Tag Archives: friendly strangers

Blown away by Cambodians’ hospitality

There are 2 or 3 posts from Laos waiting for a writeup, but here’s a story I don’t want to wait to write about.

Having left the lazy paradise-like Don Khon island

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I hitchhiked from Ban Nakasang to the Cambodian border and then 200 km into the country. The  reasons being: I wanted to do something more adventurous, enjoy solitude of hitching in a middle of nowhere and avoid buses, since there doesn’t seem to be any scam-free cross-border service.

Even though a couple experienced backpackers warned me against it,  mentioning extremely low traffic and scam-friendly atmosphere around the border, I had a great day. Mostly due to the incredibly generous people, and not just on the Cambodian side. I  didn’t even have to wave at the first driver – he just pulled over when he saw me walking.

That’s nothing, though, compared to the friendliness of Cambodian people. Well, except for the border officials, of course, who managed to extort the standard $5 bribe. When I demanded a receipt and they produced one (no doubt fake, but I had no way of proving that) my line of defense fell. Touche, you corrupt scumbags. At least the Lao officials gave up and stamped me out without paying. Incidentally, they did so soon after I started whistling and singing out of boredom. Needless to say, my vocal skills are, ekhem, somewhat lacking.

Back to the nicer part of population, though. I walked a few kilometers from the border with hardly any vehicles passing me by. Despite scorching sun, I enjoyed it with a  nice European-like forest on both sides of the road (a nice change after dense jungles of Lao) and no people in sight. Around noon I finally stumbled upon a small patch of shade on my side of the road and used this opportunity to take a break. Within few minutes a young lady approached me with her kids and grandmother. They said they were worried about my safety and invited me to rest and have a meal or drink at their house just 50 meters away. The young lady even offered to stand by the road and call me if there is anything coming or drive me to the nearest town (60 km away!). Since Vietnam I keep my guards up and distrust local people, especially after what I had read about Cambodia, but I think their concerns and offers might have been genuine. It seemed too elaborate and sophisticated for a scam. And I don’t think any tourists ever show up in that area. Even after I declined and assured them I was fine, the young lady kept me company until I started walking again to regain my solitude.

But before that, two policemen stopped and said they had to drive me back to the crossing, so that I could take a regular (i.e., rip-off) bus, quoting concerns for my safety as the reason. After a short conversation, though, they let me stay, without being pushy or insistent. They just warned that they could not warrantee safety. Maybe I really met that mythological creature: an honest policeman in Cambodia. The lady seemed genuinely surprised by my worries when I saw them approaching.

Anyway, soon after I got up, I caught a short ride on a scooter and then a long one, all the way to my destination, in the box of a pick-up truck. The cabin and the box where completely packed, but the universal rule in SE Asia is: The vehicle is never full.

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The bone-breaking (tailbone-breaking, to be  specific) bumps were not the hardest part. Neither was lack of legroom, forcing me to sit in a position that in Yoga might be called A crane who thinks he is a snail. The worst part were the nice, wide and flat unpaved roads, allowing for high speed and resulting in everything in the box getting covered by a  thick layer of dust, including yours truly. I was really glad to have my facemask with me. And my swimming goggles.

Anyway, the family driving that truck was incredibly friendly. An explanation of all the care and generosity I had encountered might be what the son of the family told me: Cambodians find the idea of solo travel terrifying. Perhaps that’s one of the many scars from the Khmer Rouge times.

As I said, I’m really happy with how smoothly it went (well, except for the bribe). I only feel a bit uneasy about stingyness of hitchhiking. Money is not my main reason for doing it, although I have been unable to fit into my planned budget so far and enjoy those substantial savings. Still, I’m probably wealthier than almost anyone living in this country and feel a bit guilty about asking those poor people to help me for free, even though it doesn’t cost them anything and they have an easy way to refuse (just ignore). I had had the same issue, though to a lesser extent, in other countries I visited. I never hear it mentioned by other hitchhikers, so maybe it’s just my idiosyncrasy. Then again, due to my trade and education, I believe that once I settle down and find a job, I’ll be making significantly more than most backpackers will, so that might partially explain it. I guess I’m overthinking this entire issue :-)

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A bit of Balkans, part 2

The second part of my trip was no less exciting. Other than spending another night with a heavy thunderstorm in an abandoned building, I had some exciting encounters with pickpockets, muggers, scammers and corrupt law enforcement.

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A sad encounter [Norwegian Adventure, day 6]

When I finished my breakfast and was just about to put my camp down, an older gentleman walking with his dog stopped to ask if I had all the food I needed and if I hadn’t been cold during the night. Then he started talking about his situation. He had recently survived a big personal loss and was currently dealing with some problems that had resulted from it. He nearly started crying. That’s what happens when you travel by yourself – you get approached by lonely people who desperately need someone to talk to. So I listened to what he had to say, because what more can you do? And then our ways parted, or so I thought.

I put my camp down, walked to the road and started hitchhiking. Four hours later I was still at the very same spot, quite irritated. And then a car pulled over. Inside I saw the man I had talked to in the morning. He wasn’t going far, but he could take me out of this town, to an important highway junction in Bjerkvik. On our way, we stopped by his summer house where he was living now. He insisted that I come in and see it. It was really nice and offered wonderful view:

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He also offered me to stay in his guest house but I would feel too awkward accepting it due his personal situation. And besides, I wanted to get back on the road. He drove me a bit farther from the highway junction, so that I had better chances of catching a ride. After few minutes, however, I thought he had been driving me for too long. I suspected it was due to his emotional struggle and I didn’t want to take advantage of him, so I asked him to drop me off at the nearest spot I saw it was possible. He seemed a bit irritated by that, but didn’t say anything.

When I saw where I ended up, I felt a bit uneasy. It was a beautiful spot for camping – it offered wonderful view and was far enough from the nearest town. It was really bad for hitchhiking, though. While I was wondering how long I would have to wait there, I saw a cyclist I had been passing few times already.

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‘No matter how bad it gets, it would be much worse if I was cycling’, I thought. Anyway, soon to my surprise I got picked up by a couple of young nice guys. They drove me for a few hours until they had to turn at another highway junction in Nordkjosbotn. During the ride they taught me how to pronnounce that name, which I would often say from now on to impress all the other non-Norwegian travellers.


A day off [Norwegian Adventure, day 5]

First thing in the morning I did some laundry, and stretched another piece of rope between the trees to let it dry. Then I looked really pleased at my camp, admired the view from my spot, said ‘hi’ to some friendly joggers and dog walkers and generally enjoyed the well-deserved free time.

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And then I embarked to explore the town. When I had been in Kiruna last winter I really regretted not visiting it, so I was quite excited to get this opportunity. As it turned out, there was not much to do for me except to hike. So hike I did.

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Just a nice, simple, quick walk. At the top I met a few Polish girls who live in Narvik. That didn’t really surprise me since I had been meeting Polish people all day long. One of the ladies was so kind as to offer me warm shower etc. at her place, should I need it. It was first such offer on this trip. Luckily, the weather was so nice there was no need to risk the awkwardness of staying over at a stranger’s house.

On my way back to the campsite I wanted to get some groceries at a supermarked I had spotted earlier. That’s when I learned that in Norway most stores are closed on Sundays. So I walked a few hundred meters when a thought struck me: Why should it deter me? There must be some garbage bins around the store! I went back and noticed a big dumpster that looked promising. Unfortunately, all I found was some old, bad smelling flowers. I didn’t really want to dive in to look for some hidden treasures, but as an afterthought, I should have ripped some bags open instead of just checking what was on the top of them.

In the evening I made a fire on the beach to cook some peas. It takes at least an hour, so I didn’t want to waste my stove fuel on them. Acting like a tramp is tougher when you are vegan.

Overall, it was a nice day. I really needed a day off.


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