Sometimes traveling feels like floating in a void. You’re unmoored from your routines, your places of safety, people who know you and people who have expectations of you. You cannot be unseen but you can be unknown.
It is a kind of freedom.
I am back in the void, here in Cambodia. In the streets of Phnom Penh I am just another foreigner: from the outside, merely an outline lacking colour and detail. It’s fine by me.
I flew in from Chiang Mai yesterday. This is KTM Rescue Mission Mk II. Last time, the land borders were still closed when it came time for me to return to Thailand in time to (excitingly) run a scheduled tour. This time, the land borders are already open. Where will I exit? Laos, Thailand? I don’t know. I don’t know how the border crossing will go after two years marooned here under covid. It’s not exactly the normal parameters for a temporary import, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little apprehensive. But we must cross that bridge when we come to it.
For now, I get to go and collect my bike from the excellent Steve, who’s been giving Chek a break by looking after my bike for me. I am endlessly grateful for this kindness.
But first, I must go and exchange money. The time has finally come when I have no Australian dollars left to withdraw from the ATM; my finances are now in Thailand, in Thai baht. It’s an unexpected milestone; getting further away from where I started.
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Yesterday was election day in Cambodia. My tuk tuk drivers and friends sported inked fingers to show that they had voted – and to prevent them from voting again. The streets were eerily quiet; people had gone back to their hometowns to vote. There were no alcohol sales allowed, which is to say, all beer was sold in coffee cups.
Whenever I fly, I always feel privileged but never relaxed. It’s an expensive undertaking, so part of my mind is always worrying about missing connections, or whether the airline won’t let me carry my helmet in the cabin, or some other such drama which almost invariably doesn’t eventuate. Still, imagining all these disasters is hard work; so by the time I had flown from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, and run from one terminal to the other in MX boots, and then flown from Bangkok to Phnom Penh, I was ready for a nap.
In PP I was fortunate enough to be greeted by a friendly face – my dear friend and sometime Khmer teacher, Nikky, who had a room for me to rent on the fourth floor of a narrow building near the river.
The entrance way is through a tiny, dark alley and up winding stairs which change from concrete to tile to a different pattern of tile, floor by floor. Through a wrought iron gate and then you’re in – my small, brightly lit lair up amongst the rooftops of Phnom Penh.
In an hour I go to see my friend Thiro and retrieve the tools and engine oil which I stashed in his storage space last time I skipped the country – and, also, the time before that. What can I say? May the gods of motorcycling smile upon these good people who make my vagrancy possible – and may they come visiting in Thailand so that I can return this hospitality in kind.