First, let's say goodbye to Seim Reap. What an interesting place! It is clearly on its way to becoming Tourist Central. But it's not quite there yet. I am so grateful that we were able to see it when we did. Although I have a friend who was there ten years ago, who just shakes her head. "It was really beautiful then," she says. Which is probably true. It is still beautiful, but indoor plumbing is now far more plentiful, and our little band of travelers really appreciate that sort of thing.
Here's the view from the Kool Hotel. While Siem Reap is cleaning itself up and building larger, fancier hotels closer to the airport, it is still a town a bit scruffy around the edges. Our hotel was a smallish, lovely place, serving fabulous western gluten-full breakfasts by the pool. Every morning the children and I would order cinnamon muffins, pancakes, oatmeal or yogurt and muesli while Jeff was able to have a nice, tasty omelet with bacon.
Which brings me to the topic of Food in Cambodia. Yea gods, it was good. All of it. Everywhere. The menus are diverse, in that many restaurants, you can chose between Khmer style (similar to Thai, although less hot, milder and maybe more flavorful, hard to explain that one, but it is different), Thai, and western. There tended to be Chinese dishes on many menus but we skipped those. Amok is meant to be a typical Cambodia Fish Dish. Jeff ate it twice and it was a totally different experience from one to another, so I don't have too much to say about that. I'm a bit of a Curry Freak, so I ate a lot of Thai style curries, both red and green and all uniformly delicious. The children were able to indulge in the Best Chicken Nuggets EVER (they were home made, and I confess to asking for the recipe, trying to simulate it at home and failing as utterly and completely as I have ever failed at anything in my life), as well as Better (fill in the blank: French Toast, Pancakes, Pizza) Than Mommy Makes.
I failed to mention that our meals at the Temple complexes were pretty fabulous; food fried in a wok over a wood fire with lots of ginger and basil and other stuff that my tragically inept palate cannot identify, but that were all fantastic. Since the dishes weren't too spicy hot, the children ate chicken and some noodles, and even once French Fries. I confess to ordering food that will fill their bellies and keep them from complaining of hunger more than I am strict about insuring that they experience a 360 degree cultural immersion.
So it was with sadness that we bid goodbye to Siem Reap, and yet, since we were beachward bound, maybe sadness tinged with giddiness? Jeff had booked us a room for a night or three in Kep at the Kep Lodge. Which only meant that we needed to get from Siem Reap to Kep. A distance that was undetermined, but we figured would take us all day.
All of the tourist info suggested that even if the Siem Reap airport offered a flight, don't take it. So, no flying. There was apparently a train that ran. Maybe. But that could apparently take days, assuming you ever arrived. The best plan offered was a combination of bus and hired driver. So, we booked a bus from Siem Reap to Phenom Penh (the capital of Cambodia a four or five hour drive). Then we planned to transfer to a bus to Kampot (maybe two or three hours?). Then in Kampot hire a tuk-tuk to the Kep Lodge (maybe 45 minutes?). We booked the first bus through the Kool Hotel, and figured the rest would work itself out. Believe me, in a country like Cambodia, this actually does qualify as planning.
On our way to the bus station (tuk-tuk!) Jeff was able to indulge in one of his favorite hobbies: collecting unusual motorcycle photos.
Ditto ladder moving.
Interestingly enough, "bus" turned out to be a bit of a misnomer. When we were buying "bus" tickets I imagined a largish sort of vehicle that would hold a largish number of people. Turns out the bus was actually a van. Which was great, because when Hope suddenly needed to pee about six hours into our four to five hour trip, I could ask the van driver to pull over without feeling like we were creating too much of a disturbance.
The van was fairly comfortable, especially since it wasn't quite full and we were able to spread out a bit.
Unlike these folks. This is not an uncommon sight, by the way. People need to go places, they find the best way they can to go. Since our photos on this leg of the journey were shot out of a rapidly moving van, we're not talking serious art photography here. But you can get a general idea of the Cambodian countryside. We passed some towns, but much of what we drove through for something like six hours was countryside.
Lots of farmland, farmland workers (aka, the bovine pictured, I'm still working on id-ing exactly what these bad boys are. The white one above is not a water buffalo; the fellow below is.), rural housing, etc.
The stilt style housing makes a lot of sense in a hot, wet climate, of course. Higher up to catch the breezes and avoid things that congregate down below (I think things like water, insects, snakes, but that might be my fastidious western upbringing speaking: I actually have no idea if they build 'em up on stilts to avoid venomous vipers).
Local garage working on the tractor.
Schools out! This is the sort of thing that causes a four to five hour drive to Phenom Penh to turn into six hours. That and unscheduled pee breaks.
I don't have words for this, other than, I sure hope that box is secured. Jeff actually saw two people traveling on motor scooter hooked to IVs. I saw one of them, so I can verify that he's not telling tale tales.
We arrived in Phenom Penh just in time to discover that we had missed the last bus to Kampot. Ah, well. Plan B was to hire a car to take us; the trick was now to find someone who knew where Kep was (trickier than we would have suspected; everyone seemed to recognize Kampot, but couldn't figure out why on earth we were going past there to ... Kep, was it?), and was willing to drive us for a reasonable rate. The gang at the bus depot were very happy to hook us up with someone, for a price that was about 30% higher than we should have been paying. They were a tough negotiating crowd, so at one point while Jeff was working on them, I trotted outside and flagged down a tuk-tuk driver (this is not difficult by the way. Step 1: Walk outside and look like a foreigner. It's like magic, really.). I explained to Mr. Tuk-tuk that we wanted to get to Kep and did he have any friends who had something with a few more horsepower that could take us?
At the end of the day, we went with the bus depot fellows, but we were able to get a rate more in line with our expectations. And off we went! It was probably another 2 and a half hour drive to Kep, and the seemingly ubiquitous Honda Civic that all the Cambodia Drivers drive was a bit snugger than the fine van, so we were bedraggled and weary when we arrived.
So we rested by the pool for a bit. Nice way to end a long travel day, catching the sunset over the Gulf of Thailand, don't you think?