After 24 hours of flying time (plus three stops), we arrive in Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, around midnight. Full bore jet lag symptoms (nausea, exhaustion, and insomnia) accompany us to the comfortable and affordable G Mekong Hotel.
Not able to eat much of the included, fantastic breakfast, we walk in zombie-like state the next morning through a blast of infinite scooters that mingle with an array of vehicles. Traffic apocalypse. You must watch your footing on uneven ground with holes full of sewer water, look ahead for opportunistic gaps in traffic, and a “rearview walking mirror” would come in handy as sidewalks are not made for walking. Somehow this mayhem works. Few accidents occur and road rage does not appear to exist in this gentle culture. We already know from similar experience in Ho Chi Minh City that you must walk with a steady stride so that traffic can adjust to your pace, and flow around you like a school of fish. Of course, we’re lost. Wising up the following day, we take a tuk-tuk on a mission to walk along the Mekong River, where there’s a sidewalk. Slowly getting our legs back, but still delirious, we wonder if we’re getting too old for this type of travel. Nah, bring on the freaky food! On a walk back to the hotel, we do a reconnaissance mission seeking a restaurant that serves tarantula and red tree ants. Pure Cambodian country fare.We get bad news from back home in the states, as my father is hospitalized with serious health problems. Not sure if we need to fly back now or later, we debate our future. Finally, we decide to play it by ear and not make any long-range plans. Another night of insomnia, surely caused by jet lag combined with worries. Either way, it is time for an afternoon beer on a street known for its nightlife.
Cambodians are genuinely nice and non-threatening. Even in the large cities, robberies and violent crime are rare compared to the west. Ironically, our largest “threats” have come from “white” guys either on strange drugs or damaged by something we can’t begin to imagine. Being Adult Probation Officers in a previous life, every older white guy traveling alone must be a child molester in our mind’s eye. Perhaps an unfair assessment, but hard to shake those types of thoughts based on years of training and experience. Okay, a few beers later we visit “Romdeng” restaurant to dine on tarantula with black pepper lime sauce, and red tree ants with beef filet and spicy basil stir fry. The sauce dominates the ant dish, and we have no need to eat tarantula again! This restaurant is staffed by former street youths with teachers that present kids with career training. We’ll return to support this worthy cause but will skip the creepy crawlies next time.Health news from back home gets better, so we book a minivan for a five-hour ride to the small beach community of Kep.We sit in our assigned seats, when two other travelers approach with the same seat booking. Turns out that I booked this ride on internet without noticing that the next available opening was several days away! If we were in the US, we would simply be kicked off the bus. In Cambodia, the driver says, “Oh, problem.” He then removes some cargo, flips out a bench seat for two in the luggage area, and squeezes us in. Resolves problem. Love Cambodia. Never been so happy to sit on the bumpy bench in the back.Kep. Wow! Laid back town with a small beach, surrounded by jungle covered hills and national parks. It has wide streets with sidewalks and an inviting waterfront where a person can sit with a cold beer and watch folks gather bamboo crab pots. A very welcome calm from city mayhem. We sit on the porch of our fabulous bungalow at “Atmaland,” and relax. As my father’s health slowly improves back home, we start to get our legs back. Kep, actually known for it’s crabs, lives up to the hype. The crab market has, well, crabs, everywhere, along with squid, octopus, fish, shrimp, sting ray on a stick, and other things we cannot identify.These tiny blue crabs infused with Kampot pepper sauce demand a good bit of work for little payoff in meat. But then, we are spoiled as far as crab goes, from hanging in places like Oregon and Alaska. While the crab disappoints, the Kampot pepper sauce rocks.Time for a shaded, mountain hike through a rainforest complete with monkeys and ocean vistas.Our bungalow backs up to the Kep National Park. For only one dollar the Park’s five-mile loop trail makes for the perfect morning walk.After four days of peaceful bliss, we’re hopping a minivan to the nearby town of Kampot. I got the booking date correct this time. Thank you, abundant universe!