I arrive at Yellow Sun Hostel on March 3rd. The hostel is located just outside of Kampot proper, roughly twenty minutes by motorbike. The reviews mention the road being in bad shape, and I am reminded of the many people that have warned me about riding my bike into Cambodia. “The roads are really bad,” they’ve said. Well I know I’ve only seen about 50 kilometers of it so far, but it seems okay to me. When I reach the stretch of road that will lead me to Yellow Sun, I pause, double check the map, and laugh. Ha, you’ve obviously spoken too soon. The road is corrugated and absolutely riddled with potholes. As tuk tuks and motorbikes rattle past, plumes of dust swirl around us. I wonder for a moment whether it is worth it, but the reviews online speak volumes. “The road is terrible, but the hostel is amazing.” I snap my helmet shut to keep out the dust and decide that this is just another part of the adventure. I am immensely glad that I do.
Yellow Sun turns out to be the next perfect place to get stuck (in the very best way) and I end up spending a total of two weeks there.
I treat myself to two nights in one of the riverside private rooms and quickly realize that this place and these people simply require more time. I book into a dorm room for a few days, and with each day that passes, I find myself extending my stay again, and again and again.
Our days alongside that river float by with the greatest ease. Dave, the hostel manager is witty and I quickly settle into a routine of bar-side banter with him. The group of volunteers working for free accommodation is equally lovely, and soon enough, we have a little family going. Between cleaning shifts and check ins, we drink beers, play games and swim in the river. We nap in hammocks and I watch the sunset every single day. Once in a while, we pile into tuk tuks or onto an assortment of rented and borrowed motorbikes and head into the Kampot for food or to go to the “cinema.” I am surprised and delighted to find that the cinema is no more than a bar that happens to have acquired a huge cache of pirated movies that you can pay to watch. Only in Cambodia.
It’s absolute bliss and as the days go by, chipping away at my one month visa here in Cambodia, I realize that I could easily spend the entire month here. But I had plans for this country. I wanted a road trip, I wanted to go on an adventure, and I begin to feel that I am copping out. So I tell everyone (again) that I am going to check out. This time, I tell them, I mean it.
I make the effort to do some sight seeing around Kampot before I go. We visit the Bokor National Park. We go in search of an abandoned zoo (which we never find). We visit La Plantage, a pepper plantation famous for the Kampot pepper. I meet up with friends from Vietnam.
In the meantime I finally hatch a concrete plan to leave. I will head to Sihanoukville and take the ferry to the small island of Koh Rong Sanloem. A friend I met in Laos in December is working there, as are some friends I met at Yellow Sun. Visiting a Cambodian island I had never heard of before sounds like a pretty good next adventure, right? And just like that, I force myself to go.
I have said it before and I will say it again: if there is one thing I have learned during my travels it is that relationships take on an entirely different intensity out here. When you meet people and suddenly spend every waking moment with them, there is a bonding that takes place there that is so swift and can be so deep, you simply can’t compare it to the experience of knowing someone for that same amount of time back home. And so by the time my two weeks in Kampot come to an end, it is with yet another heaviness. Yet another goodbye that I wish I didn’t have to say. And so we do what I have come to know well.
We pile onto our motorbikes for a quest into Kampot, and we come home with matching tattoos. And it is silly and it is wonderful and it makes me feel alive. And the little wonky heart etched into my arm tells a story. Not just a story of two weeks at a riverside oasis. Rather, it tells the story of another family found abroad, even if just for a little while.