A Hindu temple amid the rice fields
We got up early this morning for the last time to return to the capital, with regret as we have been back in Phnom Penh a couple of times already. But instead of heading directly to the capital, we make a detour to Phnom Chnok, an active, almost 1000-year-old Hindu temple. Our guide, Sophat, first leads us through a rice field. In the distance, we can already hear some loudspeakers blaring. The music a bit psychedelic, resembling an Asian version of an acoustic Bob Dylan.
No statues inside the cave
At the foot of the mountain, there is a local market. Apart from us two, there are no other tourists around. At the entrance, we have to pay a small contribution to the temple. We have to climb a few steps and then descend again into the temple cave. There are no statues, only a stone-carved entrance gate. Inside there are a few stalagmites. Sophat says that this holy place emits an enormous spiritual force. Back outside, I spot a shrine with a silver Ganesh, a beautiful statue.
A police checkpoint shortly before arriving in the capital
On the way back to the car, our guide lets us taste fresh rice; the unripe grains are hidden in the stem. After tipping Sophat, we say goodbye. He returns to Kampot, and we continue our way to Phnom Penh. Our driver is racing off. Shortly before Phnom Penh, we have to stop at a police checkpoint, I fear they want some commission, but they just want to see the contents of the suitcase, then we can continue. Just before we enter the capital, our engine stops; that seems to be a regular thing with the transport vehicles in Cambodia.
Back in Phnom Penh and another try to extract some extra dollars
Back in Phnom Penh, at a local market, the driver stops, gets out, and shows a bystander our hotel card. He points the direction, but our driver reports this is the endpoint of the journey for the taxi. If he has to take us to the hotel, it costs 2 to 3 dollars extra. Well tried, but after three weeks of traveling in Cambodia, I resolutely refuse to pay, and we drive on.
Guiding our taxi driver to the hotel
The police stop us again when we turn into Norodom Boulevard. Our driver has to show his papers and mumbles something about 5 dollars. I am absolutely not willing to pay any tea-money and gesture not to understand them. A that does the trick, we can continue our drive. In the wrong direction, but fortunately, we realize quite quickly, we are heading in the wrong direction and tell our driver. He is clearly not familiar with Phnom Penh, so we show him the way ourselves, with the city plan in hand. A good 10 minutes later we are in front of our hotel, where we are welcomed by the receptionist. She says she is happy that we have returned to stay here.
Buying souvenirs at the Russian Market
After having lunch at the hotel we go out to buy our souvenirs separately, but both at the Russian Market. I buy a Buddha head resembling King Jayavarman VII, and a small and a large tablecloth. That is enough to take home, I conclude, and take a ride back to the hotel. My travel companion has not returned yet: I wonder what he will pop up with. While I have a drink at the hotel bar, two sweet, female staff smile at me. I would put them in my backpack to take them home with me. Dreaming is free, not?
Packing a xylophone
When I return to our room, my partner appears to have already dropped things off. There is a sizeable 1.5-meter package on his bed, and another, less bulky bag. When he arrives 45 minutes later, he tells me that he has purchased a xylophone and a bunch of smaller items. It takes him a full hour to pack the instrument, with towels, tablecloths, and finally, two large plastic carrier bags and rope.
Meeting our travel companions from the trip to Bokor back in Phnom Penh
Around half-past seven, we left for the guesthouse to meet the girls from our trip to Bokor yesterday. First, the Israeli girl shows up. I start playing a game of pool with her. Then the others drop-in, the American and Canadian. Together we play a game “Belgium against the world”, we win. The Dutch ladies from yesterday also stay here; I advise them to consider a trip to Ban Lung definitely. Then I join the rest of the company, which sat down on the terrace and ordered a meal. As usual, it takes a while. My and my companion`s order appears when the others almost have finished dinner.
Not much animosity to go out back in Phnom Penh
Despite the intention, pronounced yesterday, there is not much animosity to go out tonight while back in Phnom Penh. As everybody seems tired from today`s trip, they drip off shortly after the meal. It is not yet 11 o’clock, and Saturday night. Well, maybe my mate and are more hardened; we got up so much around 6 in the morning on this trip, and before midnight we were rarely back in our bed. Everyone has to do it at their own pace, of course, but for us, it is our last night in Cambodia.
A quiet end for our last night in Cambodia
After saying goodbye, we walk down the street looking for a cafe or bar with some people. That is a bit disappointing in this backpacker area. Close to the river, we find a place with some customers. My companion orders a whiskey, I drink Beer Lao. When he comes back from a sanitary stop, he appears to have bought a Cuban cigar, a means of rounding off this last evening in class. We hang out in our wicker chair outside on the terrace, and both have a beer before heading back to the hotel. All in all, this is a quieter end to our journey than we had in mind back in Phnom Penh, but that is fine.