One of the best things about traveling around Southeast Asia is the lack of planning.
Arriving in an unknown city without a place to stay, discovering the next city you will travel spontaneously, walking through local markets to discover traditional food, exchanging information with people you have never seen before in your life. The possibilities are tremendous.
Having all of these uncertainties can be annoying for some, but the feeling of freedom is amazing.
After a few days in Otres Beach, a calmer and cleaner beach in the surroundings of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, I have decided to move my ass again.
The road has been calling me!
Backpack ready and a trip to the capital of Cambodia in my way.
Phnom Penh is a big city with intense traffic, and, according to some people, with robberies and scams. Forget about monks, temples and peace, and get used to the sound of Tuk tuks and motorbikes.
The idea was to stay 2 days there, go to the Royal Palace and the Killing Fields (where the Cambodian Genocide is explicit, scary and revealing to an issue that most Westerners are not aware of).
However, as I mentioned before, the best plan is not having plans.
After meeting Maria and PaweŁ (two Polish friends who are hitchhiking from Poland to New Zealand), this time with Sara’s (a nice mixture of Belgium and Saudi Arabia who studied with me in South Korea, thanks to the globalized world) reinforcement, we decided to hitchhike to Siem Reap, known for the ancient city of Angkor.
Tuk Tuk, sir !
That’s the way foreigners go around.
A small motorbike with a cart that can carry 4 people comfortably. Have in mind that space is relative in these countries, as you can easily face 5 people on a single bike, when not a dog or a pig being transported.
Hitchhiking can be easily described as catching rides without payment, but it can be way more complicated and specially fun than that.
The best way to start it is out of town, by the main roads, and in Phnom Penh it would not be different. We had no choice, but taking the notorious Tuk Tuk to the suburbs, as there is no public transport in this city. Do not forget to use your bargain skills to get a “cheap cheap price, sir”, as the locals shout out loud.
Ten kilometers out of the chaos, we set our backpacks by the road and started waving to the passing vehicles. Thumbs up do not work properly and most of the drivers do not understand why a Westerner (who is supposed to have a money tree at home) does not get a taxi or luxury bus.
Even though the confusion and that mostly just private buses stop for you, it is relatively easy to find a good willing driver to bring you, even for a few kilometers.
I do not believe in destiny, but what a coincidence when our first ride was with a sales representative of the biggest Cambodian Brewery (now owned by Heineken). Unfortunately there were not free beers, but a few smiles, nice conversations and a pleasant ride for almost 60 km.
We have been dropped close to an intersection, with still something around 250 km to come.
Time to settle down for a while, buy some cold drink, find a toilet and hitchhike again.
After 5 minutes one car just stopped by and our second ride, this time directly to our final destination, has been caught. Easy like Sunday morning!
Welcome to Siem Reap!
Our new temporarily home is considered a den of tourists, but it must not be avoided.
The ancient city of Angkor is the main attraction of Cambodia, and also the symbol in its flag, and after being there we can understand why.
Everything is tremendous (the ticket’s price too, in January 2017 ranging from $25 for one day or $40 for 3 days), magnifik and impressive. It is hard to picture in your mind how this place could be constructed between the 9th and the 13th centuries.
With an area of more than two Manhattan, thousands of temples, and an estimation of more than 1 million inhabitants by the time, the city (capital of the Khmer Empire) was considered the biggest in the world before the Industrial Revolution.
One day ticket could be enough to see the main sites, and with them the masses of tourists, with the Chinese, and their cameras and umbrellas leading the crowds. So, I would recommend a 3-day pass.
Rent a bicycle one day and ride above Angkor’s wall, get a scooter during the next, in order to see the furthest temples and enjoy the last day wherever you want. You will not suffer with lack of options.
Among tourists, it is possible to observe monks taking pictures with high end smartphones and a big variety of animals, from monkeys to elephants, chickens, buffaloes, cows and lizards.
It is hard to put in words the feeling of going around this ancient city, and pictures cannot capture all its magnitude.
Siem Reap itself is a nice town. Do not expect any extraordinary thing, but its cheap prices ($1 per meal, $0.50 for draft beer, and $4 for a bed in a dorm with A/C and swimming pool) are tempting.
A big Pub Street offers many restaurants, bars, street food, and weird fried animals.
I had already tried scorpions back in Thailand, so this time I chose a snake and a tarantula. While the reptil is delicious and similar to chicken, I cannot say the same for the spider. It is not disgusting (even though hairy), but not so tasty.
Anyway every new adventure is completely valid.
Once I heard that we should experience something new once a year, and I may say that I completely disagree with that.
It should be done daily, weekly, or way more frequent.
So next time you get stuck with a decision and fear the consequences, put the song “Should I stay or should I go” from The Clash to play, and say it loud: “I GO !”