The last time I went to Cambodia I was a naive 17-year-old. I was there volunteering with some friends- helping on a house build, and somehow we ended up in the middle of the countryside near Phnom Penh in a brothel.
We wanted a night out… the driver took us to a brothel.
Some uncomfortable karaoke singing with two ‘hired’ women and we headed back to the hotel. Lesson learnt, Cambodians don’t speak much English.
Now 16 years later here I was with my family touching down in Siem Reap. The friendliness that exudes from the Thai people isn’t the same with Cambodians. They’re a lot sterner. But many of them still remember a time when genocide was their reality. 1979 was when it ended, so I don’t blame them. If they didn’t live through it themselves their parents did. After following their one word instructions to get through customs we made it to the outside of the airport and searched for our name placard.
Our driver was ready and waiting and off he went to fetch the car, while I smothered the kids in anti mosquito repellant. The buzz from insects was heavy in the air.
Our car turned out to be a tuk tuk.
I have nothing against tuk tuks. In fact I love them. But up until his point we hadn’t used one and thoughts of the kids safety obviously made me think twice.
As we zoomed along the road to our hotel I held on tight to Evie- who was squirming relentlessly. William was happily wedged between myself and Jesse, so he couldn’t escape even if he wanted to.
Traffic beeped around us. Cars and lorries looked like they were moments away from colliding. And children hung precariously from the seats of motorbikes waving at us as we drove past them.
Roundabouts had no form of control. It was a free for all.
It was utterly terrifying but something we grew accustomed to before we left Cambodia again.
Siem Reap was abundant in culture. We explored the Tonle Sap region and of course we experienced the temples.
We even managed to get a water blessing by a Buddist monk, although William point-blank refused to allow the monk to throw water over him. He has issues with getting his hair wet, and that was a step to far in his books!
My children were marvelled at, something which was becoming normal every time we stepped out of the door. Pregnant women or women wanting to get pregnant in particular touched my daughter as a way to transfer luck to them. They adored her blue eyes and extremely pale skin.
Her full on b*tch stare back didn’t seem to bother them thankfully. She’s not one for handing out smiles to anyone but her nearest and dearest (after a lot of effort usually).
Something that did surprise me was the cost of things in Cambodia. Things are priced in US dollar. They prefer it to their own currency. Which meant there was no real form of control over how much things could cost. With the smallest denomination being $1 it meant prices quickly escalated far beyond what they should be worth. In fact Cambodia, which I originally thought would be cheaper than Thailand, turned out to be more expensive because of this.
However what Cambodia has is a certain untouched charm. The beaches are sublime. Without a doubt staying on Paradise beach on the island of Koh Rong Samloem was pure bliss. The warm, shallow waters gently lapped around our ankles and we were always able to find a spot to enjoy in solitude.
Cambodia is still working on its infrastructure. This was very apparent when we went to Kampot and bumped along roads in tuk tuks to get places. And I don’t say the word bumped lightly. If Evie had been a newborn it would have been a literal health hazard. Many a time my whole body lifted out of the bench seat as we hit another pot hole.
We loved Cambodia for all of its rough edges that seemed to seamlessly merge with its beauty. In fact I almost don’t think it would be the same if it was polished up. But with more people keen to visit it’ll be interesting to see if Cambodia can hold on tight to its culture while pleasing the huge influx of tourism it’ll be witness to.