Myles Harrington

Setting Up Camp in Cambodia

In Cambodia on October 15, 2010 at 11:24 am

For the last two weeks we’ve not had a single day without a torrential downpour lasting at least a few hours, if not all day or night or both. I thought it rained a lot in the UK but this is something different, raindrops the size of marbles cascade in waterfalls down the sides of buildings and pound on the tin roofs to make a deafening tribal like drum beat. As I’ve come to expect when arriving somewhere totally new, it’s normally pissing it down upon my arrival, our disembarkment in Cambodia’s capital was no exception. Luckily for us, King Guesthouse where we were dropped by the chilly air-con minibus was offering rooms for a steal at $6 a pop. After six months away I’m starting to get weary of the hunt to save 30p, I’ve realised sometimes it’s just not worth it. Why traipse around for an hour in the storm to save a few pence and find a scummier room when the first option was adequate, a good deal and not mouldy?


In Asia the roads turn to rivers when the rain comes down


With Shubes feeling a little under the weather on our first full day in Phnom Penh we did virtually nothing. With the promise of a Heinz baked bean and cheese toasted (Breville) sandwich on the guesthouse’s menu, who would want to go out and see one of Asia’s prettiest capitals? They failed to live up to their promise and served an imitation bean on an under-toasted baguette. If this was the UK I would be complaining under The Trade Descriptions Act 1968. I eventually managed to drag Shubes out of the room, after a disappointing lunch, but only with the promise of clothes shopping. She didn’t disappoint in living up to the reputation of woman worldwide, a couple of new items and some new shoes later and we were done for the day.


The best bit of the shopping mall was the roller blading rink, Shubes would disagree


I’d been told by numerous people and by guidebooks that the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, also known as the Killing Field, is a place that no trip to Cambodia is complete without seeing. So of course for our second day in the nation’s capital we arranged for a tuk tuk to take us there. Being only 15km from the centre of town it makes for an easy half day excursion. I don’t want to say I was disappointed by the site because that would undermine the traumatic and devastating history of the place, but I was underwhelmed by the poignancy of the field. I’d heard harrowing rumours of unearthed bones rising from the ground during the wet season and the victims’ clothes being scattered around the old Chinese graveyard, neither of which I found to be true. There is a beautiful stupa in which the remains of the 8,895 exhumed corpses are housed and then around 20 former mass grave pits that were filled with rain water. The museum on site was informative and the documentary video was for once the right length to convey the point and not send the viewers to sleep, although the voiceover bloke sounded like a student from Southampton had been paid to do it during his lunch hour, over Skype.


Some of the 5000 skulls on display in the stupa at Choeung Ek



The new stupa that houses the exhumed remains of Pol Pot's victims


Our itinerary for the month in Cambodia consisted of Phnom Penh and volunteering. There are a couple of reasons we decided to set up camp in a provincial town and do some volunteering, the first being to get a sense of achievement from my nine month holiday, a gap year style Bondi beach piss up is fun for a while but it left me feeling unfulfilled and fat. The second reason is to save a bit of money; Shubes is now on a similar budget to me, although you wouldn’t think it given her self-restraint against the animal instinct to shop. If you’re based in a place for a while you can discover how to live like a local and therefore cheaply. We made a few phone calls to NGOs and orphanages around Phnom Penh and discovered the Chumkriel Language School while googling. As Mr Phon was the only person to answer his phone, he was the lucky man to receive two eager volunteers for the three and a half weeks we have left on our visas.

The school is based in Kampot on the Cambodian south coast, it’s an up and coming small town on the tourist trail, and it has the essence of an old colonial port with a hint of a backpacker renaissance. Guesthouses seem to be generating more tour offerings and cafes serving pancakes are all ready to start flipping. There just isn’t the client base like in its wealthier westerly twin Sihanoukville – yet.


Our new home, Kampot


We did some research and found a lovely home for our three-week stay. For $5 a night (sorry for the $ use but it’s bizarrely Cambodia’s first currency and strangely addictive to use as a litmus test for prices worldwide) we got ourselves a room at the Cosy Elephant guesthouse with hot water, private balcony, two double beds, free bicycle rental and a mosquito net. It’s just a shame about the pack of dogs that prowl around the entrance to the road and bark at us every time we scurry past.



the view from our balcony


5k remaining: £1234.75

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