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Cambodia the Strange

Just some Preliminary Thoughts:

I used to feel compelled to write, but these days my only motivation to record anything – either privately or publicly – is for posterity and as a duty to my readers (if I even still have any).

I don’t know what it is…I guess I’m living passively. I’m sort of wandering around soaking up people and places and experiences. Writing is an exercise in creative production; to write, I have to expel everything I’ve been soaking up in some sort of entertaining, coherent way, which seems like a lot of work. Maybe it’s lazy thing, or a happy thing, I don’t know, but all this not writing has left me with tons of things to write about…

Traveling is a meditation for the mind, but it can cost the health of the body.

Angkor wat, cambodia

I have yet to figure out a way to stay fit while on the road. It’s tricky to establish any sort of routine because, well, I’m in a new city every week or so. I’d like to think all the walking and sweating and swimming somehow justifies my lack of scheduled physical activity but the stiffness in my hamstrings and softness of my thighs say otherwise.

The basic physical requirements of a life on the road are by definition detrimental to the body. My poor pudgy little left ankle has been swollen for the past couple of weeks, ever since I started riding night buses on the reg. The bottoms of my feet are rough and peeling from the sand and saltwater. Maintaining any sense of cleanliness really is a challenge…

Sleep isn’t something that’s easy to regulate either. Some nights you go out drinking and skinny dipping in the ocean until 4 in the morning; some nights you’re kept awake by the music at the bar that you were at the night before.

It’s okay though. If there’s anything I feel has changed since I stopped working and started traveling, it’s a new sense of going with the flow. Letting go of control has been something I’ve struggled with ever since moving to Asia. Things don’t happen the way you want or expect them to. You can’t control how other people think or feel or behave. You might not get the food you thought you ordered; you might have to stand in line for hours at immigration when crossing a border; the boy you want to make out with may be flirting with someone else. MAI PEN FUCKING LAI. It’s all going to be okay and getting upset or frustrated isn’t going to help.

So yes, traveling has been a meditation for my mind and my body is kinda falling apart and it’s all wonderful.

___

And onto Cambodia:

We were so very sad to leave Koh Chang but Cambodia was calling to us…

We waited for hours on the Cambodian border to be transported to our next destination, Sihanoukville. “Why didn’t we just stay in Thailand?” I was grumpy and hungry and constipated and getting rained on (what did I say about the hardships of travel on the body?)

My mood shifted rather abruptly as I acknowledged the undeniable absurdity of our transportation situation to Sihanoukville: we were one seriously warped Brady Bunch, creeping our way through the vast green wilderness of Cambodia in a broken minivan with a ten-month-old jovial-as-hell baby and a very drunk Italian Roberto who smelled of sweet, decrepit death.

The inhumanly happy, doll-faced baby was passed around the van while we were subjected to a midi-toned, eight-track terrible cover CD FOUR TIMES OVER. Our dashing, copper-eyed driver was considerate enough to pick a CD in English (as opposed to Thai or Khmer) but after the third “My Heart Will Go on” I can’t deny I was effing sick of it.

Our strange Brady Bunch van ride was merely a taste of the weird Cambodian times ahead.

bunk bed bus in Cambodia
The strangest bus ride ever took us from S’ville to Siem Reap in horizontal bunk bed seats.

Sihanoukville was a trashy place, and I mean both figuratively and physically. Molly and I were disappointed to find that Serendipity Beach, the town’s main tourist beach, was covered in garbage. The sand had been neglected in favor of the party scene, which, even in the low season, bumped right up to the high tide in the form of endless bars and late night clubs.

Promoters were everywhere. If I knew what the word “eurotrash” meant I think I would use it to describe some of the people who seemed to have gotten stuck in S’ville promoting for bars.

One promoter stopped us to chat. He casually gestured, sauntered, and smiled, maintaining some sort of charm in his drunken state and trying to convince us to check out the bar he associated himself with. He was barefoot on the street save for a single sock. He said he had tattoos on his buttcheeks and would we like to see them? “Okay, yeah, you should show us,” I dared him. He showed us.

Newborn monkey in Cambodia
That time we saw a monkey mom and her just-birthed newborn baby monkey, and we were more excited about it than the surrounding Angkor Wat ruins because it was 6am and our brains weren’t working yet.

None of the shops or restaurants opened until about 1pm in Sihanoukville, presumably because that was the hour at which the previous nights’ hangovers finally subsided.

It stormed on our first full day in Sihanoukville, but Molly and I were feeling restless and surely there has to be a nicer beach around, right?? We walked four kilometers through the wind and rain to Otress Beach. On our way we came upon a massive Cambodian beach celebration, in which hundreds upon hundreds of families frolicked in the stormy surf and rain, fully clothed. We were ghost falang, strolling perpendicularly through the festivities without acknowledgement.

Riding in a tuk tuk through angkor wat

We walked through fields of emaciated cows during our journey and, on a separate occasion, were solicited very emphatically for “boom boom” by a small male adolescent on a motorbike. He showed us exactly what he meant by “boom boom,” at which point Molly grabbed my hand and picked up the pace. No thanks.

We did get two good beach days on the pretty beach, Otress, so that was satisfying. Plus, we ran into our Australian friends from Koh Chang and spent a memorable (or unmemorable depending on how you look at it 😉 ) night with them.

We moved on to Siem Reap by way of yet another strange form of transportation (a bunk bed bus that stopped for us to relieve ourselves on the ground on the side of the road in the middle of the night) only to be exposed to Cambodia’s further eccentricities.

The town was tinted a dusty red from the ubiquitous oxidized clay that dominated the region. Everyone seemed to either be riding bicycles or wearing matching-shirt-and-pants pajamas, or both. Pajamas midday. In public.

Cambodia: Land of Pajamas.

Monkeys in Angkor Wat in Cambodia
Other things in Cambodia: monkeys. Who will steal your water bottle if you put it down to take a picture of them. (You think I would have learned the first time)

Seemingly all of the locals spoke English, bringing a smile to my face every time they addressed me as “lady.” It’s better than “sir” right?

Angkor Wat was of course stunning in the way that only stone ruins can be. The sandstones were etched with symbols and motifs and faces of gods. Their depth of color could be reflected fantastically on film – shades of grey and warm sunlight and serrated textures…

Ta Prohm, the jungle temple nature has unquestionably conquered, remains magnificent in her roots and rock exterior; massive jungly trees have grown on top of and in between the stones of the temple, slowly eroding the sacred heavenly place down to its natural earthen origin.

Ta Prohm in Cambodia

And then, just like that, my time with Molly was over. I had to head back to Bangkok to meet up with my parents and she had her heart set on returning to Koh Chang for more grandpas and blues and, as always, booze.

I couldn’t have anticipated the heartbreak I experienced at the time of our separation. We’ve been together nearly every single day for the past six months, apparently developing a deep and intimate attachment to each other. I know I’ll see her again somewhere some day but it won’t be this. It won’t be here and now. I’ll miss you, Molly.

Me and Molly saying goodbye in Cambodia

Transitions forthcoming: I see my parents here in Bangkok in less than 24 hours. Sleep is evading me – I’m completely pumped up, anxious, distracted…I haven’t seen them in 9 months, and now I’m going to be traveling with them in THAILAND. My two worlds shall unite as one!

Until then –

xx

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