165km Phnom Penh to Kampot
One of our goals when we started this trip was learning how to slow down a bit and not be driven by schedules. Maybe we should have remembered that when we set off from Phnom Penh two days ago. Friedel wasn’t feeling entirely well – a small headache and a little nauseous – but decided to push on nonetheless. After three days in the capital, neither of us really wanted to linger any longer and we’d already mapped out a route towards Cambodia‘s seaside. We wanted to get going and more to the point we’d made hotel reservations for our return to Phnom Penh (we have to come back to get our Thai visa and head north to Laos) and didn’t want to change our plans. This turned out to be the wrong decision. The ride to Takeo, the first town with guesthouses on our route, was just 80km but the toughest day we’ve had in a while. Less than halfway in, Friedel had lost all her appetite and was craving a bed to rest an increasingly aching body. With no hotels around, we took refuge instead in the tiny thatched wooden huts that often serve as restaurants or barber shops along the road. Their plain wooden slats never felt so good to Friedel, who took quite a few half hour naps, gathering up the energy to jump on the bike again. The gusty headwind that blew up in the afternoon just about finished us off altogether. Late in the day we finally reached Takeo and collapsed into the first guesthouse we found.
Happily a good night’s rest seemed to get rid of the bugs and we were off and running the next morning towards Kampot. Like so many of Cambodia’s roads, we found a flat landscape surrounded almost constantly by villages and a string of stalls selling everything from fresh sugar cane juice to motorbike parts. Mostly these villages all look very much alike but we noticed coming into one that the dress of the people had changed. Gone were the traditional krama scarves worn by many Cambodians, replaced by colourful headscarves for the women and white caps for the men. A few moments later a mosque confirmed our suspicions that we had entered a Muslim community. Because we’ve had such overwhelmingly good experiencies in Islamic countries, we felt instantly at home and enjoyed shouting ‘salam alaykum’ to all the local children who cried ‘hello’ as we passed. This raised big smiles of surprise from the families before they returned our greeting with ‘alaykum salam’. After just a few kilometers we were back amongst Buddhist temples. We read somewhere that Muslims make up about 5 percent of the population in Cambodia. So far we’ve only seen two Muslim communities.
Now we’re in Kampot, enjoying a beer on the riverfront before heading out the next day to Sihanoukville, the most developed beach resort on Cambodia’s southern coast. Because it’s the rainy season, the whole area is a bit quiet, waiting for the tourists to start returning in a few months time.