That’s my Cambodian name. Everywhere I go, I am greeted by eager (read: desperate) waves and happy ‘tuk tuk lady’ greetings. (For those of you who haven’t been to Asia- a tuk tuk is the motorcycle-pick up hybrid used for a taxi.) Every man in Cambodia with a set of wheels knows my nickname and I can’t actually walk more than half a block without attracting masses of tuk tuk lady fans. It’s like being a celebrity, except that no one wants my photo just my money. Okay so maybe it’s not like being a celebrity. But still, being the tuk tuk lady gives you instafame in Cambodia and even with a tan, I am still not successfully able to hide my identity behind a pair of sunglasses. I am recognized everywhere. Angelina, I feel ya. No okay so I’ll stop making myself sound importnant because in reality, I am not unique. All foreign women are known around here as tuk tuk ladies. I imagine it began as a proper question with infliction and everything- intended to be read as ‘tuk tuk, lady?’. These days the concern for proper english grammar escapes the tuk tuk drivers and the phrase has instead turned into a nickname that lovingly refers to us chicks as oversized motorcycle-cars, capable of carrying 6 passengers in our bellies. “HEEEEY, TUK TUK LADY!!!!” But really, everyone should get to Cambodia at least once- just to experience the prestige of being the elusive, but highly sought after tuk tuk lady. Well when I put it that way, I guess it’s more like being a rare bird. Finally someone sees me for what I am!! 😉
So, what haven’t I been up to since arriving in Cambodia! Aside from an abundance of tuk tuk ladies, this country is also full so many other good things. After our harrowing crossing of the border from Vietnam (just kidding. Even though I was mentally prepared for disaster, it was the easiest thing I’ve done in Asia.), our first stop was Kep. Kep is a small fishing town with not much going on except for seafood and sunsets. Not a bad thing after having spent the previous week inhaling the toxic fumes of Saigon’s very polluted air. In Kep, I reunited with my very lovely norwegian friend Helena whom I met at a yoga class in Sri Lanka. We will travel Cambodia together before going our separate ways in Bangkok next week. (AH Bangkok next week- tear.) After just two nights in Kep, we made our way to dusty little Kampot where we spent just one night as a layover on our way to the very south. For such a small, random town, Kampot has a surprisingly large expat community and I swear there must be something in the water. I know of more than one female backpacker who has decided to make Kampot their home, in the name of Cambodian love. Kampot moms- you raise good sons, well done. In Kampot, Helena and I rented bikes for the day and explored the backroads of the nearby villages. This was my first taste of real Cambodian life and we had a beautiful day getting lost with the locals. Also I just have to give another shout out to Kampot chefs- thanks for the BEST omelet I’ve had in Asia. If you ever find yourself in this charming little town, go spend an afternoon or a day at Cafe Espresso and order everything on the menu. Cambodia is the first Asian country I’ve been to that serves real cheese and I am now in culinary heaven. Merci beaucoup, French colonization!
Next, we were off to Sihanoukville for some serious beach bumming. On the way Sihanoukville, I found out that Cambodians seriously know how to pack em in (like, as a country, they would probably kick ass at Tetris) and have a commendable ability to get their money’s worth. We were at least 20 in what I can only assume was a 12 person van. Every time we thought we were full, there was another traveler squeezing their bum into a seat I didn’t know existed. Our bags were roped to the trunk in some sort of impressive spider web fashion, and even though I had my doubts (cars have trunk doors that shut for a reason) all of the bags arrived in Sihanoukville. We even passed a van that had gotten really efficient and turned the exploding bag mess into extra seats behind the van. So people were actually sitting on floating bags that weren’t even inside the van, Cambodians really know how to tie a rope. Anyway I spent the trip to Sihanoukville with a fortunately petite and kind Canadian girl on my lap. After 2 hours of awkward spooning and sharing equal frustration over our unfortunately large bums, how could we not be friends? So Helena and I, with our new friends Jesse and Cole arrived in Sihanoukville and wandered off to Otres beach to find our very own beachside bungalow. Sihanoukville is itself a city, which is then divided into several different beaches; with the most popular being Serendipity beach. Thanks to the masses of tourists, it’s not so serendipitous anymore and fortunately some girls I met in Vietnam had recommended Otres. Otres is the free spirited hippy sister of the somewhat skanky, definitely boozy but very popular Serendipity. So we settled for a wooden shack with just enough room for 2 beds and fully equipped with mosquito nets and fans. That’s all you need when you pay $6 a night and can roll out of bed to the beach. After 3 days here we were then easily convinced to join our Canadian friends for a few days on a mostly deserted island called koh rong.
The only way I can capture our arrival off the ferry on to the white sands of koh rong is by comparing it to the very cliche scene from Leo DeCaprio’s ‘The Beach’. Not even kidding, that’s how we felt. This is a hidden paradise and definitely had to consider if I really wanted to share the secret with you all. You’re welcome. As you get near to the pier, it becomes quickly obvious how pristine this island is. Minutes later, you find yourself with your feet sinking into the silky white sand surrounded by happy beautiful young people swimming, dancing, and playing to groovy music while enjoying their sunset cocktails next to turquoise blue water and palm trees. It really is too picture perfect and if it sounds like I am describing something directly out of your dreams, it’s because I probably am. Koh Rong is the beautiful beachy heaven of young travelers. The street is nothing more than a beach and the hotel rooms resemble the treehouses we had in our backyards as kids. The locals are friendly, the food is delicious, the beaches are deserted, and the cocktails are endless. It is not yet marred by any resorts and the majority of the ’employees’ at these bar-guesthouses are fellow backpackers who’ve decided to stay put for a month, entertaining the short time vacationers in exchange for room and board. Not a bad deal. You won’t find any families here and certainly no one that is looking for a high level of customer service, also hopefully you don’t mind rats. After a few days, Helena and I had to drag ourselves away from this hotel California-esque paradise before we got sucked in forever. Anyway- go there, before it becomes the next Thailand. And take me with you.
So, next we were off to Phnom Penh; the rapidly growing capitol of Cambodia. In a nutshell, Phnom Penh sucked us in and then spit us back out. But it was a blast and I would go back in a heartbeat. We got an unfortunately unpleasant welcome to the city after arriving at almost midnight and going out for a short walk to find a drink. Given that we had no map and definitely no bearings, this turned out to be an expensive walk when a few minutes later I found myself standing jaw-dropped without a purse. Yup, fell victim to my first Asian scam theft (jury is still out on who was responsible for the missing iPhone). Anyway, we realized after that these 2 guys on a motorbike must have been stalking around behind us for a little while, waiting for their chance. My purse was a tiny thing that I really didn’t even think was noticeable from the street. And like a responsible traveler, I had my bag facing the inside of the sidewalk and the strap across my chest. These guys have SKILL. I thought he was just a terrible motorcycle driver and wasn’t looking where he was going. Then my bag was gone and so was the motorbike. It was like magic. All I have to say to you motorbike thief- karma’s a b*tch. He only made off with $40, my southwest card (pretty sure that’s not gonna help you out in Cambodia, buddy), a room key, and my Burt’s bees. Overall I’ll cut my losses and consider it a win. I used to carry around my passport and all of my bank cards like a big dummy. Phew. So- I got over it quickly and we had a really good time in Phnom Penh. Our next days consisted of mostly wanderings around chaotic Phnom Penh- lots of really good food and unique shopping, with plenty of spontaneous local experiences. Our nights consisted of new friends, too many cocktails, and an excessive amount of dancing. I have definitely not been a regular participant in the Asian nightlife scene, but I’m pretty sure Phnom Penh has got it going on. Between generous happy hours, a myriad of rooftop bars, and what naive me considers a raging club scene- it was really good times. Also it should be said that nowhere else in the world exists such an eclectic crowd of booty shakers- I’m talking broke backpackers in dirty clothes, flawless lady boys, weekend warriors on short holidays from Europe, rich old creeps, Cambodia’s elite, and petite ladies in more petite dresses looking for rich old creep love. Interesting. My liver hurts just thinking about our revelry. It’s my last week in Asia, might as well go out with a bang yeah?
Now, after barely making our minivan (apparently, on 3 hours of sleep, you don’t hear a 7am alarm clock) to Siem Reap, we have arrived at our final Cambodian destination! I will post again soon because I still have much to stay about the Khmer Rouge regime and my heart aching experience at the killing fields and the notorious S21 prison. But that’s heavy and i’ll save it for another time. I will be in Siem Reap until Monday or Tuesday, exploring the famous temples of Angkor Wat and soaking in all the Asian culture I can get. I’m not ready to leave.