I left off over a week ago, back in Cambodia and hitting Phnom Penh, the capital city, before my final trip home.
Before I get to that, I’d like to comment on an experience I had in Siem Reap my third day there. I was eating lunch, and a hawker walked up to me. Normally I say no to these guys all day long. But this guy was missing part of his arms, an had two fingers on each hand, and holding a small sign that said “Landmine Victim”. He was the real deal: he was not “working for a charity” and he was not begging for money. He had with him some art for sale, some books, and a sheet of paper that explained his plight. I saw a painting I wanted and bought it from him for a measly $7.
After he left, I read his story on the sheet he gave me. Oh man. This is some serious shit. He basically was a victim of one of the many landmines STILL leftover from the Vietnam war. Most of these were part of the US military operation. He stepped on a mine, became disabled, and was unable to work- but is far too proud to beg for money, so he is supporting his family with selling this art & books and things. Just complete senseless death and destruction of human life, more than I could take. So he walked away and I sat at that table and balled my eyes out. I couldn’t have seen that coming. I made a Flipcam video of the letter, and it took me 4 tries to read it all the way through. I’ll have that posted soon. This was a real eye opening experience for me as to the havoc that a war that ended 35 years ago is still wreaking on innocent people, simply born in the wrong place.
I took a bus from Siem Reap and it sure wasn’t up to Thailand standards! Actually it wasn’t that bad, but the A/C was a little weak, and the lunch spot was interesting. I was with a handful of other American tourists, and we stopped at this place for lunch that was really hot and kind of had a dirty feel to it. There were a few meat options and none looked very appetizing. A few of us just took our chances and one guy got potato chips because he said he didn’t want to take the risk of getting sick on his second to last day in Asia!
Of course I had no problems. 🙂
The bus was ridiculously slow too, and instead of the advertised 5 hours it took 7. But we kind of thought the driver was running errands along the way too!
Phnom Penh (PP) kind of just popped out of nowhere on the trip…like tons of countryside and little wooden homes and suddenly, urban environment. But it’s not a big city with big buildings. It’s definitely busy and crowded, but not exactly daunting. The hotel I got, Number 9, was downright fantastic. The room was pretty small, but it was super clean, had everything, and the hotel included a really nice bar/cafe, a little pool, and really helpful staff.
I met my friend Scot from San Diego there. He was in Sihanoukville (a coastal town in Cambodia) visiting his fiance (a local), and made the 2-hour trip up to PP for a few days. I originally met Scot at the Agora Financial conference way back in 2007 (the guys that put out the Daily Reckoning, the Five-Minute Forecast, and a few other top-notch financial newsletters) BTW one of my favorite speakers, Doug Casey, has a great article out on “Taxes and Freedom”. It was really cool getting to chat and hang out at a few places around town, and to meet his Cambodian fiance.
There are also a lot of “westerners” in Phnom Penh, specifically that came there to work for NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations), or various types of charities.
PP for me turned into more about hanging out with people than going on any big adventure. Besides Scot, I met up with Stephanie from http://wanderingforgood.com for a couple of meals. This girl has been to something like 108 countries, lived in the Sudan, and has some insane stories! I really enjoyed hanging out with her as it made me feel even a little “normal” for moving out of my place, selling my car and getting a one way ticket to Bali a few months ago!
Randomly, a few days earlier was reading my high school alumni newsletter and came across an article that mentioned a girl from my HS that was living in Phnom Penh working with http://skateistan.org…so I looked her up and shot her an email. Well she just happened to be headed out that night with her friend and I was headed to a similar part of town, so we met up! Luckily I got a SIM card earlier, so we could coordinate. (the SIM card thing works amazingly well in Asia, they’re usually really cheap and you can get them everywhere and load up anytime). Rachel has been in Cambodia a few weeks and will be there until July, teaching kids art and skateboarding! It was a super fun time, we sat there and had all sorts of interesting discussions over wine and a bad cover band. (or, an average cover band with a horrible singer!). Anyway I think we were both surprised to have hit it off being that our only known commonality was the same high school, usually not indicative of much!
Otherwise, I did spend a half a day doing some tourist stuff- went to the temples nearby, the river, and the Central Market. I had the same tuk-tuk driver the whole time who would usually just wait for me to do whatever and then take me to where ever I needed to go next! It was really nice, kind of felt luxurious. And the guy was the nicest guy ever, I never asked how much anything was going to be and he would just tell me a price at the end and we were good to go!
Also went to the indoor mall and picked up some jeans and a bootleg Iron Maiden CD that I was missing from my collection. 🙂
Leaving PP, I felt a bit rushed and not quite ready to get on the flight to Bangkok. Oddly, I couldn’t open my email and therefore didn’t remember when the flight was leaving, but I had 6:10 pm in my mind so I got a taxi over to the airport to get there at 4:30. Turns out the flight was leaving at 5:20! Luckily the PP airport was a piece of cake, and I sailed right through all the bureaucratic nonsense and on to my flight with plenty of time to spare.
I stayed over one night in Bangkok, near the airport, at a nondescript hotel, had my last Thai meal at a street market and got up at 4:20 am the next day to catch my flight. The whole thing was very weird, I was on the border of not wanting to leave, and looking forward to getting home…