Almost exactly one year after my first visit it was time for me to return to what I remembered as my favorite country in the SE Asian peninsula. I was eager to revisit people, places, and memories I had created here before, and as a bonus, I was going to be able to share a week with my brother and his girlfriend. I wasn't returning to Cambodia just for the hell of it, I'd actually made arrangements to teach yoga in Kampot, but decided to give myself a few weeks of travel before doing so. When I arrived back in Phnom Penh I felt a certain level of comfort, happy to be returning rather than learning how to navigate the city for the first time, but that doesn't mean the crazy traffic and busy roads didn't still amaze me. I had two days before my brother arrived and spent them doing mostly nothing. As I wandered the streets for those two days, anticipating my brothers' arrival, I began reflecting on the city (and the country), how much did I really love it?
Remember that one time I raved about my time in Cambodia and vowed it was my favorite country, a place that left a special mark on my heart, especially the people? I guess it's pretty obvious that I met great people and solidified friendships when I could go back and visit them a year later, being welcomed with open arms. Aside from Dara and his family in Siem Reap/Kampong Cham, and Sa Ry in Kampot I had one more stop to make, this time a revisit to Battambang and my friend Moth.
When my two-month stint of being a yoga teacher (English teacher, computer whiz, receptionist) finally came to an end I decided it was time for a visit to the beaches. I spent two months listening to travelers either rave or complain about the enigma that is Sihanoukville, seedy overrun tourist town or outlet to gorgeous beaches, diving and paradise - that was up to each traveler to decide. Having bypassed the area completely on my last visit to the country I decided I should at least pay a visit and attempt to answer this question for myself.
Given the excitement of my first few weeks back in Cambodia, time with visitors and unplanned accidents, I was ready for some R&R in Kampot, oh wait I was meant to be working. Still, I had a place to unpack my bag, make new friends, reconnect with the old and settle myself, at least for the time being. My settling was taking place at Banteay Srey Women's Spa where I'd be the new resident Yoga/English teacher, sound perfect? You're right.
Upon settling myself in Kampot I had mixed feelings about my new placement, sure I had friends, a place to unpack my bag and a room to call my own, but I wasn't sure if I really wanted to stay. I toyed with the idea of breaking my contract and leaving early but decided that it was just my first-week jitters and that I should really try to stick it out. As I arrived the previous volunteer was saying her goodbyes and I could see tears forming in her eyes, I gave the situation a slight eye roll and thought that won't be me. The whole time my focus was on the yoga classes I'd be teaching while I gave little thought to the English lessons that would soon fill my days. The English lessons which gave me countless hours of bonding time with the girls, time I would learn to cherish.
Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, bad luck or bad karma, I'm not sure what to blame it on but these last few weeks in Cambodia have been a test of my endurance, both physically and mentally. Starting with my broken computer a few weeks ago, my injuries in Kampong Cham and now a little bit of thievery while settling into my new home in Kampot. The fact that I'm blogging about these events from my private [yoga studio attached] bedroom, after finishing [a home made] dinner just goes to show that things must not be that bad. Current situation aside however these last few weeks just go to show that travel isn't always full of rainbows and butterflies [or rather sunsets and cocktails].
After jetting about Asia for another three and a half months it was finally time for me to settle myself in the little town of Kampot and transition back to being a teacher. This time the role was a little different, although I would be teaching some English lessons the main hat (err leggings?) I was to wear was that of Yoga Teacher. Obviously, I knew what I was signing up for, but when it came down to it, the day before my first class, I was petrified. Aside from the three people I taught at my training last April, a few friends and random travelers in hostel common rooms, I hadn't actually taught a class yet. Lucky for me though this women's spa in a chilled-out town in Cambodia is the perfect place for a teacher to dip her toes in the water.
While making plans for my Brothers visit to Cambodia I was pretty certain I would not be joining them for a day at Angkor Wat, after all, I had just been there a year before, I highly doubted much had changed in that time. After their arrival however, I realized that my time with my visitors was short and seeing these sights with someone would be a bit different from doing it alone. My only good reason for not joining was the $20 price tag on the admission ticket but I decided to suck it up and fork it over. While at it I decided we should pay Dara the extra costs and utilize his skills as a tour guide, something I wasn't able to do last year and would ensure a slightly different experience.
After visiting and falling in love with this country a year ago I couldn't wait to share it with people close to me. My brother and his girlfriend Katie were willing to endure the 14+ hour plane journey to come to see me (okay, Angkor Watt and the country itself may have had something to do with their visit). The only downside to their visit was that they only had a week to spare (stupid American jobs and vacation rules) but I was determined to help them make the most of it. As much as I wanted to take them to Kampot, the city where I'd be teaching yoga, or visiting my friend Dara's hometown in Kampong Cham, I knew they'd really only be able to fit in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. As I was eager for their visit I spent some time brainstorming what we must do, see, and most importantly eat, I wanted them to leave with a good impression of the country, as I had a year before.
A few weeks ago I was thinking about one of the questions everyone LOVES to ask, "What's your favorite place in the world?". While this question is generally proposed by other travelers and referring to a specific country or city, I began thinking about it on a much wider, yet simpler scale. As any traveler will know it's near impossible to pick one location as our favorite place so I realized I had to think of this question as something I could take with me, a place I could always be. Of course, I still wasn't able to narrow it down to just one but I did a good job of finding a few answers, four to be exact.
1. Seat 24A in an airplane, okay it doesn't have to be 24A but window over the wing, up in the clouds, disconnected from the world is a.l.r.i.g.h.t. with me.
Only recently has this country shown up on the SE Asia tourist route. With a dark, harrowing past it's amazing to see the smiles spread across the locals faces. I've met travelers with mixed impressions, but if you're lucky enough to connect with a few locals I'm confident you'll fall in love.