Phnom Pehn, The Kingdom of Cambodia

Tuesday May 27th, 2014.

My stomach jitters and butterflies have officially surfaced. I leave on Friday for my first official trip…alone. I mean yes, I have traveled internationally by myself, but always had others I was meeting up with…for vacation or a job. But this time it’s just me. Called a friend to help calm me down knowing she would know just what to say. “Megan, just think of it as you are meeting yourself there. It’s your “me” trip and you need to focus on you.” Just what I needed to hear. 
I am going to Phnom Pehn Cambodia. I have my packing list(s) made, money exchanged (they use US dollars, how cool is that? It’s actually quite comforting seeing my own country’s currency again), and activities planned… 
So why Phnom Pehn? Wellll….here’s the back story. Last year I was looking at another Asian country to teach in and Cambodia was on the list. After completing a second round interview for a newly developed kindergarten, I confessed to a friend that I was thinking about taking it. Her first question? “Do they even have coffee there? You must have a cafe, you know!” I began researching cafes in Phnom Pehn and this one popped up: ARTillery Cafe. Amazing. Organic. Natural. Just my kind of place. Obviously I ended up not taking the kindergarten job- I actually realized I wasn’t qualified enough as I did not have my own curriculum developed, thus taking the job in Taiwan. But the Cafe was still in the back of my mind. I wanted to travel to another country while in Taiwan. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a tourist visa to see my friend in China, so I thought…I wonder how much tickets are to Cambodia? Cheap. Booked. Going. And that’s how I decided to go to this place. Upon researching the city, I discovered an International Yoga studio, dozens of restaurants serving international cuisine, several markets, historical sites and palaces, a riverfront walkway, and other cool activities.

June 24th, 2014

and I’m just now blogging about this crazy adventure in Phnom Pehn…also a weekend in Kaoshiong and the countryside in Taiwan…Ready go! Storytime!

The morning of travel started early. I finished packing and was heading the the shuttle to the HSR station. made the next train by 3 minutes. Easy trip and a short bus ride to the airport. Oh how I love the convenience and efficiency of Asian airports. So quick and hassle free- the security guard even pointed me to a shorter line to get my passport stamped.

Cambodia. The exotic syallables run off my tongue as I tell the waiting passengers around me. A group of Taiwan tourists are heading to China and we make small talk before I board. We take a picture because “I’m from America.”

Flight one. Taipei to Hong Kong. As the plane descended. the most stunning aerial view of misty mountains, teal waters, and city skyscrapers came into view. Hong Kong from the air is beautiful. The airport was clean and spacious. Floor to ceiling high windows with an ocean view. I watched ships and drank mango juice during my hour and half layover.

Flight two. HK-Phnom Pehn. Did you know…some planes come equipped with USB plugs to charge ipods? sweet deal. I sat by two Korean gentleman who, once landed in Phnom Pehn helped me get into the right visa line to pay and apply. Apparently I missed the photo requirement, but for only $2 more I was ok. Total fee: $22. Welcome to the Kingdom of Cambodia.

As I weave through the onlookers looking for my pre-arranged tuk-tuk driver, it felt like a movie just beginning. I climbed into my tuk-tuk and we soon merged into traffic chaos! About 20 minutes into the trip we broke down. He muttered some words and left me for 15 minutes or so, when he came back he was carrying two water bottles full of- oil- I think. And away we went.

We didn’t arrive to the hostel until around 6:30 or 7. I was exhausted and hungry so I went across the street for a salad and melon mint cooler. My stomach wasn’t feeling the greatest after a long traveling day. A lime mint and sprite at the hostel bar hit the spot.

Day 1:

I didn’t sleep well last night- the AC may have broke during the night…in 100 plus degree weather…the hostel is a concrete building and the rooms didn’t have windows on the sides as the building was wedged between all the buildings on the block.

Had a busy day planned so I got up and had coffee and went on my second tuk-tuk ride to yoga. I found the studio online. Wow. Just what I needed. Simple. Relaxing…English…the studio setting was in a cool room off a courtyard. Allison, the teacher was so welcoming and easy-going. Class challenged me to the depth I knew I could reach, but didn’t realize the potential I actually had at the time. (Even though I love my Chinese yoga teachers, sometimes it’s nice to have a class in English).

I met an Australian woman during class. She is a flight attendant and was currently on a month-long vacation to Phnom Pehn and Bali. We chatted and arranged to meet later that day for a drink.

After yoga I went to a cafe that I had discovered online last year when I was researching the city after a potential job interview. Organic. Natural. Fresh. Arillery Cafe. I drank coconut water out of a coconut and had a hummus vegetable sandwich on soft walnut bread. I indulged and had a piece of raw cheesecake with passion fruit topping. Just divine.

I walked back to the hostel after a lovely lunch with a Czech NGO living in the city. We waited out a brief afternoon shower before parting ways. She was nice lunchtime company. Once I arrived back at the hostel I relaxed and made plans to tour the National Museum with my 2 British roommates.

The Museum was serene…all open-air. A pleasant cultural experience with lush gardens and ponds in the courtyard. Most of the statues and artifacts were under the arches.

Us three then went to a Happy Hour at a rooftop bar before meeting my Australian friend at another bar called FCC…The Foreign Correspondents Club. An old hotel and restaurant renovated from when the Khmer Rouge took place. This place was a meeting location for the journalists and reporters only thirty years ago. Interesting conversation among the four of us. When we said our good-byes the British girls and I went for dinner at Karma that served traditional Khmer food and other Asian dishes. I had a Vietnamese curry. It was good! What a fabulous first day in Phnom Pehn!

Day 2:

Started the day off with sunshine and a mango smoothie while watching the tuk-tuk drivers hollar and scooters zoom by…a site to see for sure!

Fly yoga session today! I must say, I love hanging upside down…a thrill and rush indeed!

After that session, my tuk-tuk driver took me to the riverfront. I had another mango smoothie in an air-conditioned cafe called Brown Cafe. Delightful. I had a spa treatment that afternoon- massage and manicure and pedicure. Relaxation at it’s best.
Wandered down the street to find 1.50 tacos and 1.50 margaritas. Naturally. Jetted into a market quick for some elephant pants. Coolest pants ever. Took photos of the view- noticed the clouds starting to darken so I headed back. Didn’t make it. Caught in a downpour so I scurried into the closest restaurant and had fresh pineapple juice.

Once the rain let up, I continued my way back to the hostel. Decided to get a Cambodian beer at the bar. Chatted with the bartender and met a lovely Irish couple. They had traveled to Taiwan and all over for the the past few months and were thinking of coming back to Taiwan to teach! We had a lot to talk about. I was waiting to talk to the front desk about my scheduled tours tomorrow. Soon the crowd at the desk had died down and I went over to talk to them. (Earlier Saturday afternoon I had booked a tour with a girl partly because she kept advertising to me, do you want a tour? so cheap! our drivers will take you wherever you want. You can tell the front desk what time you want to start on Sunday night.) What started as a pleasant conversation between the night clerk and I, suddenly turned into a threatening conversation between the manager who accused me of lying about the tour booked even though I had paid a deposit. He even followed me to my room so I could prove by the receipt and told me that the handwriting is none he recognized. He gives me my money back and I go upstairs. A bit later I hear a knock on my door, but I couldn’t get it open so I left it alone thinking whomever was trying to get in would eventually open it themselves. A few more moments pass and there’s pounding on my door. It’s the manager…and he is telling me that the hostel doesn’t need people like me staying there, he also mentioned that he was watching me trying to the get the door open by the CAMERAS in the room… and I have 20 minutes to pack my things and leave or he will call the cops. (Say what?!) I was shaking badly…and crying because I didn’t fully understand why he was kicking me out. Luckily my new Irish friend was so sweet and offered to help me. I packed my things and I just asked her to come with me to find a new place. I had quick searched on for a couple addresses of available hostels for the night. (By the way…it’s pouring rain and 10p.m.) Instead, while I was packing…she found me a room at a hotel just around the street!!! I stayed the rest of my time there. Feel so blessed to have met these kind people and despite being shaken up and confused on how a simple conversation turned so nasty, I still wanted to make the most of the upcoming Monday. I crashed out once I checked into my new place.

Day 3:

Woke up to another delightful day despite last night’s happenings. Amazing morning yoga in an upstairs airy room…sunlight streaming in..beautiful practice.

Had breakfast with my teacher…she showed me a place to get Khmer icead coffee and then we sat and ate chicken and rice at an outdoor stand. Khmer Iced Coffee. Enough said. Amazing. She also suggested going to the Russian Market for the mid-morning to afternoon as it wouldn’t be too crowded then.

Browsing and bargaining. Took a tuk-tuk to the Russian Market. Heaps of clothes from HM, American Eagle, Forever 21…etc. etc. You most of it is made in Cambodia! All the extras or “flawed” item go to this market. So cheap. But so Disorganized. I bargained for cute flowy “elephant” pants (I call them this). Had another iced coffee. I couldn’t resist.

Headed back to the riverfront to write, reflect, have a happy hour margarita at Touk’s (a rooftop bar) and meet  up with my new Irish friends, who I may see again in Taiwan!

Last Day:

Early early early! Took some photos with my nice camera and ate a traditional Khmer breakfast. The morning was calm(er) and most breakfast stands were filled with chatter and men drinking coffee. It was a pleasant start to the day.

My last tuk-tuk ride was to the airport. I bargained with a guy last night who gave me a quick ride because I got caught in the rain…again…to take me. Only took 30 minutes to the airport and had to wait 3 hours to board. Super quick security checks again! Another flight to HK. Quick layover as we landed at a gate opposite of my departing gate and had to take a shuttle, and 2 airport subways to get there! Arrived as the plane was boarding. phew! Chatted with a guy from HK on the flight to Taipei. He was going there for work. Landed. First in line at Taipei immigration…residence cards have their perks!!! Buzzed downstairs, bought a bus ticket, on the bus 10 minutes after landing. I was booking it! Made the HSR with ten minutes to spare and taxied it home. 12 hours after leaving Phnom Pehn hotel I walked into my apartment! What a day of travel!

Final thoughts and reflection.

I can’t wait to go back! This city is incredible. The vibe. The colors. The people were so friendly and kind (Except for the hostel manager!). The atmosphere was chill. Like people would wear the craziest outfits. But it just worked. And I would fit right in wearing my elephant pants and flip flops. The vibrant array of shops and stands and people and scooters…the bumpy tuk tuk rides and the market streets. People hanging out all over…just eating mangoes or other exotic fruits. The heat and sun, even the afternoon rain felt amazing on my skin. My kind of city. Activity and culture…iron rod exquisite gates…hideaway houses in high buildings above the busy streets…yoga and coffee…and new friends. Taking this trip helped me in so many ways…to be aware…to make friends…to remind myself I’ve just gotta keep enjoying life and seeing this great big world. I will continue to soak every moment in and know how blessed I am to have my eyes open to so many things…and I hope you enjoy hearing about and seeing through my words and pictures.


And now for the photos…

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