Another bus, this time from Phnom Penh to Kampot, a small riverside town just short of the Cambodian coast. Bex chose it because it’s meant to be provincially beautiful. We are staying in an atap right on the river; no air-conditioning, but a fan and mossie nets.
The coach was $10 each, including pastry and water, and that brings me onto currency, always a traveller’s concern.
Korea, Singapore and Malaysia work solely in their own currencies. We’re using our HSBC cards. We get the (sensible) Visa rate with HSBC charging 2.5% on top of every transaction. You might remember that we have a Caxton currency card which allows you to put money on the card at a competitive rate and then use the card abroad as you would in the UK at no cost. The problem is, it doesn’t work in SE Asian currencies. Steven, Bex’s husband and ahead of me in the ‘be prepared’ stakes, took out a new Halifax credit card, which does the same thing as Caxton but works over here. We didn’t get round to that – should’ve.
Thailand differs slightly in that the same ‘use your Visa card as normal’ applies, but all ATMs charge 220 Baht (about £5) regardless, and it’s a countrywide fee. So it’s best getting as many Baht as you think you’re going to need for your entire stay in a oner.
Cambodia is, unsurprisingly, crazy. They work in both dollars and their own currency, the Riel … in a way that is completely interchangeable. There are 4,000 Riels to a dollar and you can pay in either – or both, and will often get change in both. At first you think that someone is swindling you, but they’re not. It does mean you do have to have a head for numbers. I’m not yet sure about Vietnam. I’ll let you know when we get there.
Kampot is as end of the line as you can get. Riverside and run down, but untouched by the US bombing and with an international quarter which serves any food you like, it seems a magnet for older ex-pats, mostly men. It doesn’t take much to leap to a bit of a seedy conclusion, especially as our French host tells us that there are a good number of ‘girly’ bars recently opened in town. But I’ll let you make that jump. Certainly, having now spent a day here it seems that Kampot is somewhere you could easily lose yourself and live by your own rules if that’s what you wanted. It’s cheap and, well, a long way from anywhere.
Our two nights here are care of a glamping spot (Retro Guesthouse), thatched huts by a small river. No air-conditioning, shared bathrooms and accessible only down a mud path just big enough for a tut-tut. It’s new, but is so well done it feels old. And it’s fab. We had time to take a canoe down the river … which was quite ‘African Queen’, and had supper and cards before a night under a mossie net. To add to the atmosphere, C found a sleeping lizard in her shoe. Eek.
I went for a run round the paddy fields the next morning (I’m not managing every second day, but I am getting out where I can). And then C and I walked the same route before we caught a tuk-tuk for a full day tour of the local area including a trip to the internationally renowned pepper farm and then lunch on the, very windy, beach.
And now onto Vietnam, specifically to Puh Quoc, an island off the coast for some R&R after intermittent bursts of moving about. Hurrah!