good views of the surrounding countryside. There were hundreds of steps to climb to reach the top which left me puffing and blowing like the dolphins I was soon to see. (It’s amazing how fast one can lose fitness. Just three months ago, I completed a 300+ kilometer walk over one of the highest passes on Earth.) There was a monastery on top which contained some very graphic images of hell. One particularly disturbing image involved demons sodomizing naked people with spears as they were impaled on a tree containing numerous spikes. I met a very old monk (75+) who was trying unsuccessfully to pull a board up the hillside. I ended up doing it for him as he appeared unable to get the board to the top. After leaving the hill my driver started telling me about his family. His brother was sick and his father had just died three weeks ago. I was glad I had given him the money back.

Once at the river where I was to catch a boat to see the dolphins, I had to wait as I would have to pay more if there weren’t three people to go out in a boat. It would cost me $2 more if I wanted to go alone. After about 30 minutes of waiting my driver came over and said he would pay $1 of the $2 if I wanted to go by myself (again making me think I had misjudged him). Just as he was telling me this, two more people showed up to go with me. We headed out and spent an hour watching the dolphins surface and dive beneath the water. They look quite different from saltwater dolphins. They have a very round head which bulges a bit. Their snout is also short. The Mekong River is very wide at this point and looks more like a lake. The red setting sun gave the green river water a rose glow which was quite beautiful. After seeing the dolphins, I was dropped off at my hotel. I then went to pick up my laundry, eat, and finish this blog entry.

Tomorrow I am taking a bus to Ban Lung. There is supposed to be a very nice volcanic lake there as well as some interesting small villages. For those of you waiting on pictures, it will probably be a while before I upload anymore. Most of the connections here are dial up, and it takes long enough to write the blog. It would take too long to upload pictures. I will leave you with a quote instead to think and ponder on. It is PG-13 for any children reading. While speaking to the bookstore man about his upcoming party at which he was going to be crossdressing, I asked him if the party was today. He replied nonchalantly “Oh no. If it were today, I would be running all around. I still haven’t even made my tits.”

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