I'd been trapped in Cambodia.
In a good way! I couldn't find a good reason to leave. I’d been saying I’m going to leave Cambodia in ‘a week or two’ for months now. In my case I was waiting for the poker games to die down a little bit as my excuse to get out of town. And they just never did! The amount of free money is Sihanoukville is incredible. I wouldn’t normally use the term free money, as there’s always plenty of luck involved in poker in the short term, but there’s such a steady influx of players, who play so recklessly (usually because they’re loaded and just don’t care at all), that they will lose all their money by the end of the night, almost every single time. If you’re playing in a game where someone is basically gifting away thousands of dollars every single night, that’s a pretty big opportunity to pass up on.
Finally when the rainy season hit in June, the games started to slow down a little bit. Certain poker rooms would struggle to get games started, or the game might die down before midnight instead of raging into the early morning hours. But then again you could still find great games occasionally, but not as consistently. Also, Sihanoukville is kind of a dumpy town; which is fine when its sunny everyday and you can cruise around on a scooter and hit the beaches, but once it starts getting to be rainy and overcast all the time, it really is kind of a miserable place. I had, at times, considered staying in Snooky all year to just grind, but now with the weather and the lull in the action, it was time to make a move. Plus what’s the point of being a poker player if you’re just gonna work all year? The whole point is to get to take time off and travel! On June 10th or so I bussed it back to Phnom Penh, intending to stay a few days (as my visa expired on the 15th) and pick a new place to travel. But that’s not what happened!
When I arrived in Phnom Penh I found the games to be much much better than how I had left them. In addition to more Chinese guys playing, there was a Malaysian Chinese guy, who had started a bitcoin mining business in Phnom Penh, who was creating all sorts of action. He went by Mr. Lee, or Harry, as his English name, and when he wanted to play, a higher stakes game would just appear out of nowhere. He didn’t play every night, but usually 2-3 times a week, so you kind of had to be waiting around for him to show up, but when he did, it was totally worth it. The game would be 5/10 blinds, minimum buy in $1,000, but with people often buying in for several thousand, as to cover Mr. Lee’s stack. He’d also buy an oversized bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label for anyone at the table that wanted some, and it was very much encouraged to partake! He’d usually buy in for $3,000 at the start, but he’d usually go through a few buy ins playing like a complete maniac, and usually dusted off about 10k. I don’t think I’d ever seen him win. He really didn’t mind at all though, he seemed content with his works of charity.
So with Mr. Lee in town, my plans were changing again! He said he was staying until the end of the month, so it looks like I’m staying until the end of the month. Now this presented a slight problem with my visa expiring on the 15th, but that’s the nice thing about Cambodia, they’re super lax about this sort of stuff, you just have to pay $10/day to overstay for up to a month, no problem. You’d probably get into some sort of trouble for anything longer than that, but then it’s Cambodia, so nothing money couldn’t fix. This might also be a problem if you’re checking into a nicer hotel, but then again, nothing photoshop can’t fix!
And have mentioned how nice it is to be back in Phnom Penh after being in Sihanoukville for a while? Literally everything is better than in Snooky. The most noticeable thing is the value for the hotels. In Snooky I stayed in a small guesthouse with almost no amenities for $25/night, which is about as cheap as you can find for an AC room in town, with the whole Chinese invasion going on. Terrible value. In Phnom Penh I found a new high rise hotel that had just opened up (the tallest in the city actually) and for $22/night you get a very nice room, super comfy bed, flat screen, fridge, microwave, safe and an amazing view over the city. Plus two immaculate pools, a fitness center and steam room. Best value in the city I’d think. And it’s near the mall. A mall! Where you can do all your shopping in a totally air conditioned environment, and you can even stop an American fast food chain! You think Snooky has anything like that? Hell no! High end shopping is buying a $3 Angkor Wat t-shirt on the street.
So being back in Phnom Penh was pretty great. The poker room in NagaWorld also doubles as a sportsbook, so with the World Cup going it was hopping every night. I might add that Asian timezones are perfect for watching European sports. The first World Cup game would start at 8pm and the last one would go until 3am, which really can’t synch up with my poker schedule any better! I’ve definitely watched more of the World Cup this year than probably all other years combined. Even though there are small moments of intense excitement, and I can appreciate the insane amounts of talent on some these goals, I still find the sport to be pretty boring on the whole.
With the end of the month rapidly approaching it was time to figure out some concrete travel plans. I’d been strongly considering the Eastern Mediterranean region, places like Turkey, Lebanon, Cyprus, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt for some time now. But I also have a few friends traveling in Eastern Europe at the moment, so that was now crossing my mind as well. I’ve been putting off Europe in my travel plans forever now. As someone who almost always favors some sort of adventure travel, I worry that Europe is just going to be too cookie cutter and boring: nice city, nice city, nice architecture, nice museum, nice church, nice café, rinse and repeat. It sounds all very lovely of course, but just doesn’t really light my fire. Also it’s more expensive, so I’d probably be mostly staying in hostels, which at my age I feel like I’m starting to get a bit too old for.
So after looking at flights and with a decent amount of inner conflict, I booked a cheap flight I'd found from Bangkok to Warsaw via Kiev. To resolve my indecision I’m opting to go for a one month, kind of whirlwind trip through Eastern Europe, just to get a taste, and finish up in Istanbul. Then I’ll have the rest of the time for Turkey, Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan etc. And then back to Cambodia when the rainy season starts to finish up. The games are too good and more Chinese keep coming in with more casinos being built, so it might be even better this year (as long as other people aren’t finding out about it!). It really doesn’t make fiscal sense to leave Cambodia for too long. Gotta get in while the gettin’ is good. So next stop, Euroland!