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The Goodheart and Whitecorn Adventures "I see my path, but I don't know where it leads. Not knowing where I'm going is what inspires me to travel it." Rosalia de Castro

The universe owes us a first class flight (Cambodia part 1)

CAMBODIA | Sunday, 8 February 2015 | Views [511]

I want to share with you all the wonderful that Cambodia is but I find myself sitting here lacking an ability to write. It could be the afternoon heat. It could be a burn out of sharing. It could also be a full recognition of the fact that whatever I put down isn’t going to convey the true beauty and life that is Cambodia. I want to share it with you, but I don’t want it lost in translation. I am in love with this country and its people and I want you to be in love with it too.

 

Once again our plane trip was an adventure because apparently we can’t travel in a straightforward manner. We were scheduled to leave Melbourne at 1:25am, have a 9-hour layover in Kuala Lumpur and land in Phnom Penh late in the afternoon. Naturally, that didn’t happen. 1:25 turned into 2:25. We boarded the plane to promises that some paperwork was being finished and we’d be taking off soon. 2:25 turned into 4:30am. We disembarked upon being told the flight was cancelled. All 300+ passengers were shuffled confused, tired and grumpy through customs and baggage claim to a counter where 1 single man sat ready to reroute all of us. Yes, ONE man. We were very fortunate to grab a place in line about 7 people in. Unbelievably, or maybe believably since there was only one person working, at 9am there were still at least 100 people in line waiting to be rerouted. We were put on a 10:35am flight to Kuala Lumpur, which of course got delayed by an hour and caused us to miss our connection by an hour and a half. We were put up in a hotel with 5 other people and rescheduled to fly into Phnom Penh the following day. That flight thankfully went smoothly. (random note: one of the couples at the hotel with us knew the doctor who helped the man that had a heart attack on our original flight out of the US…small world!) Moral of the story- a 9-hour layover can sometimes be too short. Sigh.

 

Airplane drama done. Despite the scary visa man yelling at someone else our entry was nice and smooth and before we knew it we were on a tuk-tuk heading for the hotel. This is where I fell in love with Cambodia. First of all, tuk-tuks are awesome. They’re kind of like rickshaws except pulled by motorcycles. Secondly, traffic is INSANE. Not NYC insane though, more like vehicle anarchy insane. There seem to be no real traffic laws…there are two sides of the road but people drive on both. Stop signs and lights are routinely ignored. Motorcycles (not the ones attached to tuk-tuks) carry anywhere between 1-5 passengers and this doesn’t include the giant sacks of rice or electronics that may be attached as well. It looks like an accident waiting to happen…until you see the dance. There is a real organization to it. People move in and out smoothly and much more carefully than you expect. After the first 5 terrifying minutes pass you realize you’re not in any more danger here than in NYC. Two weeks in, I’ve yet to see or hear about a traffic accident. It’s a truly amazing sight. Goodheart says he’d rather be in a tuk-tuk in the heart of Phnom Penh than a taxi in New York any day. We actually feel safer and don’t get car sick.

 

As many of you know we met some friends for the first leg of Cambodia. They were kind enough to make arrangements while we were bopping around Australia and they picked a lovely hotel. The pool was a welcome sight and we spent the afternoon getting in some much needed lounging. While waiting for Rob and Michelle to arrive we went to dinner at a wonderful place called Friends, which helps get disadvantaged youth off the streets and trains them in the restaurant business. So, not only does this place do good, the food tastes good! The highlight? Fried ants. Seriously! Very tasty. A couple hours of twiddling our thumbs later, R and M arrived. Talk about surreal. Seeing familiar faces after so long while still in a foreign setting is a feeling that is very difficult to describe; definitely weird, but definitely welcome.

 

Phnom Penh is a very busy city and we had a lot to pack in. I’m still impressed with what we accomplished especially considering some of it was emotionally draining. We took a cooking class where we made spring rolls and one of the national dishes- fish amok. Both were absolutely delicious and we had a ton of fun. It was also a good buffer for the difficult to process Killing Fields. It is amazing how a place so lovely and serene was the scene of so much horror and devastation. If you know nothing about Cambodia’s history or the Khmer Rouge go educate yourself right now. The movie The Killing Fields is a good place to start. Just make sure you have lots of tissues handy. We also took an absolutely incredible bike tour to the islands just off the city where we were able to get a close up look at country life and see a silk farm. Our tour guide was fantastic and it was so nice to be on a bike again. This was our buffer for S21, the former prison used by the Khmer Rouge. I, personally, did not make it through the whole thing. It was a rough journey and I think it will sit with us for a long time. We did eat well in Phnom Penh. Goodheart and I tried tarantula! They were tasty, like soft shell crab. Crazy food aside we are seriously eating well here. Dishes like amok, lok lak, fried noodles and rice, soups, etc. are our typical fare and we have not once craved “Western Food”. Admittedly we are only two weeks in, but I can’t imagine that craving is going to come any time soon.

 

From Phnom Penh the four of us moved on to Siem Reap, home of the famous Angkor temples. We got a three-day temple pass and hit as many as we could. While Angkor Wat is the most famous, Goodheart and I were actually a tad under whelmed. Is it beautiful? Yes, of course. It just seems to be a bit overrun with tourists and as a result lost a bit of the soul you should feel at temples. The smaller ones were much more enjoyable and powerful. My personal favorite was Neak Pean (look it up!)- small, unassuming, on its own little island with a moat. Lots of water, lots of peace. We attempted a sunset viewing which wasn’t super successful due to the hazy conditions. Sunrise however, I could probably safely say was a highlight for everyone. Instead of joining the crowds at Angkor Wat we went to Pre Rup and were joined by only 4 other people. We climbed the temple in the stars and watched the most incredible sunrise while listening to the world come alive below. Goodheart and I finally got our sunrise!

 

Our final day as a group of 4 we went to the circus, which was awesome! There are a couple circus schools in Cambodia that take in disadvantaged children and give them training and an education. The circus we went to is part of a school that offers a full arts program. Aside from the acrobatics we saw they have fine arts, graphic design, animation, dance, and theatre. The performance was impressive and even made Goodheart (notoriously a tough judge when it comes to gymnastics and acrobatics) flinch at times. A really nice dinner followed and the next morning it was time to say goodbye to R and M. The house we had rented felt strangely empty once they were gone and there was a bit of an adjustment period for the two of us. We rode very old rickety bikes to the nearby lake and tried to get back on something of a schedule but we were antsy to move on.

 

We are in Battambang now and have found our travel feet again. After the 4-hour bus ride we immediately found a tuk-tuk with an awesome driver who directed us to a real Khmer lunch stall then took us outside the city to a pre-Angkor temple called Wat Banan. From there we went to Phnom Sampeau (“Boat Mountain”) which houses a lovely Buddhist temple, the depressing Killing Caves (once again, the Khmer Rouge turned something beautiful into something terrible), and the awe-inspiring Bat Caves. We stuck around for sunset and were rewarded with the site of millions (literally!) of bats streaming out of their cave for the night. The locals told us that it can take 45 minutes to an hour for the caves to empty! The bats resembled birds and the sight was stunning. Today was spent doing a walking tour we found for free online. The architecture in Battambang is interesting as it is often a mix of French and Khmer with modern renovations. Hidden in the guide we found a lunch recommendation which turned out to be perfect- a Chinese noodle house that makes their own noodles. Yummy. We spent the afternoon the Khmer way…out of the sun…and ventured out again this evening for a dinner that prompted us to write our first ever review for TripAdvisor. This was quite possibly the best meal we’ve had in Cambodia. Simple, no-frills, down home Cambodian food. To top it off we learned the chef is only 23.

 

Tomorrow we head back to Siem Reap for the night as Monday we start volunteering at a school about 16km outside the city. I’m excited to put my teaching skills to use but also terrified. While working at the school we will be staying with a local family and it is likely we will be without internet the entire time, but we will check back in on the other side when we make our way to Sen Monorom, via Kompong Cham, to play with the elephants. Did I mention I love Cambodia?

 

Lots of love and hugs to everyone. We really do miss you all!!!

W&G

Tags: cambodia, temples

 

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