Koh Rong

I wake up to the sun shining through our hostel window. Wait, why is no alarm ringing?! What time is it?! No!!!! My phone is dead. It is most definitely later than 8:30am, when we were due to catch the ferry over to Koh Rong. Sigrid was going to meet us at the pier and everything, oh my god, I am a terrible friend.
In my defence, the entire hostel room is without a single wall plug. In the hostel’s defence… It’s $1 to sleep there. Rats.
I wake Tamara, tell her we’ve missed the boat, and we scramble to get our stuff together before heading downstairs where there are a plethora of plugs to be used. I see that it’s 9:30am according to the clock above the bar. I order some breakfast while I wait for my phone to charge, feeling so guilty all the while. I’m used to being a bit late, but it’s rare that I miss something entirely.
The first thing I do when it finally turns back on, is message Sigrid. She’s surprisingly chill about us missing the boat, and says she’ll come back to the pier for the next boat at noon. I hope it isn’t too far from where she’s staying. She’s found a room at a guest house for all three of us to share when we do finally arrive. I’ve heard accommodation can get pretty expensive on Koh Rong, but apparently this place is only going to cost $4 each a night. Sweet!

We get our stuff together for 11am and make it down to the pier…on time. We pile onto a relatively large boat with a bunch of other backpackers, and take the smooth ride across to Koh Rong. When we arrive, we are directed to CoCo’s bar where we have to listen to a small lecture they call a “safety meeting”. It mostly consists of important information like; don’t try to ride the wild water buffalo, be aware that the power goes out every night between 3 and 9am, don’t go hiking alone in the dark, watch out for snakes, expect to get infected bug bites, and watch out for theft. Apparently, because Koh Rong is still so newly available to tourists and mostly consists of simple wooden guesthouses, they’re easily broken into and many things mysteriously go missing. When our lecturer starts advising us on which restaurants to eat at, we silently slip out and go to meet Sigrid. Ain’t nobody got time for that when there’s a beautiful island to be explored!
Luckily, the pier is about 10 feet away from our guesthouse, so even though us being so late wasn’t cool, Sisi didn’t have to walk too far or waste money on a tuk tuk or anything to come meet us. Koh Rong is even smaller than I imagined. There isn’t a road in sight; just a beach lined with modest guesthouses and bars. Nothing fancy, just bare minimum, bamboo, closest we’ve come to untouched, tropical beauty. Crystal clear tael water lies just steps from the doors of each building, making any lodging along the beach an ideal beach front property. You can’t lose. Sisi shows us to our $12 guesthouse. It’s just one queen and one single bed with a small table and two bug nets protected by four flimsy wooden walls. That’s all we need anyway. It’s perfect. We drop our stuff, leaving everything behind except for our towels, and head down to the beach. We walk 10 minutes down the shore just so we’re not so close to the “central” area, next to Coco’s bar and the pier.
We lay in the sun and take in our surroundings. It truly is a paradise; the most beautiful island I’ve ever been to. A few long tail boats are anchored just off the beach, and a couple even smaller islands are visible on the horizon.

A few hours later, Devin arrives. He’s earlier than the last boat is due to arrive from Sihanoukville, but definitely too late to have come in on the morning boat. He tells us he tried to save a few bucks by opting for the $9 slow boat, instead of paying $15 for the regular ferry which took us an hour. He was told the slow boat would take 2 hours. 6 hours later, after picking up and dropping off fruit at other neighbouring islands on a boat filled to the brim with people, he arrived in Koh Rong. He says it wasn’t worth saving $6.

We have a lazy day, playing frisbee in the crystal clear ocean water and laying in the sand. The sand flies are pretty relentless, but a few bites on my legs here and there is a minor sacrifice to make for this island paradise.

When dusk rolls around we head down to the other end of the beach past our guesthouse. Before we even arrived in Koh Rong people were raving about Sigi’s; a food stall owned by a Thai chef who once lived in Manhattan, but left that busy world behind to live a humble life on Koh Rong, selling delicious Thai dishes for $2 to hungry visitors. I order something called “drunken noodles” which I’d never seen before while visiting Thailand. It’s mildly spicy and entirely scrumptious. Definitely worth $2. We get there early enough that we can sit down and chat with Sigi a bit while he cooks. He’s only about 50, but exudes wisdom and inner peace. He lives in a simple tent on the beach just behind his food stand, and I’ve never met someone so happy. I foresee more meals here in my future.

We all sit outside Coco’s bar with some new found friends from all over. Chile, Denmark, Germany, the USA, and some fellow Canadians. We order round after round of the ever-cheap 2000 riel (50 cent) Klang beer and sit chatting in papasan chairs along the beach. I’m not sure exactly how this comes about, but Devin and the other Canadian guy, who’s name happens to be Kevin, manage to convince the German guy, Levin (I’m not making this up) that they are brothers. Devin’s from Calgary and Kevin is from Halifax, literally opposite ends of the country, but Levin doesn’t need to know that. At some point the joke escalates and they manage to slip in that their “fathers” name is Evan. It takes everything I’ve got to keep myself from bursting into a fit of laughter, but I don’t want to ruin the joke.

When the power goes out, and there’s nothing to light the sky but the bright white face of the moon, we go on an adventure. Phosphorous plankton surround the island, and someone has heard that they are best seen on Four Kilometre Beach; a 15 minute walk through the forest from where we sit now. I swam with phosphorous plankton in Thailand for the first time, and still value that night as one of my fondest travel memories. Regular swimming has never been the same since. I can’t wait to go and have my body movements lit up by the tiny little glowing blue plankton.

I grab my phone as a light for pathway to the beach before we leave. We can’t exactly be walking through the forest in the pitch black, with the natural moonlight blocked by the tree canopy, or we’ll never find the place. There’s a faint pathway to follow that has no doubt been created by the footsteps of other plankton chasers of the past.

At the end of the trail, we arrive at a short rocky beach. This isn’t what I had in mind, but it must be the place. We strip down and wade into the calm, dark night’s water. I can’t understand the hype about this beach; it’s million little rocks digging into the soles of my feet as I try to walk deep enough to swim. The tiny blue plankton glow beneath the surface, illuminating nothing but my legs as I struggle to find a way to swim. That’s when I hear Tamara, who has made it slightly further than I, shout back to me that her foot is burning. She quickly makes it back to shore, and I pull out my phone to inspect her foot with some light. She has at least three or four black sea urchin needles lodged in the bottom of her foot like splinters. We panic a little bit. Aren’t these things poisonous? We’re at least 15 minutes from the main beach, and I’m sure that the one single doctor on the island is asleep.
Shortly after we start looking at the splinters under the light of my iPhone, Tamara’s burning sensation goes down. Devin comes back to the beach with similar needles on his knees, but doesn’t seem too concerned, so we just carry on. No one seems like they’re dying.

We head back to the main beach anyway, in search of a more comfortable and less rocky swimming area where no one has to worry about being poisoned with sharp black urchin needles.
I put my phone in Devin’s bag and dive off the dock into the sparkly plankton-full water. Doing my best to soak up my incredible surroundings to be sure this moment never leaves my memory. Cambodia, and Koh Rong in particular, is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I love it here. Going home in three weeks is going to feel painful.

When the beer haze and our infatuation with the plankton start to fade, we call it a night and climb back up to the dock. Devin reaches his bag first, and blankly states that it’s been ransacked. I laugh, assuming he’s making some weird joke, but then I see some of his things scattered around the ground.

Oh. No.
My phone was in there. Please dear god tell me it wasn’t taken!! I NEED that! I look around, panicked, and looking for any possible culprit, but there’s nothing but an empty beach and darkness around me. Devin loses an iPod full of music and a camera with 11 months of travel photos, I lose my precious iPhone, and our two Chilean friends both have their wallets stolen. I feel like an idiot for even bringing the phone out with me tonight, but we needed a flashlight! There’s no electricity at this hour, so I can’t even use someone else’s wifi to track it down. It’s gone.

I go back to the guesthouse and fall asleep feeling foolish, angry, and grieving the loss of my phone. It will surely be an adjustment… I don’t even have an alarm clock to wake myself up tomorrow.

One Dollar Dorms and 25 Bananas

I don’t really feel like we need to spend any more time in Phnom Penh. It’s not my favourite city on earth, and the beautiful beaches of Koh Rong are beckoning us back South.

We get a bus ticket that will pick us up at 8:00 from our hostel. While we wait, we cut up the remainder of our fruit from yesterday morning. The $2.50 we spent has lasted us two days, not bad!

The usual crowded van picks us up and drives us to a larger bus. It only costs us $6.50 to make the four hour journey from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, where we will then catch a ferry. We’re on a bus that I would classify as a local bus. The seat numbers are the only things I can read, and there are a couple monks in our company. I don’t think monks take tourist buses but who knows, maybe!

Plan A was to arrive in Sihanoukville at 12:30 (as per the four hour listed drive time) and to catch the last ferry to Koh Rong at 2pm. It’s 1:50pm and we’re still on the bus, so it looks like we’ll be staying the night in Sihanoukville.
When we roll up at 3:00 and all I’ve eaten is a mango and a banana all day, I’m a little hangry.
We find motorbike drivers who will take us to a $2 dorm hostel with a pool for $2 each. Done. They also make a stop at a place to buy boat tickets, and an ATM at our request. My driver is a little too friendly and keeps calling me beautiful, asking if I have a boyfriend, and offering to take me for dinner. No thanks, but a free motorbike ride would be cool. No? Okay. I tried.

The most fabulous surprise in the world occurs when we arrive at the dorm and find out that a fan bed is only $1. One dollar. That’s basically free. We could upgrade to air-con for $2, but who needs air-con really? We take the thriftiest option and go with $1 fan. We drop our stuff and immediately head to the pool-side bar for some food. It’s 4pm and I’m starving. I order a pesto pasta for $2. If I hadn’t already seen photos of how beautiful Koh Rong is, I would totally stay in cheap Sianhoukville forever! But alas, we must leave this thrifty paradise tomorrow morning at 8:30am for the beautiful island. Not complaining. We had to boot a return boat ticket, so that means we’ll be stopping in Siahnoukville again anyway. Perhaps we’ll stay another night on our way back up into the mainland.

The hostel is quirky and basic, but totally awesome, especially for a dollar.

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I take a shower and we walk over to a street side Khmer restaurant for dinner. We each pay 5,000 riel ($1.25) for a plate of noodles and seafood. We get a free pot of green tea with ice just for showing up! After dinner we stop at a fruit vendor to get tomorrow’s breakfast. We get 25 bananas for $1. I can’t handle how cheap things are here. 25 bananas!

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We go down to the beach where there are some bars enticing people with free or cheap drinks and fire shows. It’s fine during the low season, but I could not imagine being in such a party place during the busy season. It’s a lot like Koh Phi Phi, in Thailand but cheaper. The cheaper thing is cool, but it’s still not my scene. I can’t wait to get up and go to calm Koh Rong tomorrow!

Killing Fields and S-21

It’s tough to get up for my 8am alarm. I’m still catching up on some lost sleep I suppose.
I wash my hair for the first time in well over a week. It feels so soft!!
By 9am we’re out the door looking for a ride to the killing fields, 15km outside Phnom Penh. The first driver we talk to starts at $15 to drive us there, wait for us, and take us back, and I try to talk him down to $10, but we settle on $12. He also agrees to take us to the market before we leave so we can pick up some fruit for the day. I come like half an inch away from being hit by a motorbike as I’m crossing the street. Playing Frogger all the time is hard, especially when people come ripping around corners. My tuk tuk driver sees my almost-accident and laughs hysterically. I’m just happy to still be standing, so I scoot off into the market and disappear beneath the tarps and where no motorbikes can find me. Safety. We get two large mangoes, three royal gala apples (which are expensive here, but I’m craving a good apple) and half a branch of big bananas, about 10 of them, all for $2.50. I don’t bother bargaining. I’m in love with the market prices in Cambodia!

We are driven out on bumpy dirt roads through what feels a little like people’s backyards. It takes us about half an hour to arrive at our destination of Cheong Ek, Cambodia’s most infamous killing field. The parking lot is pretty empty which means not too many crowds and a more enjoyable experience….if one can call learning about mass genocide enjoyable.
We pay a $6 entrance fee, which has either increased in the last few months or my Lonely Planet author hasn’t done his research. They had it listed for $5. The fee includes an information headset and is available in multiple languages, which is a bonus for Tamara, too. I don’t usually like these headset things, but somehow at Cheong Ek it just works. We follow a path with 19 very hard to see/listen to headset stops. Everyone wanders the grounds in complete silence. The remains of just under 10,000 people are displayed behind glass cases, and sometimes can still be seen along the pathway. Thirty years after the tragedy, the rainy season still brings to surface some bones and teeth that have not yet been exhumed. Large grave sites are marked by huts and have thousands of bracelets laced around the bamboo shoot walls, as what I assume are prayers for those who were lost. One grave in particular had an abundance of children’s remains, and scraps of their small clothing is displayed behind a glass box. It’s surreal and awful to stand in the exact place where so many innocent people were brutally murdered. The headset is very matter of fact and doesn’t hold anything back.

I had met a girl in Kampot who told me she wouldn’t visit the killing fields in her time here because she thought it was twisted for people to do. She said she “passed no judgements” on those who did visit, but thought it was creepy. It momentarily made me question my decision to visit. Clearly, I decided to go anyway, but I’m so happy I did because now I can see just how ignorant she is choosing to be by not visiting. As heavy and hard the information is to absorb, I think it’s really important for people from all over the world to hear, so that we can better prevent something so atrocious from happening again. Not to mention, so that we can see how far Cambodia has come in the past 30 years. Incredible.

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One of the most disturbing but grounding experiences at the killing fields, is the central monument that contains nothing but thousands of skulls. They are labeled with small colour co-ordinated stickers to differentiate between both gender and cause of death. The building is skinny, but a whopping seventeen stories high. I’ll never understand genocide in general, but genocide against one’s own people is even further beyond me.

We walk back, still silent and absorbing the abundance of information we were just given, to our tuk tuk. He tries to ask us for a considerably higher fee to go visit S-21, which is an old prison turned genocide museum. This is kind of my fault, as we planned to visit both today, but I didn’t think to ask the tuk tuk driver about it this morning. I assumed it would be close to the killing fields, but it’s back in the city. We meet in the middle and he agrees to drive us to S-21 for the same price we agreed on this morning, and we will get ourselves back to the hostel.
He hits two separate people on motorbikes on our drive back to the city, so it’s probably for the best that we’re finding our own way back from S-21.

We pay $2 to visit the museum, which is spread out among four buildings that used to house prisoners. Photos of nameless faces are laid out in rows stretching through multiple rooms, and rows of old cell blocks are available to wander through.
Some horrifying stories from survivors are written out in Khmer and translated into English. I don’t read all of them because frankly I fear the nightmares.

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On our way out, we notice a table where one of the survivors is sitting and is available to meet, and it looks like he has photos of himself for signing. He has a translator, and must be at least 80 years old now. I feel torn about going to speak with him. Of course, I admire his strength and bravery for being able to come back to such a place, but I also feel a little bit like he’s being treated like a zoo animal. Just another tourist attraction. Does he do this every day? We watch another tourist interact with him and while I think it would be amazing to meet one of the survivors, this isn’t the way.

We exit out to the street where a motorbike drives us back to our hostel for $2. It’s always a bit of a tight squeeze fitting me, Tam and a driver on one bike, but we have a system now where I put Tamara’s backpack over top of my own, I sit on the back, and then we have optimal amounts of space. It’s a dollar or two cheaper than taking a tuk tuk.

We get out and take a quick walk down the street to find lunch. We find some cheap eats and sit down. I order noodles with vegetables, and then last minute see they’ve got garlic naan bread on the menu so I get one. It’s a buck.
This is what happens when my meal comes.

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That is not noodles nor naan bread. How is it possible for things to get so lost in translation when you’re pointing at a menu? Oh well, at least the rice still tastes good.

Later, at 8:30 a small movie theatre just next to our hostel is playing a movie about the Killing Fields so we show up at 8:20 ready to chow down on some popcorn. Apparently it’s possible to make reservations here, and they’ve got a group of 17 coming in which means no space for us. Nooooo!
Okay plan B, we google movie theatres in Phnom Penh and find one that’s a half hour walk away. We’re too poor to afford transport so we just walk. The movies (Spider Man or Godzilla) don’t start until 9:30. While walking down an empty street I stop to check the map to make sure we’re going the right direction. Seconds later, a motorbike comes ripping around the corner, drives up on the sidewalk and tries to grab my cellphone out of my hand. I lose my grip on it and it goes tumbling down to the ground. In utter fear, oh my god all my pictures, music, and my life are on there!, I rush over to pick it up. The motorbike speeds off, and I tuck the phone safely in my backpack, forever. I can laugh because I got to keep it, but best believe I would be crying if it had been stolen. Ten minutes previously I was talking to Tam about how safe the city feels. Ha! Silly me.
I was also talking about how dirty it is, and oh my god is it ever a mess here. I think Phnom Penh might be the most garbage covered city I’ve ever been too. Delhi, Manila, and Havana included. Phnom Penh takes the cake with it’s stacks of garbage spilling out into the streets every 50 metres. You can’t look in any direction without seeing trash scattered about. The air quality feels really poor here too, but I have just come from beautiful, clean coastal spots like Phu Quoc and Kampot, so my standards might be too high.

We find the movie theatre without looking at my phone again. Tamara uses hers at one point, and I stand guard. Basically ready to kick any motorbike thief right in the face should he come anywhere near this sidewalk.
We get a popcorn and a drink, which are significantly smaller than what you would get in Canada but I’m not complaining. The snacks are also a fraction of the price, and who needs a two pound bag of popcorn like they serve back home anyway?

Godzilla might be the worst film of all time. I love going to the movies, but my lord. So bad.

It’s late now, and we don’t want to walk back, so we decide can afford to spend $2 dollars on a motorbike. The first guy we find tries to quote us SIX dollars. We walk away laughing and go in search of someone more reasonable. He follows us and after some real bargaining and not just insane prices, he agrees to take us back for $1.50. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Kampot to Phnom Penh

I wake up early after a pretty lame sleep. I don’t sleep solidly for more than two hours at a time which isn’t really fun. It’s time for us to leave Kampot. It’s been a time but there’s so much more to see in Cambodia! Something about Naga House makes people want to stay longer; we aren’t the only ones who’ve extended their stay by a couple nights. Some people have been here over a week! We’ve got to escape today or we might never leave this riverside hostel.

I go down to reception and book Tamara and I both a bus up to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. I take one last dip in the river, order some breakfast, and say goodbye to Ilpo as he sets out to hitch hike his way to Sianouhkville. Sigrid joins me for some early morning food as well, then we head out on our scooter in an attempt to find the cheap fruit market. We fail miserably and can’t remember where it is, but we do find and stop at the used book store. I’m in need of a new book after finishing mine and giving it to Romain.
I don’t find anything that speaks to me, and decide to wait for something better in Phnom Penh.

When we get back Tamara is awake and I let her know about our tickets to Phnom Penh. We had meant to book them yesterday but got caught up being too lazy and playing Kampotopoly.
We’ve got a couple more hours to kill before we need to pack, as our bus doesn’t leave until 1pm. We spend most of the morning chatting and looking at a map of Cambodia, trying to figure out if we can meet up with Devin or Sigrid again along the way, but I’m sure we will.

I really hate goodbyes, but when it’s time to leave I hug Devin and Sigrid and wish them well. We hop in a tuk tuk that takes us directly to our mini van and we start the three hour drive to Phnom Penh. Tamara fills me in on the rest of the night that I missed when I was sick, but it doesn’t sound like I missed too much at all. Phew. FOMO avoided.

We meet an Australian girl when we’re getting off the bus in the capital city. We share a tuk tuk with her down to the river where all the hostels are located. She has booked into a $5 dorm room, but Tamara and I are craving a bit of our own space and have heard there are private rooms at another hostel for $6. The private rooms at this hostel start at $14. We continue on to find cheaper accommodation.
When we get to our recommended $6 accommodation, we are told private rooms start at $8. Argh. I try to make pals, joke around and do some bargaining, and I even mention that a friend stayed here for $6, but the best they offer is $7. Fine.
We are shown to what I assume must be the shittiest room in the entire building. With only one pillow, two fans, and no mirror in the bathroom. We commit to it, but later I figure that paying $8 would have probably gotten us a considerable upgrade. It’s kinda too late now, and like I always say, I can sleep anywhere. On the plus side, the 50 cents we’re saving per night is like a whole 1.5L bottle of water that we can have later!

We head straight up to the rooftop bar where we can have wifi and food. I get a mixed fruit juice that has carrots and pineapples in it, and I am in love. It’s a struggle not to inhale the whole thing in one go. By 6pm, and after a disappointing sleep last night, I am exhausted. Tamara and I go back to our sad little room and take a nap.
By nap I mean we sleep for two hours. The only reason I wake up is because my daily 8pm alarm goes off. God I hope this doesn’t ruin my sleeping pattern for later.

I wish I could put into the words the texture of my arm right now. I have approximately one million small bumps covering my elbow and
stretching midway up my upper-arm. To the naked eye it looks relatively normal, but to the touch I am a lumpy mess. It only itches on occasion and I am perplexed as to what possibly could have caused this. I throw some tiger balm on it and hope for the best.

We sit on the rooftop bar of our hostel until midnight when we decide it’s time to sleep. Tomorrow we have a heavy day of sight seeing and I want to be well rested.

Kampotopoly

We have a lazy day at the hostel. The heat is too much and we had such a full day yesterday. Today, we rest. They’ve got a monopoly board behind the bar, so after lunch Tamara, Devin Ilpo and I bring that out and start a game. Just before we’ve finished counting our starter cash, a random guy at the hostel asks if he can join. My automatic response is to say yes and welcome him in, but we quickly realize the guy is a total wacko. My bad everyone. He’s the kinda guy who seems perma-fried from some serious hard drugs. He seriously yells at me and threatens to stop playing (like I care) for buying a property after I’ve passed the dice to the next person. We just wanted to have a friendly and relaxing game….we’ve made a huge mistake.

To keep the game interesting, we make “jail” the river, so if you ever go to jail you’ve got to jump in and stay until someone rolls you out. The same applies for landing on the “just visiting” space. It’s a fun way to cool off during the hot afternoon. We call it Kampotopoly. Jail is the best part. Playing with the stoned monopoly nazi certainly doesn’t make the game any better, but I still have fun playing with everyone else. It is my favourite board game after all!

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Sigrid comes back from shopping at the market and brings us some fruit. We snack on a bag of delicious lychees while we play. I learn that you can just bite down on the pit instead of struggling to eating the fruit around it, which is a huge revelation for me!

I win Kampotopoly (hollaaaaaaa) and we clean up then head out for dinner. We meet up with Sigrid’s friend David that she met in Vietnam, and his two new travel buddies. I order a vegetable curry for dinner, the same as Ilpo and Tamara.
We move to another bar after our meal for some cheap beer and about an hour in I start to feel really nauseous. I never get sick. It doesn’t make sense to me, because Tamara and Ilpo ate the exact same meal as I did, and they feel fine. It can’t be the food. I try to wait it out but end up leaving on my own and hailing a tuk tuk to get home. I make it back to the hostel just in time, because as soon as I hit the washroom I start puking. I’m only sick for 10 minutes before I stand up and feel great. Totally back to normal. What the hellllll?! I consider going back to meet everyone because I have serious FOMO syndrome (Fear Of Missing Out) but I decide to be responsible and go to sleep instead. I’ll save a couple bucks this way too. I bring a little plastic bag into my bug tent with me, just in case, but I never need to use it. I am magically cured.

Caves and Late Night Mountain Exploring

There’s no better way to start a hot day than by jumping into a cool river. Who needs real showers? It’s been well over a week since I’ve washed my hair with soap. Sure, I don’t ever feel clean, but going without long showers, doing make up etc., leaves me so much more time for activities!

Tamara, Devin and Sigrid wake up shortly after, and we all order a “breakie burger” from the hostel and chow down at a table next to the river. It’s pretty amazing. Bacon, a poached egg, hash brown, cheese, onion, tomato, lettuce and mayonnaise. I’m all about it.

We spend some time just hanging out and loosely planning our day. There are salt farms, some caves, and we can’t help but want to go back and see the abandoned casino in the dark. Devin, Sigrid, and another backpacker at the hostel named Ilpo, haven’t even been up there yet, so we think it’s justified to make a second visit. It will be so much cooler in the dark!!

For today Tamara and I just rent one scooter to save some money. We could pay $6 each for a bike, or we could split the cost of one and pay $3. Obviously the latter is more appealing.
We make a quick stop at a local market in town and pick up some fruit for snacks during the day. One of the first things I see is a man casually carrying like 20 live geese by their feet. This is the real deal! No lame tourist market. Sigrid and I find a nice looking pineapple and ask the vendor for the price. She holds up two fingers. Whoa, two dollars for one pineapple? No way. She shakes her head and holds up 2 again. Oh. Wait. Could you possibly mean…2,000 riel? 50 cents? Yes? Oh, well then, yes please we shall take it, kind woman. This dollar/riel dual currency thing is still quite confusing.
We find another stall selling mangoes and ask the price. She packs up four in a little bag and holds up one finger. Can it be? I hand her 1,000 riel, she smiles and says “Akhun” (Khmer for thank you). We just paid 25 cents for four mangoes. This is the most magical market in all the land and I’m coming here every day for the rest of my life. With the money I’ll save on fruit, the flight expenses will probably balance out.

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We drive out to the salt fields, along another gravel, dirt, and sand covered road. Pot holes are abundant. I’m happy it’s Tamara driving and not reversed; me holding her life in my hands. I always thought salt was mined. I didn’t understand that it could also be farmed. I still don’t really know how it is farmed. Where does it come from? They look similar to rice fields, and are flooded with water in the same way, but they lose me where salt just magically appears and they rake it up. Voila, bon appetite, sprinkle this on your food.
We pull over and get off our bikes to check out the salt fields more closely. Naturally, I have to try some. I reach down and pick up a couple of grains. It looks just like regular salt to me. Tastes like it too. Same same, not different.

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A local man pulls up on a motorbike, sees us down in the fields, and starts shaking his head. I’m worried we might be in a little trouble here, but Devin is like a used car salesman- cheesy and transparent, yet somehow charming…especially with the locals. He’s told us many tales that involve him talking himself out of a bad situation while on the road. I have faith he can get us out of this one too. He walks over and shakes hands with the man, who speaks absolutely no English. They communicate with nothing but smiles and hand gestures, while the rest of us stand there in silence just watching, feeling slightly confused. Eventually it ends with the Cambodian man holding Devins hand and offering to take us on a private boat tour. We politely decline, get back on our bikes and speed off as fast as we can.

Once we get back to the main road we head towards a place called “Secret Lake” where we hope we can go for a swim. I think there’s a limit to how secretive the lake can really be if it’s on a map, but as long as there aren’t too many tourists it should be a good place to cool off in the Cambodian heat. The lake is way bigger than I expected and lined with hammocks shaded by bamboo huts. We pick a little area next to the water where we can cut up our cheap mangoes and other fruit, and where we can access the water. We walk down to the shore where we have to wade through some uncomfortably muddy water to swim. Even where we can “swim” it’s shallow, muddy, and overrun with seaweed. We paddle around for about 2 minutes before we all agree that it’s the worst lake for swimming ever, and we retreat back to the hammocks.

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Out of nowhere, a huge black rain cloud rolls in, bringing thunder and lightening with it. We’re stuck in the middle of a storm. There’s no point in trying to drive through it, so we wait it out. We sit in our bamboo hut, which is still drenched by the blustery rain, and listen to music and chat until the storm passes. It only lasts about 20 minutes before the clear skies are back and we’re A-OK to drive. Our helmets are soaked, but we’ve just been in a dirty lake anyway so it doesn’t really have too much effect on us.

We backtrack over the newly muddy trails to find our way to some nearby caves. A group of children run after us and offer to guide us through the caves for a “tip” but we’re all broke and don’t want to reinforce the children working like this instead of being in school. We have to pay an “entrance fee” which I’m one thousand percent sure the locals don’t pay, but we bargain it down from $5 to $3 for the group. That’s how you know it’s not a real entry fee…when the price is negotiable. We manage to lose the children and enter into the cave on our own. It’s a bit slippery in some spots after the rain, but still easily maneuverable for the first kilometre or so. The cave is huge. There are dozens of different pathways for us to take and we joke that we should leave a trail of bread crumbs if we plan on finding our way back out. Stalagmites tower over us while bats and spiders scuttle about in the dark. Ilpo is the only one who’s come well prepared and has a head lamp, while the rest of us just have flashlights. I use my iPhone to light my way. We explore for an hour or so, squeezing through tiny holes in the rock, sometimes on our hands and knees, and weaving in and out of the maze of never ending pathways. When we miraculously find our way back out, we’re all so dirty. My clothes are absolutely covered in mud and bat shit… but this is the price of true exploration! What an adventure.

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We make a quick pit stop in town for a cheap dinner. I try Luklak for the first time, which is a traditional Cambodian dish. It’s nothing special, just some rice, saucy beef and fresh vegetables, but it’s good! And for $2 it’s great!

We start out on the long road up the mountain. I don’t really have any desire to sit on the back of a motorbike for an entire hour without getting to do any of the fun driving, but I still don’t really want to risk Tamara’s life on these mountain roads, so I let her keep driving. If we’re quick, we’ll make it up to the top just in time for the sunset.

The clouds are too thick for a clear view of the sunset, but we do make it up to the abandoned casino in time to watch the sky slowly fill with warm candy-coloured tones. We are alone, and explore the creepy abandoned building with flashlights as the night begins to surround us. We find developed photographs in a box on the floor in the basement. The photos are new, but I’ve still got an eerie, horror movie vibe about their discovery. Isn’t this how all the movies start? A group of young twenty-somethings spend the night in a creepy house, find mystery photographs, and then they all die?

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Before the sun has completely set, we ignore the gate and sign that say “Stop” take our bikes down a dirt road to another abandoned building. This one is covered in graffiti and looks much older than the casino. It’s even creepier! The windows and doors are boarded up, but not very well, so it’s still easy to get inside. Some randomly placed furniture and even a pair of flip flops are inside. It’s possible that someone is squatting here but we don’t stay around long enough to find out. Another rusty old building sits a hundred yards out and is accessible by another skinny dirt path. It’s muddy after the rain, and I almost lose a shoe, but we do make it over and find a way inside the building. This one is more decrepit, with some walls completely missing and grass growing up through the cracks in the concrete floors.
Some species of frog or gecko lurk in the swampy overgrown grass around the building, and make noises that sound like laughter. Scattered all over the grounds, and seemingly invisible, the sporadic laughing of the frogs is the creepiest, and coolest, part.

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The last abandoned building we have to see is, of course, an old church. This is definitely where the twenty-somethings die in the horror film. The sky is almost completely without light by this point, and the church is perched just on a small hilltop. Also covered in graffiti, we find a Khmer bible and some loose papers that I assume are hymn lyrics. The building is very compact and only has three or four old worn out rooms. Miraculously, no possessed dolls or anyone with a chainsaw comes to murder us. We make it out alive, but I won’t say unscathed because our legs are all pretty scratched up from the tall grass.

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We get back on our bikes and drive down to the new casino so everyone else can check it out. I warn them not to get too excited. This time we actually enter the casino, despite our looking dirty and homeless. It must be the saddest casino in the world, with next to no customers on a Saturday night, no music, and an otherwise try-too-hard atmosphere. Three staff members crowd around a blackjack table to translate for the dealer, while Devin somehow manages to gamble $10 into $40. Pretty sweet to have any form of extra cash when you’re backpacking, but not a risk I would ever take. $10 could be like a whole day here in Cambodia, and to lose it would be traumatizing. Plus, I only know the very basics of blackjack, so it would be kinda hard for me to win.

We stay for about 20 minutes before Devin has won his money and the rest of us are bored with the empty casino. The abandoned one was more fun. We get on our bikes and head down the mountain towards the hostel after a long day of adventuring. Lightning fills the skies with a storm out in the distance, that we’re thankful to miss. I never thought it would get so cold in Cambodia, but I’m chilly on our windy drive back down.
It’s now very dark and we’re surrounded by thick jungle on either side of the road, so Tamara doesn’t have time to stop when an animal the size of a raccoon comes leaping out into the road. We feel an awful ‘bump’ as we collide with the mystery animal, and both gasp in shock, but there’s nothing we can do. I encourage Tam to keep driving because I’m sure turning back will just upset us. We don’t even know what kind of animal it was exactly, but I think it’s better that way. We both whine about it to each other the whole way down the mountain, feeling absolutely terrible. I will say though, that I’m happy it wasn’t something bigger. In such a thick stretch of jungle, who knows what lives in there.

Back at the hostel, there are lots of people hanging around playing games and swimming in the cool evening river. I join in for some fun before heading to bed for a much needed rest after such a long but awesome day.

Mountain Roads and Abandoned Buildings

My little bug tent is dotted by mosquitos and other sassy little insects trying to eat me alive. Ha! Good luck bugs. I shake it out a little and open the circular draw string door to climb out. I pack up my stuff and am ready to go with enough time to lay in the hammock a little longer before our bus arrives. We’re moving onto Kampot today. Kep is cute, but there isn’t much to do here at all.

We say goodbye to Devin and Sigrid, feeling sure that we’ll see them again soon, as they too are heading to Kampot later this morning. The bus only takes us half an hour. The driver plays the exact same song but alternates between male/female versions for the entire ride. Naturally, it’s a slow love song. I don’t think South East Asia produces any happy music.

Upon arriving in Kampot we get a tuk tuk for $3 to a cheap hostel called Naga house. Oh, how I’ve missed tuk tuks! The Cambodian version is a little different from those in Thailand, but just as functional and comfortable. Much more comfortable than toting your 15 kilo bag with you on the back of a motorbike, that’s for sure.

Dorms are only $3 a night at Naga house, which is set up similarly to the bungalows in Kep. We get a mattress on the floor of a tall stilt house, but this time along the river. I set up my bug net instead of using the provided ones. I feel like a bit of a princess but like…why would I settle for a used worn holey net when I have a perfect one tucked in my bag?

Tamara and I rent motorbikes and drive into town for lunch. We run into Devin and Sigrid as soon as we cross the bridge. We are destined to travel with these two it seems!!
We lead them back to the hostel, and then go back to town for some food while they settle in.
We find a cute little restaurant filled with locals and decide it’s probably a safe bet to stop here for a good meal. We get a big plate of noodles with seafood for $2 each.

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After lunch we take our bikes out to the national park where Bokor Mountain is, after a recommendation this morning from a fellow backpacker at the hostel. Apparently there’s a big casino/hotel at the peak of the winding mountain roads, and for the small fee of 2,000 riel ($0.50) we can visit. I have no interest in gambling away all of my American dollars, but our backpacker friend also told us about a cool abandoned casino behind the new one. I also think a winding mountain road sounds like it could make for a fun drive!

I start out extremely slowly around every corner, and am thankful that we’re the only people on the road, because I’m sure my speed would annoy a lot of experienced drivers. There are some pretty sharp hairpin turns, but after some practice I get comfortable and start to pick up speed. It’s way more fun to wind around corners than to just drive straight. I have a few flash backs to my accident in Thailand, when I under estimate my speed coming into a curve, but I never have any close calls and I think I can officially say I’m a comfortable motorbike driver now!
We drive over an hour before we make it to the top. It’s much further than we expected! The giant casino sits majestically at the top of the mountain, the end of the road. Too bad it’s parking lot is entirely empty. It could be due to the low season. or it could be due to it’s ridiculous location at the peak of an otherwise empty mountain. We go inside just to check it out, and find an immaculate lobby. There are two greeters at the door, two staff members for reception, and four people working the bar. Besides one Cambodian family, we are the only other guests. A fruit shake only costs $1.50, so we sit down for a quick drink. The three Cambodian children in the family come over to our table and keep repeating “hello!” even after we’ve responded with the same more than once. They’re the cutest little kids in the world. One of them, about 5 years old, is wearing a blazer.

We don’t even bother visiting the casino side of things. We’re more interested in the abandoned one, so we go on the hunt for that. The bar staff speak minimal English, but manage to point us in the right direction. We drive out behind the big fancy hotel, and up a small hill. Once we’re at the top, we can see it in the distance. A giant worn stone building perched just on the edge of a cliff. Beautiful!! Let’s go! We drive a little further and park our bikes in another empty and over grown plot of land across from the old casino.

It’s the middle of the day and it still looks creepy. We walk inside and start exploring empty corridors and decrepit spiral staircases. We lose each other in minutes. I venture down to the basement which is, obviously, unlit by the sun like the rest of the building. It’s cold, eerie and awesome. Some of the floor rules are still in tact, so old bathrooms and bits of the main hall look extra creepy with one or two remaining tile fragments still visible beneath a layer of dust. I hear someone whistling a simple tune somewhere in the distance, and that’s my cue to get out. I take a break and walk outside to the backyard where I can see out over the mountain side and into the ocean for miles. There’s a rope railing, but I do what I want, so I step out over it and to the edge of the cliff (sorry, Mom). It’s a great way to appreciate how high up we’ve come, and really cool to see the jungle covered mountain merge into the town. I can hear birds and a few animal calls faintly from below the tree line, and wonder how many different kinds of animals live down there.
The day is so clear that I can see Phu Quoc island in Vietnam. It doesn’t look so far away from here!
I find Tamara sitting on the front steps of the old casino, and we head back.

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We make one last quick stop at a waterfall just a couple kilometres down from the casino, but it’s basically abandoned too, and there isn’t much water flowing over it. We’re the only visitors and I can understand why. It’s sort of beautiful in it’s way, but the water is dirty and there’s not enough of it to swim and that was our aim.
We leave and drive an hour back down the mountain. Going down is even more fun that going up!

We run into Sigrid back at the hostel, go for a quick dip in the river at sunset, and all head out on our bikes for dinner. We find a little restaurant with green pepper squid, (not like bell peppers, but real pepper. Kampot is famous for it’s pepper.) and order three of those. They’re delicious, and I think about trying to pick up some of this pepper to bring home. It’s still on it’s little pepper vine. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten it like this before!

When we get back to the hostel Devin is around too, and we all sit and chat with other backpackers before taking one last late night swim in the river before bed.

Border Crossing

Waking up at 6:30 isn’t fun, but I still have yet to pack and the bus is coming to pick us up at 7:15. It’d also be ideal if I could fit in a shower. Even with the air-con on, our room is sweaty hot.

We get on a bus and are taken to the docks where we are directed to board the smaller of two ferries. We watch everyone else from our van as they are directed to the larger boat. I’m still not really awake and frankly I don’t care, but it’s just another mystery to add to my list.
I drop my bag, find my seat and fall asleep before the ferry even leaves the dock. When I wake up, it’s to the shuffling of passengers getting ready to leave. I’ve slept solidly for an hour and a half. My neck hurts a little but at least I feel awake now.

We exit the boat and are charmed to find a man holding up a sign that says “Tamara” next to his motorcycle. How fancy! He points to both of us to confirm that we are both “Tamara”. There’s no “Naomi” sign, so we just nod. He leads us to a coffee shop and asks us to wait. A few minutes later he comes back with all the necessary visa forms for us to fill out. He thinks it’s weird that my last name is Lai and asks if I’m Vietnamese.
Nope.
He picks up my iPhone, which is sitting next to my arm as I write, and starts inspecting it. He loves my LifeProof case. When I tell him it’s waterproof he’s even more thrilled. He says you can’t get them in Vietnam, and pulls out his iPhone to show me he has the same one. I too, love my case, and I can tell he really wants it, buuuuuuut it’s mine and I keep it. I stuff it casually in the depths of my backpack when he isn’t looking. You just never know.

Once we’ve finished filling out our forms we each hop on the back of a motorbike and are taken to the border. I give our guy $100 USD to pay for both our visas, (which will only cost $50 total) and he takes the money along with our passports and forms to the border office and drops it off. He tells us to wait. We’re the only people at the border which is confusing because there were other backpackers and tourists on our boat this time. No complaints here though, because it should make the process faster!

We wait for about 15 minutes before our passports are returned to us with $50 USD. I breathe a sigh of relief. I don’t even like handing my passport over to hotel staff let alone strangers you meet getting off a boat. Giving a stranger a $100 note doesn’t feel super smart either, so getting everything back is calming. We get directed over to a bus on the Cambodian side of the border where our new visas are checked twice, and we’ve made it! We’re in Cambodia.

Our mini van picks up no other passengers, and he offers to drive us to our hotel. We have nothing booked, but because the visa forms required a Cambodian address, I’ve already referenced my Lonely Planet book. We listed a place called Treetop Bungalows in Kep, which is our first Cambodian stop anyway, so we ask him to take us there. It’s pretty far outside town, but I’m sure we can rent bicycles or something to get around.

It’s only $5 a night for a room. A private room. So $2.50 each. Incredible. Yes please! They take us to a row of bamboo stilt bungalows and show us to a room with a fan. That’s all that’s in there. A bed and a fan. We’ll take it!

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The first thing we do after dropping our bags is to get lunch. We’ve been up since 6:30, but haven’t eaten yet today and it’s pushing noon. We stay for lunch at our hostel, even though I think their prices are a little high. I pay $4 for a squid and noodle dish, which is more than I’m paying for the room! I find it strange that everything in Cambodia is paid for in dollars. Sure, it Vietnam they would advertise things as “$2!” but then you’d hand over 40,000 dong. Here, when it says “$2!” you are literally expected to hand over two American dollar bills. Luckily, my wonderful parents gave me some American money for my birthday before leaving Japan. It has come in handy more than once! Even more so right now, because apparently there are no ATMs in Kep!

We rent a bicycle and bike into town. Tamara has no American money on her, because she assumed she could just exchange her dong, but there are no exchange places here either! I’ve never been so thankful for American dollars.
We ride along the beautiful ocean-side road into town. We even see some wild monkeys on our way!
The bikes we rent are total garbage though, and my tire goes flat as soon as we get to town. Our time there is short, and we simply book a ticket to Kampot for tomorrow morning. I don’t think there’s much to do in Kep besides visit the beach and eat crab. I walk my bike all the way back to our accommodation.

A storm can be seen rolling in from the islands in the distance, so I’m happy we get back to our bungalow when we do. Tamara and I settle into the hammocks outside our front door, and although I plan to do some research on Cambodia, I fall asleep before I get very far.

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I wake up to Devin, a Canadian guy we met at our hostel in Phu Quoc, saying “fancy seeing you here, eh?!” as he and Sigrid walk into their hostel room just a couple doors down from ours. It’s literally such a small world. I don’t understand how we’ve run into them again already. We just saw them this morning!

After they’ve settled in, we all head down to the market on foot to grab some dinner. I’ve heard you can get $1 and $2 meals in Cambodia so we’re looking for something along those lines. The market has a lot of restaurants lined up out front, but all of them are charging at least $7 for one dish. That’s way out of our price range. We find one that charges $7, but at least includes rice. It seems like the cheapest thing we’ll find tonight. We decide to try and make a feast of it and all share the dishes. Fresh (and still live) seafood is displayed beside the menu, and the woman standing behind it sees our distress. She offers to discount the food for us. Devin is a master haggler and somehow manages to talk the woman into cooking us two squid, four crabs, twelve prawns, a red snapper, a plate of vegetables, and rice… all for $18.
I should take notes, this guy is a pro.
We sit down next to the ocean and order four Angkor beer. We can see lightening crashing out in the distance, but it still hasn’t rained in Kep. Tamara and I have been so lucky with the weather it’s unbelievable. Our food comes in waves, first the crab, rice, then the prawns, the vegetables, and we get a little break between that and the fish and squid. I try to take photos of everything but as soon as it’s put down we all dive in with our hands, breaking crab legs and pulling prawn shells off before stuffing them in our faces. We’re messy, but we’re having a blast. Everything tastes amazing, like really really one of the best meals I’ve eaten so far, and by the end I’m absolutely stuffed. For all that food and two beers, we each pay $6. A table of backpackers next to us all order their own dishes and get far less food for much more money. We’re certain they’ve paid full price. Champion meal finding over here!

It’s hot, so after dinner we walk back up to our bungalows, change into bathing suits, and try to convince the expensive hotel next door to let us use their pool. We buy a jug of beer and try to charm our waiters, but they say we’ll have to pay $5 each for a swim. Absolutely not.
When no one is around we plot a way to pay, then run and jump in the pool really quick before running home to our bungalows. It seems like a fool proof plan….until the staff members walk us out to the gate. I guess we’re not the first backpackers to pull this trick!

Defeated, we go back home and fall asleep in our bug and frog infested bungalow. I’m ever-thankful for my bug net on nights like these, but for $2.50… who could complain?

Motorbiking Around Phu Quoc

Today is the day. After a motorbike accident in Thailand almost two years ago, I haven’t really tried to drive one again. There was a brief ride around Sapa before I got scared and returned it. Today shall be different. Phu Quoc is the perfect place to get comfortable on a bike again. There are minimal hills, the traffic is mild, and there are very few buses/trucks/large things that could kill me. Motorbiking is the only real way to get around anyway. Our hostel is at least an hours walk outside the town, and even further from the cooler, more untouched areas of the island. I see hills covered in jungle and I wanna go!
No tour companies have established any trails in the jungle yet, so we would get the chance to explore it completely on our own. Provided that I make it there alive on my bike.

We rent bikes for $6 each. My stomach is turning, but I hate feeling afraid of anything and know I’ll have to face this at some point. We aren’t asked for passports, a license, or any form of ID. Just 120,000 dong up front. I get on my bike, and awkwardly have to ask how to turn it on while simultaneously pretending I’ve done this before. The shop keeper asks me if it’s my first time driving a bike, and I say no. Which is true. I choose not to point to the big purple scar on my ankle to prove it.

I get off to a really unbalanced and slow start, but luckily there’s no one else on the road. It takes me some time to get used to the speed control at my right hand, but after some practice my driving becomes much less jolty. Corners are where I screwed up in Thailand, so every curve in the road fills me with doubt, but I make it through a series of curves unscathed and am instantly more confident. This isn’t so bad! I still drive at a snails pace…but I do what I want.

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We head North on the island and through town, to find a road that will take us up to the jungle. There are maybe 5 roads total on the map of Phu Quoc. While it’s a soon-to-be vacation hot spot, it’s still in the process of being built up (which is a huge shame by the way), so for the moment it’s pretty hard to get lost. We head straight North for half an hour before hitting a dead end. A small, gravel side road jets off to our left, and after consulting the map we figure it could potentially lead us to a trekking trail. We decide to follow it.
Feeling extra dodgey and unexperienced on the gravel road, I take it really slow and follow behind Tamara. The road just gets worse and worse. We hit sand, mud, more gravel, large rocks, and some steep slopes. I still don’t know how, but I survive. There are some close calls when driving through the sand, though.

The only things back here are farms and houses. After driving for half an hour and finding nothing, we stop at a fork in the road and discuss turning around. Just at this moment, a group of locals drive by and tell us it’s “same same!” “It’s okay!” and encourage us to keep going. We do. Another half hour of near death experiences passes when we find ourselves at another dead end. This time for real. Luckily for us, the dead end is a small farm and the family is sitting outside. I know that no one will speak English, but I hope that by showing them the map they can point us in the right direction.
I point up to the area that we’re in; the north west side of the map. One of the farmers inspects the map with me, and points to a mid-south eastern point on the map. We are in a totally different place than we thought we were. How have we ended up south east when we thought we were going north west?! I almost don’t believe him. The area he’s pointing to has a picture of a big waterfall next to it. I try to ask him where it is, and he points to a downward sloping tree-root covered trail just next to his home. He points at the motorbikes and I know I will definitely die if I am to drive down such a steep incline in a jungle. We motion to ask if we can walk instead, and somehow figure out that it’s what he meant for us to do in the first place. He was pointing at the bikes for us to leave them. Aha! Good thing we didn’t try to rip down that path on a motorbike when they were telling us to leave them behind. That might have gone over poorly.

We leave our stuff and set out on foot to the jungle trail. It feels so wonderful to walk. We meander, alone, along a sandy pathway and across a stream.

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The stream is good news, the waterfall must be close! We skip across dry rocks scattered over the water, until we come across a Vietnamese couple having a picnic lunch under a tree. We say “Xin Chao!” and keep walking, but they stop us, shaking their hands about and saying “no”. They speak no English so I can’t figure out why we’re being told we can’t continue but it annoys me. But I want to keep walking up the stream. It doesn’t look dangerous and I’m almost certain this is the way to the waterfall. I also doubt that they’re any kind of park official. Just to be sure. We reluctantly turn around anyway. They seem pretty adamant that we can’t continue. Rude.
We haven’t eaten yet today so we walk back towards the trail and stop to cut up a mango before going back to our bikes.

After driving along the same questionable, sandy trail all the way back to the main road, we are starving. We stop for lunch at a cheap Vietnamese restaurant in town. I try to order chicken Pho, because it’s cheapest, but am told there’s no chicken so ill have to have shrimp. No problem! It’s only 5,000 dong more and I am on an island after all. Tamara tries to order shrimp fried rice and is told she can’t. She has to order stuffed squid. What? Again, she just agrees but how is it possible that there are no shrimp for her but enough shrimp for me? Nothing makes sense. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a nation-wide joke just to screw with the tourists.
When our food comes it’s delicious though! Pho is even better with seafood, and Tamara’s stuffed squid is unreal.

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All for the affordable price of 40,000 dong/person.

From here we head South to find a beach. We’ve heard from friends at the hostel that the beaches in the South are even nicer than the one nearest us. We drive for another half hour or so before getting sort of lost again. We know we’re on the right road, but can’t find the side road to the beach. We come across a small turn off with a sign that says “do not enter” in big block letters, but we see a bunch of Vietnamese people pulling in on their scooters, so we follow too. Do not enter doesn’t really mean do not enter in Vietnam.

Just kidding, it does. We make it 20 meters before Tamara is stopped by a man with a huge gun. Like maybe an AK47. I don’t know, that’s the only gun type I know. He’s holding it, ready to go, it’s not just tucked away behind his back. He comes over to us shaking his head and we do our best to stay calm and act stupid. We didn’t see the sign. Isn’t this to way to the beach?? So sorry. Our mistake. Please don’t shoot us. Okay bye. How can I turn this bike around as quickly as possible?

We escape unscathed but WHAT road were we just going down? Hey Zeus.

We find another street jetting off from the main one. Just as we’re trying to figure out if it’s safe to venture down, the two German guys from our hostel pull out on their motorbikes and tell us that the beach is incredible. We’re almost there! Sweet! We have to drive down another sandy road but I feel quite confident on my bike now so I handle it with ease. The sand is white and so soft between my toes. The water is calm and although it’s busier than the beach we were on yesterday, there are still minimal tourists.

We float out in the salty water for a long time before returning back to the beach. I’ve discovered the most horrendous tan on my legs. Motorbiking has worked against me yet again.

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As we’re relaxing in the sand I hear a “Hello! You! You! You!” and turn to see a Vietnamese man approaching me. What did I do?!
He asks me to go over and sit with his friend for a picture. Best believe I am not uber comfortable taking photos with strangers while I’m in a bikini. I look at Tamara, then back at the man, shrug my shoulders and say fine. I don’t want to be rude, and I don’t think it’s a creepy thing. It’s just a being-blonde-in-Asia thing.
Tamara is hilarious and gets a photo of them getting a photo of me.

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They ask me questions like why I’ve come to Vietnam, if I am married, have a boyfriend, if I liked Ho Chi Minh City, and my age. Some of their friends crowd around and ask questions in Vietnamese to be translated. They’re all visiting Phu Quoc for a weekend from Ho Chi Minh. If I wasn’t sitting in a bikini surrounded by people all fully clothed I would totally love this. They have the best intentions though and I roll with it. One of the girls my age in their group asks if we can take a selfie before they leave. Of course we can!

Shortly after the group of Vietnamese tourists leave, we do too. The sun will set soon and we’ve got an hours drive before we can make it back to the hostel. Tamara gets fancy and takes a selfie of us driving on the bikes during the sunset. It’s so beautiful to see the sky light up and set behind the trees, but I don’t dare try to photograph it.

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We return our bikes and get back to the hostel safe and sound. Hoorah I didn’t die!! It’s official!
We meet up with some people at the hostel and go for dinner. We’ve got an early morning start tomorrow to leave Vietnam and move on to Cambodia. I feel excited and sad at the same time. I’ve only got one month of traveling left before I have to go home, but I’m always up for a new place and a new adventure. Bitter sweet for sure.

Island Sunsets and Swiss Burgers

The first thing we do when we wake up is to find some food. We find a small restaurant down the street with decent prices, and each order a plate of “seafood noodles”. The plate comes full of vegetables, squid, and shrimp, which are cooked to perfection. It hits the spot.

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We spend the rest of the afternoon lazing around on the beach. We are the only people all afternoon, besides Claudio, the Italian pasta cook who made us dinner last night. He comes to join us mid-way through the day. We’re craving more fresh fruit but pretty far away from anywhere we can do some shopping, so Claudio offers to drive us down to the market on his motorbike. He was going to pick up some more fish anyway. Awesome!

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He can only fit two of us on the bike, so Tamara decides to stay back and trusts me to pick up a good selection of fruit and veg. We’ve got a pretty regular order now; mangoes, bananas, pineapple, carrots and cucumbers.

Getting on Claudio’s motorcycle feels less than stable. It’s old, and every bump in the road makes me wonder if a piece of the bike might just go flying off. We make it into town alive but I hang on for dear life. We buy a whole lot of different fruit, including some stuff I’ve never tried before, and Claudio picks out a big red fish. Neither of us know what kind it is, though. We stuff all the fruit in my backpack, including an entire watermelon, and tie the bagged fish to the back of the motorbike to drive home.

When I get back, Tamara and I enjoy a delicious mango and try the mystery fruit. It’s red and shaped a bit like a bell pepper, but much smaller. It tastes like an Asian pear and is quite refreshing. I still don’t know it’s official name.

For the sunset, we walk back down to the beach. I make sure to bring my camera this time. Devon, a fellow Canadian, joins us as we climb up the rocks for the fabulous sunset and we all chat away, exchanging travel stories. He’s been traveling for almost a year so far, and doesn’t plan to be back in Canada for at least another two. I always envy these people who just leave everything behind to go wherever and do whatever they want for such incredibly long amounts of time. It’s so cool, and I think a lot harder than it sounds. Living in hostels for three years wouldn’t be a walk in the park, but the things you would do and see in those three years would make it all worth it I’m sure.

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After the sunset we’re all hungry, so Devon drives us into town on his motorcycle, which is much sturdier than Claudio’s. All three of us squeeze on and drive ten minutes into the centre where we find a place called “SwissFoodViet” who’s sign boasts to have the “Best Burgers in Town!”.
I don’t know when burgers became a Swiss dish, but we all want to indulge in a big juicy burger anyway. It just happens sometimes. We all get a burger with Swiss cheese, which I guess kinda makes them a Swiss restaurant? They taste incredible. So far the food in Phu Quoc has been amazing, but I make note that I should be eating more seafood and less burgers because I’m only on this island for another couple days.

We stop for an ice cream on the way home, and have a relatively early night. Tomorrow, a group of people in the hostel are leaving, and Tam and I plan to do some trekking or motorbiking around to explore the island. There is a huge spider in our room and Tamara bravely murders it with a water bottle, which I highly appreciate.

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Okay, so that’s not the spider from our room…but it was in the bathroom which still counts. Our room spider was much smaller, but still creepy.