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.
I knew my time in Phnom Penh was winding down but there was one more thing on my 'to-do' list. I've always had a love for cooking [and eating] but never actually shelled out the money to take a course (they wanted upwards of $50 in Korea which didn't seem worth it), but all of that changed recently. On one of my first days in the city, I heard about a cooking course offered by Frizz restaurant which I added to my list of things to consider while visiting. I checked out the website and read a few reviews, for $23 it seemed like a pretty good deal, the course would start with a trip to the market followed by full instructions and hands-on work in making a 4-course meal. I didn't get a chance to participate before heading south for my adventures in Kampot but while on a boat there I met a woman who spoke highly of the course, so I added it to my must-do list for when I returned to Phnom Penh.
Well, every trip is bound to have at least one adventure, I just didn’t expect it to happen in the first week of my travels. I guess I was getting too lucky with my first few days of traveling from Korea to Phnom Penh, via Kuala Lumpur, going so smoothly. After a few days in the city, I decided it was time for a change of scenery and booked a bus ticket to Kampot. Referred to as a sleepy riverside down that tends to kidnap its inhabitants I was intrigued by what I would find there. I went middle of the road and booked a bus ticket for 9:30 figuring that if all went well I’d arrive sometime in the mid-afternoon, but when does anything ever go according to plan.
A visit to Phnom Penh isn't quite complete without a visit to The Choeung Ek Genocidal Center aka "The Killing Fields". It's one of those places you're not really sure that you want to visit, due to the graphic history and sadness, but what you take away from it something that can't be explained through history books or even documentaries. I knew little about Cambodia before coming here, but even through the little reading I did in my guidebook I was taken aback by the chilling details. To most of the outside world I believe Cambodia lies in the shadows of it's big brothers, Thailand and Vietnam. For the everyday tourist Thailand is king, the food, beaches and parties get much acclaim; to the East lies another giant, Vietnam which also get's much hype for its natural beauty and history. So where does that leave Cambodia, somewhere in the in between.
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.
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.