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Sometimes as a solo traveler, I resent having to make decisions for myself.
With endless options of things to do and places to see, there’s no one to bounce your ideas off of and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with having to choose. Take day trips, for instance.
A day trip outside of Phnom Penh sounded ideal.
But looking up at the bus schedule (info here), conveniently marked with travel durations for each destination, I stood dumb-founded, with mouth agape for 10 minutes, trying to see if the names rang any meaning for me. When I realized I knew nothing about them, I flipped through my guidebook to read up on what each was about.
After big cities like Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and Battambang (the latter two, I’d only learned about after arriving), travel information on the rest of the Cambodia’s cities and towns gets sparse. It dawns on you that you might be walking into a very “off-the-beaten-path” decision, that’s hit or miss and… it’s probably best to pack snacks or have a good meal before leaving.
The pro and con of decision-making as a solo traveler
If you’re a lone traveler standing before Door #1, Door #2 and Door #3… which do you choose? Especially if they look like a few non-interesting paragraphs on a page in a guidebook?
Everyone has a ‘breaking point’.
Normally, I’m very good at juggling ideas and making executive decisions. Like any saavy ‘Girl Friday’ wired into a fast-track corporate office, I can knock out smart solutions without batting an eye. Traveling solo however, I discovered I’m excellent with making decisions … but only when they’re contingent upon parameters.
And as a soloist, there are few parameters to deciding an itinerary. You possess unlimited freedom to do whatever… or go where ever… you want. Boundless, open freedom.
Ironically, experiencing this kind of ‘reversal of misfortune’, can easily make any headstrong capable girl… feel like a damsel bound to railroad tracks with an impending train on the way.
Fortunately, being alone with no one around to watch or judge me,… I give into my ‘breaking point’ much sooner.
This is what your cool and saavy gal did…
She rubbed her third eye, listened to her inner silence and waited for a sound or flutter to let her know, which 3-hour bus ride town called out to be her destiny.
… And when that didn’t work.
She took out a coin (yes, she actually had one in her bag) and flipped it. “Heads”… Kampong Cham and “tails”… the other nearest city (whose name she inconsequentially, can’t remember).
The journey landed on ‘heads’… Kampong Cham.
The holiday adventure was about to begin.
Taking the bus to Kampong Cham
I bought my ticket, boarded my bus and my solo stress was over. I could exhale into the passing scenery.
Cambodia has surprisingly nice buses. My VIP type of bus with air conditioning, comfortable seats and good leg room, even had a flatscreen monitor playing video CDs. The bus was crowded, and I was the only tourist on it.
Searching for a song when you don’t know the name.
Khmer karaoke videos can get addictive, even if you’re on a three hour bus ride flying by interesting fishing villages, vibrantly green fields and charming rural houses on stilts. The videos often have a very melodramatic air about them and tell stories of ill-fated love, unrequited love, lost love, betrayal, etc… Some of these videos feature popular Khmer music groups. They’ll tell a story in two or three parts to feature different singers. Altogether, it’s like watching a mini Korean soap opera …with some ending very tragically.
There’s a popular Khmer karaoke video I saw on the bus, that played all around Phnom Penh city when I was there. The songs eventually just stuck with me. When it was time to leave Cambodia, I realized I had to buy it.
As you can guess, hunting down the names of Khmer songs or the groups that sing them isn’t very easy. I went to a handful of vendors and hummed several bars of the song like an tone deaf idiot, …only to be told the ditty I hummed sounded “…like many Khmer songs“. My humming days ended when I remembered that I had a photo of it on my camera (see photo above)!
Oh, that’s the band ‘Sunday’ “, a hip young dress shop girl exclaimed to me.
Victory at last! Excitedly, I walked until I found a music shop.
Sunday. I proudly inquired.
The salesperson led me to a collection of video CDs (aka VCDs) of the group. My smile fell. I’d gotten the name of the band, alright. Now came the quest to find the song title and it’s album!
My tone-deaf humming continued again and some unlucky VCD purchases followed. A helpful English-speaking shopowner of the computer repair store next door, helped sleuth the song with me. She had her own database of Sunday songs and K-pop (…K-pop?!…). She played bits of songs she thought it could be.
It’s true — my humming did actually sound “… like many Khmer songs“, because many seemed to have similarities.
Finally, we found it. I only wanted that one song.
* Tip *: If you like something, always take a picture of it. If you decide you want to buy it or learn about it later, you can always point it out to locals.
* Tip *: It doesn’t hurt to carry a keychain thumb drive with you.
It took me great pains to find , so please enjoy the videos below and check out more of their songs.
Beak Bong Derm Bey Thea Ke (Singer: Pisey; Group: Sunday)
Klach Ke Chher Tea Men Klach Bong Tek Pnek (Singer:Veasna; Group: Sunday)
Welcome to Kampong Cham
About 120 km northeast of Phnom Penh, towards the Vietnamese border sits, Kampong Cham. Kampong means port, harbor, or bay. After arriving, I checked the station’s bus timetable to see when its last bus departed.
“Two hours“, was the answer. What?!
A 6 hour commute for two hours of sightseeing, hardly felt worth my day. Perhaps a coin toss wasn’t such a saavy decision-making choice on my part and yet, I was already here. Might as well make the best of it!
The bus attendant assured me I could earn an extra hour if I took the crowded minibus back (info here). He pointed me to the more local bus station, …
The crowded Cambodian minibus vans looked like this…
Crowded local minibuses in Vietnam
I decided two hours in Kampong Cham would work fine for me!
Now, to figure out what to see…