Thinking back on my trip to Cambodia in December 2012, I cannot help it but to smile. I am convinced that Cambodians are the happiest people on this planet. They are forever smiling. The Khmer Smile. Their positive attitudes radiate through the crumbling streets. They are one of the poorest countries in the world, yet they are never without their warm happy smiles and incredible personalities. They welcome you into their lives with open arms, show you their culture, the gems of their cities, introduce you to their families, but most importantly, they make sure that your trip was so incredible that when you leave Cambodia, you do so with a Khmer Smile of your own plastered to your face.
My friend Lana and I started off our Asian adventure with a quick but wild, one night stop over in Bangkok, and then flew on to Cambodia for 10 days. On our one wild night in Bangkok, we befriended two guys, one Irish guy Graham, and a South African guy by the name of Dimitri. While drinking a few casual buckets, sitting on Khao San Road, watching the throngs of tourists stream by, our new friends decided that they would join us on our flight to Cambodia the following day and join us on that leg of our trip. Things got a bit out of hand as the evening went along, and by the end of the night, we’d lost both the guys, and had no way of contacting them. Graham managed to find us in the morning, but Dimitri was nowhere to be found .
We had a flight to catch. The three of us flew into Phnom Penh, which is the capital of Cambodia, and also located in the centre of the country. When we landed, we were herded into queues with a crowd of other tourists to buy our visa’s for $20. Easy and organised.
Once we’d collected our backpacks, we headed outside to get our first taste of the land of smiles. I’d read somewhere that it’s cheaper to get a tuk tuk into town from the airport, instead of a taxi, but thank goodness we didn’t take that advice. Our taxi (shared by myself, Lana, Graham, a German couple, our taxi driver, and 5 backpacks) weaved its way through peak traffic and masses of tuk-tuks. It took ages to get to our hostel, The Mad Monkey, but damn it was awesome when we got there. Big dorms with the most spacious bunk beds I’ve ever slept on. Lana and I could’ve easily shared a bunk! Great food. Friendly staff. Most importantly…a fantastic rooftop bar. We only spent one night there, and in the morning we headed to the other side of the city, and found ourselves another hostel, not quite as epic, but the location was great.
Now, theres not that much to see in Phnom Penh and the heat is stifling.The city is on the main river which runs through the country, but its not much of a site. Two or three days is more than enough here. A day trip to the killing fields which show the mass graves of all those murdered in the Khmer Rouge is enough to set the scene. The Russian market provides for some great cheap shopping, but be prepared to sweat. The tuk-tuks are a great way to ride around within the city, but be sure not to leave your handbags or backpacks in easy reach, as the motorcyclists riding past are know for snatching tourists bags and driving off with them. Goodbye passport.
All in all, Phnom Penh wasn’t the greatest of places I’ve been, and it’s not a place I’ll go back to in a hurry, but it was great to get an understanding of the Khmer history, and luckily we left their unscathed.
- 2 former Khmer Rouge leaders offer apologies at Cambodia genocide tribunal (globalnews.ca)
- Introducing: Cambodia! (lavieenchina.wordpress.com)