A Family Holiday To Cambodia
Quite a while ago now I wrote a submission called "Young guns and old players" which amongst other things detailed
my drug and alcohol addictions and my various activities as a single young man in Thailand. I got quite a lot of feedback from that submission (all positive I might add) and one of the things asked of me was to give some information about what
my life is like now that I'm married with children. To compare the single with the married or whatever. Well I used to live a very crazy life in Thailand due to my own excesses and now things are totally different, still crazy but in a different
way. So this submission is trying to show a bit of what my life is like now as a "good boy".
Last October I had quite a bit of free time, so myself and the missus and the children went to Cambodia. I had been before, but not to where we went which was Sihanoukville, which is the main beach resort town in Cambodia. We had talked about going for a while and my wife was surprisingly up for it, so not wanting to dampen a Thai's desire to go somewhere that wasn't Thailand we all agreed. I looked at it that it would be good practice for being away from Thailand for longer in the future, as previous to this we had only been to Laos for a few days which doesn't really count for me as my wife is from Isaan originally, so she can understand Laos perfectly well. This time we would be "proper tourists" which was fine by me.
First step was to obtain the Cambodian visas before we went. I know you can get them at the border but my previous experiences of going to Cambodia have been that they refuse to accept dollars at the border and you end up paying a lot more in baht or that they stick on some bollocks fees for something. We live in Nonthaburi so I went in on the bike one morning to get them. The embassy if anyone is interested is about a five – ten minute drive off Ratchadapisek Road on a road that turns into Ramkhamhaeng 39. It's a relatively new location so look it up on the internet for the exact details. Most of my previous experiences of embassies have been of trying to obtain a Thai visa either in Laos or in London. Both of which you have to wait a really long time in due to the amount of people. Although having said that, last time I applied in London in May was in the middle of all the redshirt protests and I have never seen that embassy so dead. I was in and out in less than five minutes with them practically jumping out of their chair to help me.
So I was presently surprised on arrival at the Cambodian embassy to find about five people inside. It took me a while to do all the forms because there are four of us but eventually I made it. Next happy moment. The woman there told me that my children go free because they are under twelve so it just left the visa for me and my wife. 25 dollars each and about twenty minutes later I was walking out with four passports and four visas. None of this coming back in two days time bollocks that the Thai embassy seems to be so fond of. One thing I did wonder about was that on the visa it says 20$ but they charged 25$. I can only presume that this is because the dollar is so weak against the baht and they have to charge more. Either that or the embassy ripped me off. Anyway the kids' visas were free so that was an unexpected bonus. <I am guessing they issued you with a business visa which is $25; a tourist visa is $20 – Stick>
So that was it. All set. So the next Monday we were all packed and ready. Got a taxi down to Ekkamai which took about an hour even going on the expressway from where we live because the traffic was so bad. It was Monday morning rush hour though. For a supposedly major bus station Ekkamai has got to be in one of the crappiest locations and it's a pretty run down looking place as well. Got to the bus station and we were on a bus to Trat in about twenty minutes. I wanted to go through Trat because that was the way to the beaches in Cambodia. If it was just me and my wife we would have probably gone to Angkor Wat but with a three and a four year old I could see it being a total nightmare. A family holiday on the beach was the plan. It sort of reminded me of what I did as a kid myself except this time I'm the parent having to deal with all the crap that comes with it. Holidays are not relaxing when you have kids. In fact if previous trips are anything to go by then if it's not a total nightmare you're doing pretty well.
I used to love the beach in Thailand. I lived down in Koh Phangan for four years or so and then in Ranong as well. I know about the beach, but as soon as you have kids it is a totally different ball game. For starters all they want to do is play on the beach. Fair enough. If I was three or four I would probably want to do exactly the same. The problem is that there is absolutely no shade on the beach and no surprises when I tell you that my wife will not get out from under that umbrella until at least four o'clock when the sun isn't so strong. This means that I'm the one left sweating covered up in factor 50, shorts, sunglasses, T-shirt, big hat etc looking like your average Thai builder probably. I don't mind a bit of sun but when it is for hours on end it does get to you a bit. Especially when you've got Irish blood and you're a bit on the pasty side like myself.
Sand. Another problem. On the first day things are normally okay but by about day two or day three my boys aren't so amazed by everything and sand will get thrown about. Sand is a pain in the arse. They cry for ages if it gets in the eyes. If it gets in the food or drinks you don't really want to eat or drink them because it gives you that crunchy feeling in your mouth. Plus if they start throwing it at other people you don't know it can be a bit embarrassing. Last but not least, no matter how hard you try you can't help but get sand in the bed. Don't need to explain that one.
The sea. Now to you or me a little bit of waves can be quite fun but when you are only one metre tall they can be really fucking dangerous. I've noticed on Thai beaches that there seems to always be a bit of a shelf where the waves break rather than a more flat sort of beach. Last year in Krabi my youngest (two at the time) was on a total fucking death wish and I had to stand there for two hours practically grabbing on to him all the time to stop him killing himself. He thought it was great fun of course. I didn't. The ideal beach for me now is one where it is totally flat and the waves are about five centimetres high and I can actually sit down on the beach with my wife and watch my kids from a distance knowing it will be okay. We were in Samet in August and they are a bit older now so this problem wasn't so bad. They know now that waves are dangerous which is good. Kids being scared of the sea is a good thing in my opinion.
You're probably thinking that my wife gets off pretty easy on all of this. Well that's true to a point but she deserves a break. It does work both ways because she gets the kids all the time when I'm at work (one of them is at school now though), but at the same time while I'm doing my beach duty thing in the day, when the kids are asleep later it means I can go out and have a few beers without any grief. Making the marriage work and all that bollocks. I don't really drink in the daytime so I don't mind anyway. It gives me something to look forward to. No pain no gain and all that.
Anyway, so we're on the bus to Trat which took about five hours to get there. They were sleeping for a couple of hours so that made things a bit easier but it is still not that comfortable. And when they did wake up it turned into a bit of a nightmare because they like to fight each other and annoy other people on the bus. My wife starts getting stressed out and there is quite a lot of "boo nip" going about to keep them in line. I'm just sitting there thinking happy fucking holidays and when is this bus going to fucking get there. Why are we going this way? Why are we stopping here? You get the picture. When we get off the bus in Trat there are the usual assortment of taxi mafia people around and they want 800 Baht to take us to the border at Had Lek.
Now one of the good things about being in a relationship is that after a while you learn (hopefully) to read your partner and know what they want to do. I know full well that 800 baht to the border is too much and if we looked around properly there is bound to be another way of doing it but I can also appreciate how my wife is feeling and I want to keep that bad mood off me. One look at her face and I know that now is not the time to start being a tight cunt over money. Fuck it we're on holiday so the taxi it was and as it was we got them down to 700. I found out later from a couple of guys at the border that there is a minibus service for 120 baht but to be fair to the taxi driver I don't think 700 was that bad. It is about 90 km to the border and it did take over an hour to get there and we weren't hanging about either. It was about three in the afternoon by this point and I wanted to make sure we could get to a hotel in Koh Kong on the other side of the border before it got dark.
Before we went to Cambodia I had a chat with my wife saying how if things didn't go our way in Cambodia she would have to be quiet and accept that there was nothing we could do about it. The usual, it's not your country, you have no power here kind of thing. The exact same sort of stuff that Thais tell foreigners in Thailand. It's not like Laos which my wife seems to see as some kind of extension of Thailand where the people are nicer. As we arrive at the border loads of people descend on the songtaew with luggage trolleys to help us get across the border. In fact they did their job a bit too well because they had their trolleys so close to the back of the pick up that we couldn't actually get off the taxi! I could see my wife starting to go off already but with a polite "no thank you" and a "can you move please, we can't get off" we were on our way to do the immigration thing.
Anyone who is married to a Thai will probably understand what I mean when I say that men and women tend to revert to traditional roles at certain times. Crossing borders is one of them. So while my wife deals with the children who are doing their best to make a run for Cambodia before we're stamped out of Thailand, my job is do to all the paperwork and make sure all the stamps are in order. Man stuff, and border crossing is definitely one of them. Declined all offers of luggage trolleys and walked across. I don't really get the whole luggage trolley thing. We had two suitcases. One of which had wheels and the other I could rest on the top of the first. I only used one hand to pull them which left me one hand free for a child while my wife took the other. You only have to walk about 40 metres across the border so it's not that far, so are people really that lazy that they can't do this themselves? They do the same when you get out of a taxi at Morchit or Korat. Like you need them to carry your bag to the ticket office. Maybe it's an Asian face thing where you lose face if you do this stuff yourself. I don't know but I remember going on family holidays when we would all have a bag that we would have to lug up and down stairs all through London's public transport system for ages before we could get on a train to the coast.
Like I said earlier, my trips like this make me think about what I did as a kid and the differences between the two. A week down in Devon was as far as we got when we were young and now here I am walking through no man's land to Cambodia with my family. Don't know what my mum and dad would make of that. How times change. Told the kids to say bye bye Thailand and hello Cambodia and they found it hilarious. They looked so sweet walking across as they waved bye bye. These little people. Not sure if they really understand too well about different countries and stuff like that but there you go.
We get to the arrival bit and again I'm doing all the forms and stuff like that and the kids just won't stay still and my wife is starting to get really wound up with them and we're surrounded by all the taxi guys who want to take us on to Koh Kong. Life is stressful enough with a three and a four year old and sometimes you just want to say to these people get the fuck out of my face. They prey on you.
I remember one of the few times I have been to Pattaya (sorry people but it really is a shithole) and I'm sitting on the beach in Jomtien (the beach is not that great) with my two boys. My wife has gone off to get some food for us all. There's always people trying to sell you something and they know that because you have children with you they can use it to their advantage. The ice-cream seller who just stands there right in front of you waiting for the kids to go off. I try to be polite but forceful, telling them that we are okay. One time this inflatables seller comes along. They've got the rubber ring duck things and stuff like that. All my boys want is one of these rings but I know from previous experience it will last about five minutes. It will get broken really easily or they will lose interest in it really quickly. I probably sound like a killjoy but if you got your kids everything they wanted then you would have your hand in your pocket all the time for crap that is bad for them or stuff that they don't need. The seller comes along, I say no, my kids both start screaming and crying and yep. The seller just stands there holding them right in front of their noses almost so that they can practically smell the rubber. I'm getting louder and firmer and this wanker is still not budging. This goes on for a long time and everyone is looking at me like I'm some kind of animal for not buying it. But this guy just doesn't get it and his sales approach doesn't do it for me. I tell him in Thai (again) "I already told you I don't want it now go away please". Still no movement. "Go away!!" Fortunately at this point he did shuffle off because the swear words were just about to come out. He's lucky my wife wasn't there because she would have ripped his head off.
It just seems that sometimes Thais either can't read your situation that well or they really don't give a fuck about your feelings. <The latter more often than not – Stick> The classic for me must have been at Korat bus station. We were on our way to our house in Buriram and we had just come back from Bangkok. My son was only two weeks old at the time so he was pretty small (looking back now I can't believe we took a two week old baby anywhere) and when we get off the bus it is pretty busy. There are people everywhere, loads of buses belching out fumes, people smoking and it's a bit claustrophobic. As soon as we get off the bus we're swarmed upon by people asking my wife questions about the baby, me (the usual stuff) and everything and anything. I'm trying to get our bags. Anyway my son starts being sick all over my wife, probably because of all the fumes. I'm trying to get a cloth out from the bag and still there are all these people asking questions, trying to get a good look at the baby. We're both new parents and it's a pretty steep learning curve as anyone with kids can appreciate, and we don't know what we're doing that well at this point. It's like, can't these people see we've got some shit to do here and can't they just give us a minute. That was probably one of the closest calls to me just losing it in someone's face. "Get the fuck out of my way and give me and my wife some peace!"
Bit of a digression there so back to the taxi drivers in Cambodia. They know we are having a rough time of it so we aren't going to be spending to long searching out the best option. I know I'm going to get ripped off by the taxi guy but I just want to get to a hotel. We've been up since 7:00 in the morning doing taxis, buses, songtaews etc and we just want to stop. My oldest nearly falls down a five foot drop and my wife goes ballistic and all the taxi guys are just standing their gawping, biding their time. Happy holidays. Sometimes I almost feel like I'm having an outer body experience and it's like all this is happening to someone else. But it's not. It's me and it goes on and on and it never stops.
Have to stamp in first and unfuckingbelievable, the guy wants 100 baht a person to enter. It's funny but after all I said to my wife about keeping cool with the Cambodians and it is me who ends up losing it first and we've only been in the country about five minutes. I did the visas in Bangkok to avoid all this shit and this guy is still trying to get a cut. Fuck off. I start telling him how we have already paid and there is no way we have to pay again. He keeps on about 100 baht. I show him the bit on the visa where it says 25$ paid. Then amazingly he changes it to "Okay, you go free, only Thai people pay." Sorry mate but if Thai people pay I'm still fucking paying seeing how it's my wife and kids so I just refuse to pay. I'm really pissed off and my wife is doing her nut with the children. She later told me she was ready to turn right around and walk back if we had to pay to enter. Not a very good first impression of the country to get. If they want tourists to go there then they really need to stop all this crap because no matter what people say first impressions do count. Welcome to Cambodia.
Get a taxi to the town Koh Kong where we are going to stay the night. Ten dollars. I know it's a rip off because it isn't that far to the town but all the guys are saying the same thing. I'm sure there will be a songtaew if I look for it but sometimes you just think fuck it and we need to relax. Every country I've gone to around Thailand (Cambodia, Burma, maybe not Laos because I have had some good experiences there) it seems like they are all cunts at the border and Cambodia is no different in that respect. You are a target to be milked. But at the same time you can't judge a country by how you get treated at the border so off we went.
Taxi driver tells us his brother comes along too. Yeah right I'm thinking. What's the deal here. Turns out the "brother" speaks very good English and after having a bit of a chat about our plans he starts telling us about the prices of things. In my head I have made a mental note to not believe a word this guy says about anything; prices, times, even the fucking weather which did look pretty bad as it goes. As we get to the town we pull over at a ticket office for the bus to Sihanoukville.
"If you wait here I can get the tickets for you, we have to get them now because the bus might fill up tomorrow."
I just tell the guy to take us to a hotel and if the bus is full we stay one more day. Get to a hotel and it looks okay but just so this guy doesn't get a commission out of the hotel I make them go somewhere else. On the riverfront for 16$ so not
too bad. They look a bit pissed off about this but I think 300 baht for a ten minute taxi journey was a pretty good day for them seeing how we just did 90 km for 700 baht.
So we're in Cambodia proper and I know that things will be better now. If you were traveling on your own or with your partner you could just plop down on the bed now and relax and relax at this point, but not us. Kids have got to take a shower and get clean and then we need to find somewhere to get them some food. Children; it never ends. 24/7. Thought about changing up some money at the hotel. The guy told me it was one dollar to a thousand Riel. Didn't do it because it sounded too small and sure enough it turns out that it's about 4,000 to a dollar. Wonder how many people they get on that one. Found a nice restaurant to eat in, which as it turned out sold the best Thai food we would come across on our whole trip. Wife is happy, children are fed. Peace of a sorts.
Forget the food though. What is the most important thing to your average bloke on arrival in a new country. The price and selection of beer of course. Nice to see Guinness in there for $1.50 and the local beer for 75 cents or even 50 cents. I couldn't believe it but you could even buy cans of Singha for 75 cents which when you work it out is about 10 baht cheaper than it is in Thailand! I'm sure that will make a lot of Thai people happy to know that Cambodians are drinking their beer cheaper than they can!
Found out from the hotel that the bus to SNKV left at 8:00 in the morning and again they were trying to buy the tickets for us. Smell another rat there so we make our own way to the bus station where it turns out that there are about three or four buses going to SNKV, not one, and they are far from full. $7 a head rather than the 500 baht taxi guy wanted to sell them for or the $13 that hotel guy wanted to sell them for.
At the bus station it is immediately obvious that Cambodia is not Thailand. It looks fucked, the whole place. There is no tarmac and there are massive holes everywhere and there is only the most rudimentary of shelters. Most importantly though the bus looks roadworthy and we get some water and snacks for the kids. On first impressions it seems that we create quite a stir walking about and this was to be a constant throughout our trip. It's all because of one thing, or should I say two little people. Our children. It seems that Cambodians are just as enamored with half Asian / half foreign offspring as the Thais are.
I'm biased obviously but I do think that I've got good looking boys and all round the bus station we kept on hearing " looksa at, looksa at ". At first I thought they were speaking Thai and it sounded a bit like 'clean children' in Thai. I'm thinking of course they are clean. What do you expect, that we don't shower or something but I later found out it meant beautiful or handsome or something like that. If you are living in Thailand or traveling around on your own or even with your wife then you haven't really got any idea what it is like to go places with children. You will get treated a totally different way. In Thailand this will manifest itself in many ways, the most striking being that people will all the time be stopping you to have a chat with your children and you. You will get better service when you go places (not at the border though, ha ha ha) and I have lost count of the number of times when we have got things for free from different establishments or from total strangers buying stuff from the children. When you're on your own you just aren't really that interesting for people in the same way.
The other side of it (in Thailand anyway) is that there is probably no greater way of showing your commitment to a country then having children with someone from that country. People without kids over here won't get this but it is like you have bought shares in the country somehow and you are now a shareholder (a non voting one anyway). As a result of the children you get treated a lot differently. Of course all of this means nothing to Cambodians but it did seem that they are all interested in my boys and everyone is always smiling and trying to play with them. Quite a few people spoke Thai as well (on the border I suppose) so that made a difference as well.
Anyway, the bus leaves and the place is wild. Apparently the Thai army built the road through the jungle before it connects up with the Phnom Penh / SKNV road and the first two hours on the bus is through beautiful winding roads with lovely views of untouched jungle hills and the valleys in between. I say wild and it is. Probably saw another vehicle about every half hour or so. There was just nothing or no one there. Hardly saw any buildings. What it was like before the road who can say. Every so often we would pass really fucked up dirt roads with massive ruts going off into the jungle and there might be a few people waiting at the top of the road (for a bus or something I presume) and I remember thinking where the fuck have they come from because there was nothing but jungle.
When we hit the road connecting the capital with SNKV and there was a bit more civilization about it was again obvious what a difference there is between Thailand and Cambodia. For sure Cambodia has got a long way to go to catch up with Thailand. It reminded me a bit of some poor areas of Isaan I spent time in years ago where wooden houses are the norm rather than the exception and a lot of places still had the thatched grass roofs you might have got on a bungalow in Koh Samui years ago. A few people had a concrete house but not many. This was passing through the villages though and obviously in the towns things are a bit different. On a side note I've seen it in Isaan where when making the house better they will get a big thing to lift up the old wooden house, build the concrete walls on the same dimensions and then simply put the old house back on the top. Waste not want not. This doesn't seem to have got to Cambodia yet though as all the villages are pretty much single storey.
I should also mention the weather. Before we left Bangkok it had been pissing down for about two weeks and I was hoping that it might improve by the time we went away or that we might go far enough that we hit another weather system or something like that. That didn't really happen because there was rain all the way to the border and when we get to Koh Kong, we arrived just when some massive storm had come over from Vietnam and the weather was shit. On the bus there was a bit of sun but it soon turned into some very heavy showers. This did bother me a bit because if there is anything worse than a beach holiday with two young children then it would have to be a beach holiday with two young children when they can't actually go on the beach. But this bus journey wasn't too bad as the kids were sort of interested in looking out the window at the scenery and they could move about a bit as the bus was only half full. A few people on the bus tried to play with them a bit and they seemed to amuse quite a few people. So far so good, my mantra every day.
After about four hours with a stop we finally get to SNKV. Another totally fucked up bus station with no tarmac and massive holes (can you see the pattern emerging here) and we get a taxi to Ochitueral Beach for $4. Probably too much again but I don't mind getting done for a dollar or so just don't try to take the piss. The guy was friendly enough although he did put on some booming techno music and try to get my sons to start dancing, which was a bit strange. Another good thing was that my wife and I could talk in Thai about stuff and the guy didn't know what we were talking about which we couldn't do at the border. This meant we could talk about our plans openly. We went to the place he suggested just to be polite as we didn't know any different and as it turned out it was absolutely fine. A nice guest house just across the road from the beach. A room with two comfortable double beds, hot water, air-con and cable TV with forty channels that worked set us back $10 a night. Thailand take note. I rented out a motorbike from the same place for $4 a day as well so that would dispense with any more taxis for the time being. The staff there were pretty nice and helpful with everything and they had a nice first floor restaurant overlooking the beach.
The beach. Where to start. Well firstly due to this massive storm there was no beach as the waves were right up to the path practically and secondly the waves were so big I would have doubts going in there myself, let alone my kids and I'm a pretty strong swimmer. So that fucked things up a bit. Again, take note, if you were on your own right now you would probably sit down and have a beer or something and relax but not us. The children need food so out we go to find lunch. It just goes on and on, parenthood. Unrelenting, and I suppose after a while you just get used to all this kind of stuff and leaving our house in Nonthaburi at eight in the morning to get to SNKV for lunchtime the next day was by no means the nightmare it could have been. We've done far worse. No one shit themselves on the bus and everyone was wearing the same clothes as they started with at the end of the day. Compared to the 20 hours we spent on a train going to Nong Khai one time with the onset of food poisoning this trip was doing okay. We find a place to have lunch and everything is okay again.
Of course, my wife being a Thai woman what was the first thing she wanted to do ? Yep, that's right. We had to get down to the Cambodian market to check out all those Cambodian bargains. I've grown used to this over the years and as there wasn't any beach I thought we might as well get it over and done with. I don't know about you but if there is one thing I try and avoid it is going shopping with my wife. I absolutely hate it. I go shopping and I know what I want and I go and buy that thing in as short a time as possible. Man shopping. My wife on the other hand will walk around for ages looking at stuff not knowing what she wants to buy. On top of that we have two children who we have to stop from a) fighting each other b) breaking things c) getting lost d) shouting and attracting attention and e) did I mention fighting each other ? It drives me mad and she knows that I am slowly getting more and more pissed off.
When we are at home we do our big shop in Bang Yai separately. I take the youngest because he is more of a handful and go and sit outside Big King and have a couple of beers. My wife goes to Big C and does the actual shopping and just calls me when she's ready and then I help load it in the taxi and that's it. It works well for us but now I'm being dragged round some crappy market in Cambodia looking at the same shit we could get in Thailand. And as it turns out all the stuff she wants / would want is more expensive in Cambodia. I did get a few things for myself though and stuff for men was a lot cheaper. Two T-shirts for $5 and a copied Adidas top for $5. Cheaper than Thailand. All women's clothing was more expensive though as were any toiletries as they all come from Thailand. Fruit as well. Could not believe how expensive some fruit was. Grapes at 180 baht / kg. Durian nearly twice the price (and according to my wife it wasn't as sweet as Thai durian, bit of prejudice there methinks) and quite a few other things as well. <On trips to Cambodia I have found the quality of fruit, vegetables and produce in general is not even close to what you get in Thailand – Stick>
Shopping done and then it's back down to the beach to chill out. We probably didn't see the beach at it's best because the weather wasn't that great and the waves were really big but you could see how in good weather it would be a nice spot. It's not too built up and consists mainly of open air wooden restaurants all in rows going down the beach. Looks nice enough although it might be a bit basic for those of you needing creature comforts and there could have been a few more toilets about. The kids are happy enough so that means we are too.
The beggars can be a bit of a problem. It's not their fault they've only got one arm and knowing the history of the country you have to feel a bit sorry for them but there are quite a lot of them. The people selling lobster and crab can be a bit annoying as well. One place we sat down in and there were about six of them surrounding us where we sat. It took the owner to tell them to go away. Quite rightly thinking that she would be losing her customers if they didn't. You don't have to worry about putting stuff in the bin either as soon as you've finished something there will be someone there trying to take that bottle or can.
Had one first which was quite funny (or sad depending how you look at it) which was this. We were sitting down at one of our regular places on the beach one day and we had had some food, a tom yam I think. Two little girls come up to us. They were probably
only seven or eight. They start going " niem niem, niem niem ". We're trying to work out what they want (I later found out that it means 'gin gin' or eat eat) so we start picking up a can or bottle thinking they are collecting
them. No. I pick up the left over rice and their eyes light up. " niem niem, niem niem " but louder. Out comes a grubby plastic bag and in the bag goes the rice. Then again " niem niem, niem niem ". What now. Aaah, I know.
They want the soup from the Tom Yam as well. Into the same grubby bag goes the left over soup from the tom yam. My wife makes a joke about how the rice isn't that tasty without something to go with it. Just goes to show how different things
are depending on where you're born. In all the years I've spent in Thailand I don't think that's ever happened to me before and I've been to a lot of places, some of them far from salubrious.
I suppose we did give to quite a lot of beggars but it's only five baht here or there, which is nothing to me, and the leftover food I don't really care about. I'd rather a person had it than some manky dog. As my wife said to me, it's all tamboon (making merit) and I think in her Buddhist head it was a way of giving us safe passage in Cambodia.
And if you've spent any time on Cambodian roads then safe passage is exactly what you need. As I said I rented out a motorbike from the hotel when we got there. I'm used to driving a motorbike in Bangkok so I wasn't particularly bothered about that but it would be the first time I had driven on the right so that took some serious concentration on my part and Cambodia was probably not the best place to start. I would say that people probably drive a lot slower than in Thailand but they drive in a more crazy way. People not stopping at T-junctions is probably my biggest gripe but I went around pretty slowly so once I'd gotten used to being on the right it wasn't too bad. Just had to put up with my wife doing her usual " stop here " when I've just gone past whatever it was. Why do women do that ? I can't just stop when she says stop. I need to check there isn't anything coming up inside of me, see that nothing is coming towards me, find somewhere I can safely stop. Another thing that is noticeable is the lack of cars on the road compared to motorbikes. Bikes are everywhere and a lot of them but there aren't too many cars around really.
One time I had just come out of the market with my youngest son only to be confronted with only by what I can only describe as a wall of motorbikes and people coming right at me. Hundreds of them. Loads of schoolkids around so I think it was lunchtime or school finished for the day, but whatever it was I couldn't move seeing how they were all going the opposite way to me.
Because the weather was so bad the whole time we were there we didn't really spend that much time actually on the beach, so we did quite a lot of driving about. Anywhere in SNKV itself and the roads are fine but once you get a little bit outside then they soon turn into something a bit different with broken road surfaces and big holes or dirt tracks and big holes and lots of mud. Seeing how when we were there it was raining a lot if the road was a dirt track it was a bit of a mudbath. I would say that if you haven't spent much time on a motorbike then Cambodia probably isn't the best place to start.
My wife reckons that the people in Cambodia would give her a lot of funny looks as we were driving about. She tends to think that they were looking at her like a woman who goes with foreigners (prostitute perhaps?), for my part the jury is still out on that one but I tend to think that we made a bit of a sight anyway. The four of us squeezed on to an old motorbike driving around SKNV and the surrounding area. The whole time we were there we didn't see any other people with children, Whether that was 100% foreign children or mixed race children the only children we saw were our own. This kind of makes me think that people didn't really know what box to put us on because they didn't really have much experience of an actual family on holiday in Cambodia. I think people like us (might be totally wrong here) are still a bit of a novelty in Cambodia. For sure there are a lot of (mainly older) guys with some younger Cambodian squeeze knocking about and a few guys who've bought the missus over from Thailand but people with kids, no. Didn't see any. Once at night we were walking on the beach and a Cambodian woman with a big group of other Cambodians asked to take a picture of us. Not sure for what reason but there you go. We must have been interesting for her in some way.
Generally speaking I found all the people in Cambodia to be very friendly towards my wife and I, we were on holiday and spending the tourist dollar though so that probably counts for some of it. Everywhere we went we were good spenders whether it was beer for me, or food or stuff for the children or whatever. Let's be honest about things here. Cambodians (and Burmese, especially Burmese, but not in my opinion Laotians (similar language, shared culture ?) apart from being the object of a lot of jokes about stupid people) get treated like shit in Thailand. Having to do the jobs that no Thai wants to do, working for crappy money. Working very long hours in sometimes hazardous conditions. And these are the lucky ones. There are numerous reports of Cambodians being trafficked into Thailand to be kept as modern day slaves near enough on fishing trawlers for months or even years at a time. There was a good article in the Bangkok Post about this only recently. When I lived on the Burmese border in Ranong where the Burmese probably outnumber the Thais in some areas I saw first hand how Thais treat them. Police hassling them for bribes because their papers might not be in order. Stupid rules about what they could and couldn't do. And the wages. I remember one fifteen year old girl who worked in a restaurant for 1,500 baht a month. Alright, she got food and a place to stay but fifty baht a day!! Any complaining and it's back on the boat for you, girl!
So bearing all this in mind I was interested to see how my wife was treated. At first everyone thought she was Cambodian anyway and people would always speak Cambodian to her. I wondered about this because I can spot the difference between Burmese and Thais quite easily but between Cambodians and Thais I would say it's a lot more difficult apart from Cambodians being a bit darker maybe. I'm sure a Thai would tell you that they look totally different but that's Thais for you. <You mentioned you had a home in Buriram so presumably your wife comes from there. That province shares a border with Cambodia hence she might look somewhat Khmer – Stick> No one is the same as them, right? Cambodians seem to think differently though as their mistaking my wife for one of them proved on numerous occasions. So it was the quite funny seeing them having to communicate in English together in the markets or in a restaurant. But everyone was very polite and a few people would try to practice any Thai they might know like hello or something like that. My wife had to admit that the welcome she received in Cambodia would not be reciprocated the other way around in Thailand. We met one guy, a taxi driver who spoke excellent Thai and it turned out he had lived in Thailand for about twenty years and had only gone back a few years ago now that the country was back on the right track. As he told us. In Cambodia you are either really rich or really poor and there is nothing in between. No middle class, although hopefully that will change in the future. That explains why there are so few cars about because there are so few people who can actually afford one. It sure does make the open road quiet though.
We travelled about a fair bit on the motorbike going to see a bit of the countryside and other beaches as well. One of the highlights would have to have been outside SHNKV somewhere when we got a flat tyre. Found somewhere to fix it which was little more then a wooden shack built on sticks over the water not too far from the port. Obviously a pretty shitty part of town so not too many tourists down there and definitely not too many half-Thai kids. Even there the guy fixing the bike knew a few words of Thai and he was trying to play with the kids which was quite funny. My youngest needed the toilet so my wife took him and it was one of these open air rooms out over the sea below with just a hole in the wooden floor to shit in. I thought they had been in there a long time and it turns out that my son didn't want to come out because he was transfixed by being able to piss directly down into the sea below. Kids : very easily pleased. No five star for us. Everyone laughed about that although we didn't really understand what the other was saying.
The whole time in Cambodia my wife was moaning about the food being shit. She's an excellent cook and we used to run a restaurant together years ago so I can see where she was coming from on this. For me though I thought it was great, loads of foreign food very reasonably priced – $8 – 10 dollars for a good steak and stuff like that. Good baguettes as well. My wife doesn't really eat that kind of stuff though and certainly not constantly for a week or so. The options for Thai food were pretty limited, consisting mainly of Tom Yam not done very well or some crappy noodles. One place we were in had Thai noodles on the menu so we gave it a go. We got a plate of Mama!! Didn't go there again. Didn't see any som tam the whole time we were there until one day we were out driving around in the middle of nowhere and this guy is driving past with his som tam cart. My wife practically had kittens, shouting at me "Stop, stop!! He's selling som tam". Very bizarre, it was then quite funny as my wife was practically taking over and doing it herself. The way Cambodians made food was never spicy enough apparently. Like I said though, I was in heaven with all the good foreign food options, plus all the cheap beer and it is probably a pretty good destination for a foreigner.
Of course I don't know about the women situation. I wasn't looking for it and I wasn't out past 11 PM most nights so I couldn't say about that. There did seem to be quite a few guys out and about with a hoe in tow though so I guess there is stuff going on. One thing there was an abundance of was ganja. If you smoke pot then it has got to be the place for you. Most of the bars on the beach had their own skinning up bowl on the bar and a lot of people were smoking quite openly so I guess it was fine. On arrival at our hotel the first thing the taxi driver did was try to sell me some weed and there were always people hanging around outside trying to do the same. I'm a good boy these days though so that wasn't on the menu for me. Had a bit of a puff one night with some guys playing pool but that was about it.
The beach we stayed on was the busiest beach in the area and it had everything there that we would need. We drove down to another beach called Otres Beach (the other beach if my French is right) which has got to be a place for the future. I don't know exactly how long it is because we never got to the end of it but it goes on for a very long way and anyone looking for somewhere a bit quieter with less people should definitely check it out. The only problem is that the roads running behind it to get there are just mud tracks! The sea was too rough to go in when we were there but at another time of year I could see that it would be worth a look. Anyone who thinks that Thailand is too developed should definitely check out the beaches in Cambodia, not much built on to them and not too expensive either.
We never made it too Phnom Penh because of all the rain. Saw on the TV that there was massive flooding there so we thought with the children that would be a nightmare. In fact the weather was pretty shit the whole time we were there and I think the day we arrived there was a massive storm and about six boats washed up on the beach because the sea was so rough. Saw some of the locals trying to get them back into the water again which was quite funny.
All in all it wasn't really a great holiday in a classic sense mainly because the weather was so shit. If we didn't have kids then we could have just sat around all day in restaurants and bars and not worried. But as it was we had a three and a four year old to look after with not much sea or beach time which can be a very draining. Last year in Krabi was a lot better. At the same time though we still enjoyed it. It was good to go somewhere else even if it was only to Cambodia and our children are pretty good really in that they will go anywhere, by any means of transport and not complain about stuff. It's harder for us than it is them! At the end of the day I like to travel and it was also good for my wife I think to see how things are in another country. Little things like Cambodians wearing pyjamas all day long (don't know why they do that but apparently they do it in China as well) or big things like the grinding poverty that most people live in. I spoke to the security at our hotel one night and it turned out that he got about 2,500 baht a month with one day's holiday. I know security jobs aren't high paying but you can see why so many people come to try their luck in Thailand working for what Thais call crappy money.
The best thing that has come out of this trip is that my wife now has a desire to go to other countries as well and after showing her the map of where we have been and where we could go she can now put this into some idea of bus journeys and hours spent moving, rather than just the Thai " it's over there " or " it's a long way ". So my wife has now decided that she wants to go to Vietnam as well, so next March we are thinking that we will stop in SNKV for a couple of days (good weather for sure), then head up to Phnom Penh for a night or two before going on to Vietnam and seeing what the beaches are like there. Probably just the same but it's about the getting there as well. And when you have kids just being away from the daily grind and boring routine that home provides makes it all good. Most of the Thai kids at my son's school if they go abroad only go to Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea etc. Those places don't really interest me that much. I grew up in London, a modern city, Hong Kong and Singapore hold no fascination me and the whole Korea thing just doesn't do it for me either.
So that's about it really. Hope this interested someone out there. All pretty boring stuff to other people probably but not for me. It's my life after all. Apologies to anyone who had to sit next to us on a bus or who will be in the future. If you see a pasty looking foreigner with a red face looking stressed out at a border somewhere or in some strange town in Cambodia / Vietnam with missus and kids in tow then say hello. It might be me and I'm good for a chat and a beer or three!
I have to say that you're brave venturing to Cambodia with the family, but good on you for doing it. It sounds like overall a good trip was has.