Cambodia: First Impressions

The more Teresa and I traveled, the more we researched things like border crossings, visa extensions, possible travel routes, and so forth. We’d read firsthand experiences from other travelers, and it was interesting to see the perceptual variations between each person. In the end, when it came to crossing the Laos border into Cambodia, our options were to pay a little extra, in the realm of a few American dollars, or end up in a potential argument over those few dollars.

One of the charges we’d heard we’d be coming across was a $1 health check to certify us healthy enough to enter, and a piece of paper that told us to bring it to the hospital with us if we ended up there. The health check was hilarious when I think back. An old man with some kind of scanner comes up to us and just presses a button, it beeps, and apparently we’re healthy enough to enter the country at that point. It’s a funny way to tax people that extra dollar without actually incorporating it into the standard price for a visa. I read a few accounts online prior where the person claimed that they argued with the authorities over these dollar-here-dollar-there tariffs. I really don’t see it worth being the energy and it’s not like any one person is being singled out. I understand the principal, I guess, but it was a dollar I could spare to avoid an unnecessary confrontation.

The bus ride down to the capital, Phnom Penh, let us see a flatter landscape that we had seen so far. Fields upon fields of vibrant green rice paddies surrounded us at nearly every instance. In the towns, houses were propped up on stilts, 10-15 feet of space between the floor and the ground below. Water buffalo worked their way up the streets, or stood scattered in fields.

We met a group of people from Singapore who were sitting in front of us. They had an iPad out with an active GPS system, out here on the edge of Cambodia’s backwoods. We started talking to them, asking about where they come from and what life was like in Singapore. They told us about the Marina Bay Sands, one of the most exotic hotels in the world, a spot Teresa and I had our eyes set on as a possible place to have that glorious one-day splurge amidst the months of shoestring travel. Can’t wait to talk about that one.

The ride saw us through several small towns, some only a scatter of houses and small businesses, others a little more bustling, the streets caked in a rusty colored mud as the rain started up about midafternoon.

It felt like we had entered Phnom Penh for a long time before we actually got to the city center; it’s a huge city, the biggest we’d been to since Bangkok, and it sprawls outwards for miles and miles around. We came in from the East and worked our way to the core, yet another city situated on rivers, this time at a large junction of three of them. Here, the Mekong, Sab River, and Tonle Basak are gathered in a basin lined with concrete, walkways, parks, and buildings. But we didn’t see any of that at first; it was far too dark and we were unsure as to where exactly we were situated.

The city itself, however, was far from dark. The lights were shining bright in this active enclave where the majority of citizens are under the age of 30 and a youthful vibrancy resonates throughout the air. You can literally feel the energy, permeating your pores as you absorb this collective vitality.

Before we found a place to stay, we stopped over at a restaurant, ordering up some chicken and rice, and some Loc Lac, a staple in Cambodian cuisine with beef, egg, cucumbers, and tomatoes. I honestly don’t know how to describe the sauce that the beef is tossed in. It’s just…Loc Lac. I have no other reference point.

Teresa and I were pretty tired and we knew we’d be staying in Phnom Penh for a good week before heading up north again to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. We settled on a place that was a little beyond our typical price range, but nothing too crazy. It was a beautiful room too, with a nice little fridge to keep the fruit we’d get from the market the next day. It was up 6 stories worth of steps though so once we stepped out, we decided to stay out for a while before heading back in.

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Reaching for my favorite fruit: mangosteens

I remember we had come home the next evening and this really old American man was hanging out with an escort in the lobby. We watched the bartender hand the man a drink and a condom at the same time. He truly didn’t look like the kind of guy whose heart could handle that kind of action, but I don’t think he came all the way to this part of the world to live a geriatric lifestyle.

I love writing these entries because my mind and my heart become so immersed in these vivid adventures. And it all really was an adventure, even if we weren’t always climbing mountains or diving into oceans. We were literally living in Asia and we did whatever we felt like every day. We worked extremely hard to be able to do that, and we are doing the same now to be able to push new frontiers to our journeying resumes.

Phnom Penh was another of those places, for so many reasons, that I reminisce on with longing because there is so much good there, and the city, and country, were so good to us.

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phnom penh movies

At the movies in Phnom Penh…just remembered that the underground parking lot where I left my motorbike had a hole-in-the-wall club with plenty of transvestites and rowdy locals. An undoubtedly interesting scene to witness as we drove away.

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