* 12/13 Phnom Penh (no biking)
In the morning, we took a tuk tuk to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Tuol Sleng had been a school which the Khmer Rouge turned into a secret prison where prisoners were brought for torture/questioning. An estimated 20,000 people were imprisoned there during the Khmer Rouge rule. Only seven survived. It was a place of unspeakable cruelty during a regime of unspeakable horror. We thought we’d be out of there in about an hour but we had been there three hours by the time we walked out.
In the afternoon, Carissa stayed in and I biked out to the riverfront to lunch before I headed over to the Royal Palace. As I neared the Palace, I was hailed by a guard. I approached cautiously and it turned out he wanted me to valet my bike there. I was a little wary of leaving my bike with someone who was too eager for me to leave it with them, but it seemed fine. It was grand and awesome and I enjoyed the French influences, to be sure, but much of the Palace was closed to visitors as it is in use as the king’s residence currently. Worse, though, the unique Napoleon III Pavillion – the building was originally used by Empress Eugenie for the inauguration of the Suez Canal in 1869 and later gifted to King Norodom by Napoleon in 1876 – was under renovation and completely obscured from view by a green covering. They did have the Emerald Buddha (I believe it’s actually jade… but let’s not be nitpicky!), just like in the Royal Palace in Bangkok. In fact, much of the Palace in Phnom Penh reminded me of the Palace in Bangkok. Once I got outside, I found my bike was safe and sound. I paid the 1000 riel (US$0.25) valet fee and rolled out.
I checked out the central post office, a beautiful new art deco building, before I headed over to Wat Phnom. It was nothing spectacular but it was a little temple atop a high (relatively so) hill overlooking Phnom Penh, surrounded by a nice little park area.
Carissa’s stomach was better, so we went out for dinner nearby. At night, I met up with an expat who I had contacted via a message forum I post on. I told him about my journey and also mined him for information about living and working in Phnom Penh. I was really enjoying the city and I was vaguely thinking about trying to move here.
* 12/14 Phnom Penh (no biking)
By morning, I had a bad stomach ache, although Carissa was much improved. We decided to stay another day. Carissa took a tuk tuk around to the Russian market, and I think to the Palace and the riverfront as well. I biked up to Central Market, a new (May 2011!), grand Art Deco building – fairly impressive. I then biked down to the Russian Market, which was still an older building. They had everything on sale, from tools to books to meat to motorcycle parts. I was starting to feel weak, because I wasn’t eating due to my stomach ache. I hobbled my way back to the hotel and had an unpleasant evening of stomach troubles.
* 12/15 Phnom Penh (no biking)
I had another day of stomach issues, so we stayed another day. I was on my computer the whole time, just trying to make my stomach behave.
* 12/16 Phnom Penh to Kampot (routing: http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=5224236 )
I was feeling somewhat better, and Carissa was feeling okay, so we headed out into the great big world. Our plan was to make it to Ta saom tonight and then on to Kampot tomorrow, but we had barely made it out of town before we started getting exhausted. We were both in bad shape – we had to take breaks every 20 minutes, and even so, we were feeling terrible. We took a small nap in a little structure (maybe a little rest stop or temple?) with tiled floors. We made it about 45 km before Carissa suggested that we take motorized transport all the way to Kampot and we could take a couple days there recuperating. That sounded just dandy to me, so we pulled up to a van that looked like it might go our way, but they said they weren’t going to Kampot. We pulled up to a gas station, where one of the attendants spoke English. They gave us seats and we waited in the shade while we waited for a minivan that they hailed for us. Once they hailed a minivan that stopped for us, one of the gas station attendants ran over and talked to them. He yelled back to our ‘interpreter,’ who told us that they would charge $10 for the both of us and our bikes to get to Kampot. we readily agreed, although we suspected it might be a bit on the pricey side. Our bicycles, with panniers still attached, were strapped with some rope off the back of the van, with the trunk door open. We trusted it would work just fine. We transferred minivans in Ta Saom and we got to Kampot – both we and our bikes made it just fine.
We stayed at a very nice riverfront guesthouse called Moliden – $30 for an air-conditioned room, with wifi and no breakfast (the lady asked $35 for with breakfast, but we suspected we may not be eating anyway).
* 12/17 Kampot (no biking)
We spent a lazy day in Kampot, with Carissa mostly staying in to recover – her stomach problems had flared up again, and worse than before. She decided to take some cipro that I’d been carrying. I walked around town a bit and looked at a bit of the nice old French colonial architecture. The town is mostly a place to hang out by the riverside cafes and relax. I got a lot of reading done while there.
* 12/18 Kep (25km)
After the barrage of cipro, Carissa was feeling much better, enough for us to make the relatively short ride over to Kep. The dusty road was a bit narrower and in worse condition compared to the national highways, but we managed just fine. we checked into a guesthouse called Kukuluku – $20 fan room cold shower only. After a quick ‘swim’ from the private beach (the water only came up to about my upper thigh, although we walked fairly far out), we washed up and headed to town for the famous Kep crabs. The fresh crab really was quite a treat – especially after having eaten nothing or very bland foods for many days!
* 12/19-20 Kep (no biking)
Carissa looked through her diary and realized we had an extra couple of days. Given that we have a limited number of days in Vietnam, we decided to spend one of the extra days here in Kep relaxing. We had a couple days of relaxing and lazing and reading – mostly being beach/guesthouse bums. There are worse fates.