It was a holiday in Cambodia. Where people love SRK.
Crossing physical borders is always a challenge; I've always had a fun story attached to every border crossing via land.
The last time I did this was when I went to Cambodia. I was entering via Vietnam, on a motorbike I purchased (a Honda Win – really a #Win, a workhorse bike). I started from Ho Chi Minh city and rode towards Phnom Penh.
As always, the border crossing was interesting. The border officials didn't recognize me from the picture in my passport. I can't blame them. I had been travelling for a bit, and my beard masked most of my otherwise identifiable face. After a lot of convincing - “Why would anyone impersonate the guy in this picture? Look at him!” - they let me in. I got a visa for 30 days, and was all set to enjoy Cambodia.
Meditating after an eight hour ride
Almost too simple for a border crossing...
I somehow managed to lose the key to my bike. I had to push my bike into Cambodia. The officials would have thought me to be a smuggler if I had any other bike. The Honda Win however is one of the most common bikes in the Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia region (#Win indeed).
After pushing my bike for about 5km, I found a key maker who, within 30 minutes, had a key (and a spare) ready. “20000 Riel,” he demanded, “Or 5 USD.” It wasn't much, IF I HAD THAT CURRENCY. I should have carried some USD; Most tourists transact with the American Dollar here. All I had was Vietnamese Dong. 20 minutes of convincing, turned to 20 minutes of bargaining – I had to give him a little extra Dong. (It's not what it sounds like)
I was finally riding into Cambodia.
I reached Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, in the evening. I expected it to be small-townish. quiet, leisurely, with simple infrastructure. It wasn't. It was a city – crowded, hustling, busy. Fancy cars, fancy buildings, and fancy stores all around.
Playing snooker, dancing and chilling, making friends for life
The hostel I first went to was horrible – stained sheets, leaky bathrooms. The doors to the bathroom didn't have locks either. I sang songs, made sure I was a noisy bather, thus giving people a heads up that I was inside. If Vietnam Dong was hard for them to accept, I wonder how they would feel about Indian.
I woke up feverish the next day. I notched it up to fatigue. I would have stayed another night in this hostel, till the fever subsided, but the owner, somewhat of a racist, said one night's long enough for me. I switched hostels, slept through the day (about 18 hours), and woke up fresh the next morning.
Who let this dog out? Who? Who? Who? Who?
It was pouring. I wasn't too surprised. I'm a rain magnet. Somehow, I manage to get the rains wherever I go. I waited till the clouds cleared and then rode my bike towards the south, towards Kampot.
Riding in Cambodia is scary. I've heard horror stories about how people get run over and are left for dead, because getting away with murder is simpler (bribes!) and cheaper than paying for medical expenses.
I reached Kampot, a small town with a scenic lake. It made for a nice relaxing stopover after Phnom Penh. I was here for a while, but lakefronts don't do it for me. I needed the sea.
Monkey Maya, my own private beach
And so I rode... all the way to Monkey Maya, a private beach along the southern coast. I love the endlessness of the sea. It gives me hope of endless travels, endless journeys... I spent five days there, peacefully reading, writing, and introspecting. The rains, as always, followed me, but I didn't mind. I enjoyed the seas, raging in the distance, from the comfort of my hammock.
A fun night that I only remember as a blur
I waited for the rains to stop to go to one of Cambodia's most famous islands – Kho Rong Island. The rains didn't let up. I had to stay inland.
My 'I went to Cambodia' picture - Angkor Wat
Next stop: Siem Reap – as it turns out, my favourite city in Cambodia. Siem Reap is most famous for housing the Angkor Wat temple complex. It is the largest religious monument in the world. A must-see tourist
hotspot experience. It made me wonder why I didn't really pay enough attention to the temples back home.
Siem Reap is also famous for its Pub Street, where I bumped into some old backpacker friends. A reunion was in order. A ripoff was the drinks order – beer was cheaper than Coke by a whole dollar and fifty cents. I'm a teetotaler. And Vegetarian. The menu took some getting used to too. Snails, snakes, frogs, lizards, cockroach – yum? Fun fact: Taking pictures of your food costs you 1 Dollar each. (Well, at least someone's doing something about Food Instagrammers.) But all the food I could not eat, and all the drinks I could not afford were made up for with freely available Milo. Milo! Who didn't grow up on Milo in India? I drank about three tall glasses of Milo, every day, on Pub Street. (“Doodh pila, is bachche ko!”)
This picture cost me a Dollar
I chilled at Pub Street for a couple of days, where, to my surprise, I bumped into locals who loved Bollywood and wanted to talk Indian Cinema with me. Everyone loves Shah Rukh Khan.
Friends? More like family
The Rain Gods stayed away for the rest of my trip, and after about 20 days, and spending only 170 USD, I found myself crossing over into the next country on my list (via road, of course) – Laos.
What was Laos like? You'll have to wait for that story.
1. Your currency of choice is the American Dollar. Carry enough.
2. Alcohol is cheaper than soda. Bottoms up.
3. Don't trust local transportation. Rent your own vehicle. It's cheaper, don't know about safer.
4. Visit Monkey Maya. Just. Do. It.
5. Keep one weekend free for some 'weekend market' shopping.
6. Strike up a conversation with a local. Talk about Shah Rukh Khan. They'll love you.
Is there anything more ergonomic than a hammock by the beach?
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Rohith Subramanian
Photographs by Rohith Subramanian