After visiting the lush blue/turquoise paradise of The Great Barrier Reef we were now headed to a starkly different place with beauty all it’s own. Cambodia was never really on our must see places until our daughter and son-in-law visited a few years earlier, they had so many good things to say about it … the food, Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh, prices of hotels, the people, etc. we decided to find out for ourselves what experiences we could have exploring such a place.
After landing at the airport in the Capital of Phnom Penh, we started talking with another passenger from our flight who was from from Australia. She was there to help an orphanage in Siem Reap, of course this peaked our curiosity and we asked for her contact information. Our hope was to try and visit this orphanage during our 1 1/2 day stay in Siem Reap. We knew the time would be tight, but this was a wonderful and unique opportunity and one well worth the effort.
As we starting leaving the airport and while looking for a taxis to take us to the hotel, we had many drivers trying to entice us to use their services, ranging from cars, to taxis to tuk tuks. As with many with our travels we always say… “When in Rome or in this case, when in Cambodia”. Why take a cab when you can take a form of transportation like a tuk tuk. If there was an ox and cart we probably would have taken it. You can take a cab just about anywhere and we absolutely love experiences rather then the ordinary…. The big question in this case, would all our luggage and the three of us fit? We usually pack fairly light, but since we were coming home after living in Australia for three months, we had more than usual.
Like a Tetris master our driver enlisted the help of other drivers to strategically fit not only us but ALL of our luggage. It was quite comical to sit back and watch these guys arrange and then rearrange the small space to fit everything and everyone. Soon we were on our way through the streets of Phnom Penh.
Prior to our trip, one of the books in our bookclub happened to be, “The Rent Collector”, a true story woven with a fictional addition about a young family that lived on a garbage dump in Phnom Penh. This book of redeeming love, forgiveness, strength, and gratitude even during hardships was now having a whole new effect on us (we listened to the book again while we were in Australia and we highly recommend reading it before a trip to this amazing place). Phnom Penh is the capital city, and we were wondering why our driver was taking the backroads, unpaved and unkept only to find out that these were the main streets.
Often the smell of both the open sewer ditches next to the road, mixed with the piles of burning garbage, from the makeshift homes built along the the banks of the sewage canals, were a bit unbearable. This along with the oxen pulling carts, what seemed like thousands of scooters and the occasional person just walking down the middle of the road made for an exciting and eventful ride to our hotel. The crowds of people along the road, lean-to huts put anywhere they could get them to stand made us much more aware of this amazing place and what people do to just survive. This was their reality and very often you would see, set amongst the ruins of a house or business a gorgeous mansion just slid right in between. This was very common as it seems they put houses wherever they can find a spot which makes for quite the dichotomy of a growing yet struggling city.
We finally pulled up to our hotel and after talking with our driver, Mr. Mada, we decided to hire him to take us out the next few days to see the sites rather then take a taxis. This means having your vehicle open to the elements that were rather hot, about 100 degrees F with 100% humility, with no air conditioning. At time we wondered but we wanted to really embrace and experience Cambodia and this seemed the best way to do so.
Cambodia continues on in the next few posts. Find out where our adventures take us…