I left my heart in Cambodia

Trip Start Aug 02, 2012
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9
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Trip End Aug 02, 2013


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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I know as usual this is a very long overdue blog! I arrived back from Cambodia on Feburary 23rd. I feel so many emotions from all the things I experienced. I truly felt what it is like to be alone, to love, to miss, to be out of control, to be helpless, to appreciate, to understand, to have compassion, to be privileged and many more emotions I can't explain. Over all I had an amazing time and created so many memories. 
 
Coming back to China was overwhelming in itself. I had major culture shock, weather shock, people shock...lack of beach shock. Cambodia was pretty much the opposite of where I live in Changsha. In China they have Spring Festival which is why I got 4 weeks off to travel. During this time is Chinese new year and pretty much the whole country travels home to spend time with their families. It is considered one the of the biggest migrations in the world....with 1 billion people here, I believe it. Cambodia was not in my original plans but I got invited to backpack through out Cambodia  with a fellow World Teach teacher (Adrian) so I happily booked a plane ticket and that was that! I packed my 40 liter backpack (not even full might I note! I was quite proud) and hopped on a train with Adrian to Guangzhou with an open mind, open heart, and no real plan. I had never backpacked before, nor had i been anywhere but a few places in China and never had I spent a month traveling, it felt so exciting and new. After 24 hours of no sleep, planes, hunger, an 8 hour layover in Singapore, we finally arrived in the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. My first Tuktuk from the airport was surreal. I felt like I was in a movie. It was like nothing I have ever seen, a very dense city of hundreds of motor bikes driving so fast you can barely cross the street. Outdoor markets bursting with tropical fruits, street food, trinkets, custom made clothes and probably and thing you could imagine. The interesting thing about PP was the pull of modernization induced by tourism and the lingering of a 3rd world country. We were happy to indulge in western food (thank you tourism!) seeing as we have been oh so deprived in Hunan. (unless you count KFC, McDonalds, and Pizza Hut which hardly satisfy any western food cravings YUCK!). I also happily surprised that almost everyone speaks English! PP was not my favorite city in Cambodia though, it is filled with prostitutes and old white men with girls half their age, child laborers sent out by their families to beg from the foreigners, essentially it is a very exploited place where westerns come to let loose at the expense of the Cambodian people. Unfortunately I found this in many places in Cambodia.


The lovely part about backpacking with no reservations anywhere is that you can pick up and leave or stay as long as you want in every place you stop. I really recommend this type of traveling if you dare to do so. Adrian and had enough of PP after two days (in fact it was more than enough for me) so we hopped on a 12 hour bus to Kratie, a tiny town North East of PP in the rural parts of Cambodia. It was not particularly anything special aesthetically but for some reason we fell in love with it. We found hostel that was very nice and so cheap ( I will post another blog with all the logistics of traveling through out Cambodia soon) the town was small and relaxed, there were almost no foreigners, western food, and it was set nicely along the Mekong river. Kratie had a lot to offer, we took a boat to see the very endangered Irrawaddy fresh water dolphins, we lounged in hammocks along the rapids of the Mekong river where we were invited to dine with some very friendly Cambodians, we rented a motor bike where I toured Adrian around on the back through the rural parts ( My first time driving a motorbike and no accidents!) Kratie was beautiful and my first real taste of Cambodian culture. Cambodia is a very poor country and predominantly agricultural, the people of Cambodia live a very simple life, with very few possessions. It was breath taking and eye opening.to see how other people live in the world with so little. After about 4+ days of Kratie we decided to head up north to Mondulkiri province to a tiny town near the jungle called Sen Monorom.


Initially we had arranged to take a "mini bus" to Sen Monorom...well unfortunately when we got in the mini bus it was legally a 10 seater with about 16 people in it, to boot they started loading cardboard boxes of chickens, on top of that hundreds of pounds fruit, then luggage, then like five men on top of that...the hatch didn't even close, the van was lopsided as it drove...basically me and this other girl got freaked out for our safety so we made our travel partners get of this awful mini bus and eventually made it to our destination safely via tour bus. Sen Monorom was WONDERFUL. It was a very tiny town, very wild west-ish. We stayed in some super nice little bungalows...very cheap....probably the nicest place we stayed our whole trip. One thing I had my heart set of doing was anything involving elephants. I had read on blogs how popular this sort of thing was in South East Asia ,  but most of the places I looked up wanted you pay a bunch of money to "volunteer"....basically pay $500 to shovel shit for a week. It's like, why would I pay to clean up elephant poop? I would gladly clean it up free. Anyways, we scored in SM and found a very reasonably price day trek with an elephant and had an amazing time. The elephant ride through the jungle, though extremely beautiful and a great view from up there, was quite uncomfortable...but worth it. The best part was when we took the elephants to the river, we got bathe them and swim with them. It was one of the coolest things I have ever done. The Cambodian locals were great, so friendly (as were pretty much all Cambodian I met along my travels) we relaxed by the river shared food and drink, told jokes (most were indecipherable) and then we headed back on the elephants through the jungle. Adrian and I shared an elephant and were accompanied by a Cambodian guide who maybe spoke two words of English..one being cigarette...of which he made his own by picking leaves off of trees as we rode along. Even though he did not speak English, he was wonderful, he picked strange fruit for us and the elephant (we found out later that this was cashew fruit) and I taught him what all the body parts are in English....and I mean all the body parts... He howled with laughter when I taught him boobies and weenie. That night I got really bad food poisoning from unknowingly eating a fertilized hard-boiled egg. How did I not know? well it was dark outside and I realized a few bites into it that it tasted like chicken... unfortunately it literally was a bad egg. I was sick for days, followed by a cold.

This sickness carried into our venture to Siem Reap. I can't say enough about Siem Reap. It is a wonderful city. Very touristy but very fun. It is surely famous for Angkor Wat but the town itself is full of life, bars, dirt cheap shopping, art, pampering and food. Unfortunately for most of the 5 days we were there I was a bit under the weather. Poor Adrian was ready for Siem Reap nightlife with her notorious party buddy but alas, I was out of commission. (after a little nudging she found plenty of other backpackers to hang out with though!). Things started looking up a bit in my health department so we bought our 3 day passes to Angkor Wat, rented some bicycles and enjoyed one of the coolest places I have ever seen. Riding our bikes through out the park was in my opinion the best way to seY the main temples. Angkor Wat is breath taking. It is grand and intricately built...it is just so beautiful. You have to go to Cambodia to see this please. You owe it to yourself. An interesting event that happened while we were in Siem Reap was the mourning of the death of Cambodia's beloved king. Because of this it was mandated that no music be played anywhere. So of course once I feelin better and ready to live it up on my vacation, no bars could play music for at least a week, I think it might have even been 9 days. We were sad to say good bye to Siem Reap but SO ready to hit the beach. Adrian and I hopped on another 12 hour bus ride full of very irritating westerners and one awful guy from California to Sihanoukville. 

Oh Sihanoukville.... How I loath and love thee. Our first few days in SV were spent on Otres beach which is set away from the main part of town, this was a little slice of paradise. White sand, blue water, great views of the islands, perfect weather and the water was like a warm bath. It was not crowded at all, we rented a bungalow directly on the beach and just lazed, ate, drank, got manicures and massages.....this was what I had been waiting for. We knew SV was notorious for its party scene so after a few days of secluded relaxation we headed into town for some fun....The thing about SV is that initially I hated it. It is a beach town full of lost people...westerners that have been hanging around there for quite sometime getting plastered every night and exploiting the Cambodian people and culture. Who would have thought that with this attitude I would have ended up staying there for almost 2 weeks! I realized that SV had all the things I wanted in my vacation; relaxation, cheap amenities, the beach, nightlife, a place to forget about all the bullshit we face in real life and of course cute boys....one particular Cambodian boy stung me with cupids arrow, this would be Heaven. Yes his name is Heaven. I met Heaven probably the second night I was in SV at a bar called JJ's ( one of 3 very popular party places right on the beach and they stay open until you want to go home) Heaven is probably one of the most adorable boys I have ever met ( Cambodia has a lot of eye candy, the men are so handsome!) He is a very talented fire dancer and bartender. I would be lying if I said that he wasn't partially the reason I got stuck in SV for 2 weeks. Adrian and I became quite the regulars at JJ's bar. After many entertaining nights and a WAY TOO SCANDALOUS booze cruise ( of which I said I would never go on one again and ended up going the next week) Adrian decided it was time for her to move on to Vietnam. We sadly said our goodbyes followed by massive separation anxiety and there I was still in SV alone!  Luckily the backpacking community is very social, I will admit traveling alone is pretty intense your first time but ultimately I am glad I did it. I had to force myself to go out alone, talk to random people....all this easily facilitated by my regular-ness at JJs :)  I spent my last days hanging out with Heaven and the other pals I made at JJ's and when it came time to say goodbye it was very heart wrenching! I was so bummed to say goodbye to Heaven, I hope I see him again someday soon. Needless to say I had a very heart broken and lonely bus ride back to Phnom Penh where I had to catch my flight back to China.


There are so many little details I am leaving out. But really the take away from my trip is that I really loved Cambodia. I truly left a piece of my heart there. I don't know if it was that this was my first real trip somewhere, the booze talking, the oh-so heavenly Heaven who stole a little piece of my heart, or just that Cambodia truly is the Kingdom of Wonder...but Cambodia will forever be in my heart. It is cheap, the people are beautiful, the scenery is beautiful and I have so many wonderful memories that I can hold on to for the rest of my life.

 
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