How no plan turned into touring Mondulkiri on the moped of Cambodia’s nicest chef

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I was eating at a restaurant in Mondulkiri in the eastern part of Cambodia, thinking about my plans for the next day. I didn’t have any yet, but that was going to change fast….

During diner I chatted a bit with two Australian girls who said I should talk to the chef of the restaurant. Apparently he was a nice guy who spoke English and maybe had some good suggestions. The girls were great company and I trusted their advice, so when I asked for the bill I also asked to see the chef. A happy looking Cambodian fellow came up to me and asked me what was wrong with the food. I explained the food was good but I needed a plan. ‘Speak no more’ he said. ‘Make sure you are here at 8 in the morning and I’ll take you everywhere.’

Always say yes and trust your gut

During my stay in Cambodia I started to believe in karma and set myself a new life motto: Always say yes and trust your gut. So that’s what I did.

The next morning I was at the restaurant at 8 am. The happy looking chef was already waiting for me with his moped and a helmet in his hand. Somehow I thought white was a good color to wear on this trip. My mistake. After driving on bumpy, red dusted roads on the back of te moped I was no longer wearing a white shirt but a red one.

Red, dusty roads in Mondulkiri.

I am a bit afraid of mopeds, that’s why I don’t drive them myself. But on the back of the moped of a local I always feel safe. If anyone knows how to drive on the local roads it’s a local right? The kind chef who was now my driver for the day started out driving very carefully but when we were 10 minutes down the road he suddenly speeded up. I held tight because with ever bump in the road I felt I was being got launched. I felt great: not knowing where we were headed, on roads where nobody else was driving and with this magnificent nature surrounding us. Suddenly we stopped. I had to get of. ‘You take some pictures of that’ he said, pointing at a very regular looking bush. I was cautious but did what he told me to do. I was taking fake picture of the bush while I followed him with my eyes. He opened the baggage part of his moped and out came some bananas. He took one banana and walked out of my sight.

Feeling akward

After a minute or so he came back and said: ‘Okay lady, let’s go!’ I hopped back on, and off we went. We stopped at a viewpoint to take some pictures and a little later we parked the moped near a cascade. We walked past a market without a tourist in sight. I lost the driver while I was talking to the home front in my camera??. It was a fun place with a lot of friendly people and so much to see. Then, at the end of the market, there it was. A beautiful cascade. ‘Ooooh it’s little today,’ said the chef who all of a sudden was standing next to me. He wanted to take my picture with the cascade and laughed about the size of my camera. He told me he felt so cool holding it. I felt so akward putting my expensive camera in his hands, knowing he didn’t have much.

Feeling akward in my white/red shirt

Where is the key?!

We walked back to the moped to continue our epic journey together, when I saw him hesitating. ‘What’s wrong?’ I asked. He mumbled something. ‘Dude, what’s wrong, just tell me, maybe I can help.’ ‘I can’t find the key.’ He stumbled while he was putting his hands in his pockets for the third time. O fuck.

If there ever was a time in my life I felt a bit lost, it was now. I didn’t know where I was, but I knew it was far away from any town. I was with a man I didn’t know that well and all the other people who were there didn’t speak any English. As a girl travelling on her own, let say I was in a bit of trouble. So we did what every person that loses his keys does. We thought about were we last had it. ‘In the moped!’ He ran toward our red dusty monster and discovered it was locked, so no key there. At this moment I was really beginning to worry. What to do if we couldn’t find the key? Do we have to walk? Is there some kind of other transportation? DO WE HAVE TO SLEEP IN THE JUNGLE?! While I was panicking (just a little, I promise) my new best friend found his key at a market stand he visited when I lost him earlier.

Motor stunt and more random pictures

Both very relieved, we hit the dusty road again. Every now and then we stopped. I had to take a picture of a random thing while chef took a banana from his moped an walked out of sight. We visited a coffee plantation and drank coffee while we talked about his life. The chef was a hard working man with a ‘very beautiful wife’ and a little child. There was not much money, but they were very happy. He told me about stray dogs that weren’t good for tourists and his love for driving his moped. I remembered I filmed a motor stunt in the Netherlands which was probably still on my phone. I thought it was fun to show him, so I did. He was in awe when he saw the stuntman jumping over a stage where a band was playing at the same time. You could tell he had never seen such a thing before. I realized it was the second time that day I gave him something in his hands worth a year of food in this country and felt a bit ashamed again, but we shared our enthusiasm over the video footage which was nice. Afterwards we discussed the fact that smoking is very bad for you we shared a sneaky cigarette and giggled about it.

There we were. In the middle of nowhere. Two people of the same age, with such different backgrounds and such different lives. The one thing bounding us was this trip we made together and having lots of fun doing so.

Farmhouse of friends of my driver

Daughter of the house

We visited some of his friends who lived near the coffee plantation and other friends who ran a little shop nearby a lake with another beautiful cascade. They gave me food and sugarcane drinks and touched my hair. I gave the children balloons (I always carry balloons for kids on my trips) and the chef showed the motor stunt on my phone to everyone who wanted to see it. We had to wait he said, until school was over. I didn’t know why, but what could I do? So I waited until a group of children came by. School was out and my driver told me to go down to the lake fast to swim. I didn’t know about the swimming, but I went down some muddy rocks to get to the lake and took some pictures. Then all of a sudden I saw people jumping from the cascade!

In my country when school is out the kids go home and watch TV, or hang around an arcade or something. Over here youngsters put on their bathing suits and jump from big heights. I suddenly knew why there wasn’t much of a reaction to all the expensive stuff I put in the hands of my Cambodian driver/chef. It wasn’t of any importance. Freedom makes you rich.

Feeling free makes you rich

After a bath in the lake we were headed for our last stop of the day. But not before I had to take a picture of a random rock again. I kind of had it with the ‘banana you go there and take a picture’ thing and hid behind a tree to watch what happened with all the banana’s. I saw the chef take the last banana from his moped and followed him with my eyes. He kneeled, and put the banana on a tiny temple at the side of the road. He was offering the bananas and prayed for a save journey, he explained when I asked him afterwards. But he didn’t want me to worry that our journey wasn’t save. That’s why he distracted me with all the lame looking bushes and rocks. This was really the kindest man I have ever met. We ended our journey at a bigger temple. Automatically I distanted myself so he could do his thing again but then I heard my name. “Karin! Karin! Come! You have to drink beer!’ Well, if you want me to come over fast, just tell me there is beer and I will be there.

Beer with friends

A bunch of friends (and some ones grandma?) were sitting inside the temple with a plastic bag full of ice and beer cans. And we drank, and we laughed, and I taught them my language and they teached me theirs. The video of the motor stunt was passed on from one to another and we laughed some more. And drank some more. When we had (more then) enough we headed to the restaurant. It was just downhill. ‘You drive’ he said. I didn’t want to because I can’t drive a moped and I had to much to drink. Very slowely he drove me downhill. Walking was probably faster. And while we were going from the left side of the road to the ride side of the road he yelled over his shoulder: “Please don’t tell my wife!’ And we cried with laughter.




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