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?
Not to say that I had doubts about my initial love for the city but I wondered if it was just a 'new to SE Asia' love, since my initial visit I'd been around the region and wondered if my feelings would have changed at all. Now, having been here for roughly two months I'm not actually sure what the answer to that question is. I've obviously been through some ups and downs on this trip, revisited some friendships and found that others may not have been what I remembered them to be...
Fast forward a few more months and you'll find me back in Milwaukee, long since my departure from Cambodia and still working to finish this blog post, not knowing what it'd evolve into when I started it's now a reflection of my entire three months stay in the little country.
Favorite: Revisiting old friends
I'm not sure if there's anything more refreshing than arriving in a city and having a friendly face waiting for you at the bus terminal. That or the ability to tell the tuk-tuk, taxi and motorbike drivers that you have someone coming to pick you up. I think the friendships I made on my first visit were one of the main reasons this country stuck out from the rest, and being able to see these faces once again brought back those same feelings.
Least Favorite: Letting things get to me
I admit that I was overdue for some hiccups in my travels, I just didn't expect it all to happen at once, then again they do say things come in 3's. I'm not so mad about the problems I had to encounter and situations I endured, what bothered me was the feelings it left me with after the fact. Especially after my bag was stolen I felt vulnerable and afraid, it took some time for me to remember that not every motor bike passing by had plans of ripping me off. I talked to others who went through similar experiences and we all agreed that we were both saddened and angry that we spent week with a bitter taste in our mouths, on the plus side though I overcame it all and like they say "what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger".
Best Meal: Home cooking from my girls
Every day working at the spa I could count on at least one good meal, sure some of them included loads of fish bones, heads, and other questionable ingredients, but for the most part, the cooking at the spa was amazing. There were two particular dishes that stood out, some eggplant concoction and pumpkin curry, both of which I'll probably never be able to recreate or find again, but oh man were they good. Aside from the traditional food the spa also had some amazing menu items, of which the Hummus and Babba Ganoush I do have the recipes for!
Worst Meal: That one BBQ I dragged my brother to
I do actually feel kind of bad about this one...after a day of wandering around town and sightseeing Beau, Katie and myself contemplated the standard "What should we have for dinner?" question. I wanted them to experience something more traditional so we avoided the riverfront tourist traps with standardized, identical menus and wandered into a Cambodian BBQ. Unfortunately, the beef was like leather and my brother wasn't a fan of having to peel heads and tails off his shrimps, resulting in a dinner of okra and beer - oops, better luck next time.
Best Experience: Meeting, teaching and bonding with these amazing young women
I entered Kampot thinking that my role would be that of a yoga teacher, little did I know I'd be leaving with 10 new friends/students, relationships I would value for the rest of my life. The women working and training at Banteay Srey emitted such a high level of happiness and joy it was hard to ever be in a bad mood around them. I'm so grateful for the time I spent with them, the lessons we shared and only hope I will see them all again.
Worst Experience: Getting robbed
This one is pretty obvious and needs no explanation.
Favorite City: Still Kampot
C'mon, I lived here for a little over two months, I don't think there's much competition. Kampot is just one of those places that it's easy to stay, be happy and content. I was actually worried when one of my friends from Korea decided to come and visit, thinking he might not like it or judge this place I was calling home. Much to my surprise however, he loved it and envied my ability to stay for more than a week, even noting that he'd one day like to come back with his son. That being said, there are still numerous cities in Cambodia I'd like to explore.
Least Favorite City: Sihanoukville
I wasn't even technically in the city for more than an hour but the drive-through showed me enough. I have no doubts that I'd enjoy 0 parts of this city, all I saw as I passed by on my way to Otres was white people, chain restaurants and dozens of souvenir stores, no thank you.
Best Accommodation: Shanti, Otres 2
I spent two nights at Hacienda which for $3 (subsequent nights stay after your first are free) wasn't all that bad, it was just the other guests, general vibe and location that drove me away. In search of the beachside serenity I was after I broke the bank and settled on an awesome room/bungalow at Shanti. Open-air, on the beach, tree-house style, awesomeness, it was worth every penny.
Worst Accommodation: Mystery guesthouse in Siem Reap
After being treated to some nice diggs (we had a pool) while my brother was in town it was time for me to downgrade. Dara suggested a place that he took me last year, where I shelled out $12 for an A/C room (discounted price since it was supposed to be a $10 fan) but this time I went bottom of the barrel with their $3 dorm. There was nothing terrible about this place but the warm bunk just didn't compare to my A/C, pool out back, breakfast included, ensuite room I was coming from. All over Cambodia though the accommodation is pretty nice, good staff, cheap rooms, fairly well kept and did I mention cheap?
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.