New year, new country:
The beach was amazing. It really did feel like living in a postcard, but in such a comfortable way. I wrote a little while I was there, but that's all on Kenny's computer, so I'll post them here later. The particular part of the island that we were on, Sao Beach, was far away from the crowds, incredibly cheap to live on, and the ocean was perfect for walking out really, really far before the water rose over your head. So many pictures taken, so much to say about the place... how can I sum it up? I guess I really liked that we were staying in a little beach bungalow run by a seafood restaurant ("My Lan"). They didn't really speak much English, and they never came in our hut to do typical hotel stuff (sheets, trash, cleaning) but that turned out to be why we liked it so much. Really rustic and easy. The bungalow had a bed with a mosquito net and a cabinet for our clothes and not really much else, and that was perfect. The floor was just smooth beach boards and so we swept the sand away easily (the sand that gets everywhere is always my least favorite part of the beach). We woke up at sunrise every morning, pulled on our bathing suits, and walked the 20 feet or so to the ocean, and usually I went on a walk in the early morning waves and Kenny went for a run up and down the beach. We would come back to our little hut, shower off and pull on some shorts or something, and have breakfast of fresh fruit cut up for us by the staff. Pineapple, watermelon, baby oranges... yum. Then it was up to us to decide in which order we wanted to do our things that we do: going somewhere on the motorbike (that we rented for $5 a day and which Kenny bravely drove), swimming, sunning, reading, and of course eating seafood. The restaurant had some fisherboys (they looked really young, like 15) that came up every evening at sunset and sold them what they had caught. The specialties were great hotpots, squid, scallops, giGANtic prawns, and for some reason chicken. We had all of these things in soups, grilled in front of us on a grill, stir-fried, and deep fried at least once. It was SO good. So fresh. And (you knew this was coming) so cheap. I'll just say that meals in the restaurant a few times a day plus fruit from the market came to a grand total of about $90 for the whole week (for two of us). And we shared a lot of our fruit. Oh, man. It was good stuff.
So we took a day in Saigon to do last minute errands, getting ready for the big trip. Getting money out of the ATMs, changing it to dollars, buying more floss, picking up stuff from various places, and (for Kenny) spending lots of time running around to various internet cafes to do law school application tasks. We went to Pham Ngu Lau for New Years Eve but to be honest it was pretty boring. There was fistfuls of glitter being thrown on our heads (and down our shirts, and in our eyes) and beers were 60,000 ($4, which is outrageous for Saigon). We stayed for the countdown, hollered for a minute, sand Auld Lang Syn, and then crashed like the tired kids we were (thanks, Mike, for lending us your room!).
Early this morning, January 1, we caught a bus to Phnom Penh. The border crossing was simply amazing: it was my first time seeing bribes in action from government officials. The best part was seeing a uniformed Cambodian official stick a stack of Vietnamese passports down the back of his pants and run off, coming back a few minutes later with (apparently) the paperwork done and the passports stamped, which he gave to a group of Vietnamese men who then motioned their wives excitedly out of the queue. "Lets go! We're done!" Things like this were happening all around us. Finally, though, we got to Phnom Penh and had a nice walk from the Capitol area to the Boeng Kak Lake area, which felt almost exactly like walking in Saigon, except that I felt even more illiterate. The Cambodian/Khmer script is beautiful, and to me it looks like Georgian tried to eat Hebrew and took a Saudi Arabian digestive. It's square but twisty, with lots of neat tails and holes.
We arrived to find a trash-strewn but appealing backpacker street, much like Saigon' but smaller, with less right angles, and more Indian restaurants. It's pretty charming so far, but it's just now getting dark and I'm not sure how loud our $3 room will be. We had some vegetarian stir fry dishes at a cute little place that drew us with with the promise of a free beer with every meal (which turned out to mean one per table), and the food was salty but the veggies were fresh. Now we're tapping it up in one of the kazillion internet cafes, and I'm ready to read in bed, while Kenny will probably be here for quite awhile. Tonight he's applying to William and Mary and Duke. Cool, huh?
Next up: a day full of Phnom Penh, one more cheap night, and then a bus to Angkor Wat, where the real reason for Cambodia lies (for us, at least. For now).
Much much more later.