Cambodia: The ‘fine print’ associated with travel

Some of you may have seen a few of the many pictures we have posted on Facebook or Instagram or, even read the odd glowing account of some experience on this blog. Looks pretty good doesn’t it. However, before you rush off and book your own trip, I feel that I should balance the ledger a little with some very recent tales (the last few days) of the ‘other sides’ of travel.

Friends and family will often wish us a ‘good holiday’. Well my definition of ‘holiday’ is when you head off to a destination for two weeks of doing nothing other than lazing on the beach and probably drinking cold beer or cocktails while catching up on all of those good novels you have been meaning to read. Or spending your time fishing, surfing or swimming or, a combination of all of these. In other words, chilling out for a more prolonged period than our conscience will usually allow.

Traveling, on the other hand, is simply the replacement of our regular chores at home for a new and different set in a foreign environment. These ‘chores’ are necessary in order to get us from A to B and, also fill in the bits in between. The more A to B aspects to a trip the more ‘work’ we need to undertake. Having made the effort to get to the places we visit we often feel some pressure to make the most of our time although, this can be alleviated by taking more time and lingering a little longer in a destination, Fortunately, time is a commodity we have plenty of now.

When traveling outside of New Zealand, the A to B exercise offers plenty of potential for the stress levels to rise. Especially if there are not well quantified steps in our planned process – we book our own journeys and usually, on routes less travelled, the information available is usually; sketchy, out of date or plain misleading. Our trip from Otres Beach in Southern Cambodia to Kampot was an example of this.

Having read horror stories about the scheduled mini van service that apparently operates between the two places (they don’t turn up and are a hair-raising experience when they do) had put me off trying our luck on that. Especially, given that we were some distance from the start point in Sihanoukville.

A little research indicated that we could get a ‘taxi’ for a pretty modest sum (the distance is around 100km) so I booked one a few weeks before our scheduled arrival in Otres. I used the same company to get us from the airport to the beach and when I reconfirmed this first trip by email they had responded quickly confirming the pending pick-up.

The day before our departure to Kampot, I again attempted to reconfirmed that trip by email but got no response. On the morning of departure, when paying the bill for the hotel, I asked the person at reception what a suitable Plan B might be to get us to Kampot, just in case. They were not overly interested as their key breakfast server-come-barman had gone home sick (the one that had been serving us since we arrived and also that same morning). They did ring the taxi company for me but, alas, no response. Oh well, we will just leave it see if someone turns up at the designated time. If they don’t, we will revisit a Plan B, what ever that might need to be. We did not have plane waiting for us at the other end.

We were scheduled to leave at 11am. At 10:30am I took the bags over to reception. There was a local outside hovering around an umarked vehicle. Could it be? He asked where I was going, I hopefully replied “Kampot”. I took his response to mean “ah yes you must be the people I am taking”. I heard $40 mentioned in the conversation, the same price quoted to me when I had booked, so I rushed back to the room and grabbed Ruth and we were on our way before anyone else could claim the booking.

We have taken a number of longer distance road trips in South East Asia and long ago (2015) had our ‘eye shutting pants wetting’ moment as we experienced life threatening manoeuvres on a busy road where no rules or common sense seemed to apply. Every trip since has usually involved a variation on the same theme and we have since become a little more relaxed. However, in expectation of such shenanigans we had firmly buckled ourselves into the back seat. The driver did not dissappoint and we were soon passing multiple vehicles with blind corners perilously close. He managed this while alternating between talking on his mobile and listening to music on his smartphone buds. When the mobile rang he had to; pull the earbuds out, judge the distance to oncomig traffic, the speed of the multiple vhicles being passed and the size of the gap we would inevitably have to force our way into in order to avoid disaster. This did cause the odd ‘raised eyebrow’ but not the cold sweats that we had experienced in the past – somehow, it always seemed to turn out ok. During all of this, I cast my mind back to the reviews of the minivan option and did wonder if the reviewers were experiencing this behaviour for the first time. Maybe the van trip would have been ok.

We made it to Kampot but when I proffered a $50 note to the driver he indicated that I needed to pay the hotel. This puzzled me as they had nothing to do with the trip and when I said ‘I pay the hotel’, he started to panic – in the end we figured that he wanted me to get the $50 changed in the hotel and pay him the correct amount. I rustled around in the wallet to see if I could scrape the correct amount together. It looked promising but was not helped by his refusal to accept a $2 note (a note apparently not used much so he probably thought it was counterfeit). The US Dollar is dispensed by ATMs in Cambodia but businesses will only accept near perfect bank notes. If your note has a slight tear or has an old issue date then it is worthless in this country. We managed to find the right amount in suitable notes and he was on his way.

Once we had packed our gear into the room we decided to do our usual recon of the surrounding area. However, there was rumbling, not the thunder type but stereophonic rumbling from our stomachs, the sort that you do not trust when out walking.

It must have been something we ate or drank. We are usually pretty careful on that front but even the best preventative measures will not always save you Ruth remembered the sick staff member back at Otres Beach. Furthermore, an Australian couple who we had been talking to over breakfast the previous morning had arisen very ill and Ruth had given them some of our rehydration satchels before we left.

We had been too quick to celebrate our death-defying ride – now we were facing what was ominously sounding like Travellers diarrhea, ‘Delhi Belly” or ‘Otres OMG’.  The night did not go particularly well and Ruth was soon breaking out the medical kit which contained a cache of weapons for dealing (hopefully successfully) with this type of ailment. We decided that our planned activity of exploring Kampot by bike on our first full day was probably going to be foolhardy.

It was not our most challenging day but an example of the type of (hopefully only occasional) unplanned and unreported event that can visit you on your travels.  When you are away from your normal comfort zone, falling off a bike, falling ill or missing travel connections takes on a different dimension. Having an ex-nurse as part of the expedition always helps when it is the falling off or falling ill scenario.

Otres Beach was a ‘stopover’ of three nights. We thought that it could be holday-like to become sun-slaves for a few days, like the rest of the visitors to these resorts.

Our travel from Siem Reap to Otres was pretty straight forward but did require a little faith on our part. We were scheduled to fly south to Sihanoukville International Airport on an ATR – a prop powered plane. The domestic terminal in Siem Reap was not much more than an oversized residential lounge and extremely crowded. We were keen to get on the plane and Ruth bolted for the boarding gate as fast as she could when the announcement was made. After I pulled her from the queue heading to Phnom Penh we exited through the ‘Sihanouk’ gate only to find that some people were boarding the expected ATR but we were directed towards an Airbus. Ruth quizzed me on whether this was correct but I did not know the answer to her question, the airline was the same so maybe they had put on an ‘overflow’ plane.

All went well and soon we were jostling the crowd at Sihanouk in an area about the size of our lounge at home, trying to reclaim our bags which had been deposited in the middle of this tiny room. I managed to squeeze through the people who were lucky enough to be indoors, out of the sun, and found our bags – things looked promising. Our taxi was waiting albeit a little beat up. We had made it.

We were looking forward to grabbing an evening snack at the hotel before turning in for the night. I had done a scout around the ‘resort’ and it was not exactly well endowed with eateries that we would be happy consuming food at. In fact, once you got off the beach it looked a bit like a bomb site. Rubbish strewn everywhere and badly rutted tracks in front of the new hotels (as well as some pretty ramshackle ones). It gave the place a surreal feel.

After watching the sunset we headed back to tour hotel to grab our snack but were informed that the kitchen was closed due to a problem (probably the beginnings of our later health problems). Can you recommend anywhere – ‘The Cigarette Garden’ was the response – it is down the street behind the beach. Ruth thought that the name sounded a bit ominous, I though trying to find it in the dark on a rubble strewn street even more daunting. Walking in the dark was life threatening and we quickly came to the conclusion that we could not afford to be picky and ate in the first semi acceptable place we could find. The service was terrible, the food average and the clientelle looked like the local chapter of the Mafia. We gulped down our meal, attempted to pay our bill – in the end Ruth grabbed the menu, worked out what we owed and handed to one of the waiting staff.

We found the ‘Cigarette Garden’ the next day – it was a case of lost in translation – it was called the ‘Secret Garden’.

But we don’t want to disillusion any of you so here the photos to make you run off and make that booking.

Update: The tablets that we acquired from our travel doctor worked well and within 24 hours we were pretty much back to normal. We were very pleased that we did not have to go looking for a pharmacy in the “heat of the battle”.

The beach was pretty clean, the water clear and it was a 7km return walk along it. Perfect for the morning exercise.
Ruth takes in the sunset – the beach faced west so the sun sunk below the offshore island
Locals enjoyed the last rays of sunlight with a game of beach volleyball.
Ruth enjoys the shade of the bar at our hotel
Expressed her gratitude that I had not booked this ‘price steal’
We both cursed the high rise building going up right next to our hotel. The workmen saw death as probably a release from their toil and carried out death defying stunts on scaffolding that was present for looks only. They also threw the rubbish from the top of the building (about seven stories) without looking for anyone below. This would send up a plume of dust that then drifted across everything – food, pool, washing.










  1. I read this aloud to Joe and was laughing so hard I was crying! OMG! The adventures you are having! Of course, we were reading this from the comfort of our new room at Khmer Mansion so WE were feeling no pain.


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