Closing the wonderful “Laos Chapter“, the descent continued to the land of the ancient Khmer Empire.
Perhaps because I was still too dazzled by Laos’s surprises, perhaps because the first impact – in a chaotic Phnom Penh and in the terrible recent history of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge – had been distressing or simply perhaps because I was starting to suffer the terrible heat of Southeast Asia (which I tried to soothe for a few days on the beautiful Koh Rong island) … but, unfortunately, Cambodia didn’t know how to give me what I was looking for and I was not able to find what I needed at that time of the journey.
Only 13 days, and then I left for Vietnam.
Primising myself, however, that one day … I would be back.
11 January, Don Det (Laos) – Phnom Penh (Cambodia) | Day 224 🇱🇦 ➡
With almost 600 km on my bicycle – between the mountains of the North, Luang Prabang, Phonsavan and Vientiane surroundings, the plateau near Pakse and the long, arid roads close to the Mekong in the South of the country – Laos becomes officially, and with no dispute, the country in which I pedaled the most, since the day I left.
On the last day I could choose to perform some new 100 km, to cross the border with Cambodia on the saddle and to search for a bed in a place called Stung Treng, or to jump on a bus up to Siem Reap, or Phnom Penh.
Considering that is crazy hot, that I like to shuffle things and that Stung Treng, as a name, only evoked some hard painful beatings … I went for the last, easy, option.
At the border, when also all my luggages remained inside the bus belly and I walked down – together with a bunch of backpackers in sunglasses and flipflops – to handle with the usual formalities you should go through when you exit a country, I recalled with a smile all those exhausting controls I had to overcome to leave Russia, Mongolia and China.
In this part of the world, instead, it seems that nobody really cares about who you are, why you are here, and what you are travelling with.To exit Laos, in this case at Veun Kham border, you just pay $2 and you can say whatever you want to got your farewell stamp.
Even that you are a famous skater from Lichtenstein and that your name is Wilson, with no surname, exactly like the caps brand of which you are either the super talented founder and super rich president.
12 January, Phnom Penh (Cambodia) | Day 225 🇰🇭
Important history, colorful markets where you pay in Dollars but they give you back Cambodian Rials, oozing smells, wild traffic, Khmer statues, football and volleyball pitches everywhere, lights, construction sites, terrible buildings, burning heat, ponds, rivers, dirt, chaos, hidden oasis of peace, street kiosks mixed with Buddhist altars filled with flowers and incense.
And again, people cutting hair next to people repairing motorcycles, people playing, people working, people begging, people selling, people shouting, people asking you if you look for smoke or girls, people getting married in a bar, people washing their kids on the river promenade, people playing cards all day, people dancing or jogging, people laughing on their flashy cars and people living on their rusty tuk tuk.
A mother who carries a garbage cart and joyful smiles at you when she walks by your side, while her daughter – incredibly beautiful, and without an arm – hugs her shyly while looking at you as pure, sweet and happy as only a child could be.
This, my first day in Phnom Penh.
As I read today in a guide, a city “on the edge of everything”, which can infuse you with wild optimism at the genuine sense of limitless possibilities, or knock you down with crushing cynicism in less than a heartbeat.
And about me … well, in all this, I really didn’t understand a thing.
So, not being an expert, I wore an orange tissue, found two monks to become friend and to talk with before sunset, observed a funny guy, arrived on a bicycle, who was taking a picture of me, and, for a while, I tried to show him all my distress, my concern and my strong, but still charitable, spiritual disappointment.
13 January, Phnom Penh (Cambodia) | Day 226 🇰🇭
If you are in Phnom Penh, and Cambodia in general, you can not – and it wouldn’t even be right – stay away from the recent, tragic, history of this country.
A military and dictatorial regime, controlled by a few “chosen ones”, which tried to introduce in these land some kind of Utopia State, based on farm work and self-sufficiency, and which, to do so, in less than 4 years (from 1975-1978) deleted from their own country one third of the population and damaged the lives of the survivors and their descendants forever.
A story of merciless forced labour, destruction of industrial economy, money, universities, markets, schools, all kinds of worship, individuality and human dignity in general.
Today, visiting the Prison – Torture Camp S21 and the famous “Killing Fields”, I could face an inhuman reality, made of abuses, sadic tortures and slaughters that even a monsters from the most perverse fantasies couldn’t perhaps reach; in front of the tree used by the executioners to smash the heads of newborn babies (yes, it’s obscene, I know … but it’s really what it happened and it is useless to hide it, although I prefer not to publish photos), now coloured with petals and bracelets, I felt for a moment the earth shaking, and I didn’t faint only by chance.
I probably spent five hours in total between the two museums, and could now tell dozens of different stories and horrors.
But there is one that affected me particularly, due to its fatal tragedy and its incredible – although hidden – message of hope, which stole me a glimmer of joy in the midst of a very gloomy day.
It’s about a guy from New Zealand, Kerry Hamill, who could eventually have been myself – if only I had been born thirty years before – or simply could have been my father, or any of us.
A normal boy and a dreamer, like many others, that in 1978, aged 27, decided to leave for a long trip by boat around the Asian coasts.
Fate brought him and his two friends, because of a storm, to seek shelter on an island in South Cambodia.
They were discovered by the Khmer Rouge and immediately transferred to Phnom Penh, where they were imprisoned in the S21, accused of being spies for the CIA or KGB.
One of them soon died, the other two were tortured and had to confess their absurd guilt.
Kerry Hamill was executed (as well as thousands of Cambodians and foreigners of different nationalities) for crimes he never committed, and for years his family didn’t know anything about him, nor his end.
When, in recent years, some secret archives of the Khmer Rouge were found and opened, Kerry’s confession was read for the first time.
Even if he was facing the end of his days, Kerry admitted he was a CIA spy, but didn’t lose his desire to dream and to continue to smile at life.
He quoted Colonel Sanders (founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken) as his supervisor, Sergeant Pepper (from the famous Beatles album) as his first superior, greeted his closest friends and relatives one by one, noting on a sheet all their names and selecting them as his partners in action, mentioned his home number as its direct one for the CIA, and he finally smiled at his only instructor and mentor, citing the unusual name of S Tarr.
It was nothing but a final, unconditional message of love and hope towards a woman, eventually named Esther.
14 January, Koh Rong (Cambodia) | Day 227 🇰🇭
After yesterday, emotionally a very tough day, I had a great desire to go and lose myself for a while between some lonely valley, river and mountain cabin.
The mountains that I like, however, are thousands of kilometers far away from where I am.
So I thought that, after months since the last time, I could also get to see something else I started to miss a lot.
And that can always say something, no matter where.
15 January, Koh Rong (Cambodia) | Day 228 🇰🇭
The negative side of island villages which face the East (such as Kastro, in Sifnos, and the only village in Koh Rong, where I am since last night) is that they remain covered, when the sun is setting down.
But the positive side, though, it is that if you wake up early, there’s basically noone else apart from you.
And there’s only one thing you can do.
Turn your eyes to a new day, while, silent and undisturbed, is slowly being born.
And you, with it.
16 January, Koh Rong (Cambodia) | Day 229 🇰🇭
I’ll be sincere.
Although I decided to reach an island to face a period of natural fatigue due to the heat of this part of the world and to the many months of solitary travelling, I cannot say that Koh Rong caught me completely.
Maybe because there are no infrastructure on the island – which is a very good thing though – and then, with all my weights, I was forced to find a Guesthouse not far from the small, chaotic pier, dripping dirt, tourists and alcohol.
One of those you would have seen in the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean”, we could say.
Today, however, I tried to explore a bit more and to change perspective.
And I must confess that my opinion, about the island, totally changed.
17 January, Koh Rong (Cambodia) | Day 230 🇰🇭
I didn’t catch any rain since the day I arrived (and left after less than three hours) in Kunming, China, on my way to Lijiang.
It was late November.
More than a month and a half without a single drop … and when does the very total storm decide to hit me?
After walking almost two hours in the middle of the jungle in a Cambodian island, trying to avoid falls and snakes, after having a foretaste, lying in the hammock, of a possible special afternoon and an incredible sunset, and after walking on the sand of what is perhaps the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen in my life.
After Plaka one, in Naxos, of course.
Murphy’s law or a blasting and unpredictable natural pyrotechnic show?
Anyway, a new reason to spend a few more days in Koh Rong island.
18 January, Koh Rong (Cambodia) | Day 231 🇰🇭
After yesterday’s 2 hours in a Cambodian jungle, a furious storm, a sudden escape and a lost sunset, today the wind has changed.
And the weather with it.
Then it happened that in the morning, shortly after breakfast, someone told me that to reach Long Beach they have built, recently, even a dirt road that runs along the island for 5 km, easily doable by bicycle.
So I took it, and went to fulfil my spirit with the missing part I had to leave, yesterday, as I don’t like to leave things undone.
And I don’t think it was a bad choice.
19 January, Koh Rong (Cambodia) | Day 232 🇰🇭
Waking up for the sixth day in a row on a tropical island, stoned by 40 degrees outside and 38 – due to fever – of your head.
Spending a slow and horizontal morning, under a fan, book in hand and orange juice by your side.
Walking up to a lonely beach, looking for a bench or a hammock.
Finding a swing in the middle of the sea.
Swinging for about an hour, feeling slowly your energies coming back.
Being astonished, once again, for how beautiful these places can be.
Falling in love indefinitely.
Understanding that, however, they are clearly not meant for you, and that, reluctantly, it’s time to leave.
20 January, Phnom Penh (Cambodia) | Day 233 🇰🇭
I came back to Phnom Penh.
After 2 hours on a boat and 6 on a bus, still feverish and terribly low, I’m back in the colorful, effervescent and smelling bedlam of the capital of Cambodia.
Nothing interesting, therefore, today.
Really nothing interesting.
Then it’s time to publish some more photographs of the island that partly enchanted me and from which – right now I cannot understand why – I wanted to escape.
Not really because I like to go through images of the place I was in and think again about the sound of the sea in the various, beautiful beaches of Koh Rong.
But rather to remind myself of the asshole I am.
21 January, Phnom Penh (Cambodia) | Day 234 🇰🇭
Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
It’s time to set foot outside the hostel, today, for the first time.
And just because I’m hungry.
After Trump’s establishment at the White House, the news all the TV were impatiently waiting for.
Cause well, yes, flu is over.
And I’m back in the game.
22 January, Phnom Penh (Cambodia) | Day 235 🇰🇭
23 January, Phnom Penh (Cambodia) | Day 236 🇰🇭
I didn’t understand a thing.
Hard for me to admit it, but that’s it.
I really didn’t understand a thing.
About Cambodia, I mean.
Maybe because, after spending such a good time in sleepy Laos, I had too high expectations or too many preclusions.
But that’s a fact: the anxiety that I felt from the very first day in Phnom Penh – and not only cause I visited the Killing Fields and S21 – has never really gone away.
Maybe I just had to cycle more across the country, but it is also true that the climate of this part of the world – of what now seems to me, looking at the map of the globe, to be the torrid and suffocating udder of the giant Euro-Asian cow – never really stimulated me to do so.
In recent days, due to the heat and a bit of fever, I spent more than half of my time in supine position, and the remaining hours just walking lost in the overloaded streets, with the same speed I could take as if someone had cemented my knees and tied my ankles before.
I could jump on my bicycle and force myself into some distant hill, or move towards the history of Battambang, the magic of Angkor Wat or the warm coast of Kampot. But the heat – and indecision – took me over.
I tried to “find a way” among palm trees and waves in Koh Rong, but I did not succeed.
Anxiety and indecision remained and had the best of me.
Last night I threw a coin, as I always do when I don’t know which direction I should take. But while it was still hovering in the air and was already about halfway to touch the ground, I locked it tight in my fist, without waiting for the choice.
I was able to determine, at that very moment only, that the only thing I really had to do was to clean the table.
I know I’m making a mistake, my sweet Cambodia.
I know I just should give you more time, my dear Cambodia.
I know you could still give me a lot, my old Cambodia.
And you are also so damn beautiful, my old, dear and sweet Cambodia.
But not now.
Another time, maybe.
It’s not under your sky that I will sleep, tomorrow.
Even if I know already that a part of me … will regret it forever.
KM on BICYCLE: 80
KM on AUTOBUS: 1225
KM on TRAIN: 0
NIGHTS in HOSTELS: 13
NIGHTS in HOSPITALITY: 0
EXPENSES: 370 €
CURRENCY: Riel / Dollar
“GOOD DAY”: “suostei”
“THANK YOU”: “arkoun”