|Sihanoukville is one of those little beach towns with soft white sand that sucks you in like quicksand and doesn't want to let go. Two days can easily turn into... oh, twelve before you realize that there is a world beyond the orange sunsets that are burned into your retinas on a nightly basis. As I am writing this at the internet cafe I am getting a back massage, a pedicure, drinking a pina colada, being tattooed, getting dreadlocks, eating a bowel of fish curry, and having my back hair removed with dental floss. It is quite an impressive sight to see.
One surprise here is just how warm, happy, and friendly the Cambodian people are. The kids are as cute as hell and never miss an opportunity to run and and scream "hello! hello!" and I've heard some people say that this place is like Thailand 20 years ago. I've met quite a few travelers who are "done" with Thailand as it is getting too developed, too crowded, and the people are starting to view tourists as nothing more than walking dollar signs. Sort of like being in Hawaii. As a result, development in parts of Cambodia are starting to explode.
Sometimes things are surprisingly easy here. The mild case of food poisoning I got in Siam Reap has still been bothering my stomach, so I decided to do something about it. For common ailments like this you don't bother with the doctor, the pharmacist usually can tell you what the problem is and give you the medicine without a prescription. A dollar and a half later, I walked out of the pharmacy with 10 tabs of Ciproflaxin, and was cured in about two days. That whole process would have been over a hundred dollars back home.
The only exciting news from Sihanoukville is that the US Navy showed up. Apparently this is only the second time they have been here in the past thirty years, so it was a pretty big deal. The rumors of their arrival were confirmed one morning by the presence of a large aircraft carrier looming in the Gulf of Thailand. When the sailor boys rolled up to the beach in a little army of tuk-tuks, you could hear the "wooosh" as all the Cambodian beach vendor girls rushed to meet them with armfuls of bracelets and sarongs.
It was pretty easy to make positive identification of the Navy boys as they descended upon the beach bars at night: white jugheads with pink necks covered by collared shirts tucked into Levis, marching around in new tennis shoes. You could say they didn't blend in very well with the Western tourists who can be barely bothered to throw on a pair of shorts.
All day long Blackhawk helicopters have been buzzing up and down the beach, so I asked a couple of the sailors why they were in Cambodia (in turn they asked me, "What the hell are you doing here?). They said they are stationed in Japan and are on R & R, and for whatever reason aren't going to the usual spot of Pattaya, Thailand. As for the helicopters, they said its some sightseeing missions, especially at the scantily clad women on the beach. I probably would have found that more amusing if I knew it wasn't my tax dollars paying for it.
A couple of fellow travelers were talking about them one night and were laughing about what they heard the American sailors were paying. One group hired a tuk-tuk for the day for $50 (should be about $10), and paid $20 for a sarong ($2 item). The Swedish girl told the Kiwi girl, "You know what it does, it just shows how stupid Americans are." They paused and looked at me: "Uh, don't take that the wrong way." Uh, huh. Sure.
Anyways, I did manage to escape Sihoukanville after only five days as I make my way to the border. The first stop was Kampot, where I traveled to with a Vietmanese-Canadian guy I met in Sihanoukville. We drove down this road next to the river in Kampot to look for a guesthouse, and after we decided we didn't like it we came back down the same road about 10 minutes later. Our taxi came upon a big truck that was stopped in the middle of the road. A group of Cambodian people was crowded around the front of the truck. As we slowly rolled past we could see that the truck hit a motorcyclist head on. It must have just happened. There were about a dozen Cambodians circled around the man, just staring at him. As we came slowly to the front of the truck, I could tell he was in bad shape, his leg still crushed under the front tire, a pool of blood near his head, his body twisted lifeless. My EMT-training instincts kicked in and I wanted to at least check his vitals, but as we drove slowly past the front of the truck, judging by the dent in the front of the truck, the condition of the bike, and they way that he layed there, I think it was apparent to everyone that he was dead. Our taxi drove on, and as the Canadian and I sat in silence the Cambodians in the front continued talking and laughing, about what I have no idea. Death is nothing new to a Cambodian, I realized, they were calloused to images of death long ago.
So as I head to the border I am waiting to hear back on some volunteer opportunities in Thailand. While waiting I have decided to venture on traveling a little longer, and see what other opportunities might pop up. Besides, I need an excuse to keep writing this damn journal, right?