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Lazy Beach >> Kompong Cham

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Soundtrack 'Prince Charming' - Adam Ant

I had come to Sihanoukville originally to seek relaxation and had found it, up to a point.  But, after ten days on the near-perfect Lazy Beach, it suddenly didn't seem like such a paradise when we returned.  The beach was so crowded, there were people trying to sell things every where and it all suddenly seemed a bit grotty. 

I had gone to the island with the intention of staying for a couple of days and then returning for a lot more time in Sihanoukville to continue the seaside existence whilst I sought to regain my travel enthusiasm, but I had new intentions now.  Whilst on the island, I had been having a conversation in the bar one night about the potential costs involved in getting a return flight to the UK to watch Everton play in the FA Cup final on 30th May.  The beer meant that my willingness to pay for this was perhaps higher than it should have been and their experience of flying friends and relatives out to visit them involved prices that were potentially lower than I had expected.  With this in mind, I had gone to bed that night resolved to do it. 

As I lay awake afterwards, I considered that the question shouldn't be "Can I justify the cost of a flight back to the UK to watch the final?".  If I still hadn't rediscovered the energy to continue travelling and may potentially decide soon that it was time to call and end to it, then the real question should be "Can I justify the cost of flying back to Aisa after the final?".  And the answer to that was, realistically, "No".  So, I needed to begin to investigate my flight options. 

First of all though, I wanted to get the painting posted to Neil and Laura.  The Cambodian Children's Painting Project people had been holding on to it for two weeks now.  So, having checked back into my mainland hotel and then collected the canvas I walked into the main town centre to try to find the post office.  I found one, but it was shut for lunch.  I went back after eating something myself and they told me that I would have to go to the main post office as they were just a branch office.  Actually, 'branch' is over-egging it.  'Shack' would be closer to the mark. 

Anyway, after the 2km walk in the hot sun to get there, I had to walk another 2km to find the main site which was closed this day (Thursday) for a public holiday until Monday.  Every other day that I have been in Cambodia seems to be a public holiday - no exaggeration.  They have two month's worth of them a year, and that's before personal holiday time is taken into account!  Each time they get a new king, his birthday and coronation become a total of four public holidays.  But, the birthday and coronation day of the previous monarch do not revert to normal working days.  So, they go on accumulating more and more of them.  This very much fits in with the lazy lifestyle, particularly of the men who are waited on hand and foot from birth onwards.  This culture of handing them everything on a plate may also explain why they complain that they don't get any international investment and why they cannot see the link between this lack of investment and the low productivity of so many holidays and lazy attitudes. 

The walk there hadn't been a complete waste however.  Whilst killing a few minutes in a second-hand bookshop, I stumbled across a wonderful book about Prince Charles entitled "The Man Who Will Be King".  Published in 1979, it is hilarious to look at now with the benefit of hindsight.  See the blurb on the back cover for example:
Prince Charles of England.  Handsome, rich, talented . . . and destined to become perhaps the last great king the world will ever know.  Still young, he has captured the imaginations of millions.  Still single, he has been linked with the most glamorous women in the world.
But what is Charles really like?  What kind of man have centuries of royal breeding produced?  What kind of friend?  What kind of lover? 
This totally unauthorised biography is not the first to ask such questions.  But it is the first to answer them. 

Stopping off on the walk back, I got a couple of prices for flights from an agency.  I spent much of the evening on the internet looking for other deals but couldn't find anything quite as good so walked back the next day to make a purchase.  When I had left the day before, the woman had warned me that the airlines often change their prices at short notice so I shouldn't wait too long.  I didn't realise how right she was though.  When I returned the price had shot up 50%!  We looked around at some other options before finally settling on one of those that I had found myself the night before.  My travels would end with an Air Berlin flight from Bangkok, changing planes at Dusseldorf, on Wednesday 27th May, exactly forty nine weeks after they had begun.  Seven days, times seven, times seven. 

Whilst on Lazy beach, I had sent my passport to the mainland where it could be sent to Phnom Penh to have the visa extended.  Later that night it finally came back to their booking office enabling me to book a bus ticket at Thida's for the next morning, also to Phnom Penh.  So, after over three weeks in or around town, I was moving again. 

The bus arrived in the capital by Saturday lunchtime.  I found a rider who wasn't shouting at me to ride across town in a thing that was a bicycle at the back but had a pod at the front for me and my luggage to squeeze into.  My destination was Del Gusto, the restaurant I had been locked inside of a month previously.  I came here because the food was good, I knew they had rooms and I didn't need to search out the very cheapest place in town as I was only stopping off shortly.  That said, I didn't want to pay for their pricier room and their cheaper room was full that night so I stayed somewhere nearby for one night and then transferred back over for the next two nights. 

I was still carrying around the rolled-up canvas of Neil and Laura's painting which was both a pain for me and a risk that it might get damaged.  So, I was committed to wait in town until at least Monday to try and get it sent home.  As I had already toured around the city, this meant that the rest of Saturday and Sunday were trying to backup pictures on the internet and going to a bar to watch the football.  Not only was the humidity still rendering my laptop keyboard unusable 90% of the time, I somehow managed to rotate the screen display by 90 degrees.  So, to see anything I had to turn the computer on its side and use a touchpad mouse that was not rotated, so up meant left and right meant up etc.  It was a few days later during a brief moment of the keyboard behaving before I was able to search through a Chinese-language menu and find the option to rotate it back again. 

Whilst sitting in Del Gusto all afternoon getting stressed with this, there were two other customers there.  A woman sitting inside across the room from me and a guy sitting outside who would occasionally walk through to get to the toilet.  It was only at the end of the day when I bumped into him on one of my own toilet trips that I realised that he was Chris, one of the co-owners of Lazy Beach.  In fact, it was him in one of the cheap rooms that had forced me to look elsewhere for accommodation one the first night. 

Come Monday morning, I set off in search of the post office again, going first to the nearby smaller branch.  They were not able to handle my painting, but I was at least able to send off eight books that had been weighing down my bag for far too long.  Then, it was a walk to the north side where, after some searching around, I found the main branch which including a desk for the courier company.  I was a bit apprehensive the way they banged the canvas around, but they squeezed it into a piece of cardboard wrapped around the outside and a few miles of sticky tape and off it went.  I hoped. 

If I had known how quick this was going to be, I would have planned to get a bus away right afterwards, but I didn't and it was too late now really so, taking a route around the edges of the main market and past the bus station to buy a ticket for Tuesday, I walked back to Del Gusto. 

I took a motorbike back to the bus station the next morning as it was too far to walk at that time with heavy bags.  I ignored the first few riders who shouted at me, as usual, and found one parked down the road who wasn't calling.  The only catch being that, after I asked him, I realised that he had ridden past me shouting a minute earlier.  Ah well. 

The bus was an uneventful four hours, for which I was lucky enough to find I had a ticket for the front seat.  We made an obligatory unnecessary stop for food where I didn't eat but did marvel at the big bowls of horrible fried bugs that they have on sale.  I had seen crickets and earwigs before, but this stop-off town is famous for its local delicacy of deep-fried spiders.  I'm not sure that they appreciated me photographing and not buying.  I couldn't have eaten one anyway, being a vegetarian, but other people tell me that when you bite into the abdomen, it almost explodes with a load of sticky goo pouring out.  Nice. 


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Phnom Penh + Sihanoukville, Cambodia

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