Phnom Penh is the first ‘real’ town we encounter in Cambodia. There is a lot of traffic and the buildings are often higher than 2 stores. Despite this it is relatively easy cycling through the chaos on the streets.
It takes some time to find a place to stay because a lot of places appear to be full. After a night in a cheapie we find a room in the Okay Guesthouse where we stay between the backpackers.
In a couple of weeks we will enter Thailand and our plan is to stay there for two months. To make sure we can stay for two months we visit the embassy to apply for a visa. You can receive a visa at the border as well, but it’s only valid for a month. So it will safe us trouble by organizing it from Phnom Penh. While we have to wait a few days for the visas we have a look around in town.
From our guesthouse we walk in an hour to the Tuol Sleng Prison. Originally this was a school and a safe place for children to receive education. In 1975 the school was taken over by the Khmer Rouge and changed into a prison with the name S-21. It’s a visit with goose bumps everywhere as soon as we enter the main square which is marked by wire. During a period of 4 years more than 10.000 men, women and children were kept prison here and were accused of crimes against the Khmer Regime. Off all prisoners only 7 did survive the horrifying things when the Vietnamese liberated Phnom Penh. All the others died by violence, illness or were killed at the killing fields.
The first room we enter exists only of one empty bed and a picture in black and white of the person who was found here during the liberation. Between the walls there is a serene silence and it’s terrible to think of all the suffering which has been here. We walk along the pictures of the victim’s row after row. I see a young mother of 28 with her 9 months old baby on her lap; there are kids of all ages. They all look terrified with fear in their eyes. For Marlous and me it is an eye opener to see that this period continued into 1980. Walking around in S-21 makes a lot clear about this period of the Khmer Rouge regime.
We visit a couple of markets and we wander around the streets of Phnom Penh. There are many beggars and street sellers who try to make some money. During one of our strolls we end up in a small restaurant owned by a former street seller. The incomes of the restaurant all go to a childrens home, which means that the kids can go to school, get their meals and love. The kids give a dancing performance that evening and it’s great to see. When we see the big smiles on the faces of these kids we go back in our minds to the kids of the Noble House.
After 5 days in Phnom Penh it’s time to see if we can find the ocean. We cycle in one day to Takeo where we stay in a simple guesthouse. On our way we encountered a mother and daughter from Australia who are cycling for some days during their holiday. We stay in the same guesthouse and it’s nice to talk about Australia with them. After Takeo a nice part follows to Kep. We see some rice paddies at the side of the rivers and we conquer the first hills of Cambodia. We take a small road which leads to Kep, what used to be the old Monaco during the French colonization. After 15 months it’s great to see the ocean again, and we cycle to the water to feel it. We cycle a bit further where we find a place to sleep. The beach is a bit of a disappointment, because it’s polluted. So we delay our swimming but we enjoy the crab market. Big buckets of crabs are carried out of the sea and are sold to the public. There are rays and sharks lying as well. Everything is here for sale, there are no restrictions.
We don’t have to cycle for a long time before we reach our next destination. On our way we watch how an elephant walks trough a small village. The people of the village are enjoying it and they throw all kinds of food to the elephant. When we arrive in Kampot we don’t feel like staying. It’s still very early and we decide to continue cycling towards Sihanoukville. We keep on going and at the end of the day we arrive in Sihanoukville.
Sihanoukville is the beach destination of Cambodia. There are four beaches and Otres Beach seems to be the most quiet one. We like the idea of a relaxed holiday destination and we head for this beach. We end up at a beach bar runned by a Swedish guy. He tells us we can stay for free if we have a tent. We do. So we don’t hestitate and we pitch up our tent. In 30 minutes our house is standing and all our possessions are inside, our garden is a white beach and when we walk ten meters on the sand we end up in the blue water. This is a good place to dream away for a while.
* Phnom Phen – Takao: 77km;
* Takao – Kep: 108km;
* Kep – Sihanoukville: 128km