Day 9: Koh Kong
I chug a coffee at some ungodly hour before taking to the streets. Endless rows of vendors gush from the entrance to a huge warehouse, displaying wriggling catfish and raw meats and fruit and clothing. Ladies sit on a raised platform chopping pig parts and tossing it onto a scale. Little kids run up to me each time I look at a shirt, eyeing me, ready to make money while their parents sit sewing or eating or socializing. I try on a couple things; too small and too tight; while the two young girls helping me giggle so hard they can no longer breathe. Has my humour finally transcended the language barrier?
Around a corner sit a couple ladies, one with a tiny baby. They talk to me in Khmer, touching my hair and oohing over my white skin.
Leaving the market, I come across a hostel with a room available for a third of the price of my hotel. Cutesy inspirational quotes are painted on the walls and the common area has comfy lounge chairs and a pool table. In the room is a twin bed with cartoon-printed fleece blankets and a mosquito net. The window is barred and above; an aluminum roof with bamboo thatching. This feels like a place I should be. I tell Paddy, the owner, I’ll be back after I check out of my hotel. It takes me half an hour to find my way back in this small but confusing town. Every dirt road and alleyway seem the same.
I take a dunk in the hotel pool before leaving, and on the way a motorbike taxi harrasses me until I agree to pay him a dollar for a lift to the hostel. We chat on the way. His name is Mon. Paddy is his friend and so he joins me in the common area, still trying to sell me on some sort of afternoon motorbike tour. I finally give in to hire him for a trip to the waterfall.
The little girl who works here asks my name and introduces herself as Chattaya. She is thirteen years old. Does she want to join us to the waterfall? She nods and runs to ask her boss, who says no.
But after Mon and I promise to have her back safe and in time for school in the afternoon, Paddy agrees.
The three of us pile onto the bike and head to the jungle. Mon leads us down a path through a little village and past the main swimming lagoon, across the river and upstream to a secluded area where we splash in the water til goosebumps ravage our skin.
A few raindrops become monsoon within a matter of moments, and a mom and her two kids let us take shelter beneath their little tin hut. Mon and the mom chat while the kids pour sugar into a hollowed out baguette and stuff their faces.
I look at Chattaya and point to the river. She nods. In the pouring rain, we run to the water and jump in, joining a group shivering on a rock in the middle of the river. They laugh when I say hello in Khmer. When the blue sky reappears, we race back for Mon and cross the river with him again, where we’re greeted by a cluster of people sitting under another hut – his friends. They toss me a cold brew and I join their circle on the bamboo platform. For the next hour we drink beer and dance to loud music. They share their lunch of fried chicken feet and spicy papaya salad.
But Chattaya has school at four, so we ride back to the hostel and Mon and I plan to check out the disco club later. Then I meet Andy at the hotel and he takes me to see ‘Safari World’, whatever that is (it’s closed); the road to his family’s plantation of rubber trees (rubber is made from trees!?) and the beautiful Ko Yoh Beach.
For dinner we eat the kind of meat stew that could garner me the kill target poster girl of any vegan-extremist group.
I’m home just before Mon arrives and we jet over to the disco club, where the music is deafening and the beer costs pennies. We can’t talk for the music, but I make friends with a couple hilarious kids on the dance floor who mimic every move I make.
At the stroke of midnight, my dancing shoes retire themselves. I go home to my cute little hostel and fall asleep beneath cartoon-printed blankets and a mosquito net.