First Visit to Cambodia

Sarah and I @ Elsewhere

After making a sudden decision to travel to Cambodia with my sister, Sarah, I found myself buying tickets, buying a digital camera( god bless eBay ) , borrowing an ipod ( thanks to my nephew Jim ) and researching this unknown country heavily on the internet. I had no idea what to expect but all I knew was I needed this holiday badly and I needed it to be good. Too long in a small coastal town had warped my sense of reality and I needed to be back in the flow of life that is humanity. I was looking for an epiphany……..Our first stop was the capitol, Phnom Penh, for 3 days. Many people skip this funky city to head straight for Siem Reap and its temples but I can tell you it is well worth the visit . Personally I love the hustle and bustle of cities like this. I loved Bangkok when I visited years ago and I loved San Jose in Costa Rica and Marrakesh in Morocco for the same reasons.Sure, they can be busy and can be dirty and yes,they are rich with the ..er….”perfume” of life and of course there can be dangers at every turn ( mostly for the careless ) but you sure know you are living and there is nothing like being in sensory overload for 72 hours !.

We checked into our hotel and then headed straight for lunch at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club and as we attempted to orientate ourselves we watched the scenes playout on the river front below us. Like a movie in slow motion ( slowed by the oppressive heat ! ) we took in a kaleidoscope of Cambodian life. The traffic alone can keep you entertained for hours. Traffic Rule #1 in Cambodia = There are no rules. We saw the good , the bad and the downright ugly and I couldn’t help but wonder where else in the world could be as frontier-like as this. I am sure some of the African Cities are way up there on the list but I wonder would they would also have the charm that PP has. I can here some people snorting and saying ” Charm ? Charm ?” but this city has it in abundance. From the famous river front setting of the Tonle Sap and it’s colonial buildings and flying flags to the madness of the back streets, Phnom Penh has a pulse the size of Texas that is irresistible and undeniable.

Toul Sleng – Harrowing

The next few days were spent viewing Toul Sleng ( an interment camp where tens of thousands of the victims of Pol Pot and his horrors were photographed and subsequently tortured ) , The Killing Fields ( too harrowing for words and the source of many tears as I sat on a lonely levy bank and gazed over the fields unable to take any photos ), The National Museum and a visit to Soksabay, a drop in shelter for homeless children. We dined at lovely restaurants like Friends
( an organisation that trains street kids to become restaurant workers and the home to the best chicken Curry in Cambodia ) and Khmer Surin and found ambient bars like Elsewhere – a lovely colonial house with a verdant garden and big comfy day beds to lie around on whilst sipping mojitos. Hell…there was even a small plunge pool ! With our ever- faithful, ever- trusty and ever- keen tuk tuk driver Mr Nimo we criss- crossed Phnom Penh and by the time we left a few days later we felt like we had already been in the country a month !

Our next stop was to be Siem Reap and after a harrowing, hot bus ride compounded by the wailing of the dreaded video karaoke blaring from the bus TV screens, we arrived in “Temple Town” and checked into the somewhat salubrious Angkorland Hotel. This was no $10 backpacker special and I was somewhat embarrassed as I hauled my dusty arse into the lobby. After a quick cold shower and a cold Lao beer from the mini bar,we were met in the lobby by our guide Danith and our driver and were whisked off to a sunset viewing of Angkor Wat from a temple called Phnom Bhakeng. This involved scrambling up a steep and heavily tree-rooted track with the hordes , climbing up some even steeper stairs and then combat jostling for position to see the famed Angkor Wat through the trees some 20kms away or so. The light was horrible so my photos were a failure and the crowds were less than enjoyable and were surely a sign of things to come. However it was still a breathtaking scene to see the 8th wonder of the world before me and I was looking forward to getting more intimate with “AW” and other temples in the morning.

Bayon

Our first stop on our day of ” Templing ” was to be the famous Bayon Temple, a tribute to the creative and egotistical whims of Cambodia’s legendary king, Jayavarman V11. As we entered this incredible structure with it’s 54 gothic towers and 2oo- odd enormous smiling faces staring down at us ,the heavens opened and as it turned out this was a blessing in disguise. The Korean and Japanese tour groups weren’t too keen on getting wet and as they retreated to the safety of their mini buses I simply removed my thongs and made like Jemima puddle duck ! This intimate temple with its stooped corridors and eerie nooks and crannies was straight out of a Boy’s Own Annual and I felt like a 10 year old as I explored every twist and turn. Off in the distance I could hear Danith asking ” Justin, Justin ! Where are you ! Stay Close ! ” and I delighted in losing him for the duration of our visit ! Definitely my favourite temple that made even the worst of photographers ( i.e ; me ) come out looking like a pro.

Ta Prohm

Next stop was Ta Prohm, the Temple made (in) famous by Angelina Jollie and her film, Tomb Raider. Here the jungle is slowly swallowing the temple and the roots of the trees come in only one size – massive. It is amazing how little the Cambodian authorities are doing to preserve these historical monument
s. There are no ropes cordoning off delicate areas and although there are some restoration works going on ( consisting mostly of scaffolding being put up to stop walls collapsing ) anyone that has the inclination can pick up a piece of Khmer history and walk off with it and I am sure there are some tourists who do just that.Indeed, some “enterprising” locals are doing it by the truckload as evident by a story in the local paper that detailed the bust of a truckload of heads and statues pilfered from one of the temples. When our guide told us that the Prime Minister , Hun Sen had granted his best mate a 50 year concession on Angkor Wat and its outer temples, effectively making it a private cash cow, I began to understand how things work in this country. Hun Sen’s mate is now one of the richest men in Cambodia and when you pay US$20 at the gate to enter the park – guess where it goes ? Sickening really. I marvelled at the asian tour groups as they clambered over the ” Do Not Clamber ” signs and had to shake my head as they lined up to stand in the doorway where Angelina stood whilst shooting their obligatory peace signs for the camera. We were shown where Angelina drove her 4wd right up to the “back door”of the temple so she wouldn’t have to walk from her trailer – suffice to say she had to drive over some pretty ancient areas to get to her drop off . What a cow. I don’t care what she has donated or from where she has adopted , she personifies Hollywood with it’s “money conquers all” attitude. AND – I read in the SMH today (4/6 ) ; “… Jolie and Pitt will give Shiloh a $US17,000 ($23,000) diamond-studded dummy.It’s a solid, white-gold pacifier, with 279 diamonds. The whole front of it is covered basically with diamonds, three-carat plus” said Mathis Riiber, a founder of Itsmybinky.com. Enough said !

Angkor Wat

After opting for a brief retreat from the midday sun we returned to Siem Reap for lunch and whilst Sarah had a swim, I headed down town for a stroll with my Khmer dictionary in hand to practice my burgeoning skills. We recharged our digital batteries, regrouped and headed back out to Angkor Wat for the Sunset session. The crowds were hectic although Danith assured us this was the quite time( being the start of the rainy season ) and as we joined the human caravan that strolled across the famous causeway and over the moat once inhabited by fierce crocodiles, the towers of Angkor Wat arose majestically in front of us. Built by Jayavarman V11, it is believed that Great Angkor and its surrounding region supported over a million people. As we entered through the huge surrounding walls I couldn’t help but wonder how in Vishnu’s name they built this structure without the usage of cranes and trucks. The blocks of sandstone were HUGE and the cost to human life must have been huger. To be honest, ( and this is only MY opinion ) I found Angkor Wat to be a little less impressive than the other smaller Temples we had visited. The 1.2km of Bas relief wall carvings were outstanding and were probably the highlight for me . The intricacy of these carvings was simply amazing and were it not for our guide Danith pointing out some of the finer points of the walls we would have missed alot of great stuff. We climbed up the insanely steep stairs to the temple’s Zenith and watched has hot air balloons drifted over the outer areas. Quite a sight as the sunset slowly over the jungle below us. As we walked back out along the Avenue of Victory there were many people – backpackers, monks,lovers and photographers alike – watching the spectacle of the sunset giving way to a full moon over this famous icon and as the sweet smell of ganga wafted and the camera flashes fired, it was very serene indeed.

Our final night on Siem Reap’s Bar Street for a few cold beers was somewhat dampened as we watched the young kids sniffing glue right next to our table on the pavement. These kids were very young – some no more than 7 years old and as they collapsed on the pavement in a glue induced coma for yet another night it was heart-wrenching to wonder where they might end up and yet again the reality of life in Cambodia for some if its youngest residents was rammed home.We flew back to Phnom Penh and made our way to the Bus Station as we were to catch a bus to Sihanoukville that afternoon and we had yet to buy tickets. Leaving Sarah in the a/c comfort of the taxi, I haggled with bus operators to find the right bus at the right price and by the time we got out of the taxi I was on a short fuse and was drenched in sweat. Worse was to come. A few minutes later I had to stop myself from projectile vomiting as I realized I had left my day bag containing my life; passport, US currency, digital camera, ipod etc in the back seat of the taxi that was by now well and truly departed. S H I T. I can’t even describe the feeling as Sarah and I looked at each other in complete disarray. To Sarah’s credit though, there was no abuse and we both went into into damage control. Sarah stayed at the terminal whilst I hopped a motoscooter ride back out to the airport to see if I could locate the driver .On arrival at the airport I soon had 6 taxi drivers on their mobiles and within 10 long minutes they had locate the driver . This lovely chap was standing in front of me with my bag intact some 15 minutes later and he insisted I check the contents as he explained “the bag was behind me on the seat and I couldn’t see it. Please… you check everything ” It was all there and as I tipped them all a healthy reward I really fealt like prostrating myself on the road and kissing their feet! HAPPY (and lucky) DAYS! We roared back to the Bus terminal and I will never forget the look on Sarah’s face as I arrived triumphantly holding my bag aloft.

Sarah,Camille, Aejke.Sihanoukville.

Several hours later we were sitting on a beach in Sihanoukville sipping a beer and a G & T and laughing about our slight…..er…mishap. It’s stories like that which make travelling a blast but its not the ideal way to create a memory!Our room was a mere 5 steps from Serendipity beach and our timing was perfect as it was the Khmer New Year which meant a 5 day long weekend,which in turn meant the beaches were packed with Khmer holidaymakers and everyone was in a festive mood. On top of that it was the full moon, which ensured some nutty behaviour was to be had in the bars at night. The next few days was spent getting $5 massages (pedicure and manicure included) swimming during the day, partying at night, watching local festivals and generally chilling out. I was also lucky to have an old Australian friend, Camille Hardman, join us (a documentary maker, Camille just happened to be in the country at the same time ) and we had also been introduced to an Australian chap by the name of John McGinley whom my nephew, Max, had met some 3 weeks earlier on his school trip to Cambodia. John is a very interesting man. Several years ago he was a money market trader based in Amsterdam and whilst relocating back to Australia he dropped into Cambodia for a holiday and ended up staying. The result of John’s extended sojourn in Cambodia is the creation of M’Lop Tapang ( The Protection Umbrella Tree ) http://www.mloptapang.org/ , an organization with two centres that act as drop-in havens for children who live and work on the street or who are caught up in the cycle of drug using. This has all been done with what donations John can muster along the way and he has funded his own existence in Cambodia to boot. He is a champion in the truest sense of the word and the work he does is to be admired. Please visit his website and if you can -help with a donation -no matter how small – it will help.

Relaxed and refreshed we journeyed back to Phnom Penh and after a farewell dinner at Khmer Surin restaurant, Sarah and I found ourselves saying goodbye to each other on the street outside the Top Banana guesthouse at 8am the next morning. I had organized to extend my holiday a further 10 days (for reasons I will explain shortly) and thus it was with a twinge of sadness I bade my oldest sister farewell. The decision to travel with Sarah had paid off and we have a memory and a (further!) bond now that will stay with us forever. She was the perfect travel partner. Low stress, unobtrusive, understanding and most of all good fun. I would do it all again in a flash Sar – where to next?! Though I rather hope we might go back to Cambodia together again one day because I think we were both surprised at how much we loved the place. We have both traveled extensively to underdeveloped and developed countries and Cambodia really got under our skin.

Leakhana and I at Elsewhere on my second night in Cambodia.

(In three years time she would become my wife and mother to our daughter !! TRUE STORY! )

So I guess now is where I should tell you the reason for my extension right? Well ,apart from the fact I was loving the country, I met a gorgeous girl on my first night in the capitol. True Story. Her name is Leakhena Yim, a Khmer national, and well….what can I say … she is gorgeous! I met her some 6 hours after getting of the plane at a cafe on the street opposite the FCC where she served me . Completely blind to the Khmer customs I boldly asked her if she wanted to have a drink with me after work and she accepted. It was like being a 17 year old again. After a few dates in Phnom Penh  where I would pick her up, talk to her mum and then we would go out and I would drop her home again later (she met my sister, we eventually met her entire family!) I asked Lek if she wanted to join me on a trip down to Kampot Province (her home province) when I returned from Siem Reap and she was all for it. On arrival back in Phnom Penh we had been introduced to an Aussie English teacher by the name of Murray Heath through mutual contacts back in Australia and after only a few beers, Murray kindly offered the loan of a great Honda A1 4 stroke road / trail bike which I gladly accepted. After dropping my backpack at Leakhena’s house and scaling down to a small day bag for both of us, we headed for Murray’s compound that he was building on the banks of the Tonle Sap. Complete with 9 ball table and views of the river, Murray was building his haven and a lovely haven it was too. Funnily enough his daughter April’s middle name is Leakhena ! Murray still has some work to do on his shangri-la and I admire his decision to forge a life for himself in Cambodia – let alone deal with the Cambodian builders !. After strapping the bag to the bike and getting some last minute road directions from Murray we headed off into the countryside.

Meet the family

Like a novel, my trip went from page to page and each chapter was just getting better and just when I thought it couldn’t get any better – it would- and with no real itinerary, a beautiful girl behind me and a thumping big bike underneath me I felt on top of the world.Kampot..here we come! The trip down was a 4-hour game of mental concentration as all manner of highway obstacles (cows, buses, dogs, chickens etc) hurled themselves at us but we made it safely, checked into Blissful Guesthouse,and headed straight for Ta Eao restaurant for some famous pepper crab. As we watched the sun set over Bokor Mountain and the last of the sunlight shards play over Prek Kampong bay (more a river) right in front of us, once again I reveled in where I was, who I was with and what I was doing. I had made loose plans back in Sihanoukville to meet up with Camille and her beau, James , ( a young lawyer from Jersey in the Channel Islands of the UK whom Leakhena delighted in calling James Bond ) in Kampot and as Lek and I sat in a bar after dinner watching the lightning crack over the river who should appear but our fellow travelers!! ” I just knew you’d be in this bar !” said Camilla as she plonked herself down and ordered some food. All was set for a mighty dirt bike assault on the Famous Bokor the next day and it was soon lights out for all of us.

1/2 way up Bokor. The pain……oh…….the pain.

Bokor Casino

I can’t even adequately describe what the ascent to Bokor was like. I have done a lot of trail bike riding back in Australia and I would say I am above average in dirt riding skills but Bokor made me feel like a bloody beginner again! It took us two and a half hours and the road was absolutely shocking. Potholed, washed out, running with water, overgrown with jungle, steaming hot, slippery and treacherous, it threatened at every turn to drop you on your arse and in James and Camilla’s case it did so more than once. In his defence though, James Bond hadn’t done a lot of riding and his bike was shit house. No tread on the rear tyre and many years old. I thought he did a sterling job and as we were both wearing sandals and shorts, pain was the order of the day. I think we all felt a bit like Sir Edmund Hillary when we go to the top and we wasted no time in heading for Popokvil Falls for a refreshing dip in the cool clear waters. After washing away the grime, we motored across the plateau to Bokor Station via a quick stop at the Black Palace, King Sihanoukville’s private residence. Bokor Mountain has a chequered history. It was built in 1914 as a lofty playground for the French at great financial and human cost and the views from the now decrepit Bokor Palace Hotel have to be seen to be believed. The panorama spreads out in front of you from an altitude of 3000ft and takes in a massive swathe of lush jungle to the coastline and an expansive archipelago that stretches to the horizon. It is absolutely breathtaking and I could almost see, fee
l and hear the French all dressed up drinking cocktails and playing croquet or boules or whatever! Unfortunately independence fighting in the late 1940s and 70s has decimated all the buildings up on Bokor and it is now an eerie shell of its former self. China has apparently bought the land from Cambodia and will repair the road and build (no doubt) a bloody awful hotel or casino. And the pillage goes on and on and on. It’s shame really because Bokor could be an adventure playground.It lends itself to mountain biking, hangliding, horse riding, hiking, all manner of outdoor pursuits. Whilst the girls nattered away ,James Bond and I dined on two minute noodles and warm beer and took in the views from the Palace Hotel as we tried to prolong the inevitable trip back down which we were all dreading. Our bums were still numb from the ride up and if we could have got Scotty to beam us down we would have no questions!

In actual fact the the ride down wasn’t so bad after all and we were soon entrenched at the Blissful bar having a celebratory ale. We had achieved a real feat and it was certainly something to file in the ever-growing E for Experience file.The next day James and Camille leftPhnom Penh and after a lunch with Leakehna’s aunt and uncle we headed down to Kep Sur Mer with her sister Neung and cousin Goonteyer close behind on a moto scooter. They wanted to come for the leisurely 40 minute ride and I instead suggested they join us for the night which they thought was a great idea. On arrival in the seaside resort of Kep, we secured two side-by-side bungalows with a wicked view over the Gulf of Thailand (Vanna Bungalows / US $10 night) and as it was raining we decided on beers and cards for the rest of the afternoon. That night the rain cleared and we were rewarded with a gorgeous sunset over the gulf, which we took in on the seaside boulevarde before dining on crab and squid at a waterfront restaurant .

Kep is yet another reminder of the devastation that war has wrought on Cambodia. Founded back in the 1908 as a haven for the French elite, Cambodians continued the tradition throughout the 1960s and it must well have been like St Tropez. With it’s wide lined streets with street lamps and guttering and it’s huge French colonial villas along the waterfront, Kep would have been quite a swinging place in its time. Along came the Khmer Rogue and the war and all the beauty was undone in a matter of years by shelling and looting. Now all that remains is a ghost resort where the lovely old buildings now house squatters and the waterfront is a shade of its former glory. Khmer people still flock there on holidays and weekends to eat crab in the many crab shelters along the water and there are some nice bungalow operations springing up (check out The Verandah Bungalow – it is amazing) but all in all Kep Sur Mer must be one of the most underutilized and underdeveloped coastal sites in the world. I can almost here American developers licking their lips as we speak and it must surely only be a matter of time before they get their hands on it if the Chinese don’t first!!

Guntheyer,Leakhana and Srey Neung play cards

Paradise found

As the girls waved goodbye, Lek and I headed for the port and a long-boat ride out to Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island ) a lush little island about 20 minutes off the coast of Kep that was home to 3 small “restaurants” and some tiny bungalows at US$2 a night. We stayed the day and I fished with a local man for my brunch with a traditional fishing net. Easier than it looked but well worth the result ( I ended up wth a large plate of what was very similar to fried whitebait ) and then we had ate a kilo of crab for lunch (US $5/kilo for about 10 Blue Swimmer crabs!) all washed down with some 50c beer. I was angling for joint ownership of a new bungalow set up with my new friend when he informed us that the Chinese had bought the Island and were building a casino. All the residents ( some of whom had been born there ) had been given US $500 to piss off the island and construction was to start soon. I almost cried on the spot. Bloody Chinese and their casinos. I will tell you a quick story about what I heard about the Chinese and their trips to Cambodia to gamble. It is supposedly a true story that came from a Danish Aid Worker we met in Phnom Penh who has dealt with the results. Apparently it is good luck for Chinese men to sleep with virgins before they go and gamble .The Casino Hotels in Phnom Penh and other areas ” procure” young virgins from the countryside for just this reason. Every Khmer I met or travelled with looked at the casinos as a place of evil and with good reason and as we would pass them on our travels the Khmer would always point at them and say ” very bad place ! “. They are no better than oversized brothels with gaming tables and solely for the usage of Japanese, Chinese and Korean men. Charming.

The Rabbit Island boat - $15 return

Fishing with a net ; Lesson 1

But, sorry, I digress so back to the story at hand……..After a final night in Kep and a lovely dinner at the Verandah I was becoming painfully aware that our time together was coming to a close and it was giving me a major case of heartache. Leakhena and I were enjoying each other’s company immensely and luckily we had good opportunities to talk each other about how we felt . It still didn’t make it any easier that I would be flying out of the country in under a week. I was feeling very close to her and having met her lovely family and travelling and sharing times with her sister and cousin made it all the harder. Who knows what will happen. I know what would happen if I could have it my way but it isn’t that easy with all the distance between us so… one-step at a time hey? From Kep we headed back to Kampot early in the morning, which afforded us time to visit Phnom Sorsia – a limestone cave complex and Tek Chhoou waterfalls. After a 30-minute ride out of town we arrived at the waterfalls and soon found ourselves on the Bamboo Road heading off into the jungle alongside the river. As we headed further and further up the river we passed teams of men filling in potholes and upgrading this basic jungle trail and all the while we watched as guys on post- war pushbikes careened down the hill with loads of bamboo on the back. After stopping to take some photos of one of the road crews, I was approached by a young man who as it turned out was an interpreter. He seemed keen to practice his English and as we talekd I found out, surprise -surprise, that the falls were being dammed for Hydro Electricity and that Cambodia wouldn’t benefit from the project as the power was being sold to Thailand! More plundering damn it !.We found a lovely spot to swim on the flowing waters and feeling cleansed we headed back to the Rusty Keyhole for an afternoon beverage and some chicken skewers.

One more final night at Blissful Guest house ( a must stay if you ever get down to Kampot – it is a home away from home ! Angela the owner has done a great job ! ) and a torrid night on the shooters with Ben the Barman and the next day we said our goodbyes and jumped back onto our trusty bike for the long haul back to Phnom Penh. By the time we arrived 3 hours later we were hungover, sore, hot, dusty and longing for a shower and a beer and we were very thankful when Murray’s driver dropped us back at California 2 Guesthouse which was right on the riverfront. We promptly fell into bed for a 12-hour sleep and awoke refreshed for my last day in Cambodia. However something was not at all right with my right leg as it was causing me undue amounts of pain in the shin area and upon inspection I found that a small nick had become infected – badly. So on my list of things to do on my last day I added GET DRUGS! and after getting some photos printed and buying some frames from the Central market for Leakhena I headed for a Pharmacy where I purchased some Antibiotics for a few dollars . I couldn’t get them into my mouth quick enough !. As a long term expat told me back at California 2 in a thick American Accent ” Man anyone who has been in Cambodia for longer than a year has the ugliest fuckin’ legs you will ever see”.

A shave and a haircut $1

Ma,Leakhana,Srey Neung, Grandma

All that was left now was to take a quick rest and then shower and get ready for the farewell dinner with Leakhena and her family. We headed over to her apartment and there was the whole gang. Grandma, Mum, Sisters, Brothers and Nieces, all dressed and ready to go so we loaded up cars and tuk tuks and headed over the Mekong rover to a Khmer restaurant of epic proportions. I can’t remember the name of this noshery but will always remember the band that were playing up on stage ( badly ), the beer girls that were touting their wares and the table full of shifty Khmer men (soldiers? Government? ) that were sitting at the table next to us getting absolutely faceless on $200 bottles of Johnny Walker. They had a bottle EACH and drank them dry within an hour and the last I saw of them was as they got into their gold Lexus 4WD and drove out the front gate.Struth. We tucked into all sorts of delicious fare( Ch’n Gun ! / delicious ) and enjoyed our last night “as a family” together. That might sound a bit weird to you but remember ; I had visited Lek’s apartment half a dozen times, travelled with her sister and cousin, met and dined with her Uncle and Aunt and generally been accepted as a friend from day one. They welcomed me with open arms and allowed me to take their daughter / sister on a long holiday with complete trust and for that I am eternally grateful. Saying goodbye to them tore me apart and her little nieces would not let go of my hand which was very difficult. It was like they were saying ” just stay !” and yet….I couldn’t ! I managed to get half an hour with Jerome, the French boyfriend of Leakhana’s oldest sister and we talked about several things and I know at least I have a contact “on the inside” to assist me with any communications that need to be done.

My parting gift to Leakhena is a 3 month English course which will help us to communicate better but will also help her to hopefully forge a better future for herself. Saying goodbye to her youngest sister ,Neung was also particularly hard as we had formed a special bond over our random English / khmer lessons. Neung is a real little sweety with a smile that would light a room up and I hope she has a happy life. I barely slept that night out of sheer sadness but we had agreed days ago that we wouldn’t be saying “goodbye” but rather ” See you soon ” and this helped greatly with the approaching departure. In the morning we had breakfast and as we packed my bags into the tuk tuk who should arrive breathless and smiling but Neung. Lek told me that her younger sister hadn’t slept either and wanted to come to the airport with us so we all boarded the Mr Nimo Express and headed out for one last drive across Phnom Penh together. It must have been quite a site at the airport as I alighted with two gorgeous girls clinging to me and Mr Nimo smiling away and patting me on the back. The girls held a hand each as I walked towards departures and we had to say our goodbyes outside as they weren’t allowed in the terminal. I gave Neung a big hug and a kiss on each cheek and then turned to my gorgeous Leakhena and clung to her for what seemed like forever. A few short ,special,words and a long final kiss and I was on my way out of Cambodia and back to Australia. The girls followed my every move through the glass windows and as I rode the escalator to the top floor we were all smiling and waving at each other secure in the knowledge that we would see each other again someday…..of that I am sure ! ( God….how right I would be ! )

So. Cambodia. How can I even begin to surmise ? I went on a whim and with no real expectations and came back with a memory so strong and a fondness of the country so deep it will stay with me forever. I experienced more in 3 weeks than I had in the last 3 years of my life at a time when I really needed a cathartic injection. I met some wonderful people, travelled some wonderful roads, saw some incredible sights ( good and bad ) and met an incredible girl who I just can’t wait to see again. I had the wonderful experience of travelling with my sister Sarah which I will cherish and the country gave me back my verve and replaced something I had been missing for a long time. For anyone that is looking for somewhere different to go over and above Bali ,Thailand and every other well-worn route in Asia , consider Cambodia. The richness and diversity are overwhelming and the people are fantastic. The only thing it lacked for me was surf !I got back more from my trip than I could ever have imagined before I left and I certainly got that epiphany I so desperately needed !

Cambodia – Laa Hoa Na indeed.

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