We packed up, relaxed just a little and said ‘goodbye’ to The Beach House, our home for nearly two weeks, at 1400 on Friday. The drive back to Phnom Penh was at least as harrowing as the trip to Kep, but this time I sat in the front seat and took a few photos. This also allowed me to use one of the few seatbelts onboard as seatbelts are mandatory in Cambodia for the front seat.
Traffic was noticeably heavier due to the pop-up national holiday, with many families on the road in both directions. We made the same halfway stop at Takeo for drinks and to see a little more local flavor. It was there that we saw one of the most packed cars of the trip. While departing a stop a Toyota Camry passed us with at least nine people inside. To give you an idea how this is accomplished, the person on the far left of the front seat was NOT the driver.
About 30 km from Phnom Penh, the traffic was getting heavier though it continued move reasonably well. At this point, though, our lead driver took a turn to an off-road hoping to go around the city and it’s traffic a little. This led us on about an hour’s worth of the worst paved and semi-paved roads of the trip, back alleys, parking lots, and open fields that couldn’t possibly have save us any time. Twice the drivers had to stop to try to determine where they were.
By the time we arrived in Phnom Penh, it was almost time for our 1800 dinner reservations at Malis. We drove “straight” there and were greeted by a security guard that said that it was closed for the holiday. Clearly, the person with whom I made reservations by telephone the night before was unaware of these plans. We called a couple of other restaurants and then settled on returning to Khmer Surin, the large guest house and restaurant where we’d dined before flying to Siem Reap (seemingly) ages before.
The drivers got us there easily and we went to the third floor for an open air seat and were soon joined at the next table by six Chinese business men who decided that they needed to chain-smoke through their meal. Luckily, there was a breeze and the ceiling fans were working overtime, but it was still annoying.
Our flight didn’t leave until 2320 that evening, so we had plenty of time for the meal, ordering drinks first (Beer Lao for Dylan, Dan, Winston, and me) and more frilly drinks for the rest of them. We were glad Vy was dining with us one last time and I announced that her meal and Dan’s was on me as their “tip” for great, great help and guidance for the trip. For appetizers, we had fresh and fried spring rolls and some excellent chicken satay in peanut sauce. Winston was now on stag two of what was his typical diverse choice of beverages: jasmine tea; beer lao; followed by a white Russian and then a cappuccino.
Our waiter hovered over us for quite some time, though we resisted him, wanting to stretch the meal out a little more since we weren’t planning to leave until at least 2000. The waiter actually warned us that a couple of plates would take longer to prepare than others, but they seemed to arrive with the others. I had a grilled whole tilapia that came out undercooked and raw in the middle. Three of the cadets ordered Pad Thai, Vy had the frogs' legs, Dan ordered grilled whole catfish, Winston had fried rice in a pineapple, and I can't remember what Dylan got but think it was some noodle dish, too. My fish came back recooked and was actually quite good. Most of us ordered dessert, too, and we were ready to go at 2000.
Outside the restaurant, we said our goodbyes to Dan and Vy. Both were like part of the team and they fit in well with us throughout their time. There were hugs all around and promises of visits. (I'm planning to visit Hong Kong where Dan lives in October with Becky) Both said that they would highly recommend any of us (even me, with some reservations) as team leaders for upcoming Developing World Connections/Equitable Cambodia service trips because of the great work we'd done and how well we'd embraced the culture and experience. They again expressed their amazement that we'd survived three full weeks in Cambodia without any serious illness and only one person-day of work or touring missed. I can't thank either one of them enough--we were so lucky to have them on the trip as well as the great guides and drivers.
Once again, traffic was terrible going to the airport. We didn't arrive until after 2045 and finally pulled up to the curb to get our bags and tip our drivers. I gave our part-timer $5 for safely bringing us from Kep and then I had to chase down Dee. The cadets had given him $5 tip already and he'd hugged all of them with just a huge smile. He'd really adopted us even though he spoke almost no English. He's a REALLY excellent driver who we trusted implicitly. Anyway, I ran him down in the drive-through area of the departure gates and knocked on his slowly moving window. He pulled over and I gave him another $10 and he hugged me and we shook hands to say goodbye. He also got a USAFA lapel pin.
Things got more interesting at the airport, though, for check-in. The Korean Air agents were confused by our tickets and the fact that we were traveling to Denver on a total of three different airlines (Korean, Delta, Alaska) even though the Korean Air flight was code-shared with Delta. When they finally worked all that out and told us that they couldn't give us boarding passes for Seattle to Denver, we hit another snag... The agent noticed that Luke's passport lists his first name as Lucas, but the airline ticket was issued to "Luke." She said that she couldn't issue him a boarding pass and apologized. I started to raise a stink by pointing out that he's made it to Cambodia with the same credentials and ticketing, but she held firm. We continued to try to explain and she finally got a supervisor. HE looked very concerned and said that the names didn't match. We told him that we knew that and I became more assertive. At this point, I didn't know what we were going to do--call the Embassy? Call the government travel agent (Manassas Travel) or what. It didn't help that, technically at least, the airline was right and this was something that we just hadn't caught. He said that he would check with his manager and he came back with yet another person who finally approved the boarding passes for Luke/Lucas. By now, our check-in process had gone on for over an hour and we were very glad that we'd arrived early. We had only about 30 minutes from that point until we actually boarded the flight.