This post is long. I usually like splitting stories up into short, digestible posts, but I left this a long one to document the rich experiences I had in just one day in Cambodia. I think this was the best day I’ve had on this bike tour.
Money Gift and Corruption
As I left Vantha after breakfast, I gave him $20. He said, “I’m not looking for money.” I told him it was a gift. With 4 kids and making $2 per day, I figured he needed it more than me.
When I returned to Laurence and Gisella’s caravan to retrieve my stuff that I left with them for the night, Laurence and I got talking about corruption and money in Cambodia. He’s refused to pay the standard $2 stamping fee bribe at the borders because he doesn’t want to support the corruption. Laurence even refused to pay the $20 entrance fee to Angkor Wat because he realizes that when a Cambodian makes $2 per day, $20 is highly overpriced and he’s sure the money’s not going to preserving the site. When tourists willingly pay the fee, it confirms Cambodians’ beliefs that foreigners have endless cash.
I started feeling bad for giving money to Vantha. White foreigner throwing his money around. And Vantha is 15-20 years older than me — was my charity insulting coming from a younger guy?
I suited up in my tight cycling gear while some farmers started looking at my map. They were intrigued by where different countries and cities were. They were also really interested in the foreigner’s sunscreen that I was putting on my face and arms. I offered them some, and one farmer had a blast putting it on his nose. It was a big laugh for everyone.
Vantha had asked me to visit his school, so I stopped by on my way out. It was weird. I sat in the teacher’s lounge as the principal asked me questions. His main interest was girls. “In your country you can sleep in the same room as your sweetheart?” I said yes. “Ohhhh. In Cambodia you must be married to your sweetheart to fuck.” The combination of “sweetheart” and “fuck” was shocking. He made it clear that he preferred the sweetheart rules in the US, “I want to go to your country tomorrow. You can find me some girls.” I told him yes, of course; I’ll be back in a month, but you should go tomorrow, Horny Principal, and wait for me.
I got to Kampong Cham, a big town, and found some Western food. Seriously y’all, Western food is really awesome. It sucks eating instant noodles, pork fat, and meal of bones. Cheeseburgers and banana pancakes with chocolate are much better.
Then I tried finding the continuation of the small road along the Mekong river towards Kratie. My GPS showed that I was right at the turn off for the road, but all I saw was dirt. I wandered around for a while, and then decided to plunge into the dirt.
I followed faintly worn paths for a while, and took some wrong turns. Farmers shouted at me to turn around, and pointed me in the right direction. I looped through corn fields, slid through sand, and pulled my bike through mud pits until I finally found a wide, red clay road. It’s the journey, not the destination, right y’all? (Sometimes when I’m really hating a road, I say this corny saying to myself. It takes my mind off of hating the journey, so I can channel all my hate to this phrase).
Volleyball is a surprisingly popular sport in Cambodia. Volleyball courts are set up in the dirt everywhere and there’s usually a game going on. On my ride I passed a 2-versus-1 game, so I stopped and joined in. I could hold my own, but they were really good. A few times I blocked the ball at the net. I felt like Volleyball Shaq. At the end, I bought cans of soda for my volleyball friends.
Mekong Native One
At the end of the day, I turned down a road towards the Mekong. I wanted to swim and look for a camping spot. It was a really secluded area with only cattle and a few farmers around. I jumped into the river, washed myself, and did my laundry. Drying off in the setting sun with my native Cambodian krama slung around me felt awesome.
Sleeping on the sands on the bank of the river would have been great and easy, but I returned to the road for some food, and then I saw a Wat (Buddhist Temple). When I went in to ask about staying there for the night, I was directed to the head monk — a surly, fat guy who was smoking a cigarette. He laughed at me with the other monks and then sent a child to show me where I could sleep. A bamboo bed with a straw mat and a mosquito net in a small, one-window room inside the temple.
After loading my bike into the room, I “showered” publicly at the well in the courtyard. All the monks bathed here. Showering, brushing their teeth, and doing their laundry. As children watched White Man, I dumped water from a bucket over my head and toweled off with my krama.
Cambodian Drinking Party
I left the temple’s grounds to find some food — monks only eat breakfast and lunch. I sat down at a food stall right outside the temple with a bunch of young guys who were working through a case of Angkor beer. One of them spoke some English, and he ordered me a glass so I could take part. Every time my glass got half-full, one of the guys topped it up. And about every five minutes one of them would initiate a tipping of glasses. Drink, cheers, top up the glass. It was endless. The English-speaking guy told me that they had been working in a factory in Korea; good money and a better opportunity than this farming community in Cambodia can provide. When we got to the last can of beer, I was feeling woozy. I asked how much I owed but the guy waved me off saying he’d pay. I couldn’t let him do that so I drunkenly left a mystery wad of cash and walked off thanking them. But as I left, the krama I was wearing as a skirt unraveled. It was a cool exit.
Monk Mobile Phone Music
When I returned to my monk room, the monk sleeping next to me was playing some terrible Cambodian music on his mobile phone. I was too tired to care, and I passed out on the hard, bamboo mattress. But in the middle of the night, I woke up with a really dry mouth. After I drank some water, sweat beaded all over my back. I was dripping wet. There was no fan in the room and the window was closed. I felt sick, and even sicker having to listen to the Cambodian love ballads on the monk’s phone.
I couldn’t get back to sleep with the heat, the hard bed, and the monk’s music, but I had to do something. I got my headlamp and stood over the monk’s bed looking for his mobile phone, but I felt really creepy watching him sleep. The phone was tucked in close to his cheek, and I would have felt weird reaching in to turn it off, so I got my hammock and went outside. I strung up my hammock between two pillars underneath the temple. It was breezy and comfortable, but I placed it badly — I could still faintly hear the monk’s mobile phone. I slept for a while until it got cold. Then I went back upstairs onto the hard bed, and let the Cambodian love songs take me away to sleep.