After a fitful night of sleep in the Kuala Lumpur airport it was off to Phnom Penh, which would have been really exciting had my brain/body knew what was going on. I actually felt like a zombie as I ate breakfast, and downed a coffee - not really sure how that mixed with the residuals of my sleeping pill, but it tasted good. I caught some more zzz's on the plane and was soon touching down on warmer grounds, time to wake up.
I was lucky to make a connection with a friend of a friend of my brothers, who happens to be living in Phnom Penh right now and offered their spare bedroom for me. I knew at the airport I had a few things to take care of before I was let loose: Visa, SIM card for my phone, and transportation. I was a bit skeptical as to how smoothly this would go, based on similar past experienced, but was pleasantly surprised when I found myself texting my mom from my tuk-tuk a short half hour after landing, way to be efficient Cambodia.
Before arriving in Cambodia I had been told by countless people, travel books and blogs how friendly the Khmer people are, so I could not wait to experience it for myself. The airport staff and taxi drivers were helpful without being pushy and seemed to genuinely want to help me. While riding along the streets I was welcomed with the cheerful smiles I remember from SE Asia and knew I was in a good place. At one stoplight a motorcycle pulled up alongside me and said hello, asked me what my name was and shared his with me. Had the light been longer I might have even gotten a phone number out of it. Despite my perception of friendliness, I was warned by my driver to keep bags close and valuables out of reach from any passing by as drive by theft is common here.
Now, only a day after arriving and getting my first taste of Khmer charm I can definitely see how people fall in love with this country. I've had the most interaction with tuk-tuk and moto drivers, as they're on every street corner and more than willing to strike up a conversation with you, but I actually find them to be quite endearing. When I was in Bali last year, after only a day of walking the streets and hearing "need a ride miss, where are you going?" I was near the breaking point. After a few days I don't seem to mind them here - on the first day I met Rene a tuk-tuk driver, and Achint who's numbers were both saved in my phone.
Tuesday morning when I found myself needed a ride I decided to give Achint a call and after hearing my voice responded "Good morning friend!" Within 15 minutes he was at my place and ready to go, now that's service. He drove me over to the Thai embassy so I could apply for my visa before we made our way out to the Killing Fields. The entire day he was friendly, of course trying to talk up business for the following days "shooting range, museum, mountain?" but at no time did I feel bothered or annoyed. I think his best invite was to join him for beers and the club later that evening, after we passed the Cambodia brewery and he discovered I enjoy beer. Hmm maybe I'll have to take him up on that next week, when I return to Phnom Penh.
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.