I was excited to head back to Cambodia after almost five years since my first visit to the country. After my bar trip, in particular one amazing day in the countryside, Cambodia was one of my favorite places on the planet. Sadly, I didn’t feel that same connection this time around, perhaps because the city I’d truly loved, Siem Reap, was not on my itinerary, or because my tastes have changed as I’ve grown and traveled more. Either way, I still had a good time in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, our home base for the month.
It was an interesting month for us on Remote Year because it was the first time that two programs were ever in the same city. It was nice to meet people who were having the same experience as we were and compare stories from our year on the road (we were in Month 11 and they were in Month 7). Group dynamics and experiences were both similar and entirely different based upon the unique personalities in each group.
Outside of certain neighborhoods, Phnom Penh is a really difficult city to get around by walking. There are few sidewalks and those that do exist are home to numerous motorbikes and street stalls selling various foods and other wares. We took the ubiquitous tuk-tuks almost everywhere, which cost about $2 - $3 a ride, but add up if you’re taking multiple a day.
Although I felt pretty safe walking around, there were a number of petty thefts by motorbike -- people got necklaces and purses snatched from their bodies by guys driving by -- so I was careful not to have my phone or camera out too much on the street (one reason for the relative lack of pictures this month, sorry!).
The second reason is that I was only in Cambodia for half the month because I spent the first two weeks in Kenya on a team retreat for work. Given my limited time, I didn’t revisit any of the tourist sites that I saw on my first trip. However, if it is your first time in the country, visits to the “Killing Fields” and “S-21”, the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide to learn about the country’s dark past under the Khmer Rouge are a must, in addition to a visit to Angkor Wat. This time around, however, I chose to relax and check out the surprisingly good café scene in Phnom Penh (Backyard, Enso, ARTillery and Mere were favorites). As far as restaurants go, Malis is delicious Cambodian food served on a beautiful outdoor patio; Romdeng (where I tried a traditional Khmer delicacy: tarantula!) and Khmer Surin are more mid-priced Khmer restaurants and Il Forno is decent Italian.
During my last week in Cambodia, we celebrated Christmas, my first away from home since I studied abroad in college, which felt a bit surreal. We took a boat ride to a resort up the Mekong River and spent the afternoon lounging by the pool drinking and exchanging Secret Santa gifts.
The highlight of the day was a walk around the neighborhood to a silk farm where we met a Cambodian family who weave scarves and other textiles using techniques passed down from their ancestors. They were absolutely beautiful and I treated myself to a little Christmas present. I also enjoyed the brief glimpse into life outside the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh.
A few days after Christmas, it was time to head to Vietnam for our last stop of the year!