I’ve been abroad since Nov 13, starting in Istanbul where I gave a presentation at the Green Economy and Commons conference and spent a few days exploring the city. (Here is the link to the conference site : http://www.tr.boell.org/web/35-1830.html).
Istanbul was interesting and I think my presentation went over well. You can see the pictures from my Istanbul visit at, https://picasaweb.google.com/112258124863172998784/201311IstanbulTurkey?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCJv3nPOd34igcQ&feat=directlink
From there I flew to Kuala Lumpur then a couple days later traveled by bus to Penang.
I stayed almost two weeks in Penang at a small Hotel where I’ve stayed before. I like Penang but this part of it (Georgetown) is very busy and the traffic gets worse each time I visit. Also, lodging costs keep going up as old guest houses get refurbished and new ones pop up.
Penang is a UN world heritage site, very diverse ethnically, racially, religiously, culturally, etc. and, in my opinion, has the best food in the world, much of it vegetarian. Food is still cheap there; how about $1 for breakfast, $2-$3 for dinner? Of course if you want western food you’ll pay more but still less than western prices. Penang was once a British colony, so that influence is evident, including English and Scottish street names and a British fort (Fort Cornwallis) built in the late 1700s . Penang’s population is majority Chinese with a healthy sprinkling of Tamil Indians and Malays. Islam is an ever increasing presence as more mosques and masjids are sited in Chinese neighborhoods.
Two weeks in Penang was enough. I chose to visit Cambodia instead of going to Thailand, taking a flight on December 5 from Penang to Phnom Penh.
My Cambodia visit got off to an inauspicious start. After checking into my hotel, I decided to take a stroll down by the river. I tried to cross the street and got sideswiped by a motorbike; no stitches but my left shin got skinned and bruised. I managed to get to the other side and sat down on a convenient bench; almost passed out but got some aid from a British friend I had been traveling with for some days, and a Polish couple who happened to be passing by. My wounds have fortunately turned out to be minor, no trouble walking, only a little discomfort, and healing is almost complete by now.
I spent only a couple days Phnom Penh then decided to take a minivan to Sihanoukville which is on the Gulf of Thailand. I stayed a week at Otres Beach about 5 km from Sihanoukville. Otres has a nice clean sandy beach, clean water, and a couple dozen guest houses and bungalow places ranging from backpacker dorms and huts to pretty decent rooms with A/C and hot showers. Almost all have free wi-fi and decent internet connections. After two nights in the rather primitive Done Right ($18), I moved a few meters away to the more comfortable and quiet Otres Guest House ($20). There are many places to eat right on the beach and you can hang out all day long on their lounge chairs if you buy a drink ($1-3) or a meal ($2.50-$6.00). Done Right has both “geodomes” and “cubes,” as well a dorm rooms, is run by young people and meant to appeal to the twenty-something backpacker crowd. As you might expect, there are lots of dogs and cats around, (and consequently, lots of flies) an open-air pool table and ping pong table, so there’s lots of activity from morning to evening, but nights are fairly quiet except when the dogs get set off by something.
At my age, I require something more comfortable and conventional. Otres Guest House provides it. My room was large and I had a desk and chair that provided a decent work station. The beach across the way provides a good diversion when I tire of working.
I had some surprisingly good Greek food in Sihanoukville at a restaurant (the sign reads “Greek Cousine”) that is run by Greek restaurateurs who spend the off season here.
I’m now in Kampot, a charming little riverside town which is a couple hours’ drive toward the southeast, where the lodgings and food are both good and cheap.
I also have Siem Reap (Angkor Wat ) on my agenda and will visit there at some point. I hope to schedule another visit to Phnom Penh to see the “killing fields” and the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21). Here’s a bit of pertinent history:
“Prior to 1975, Toul Sleng was a high school. When the Khmer Rouge came to power it was converted into the S-21 prison and interrogation facility. Inmates were systematically tortured to extract confessions, after which they were executed at the killing fields of Choeung Ek. S-21 processed over 17,000 people, less than a dozen of whom survived. The building now serves as a museum, a memorial and a testament to the madness of the Khmer Rouge regime.”
Yes, Cambodia has that gruesome history, but so do many other countries, including the U.S., Argentina, etc. The situation now seems quite different. You do notice a dearth of old people, and Cambodian government is said to be corrupt, but that seems to have little impact on the tourist. The people are friendly and helpful and no one has tried to rip me off yet. Still, this is a third-world country and not up to the standards of Malaysia or even Thailand, which have had more time to learn the tourism business.