What runs through your head when you book a holiday? Will it be hot? Is the beer cheap? Is there a swimming pool? Even though I count all of the above as being vital (I'm English, don't we all?!) I seem to also have a huge craving for adventure.
More than a holiday, not only do I want to see the world but I seem to have a yearning that I can't shake off to feel the world, taste and smell it in all its glory. That's what makes travelling different to a 'holiday' you have to take all of it; the good, the bad and the ugly. It's only when you experience the lows of a country that you can really take in all the in-comprehendable highs.
When Nick and I decided to go to Cambodia, we got a few strange looks as granted its not the average holiday destination...especially for a two week break. In fact Cambodia only really re-opened its doors to tourists in the last 20 years or so and it is still only very slowly developing again as a backpacker destination, never mind a holiday destination...the perfect reason to visit in my eyes.
So why else go? I first visited the Far East in the 90's when I was in my early teens. My parents took myself and my brother to Thailand, and ever since I have had a passion for the place. Since my first visit I have been to Thailand five times and thought it was time for a change and to see what the rest of this beautiful part of the world holds. After researching and speaking to friends that have travelled it became apparent that Cambodia offered a lot of what Thailand did before it became over developed and taken over by world superbrands...but having now visited this gorgeous country I think its so unfair to make any comparison to its neighbour. Cambodia is under-developed, the cost of living is cheaper and there is a similar spiritual faith but to me that's where a lot of the similarities end...its its own country, with its own charms and imperfections so to call it an under-developed Thailand does it a huge in-justice.
A trip like this doesn't just remove you from the day to day like a normal holiday does, it changes your life. The way you think, your perspective and so much more. Which is why I wanted to share it with you...a good friend today made a very good observation... She said she wouldn't want to go to Cambodia as it doesn't really suit her lifestyle and many of the things that we have done in the last two and half weeks would make her feel un-comfortable, but she would love to be able to plug in to my brain and see and experience what I have...so I guess that's what this blog is...an insight into my brain (don't let that put you off!) And if you don't want to read on...just look at the pictures!
So here it is...as I don't get much time to write it may be a work in progress so please keep checking back!
Phnom Penh, Friday 12th April
We arrive, its raining, just as it was in Manchester, however, unlike Manchester its 38 degrees. I can cope with warm rain. Through passport control and down through Visa checks. For a Cambodian Visa its $20 plus $2 if you don't have a passport picture. I didn't have one, which is actually cheaper than paying £5 for passport pics back in the UK.
Bags collected its through to arrivals, Phnom Penh is the Capital City of Cambodia, but it feels like we have arrived in somewhere way more remote, lots of faces looking through the fencing at us...we are greeted by our driver who takes us to the Blue Lime Hotel. As we drive through the city it feels so quiet and almost deserted. Later explained by the fact that it is the beginning of Khmer New Year...every one has gone home to their province...not sure whether this is going to be a positive or a negative...we'll see.
The Blue Lime is down a back alley... looks suss but when we arrived we were very pleasantly surprised, its in an old colonial type building gated off from the city...a tranquil little haven. After we woke the receptionist up from his nap on the couch in reception we checked in and I was a little bit in love with our room. The décor and everything was nice enough but it was the fact that the back door opened up onto a private pool. Ever since I was small I have always wanted my own pool. More specifically I wanted my own pool with a slide that went from my bedroom window to the the swimming pool...but isn't that what we all wanted at the age of 6?! Heck yes.
It's always at this point of a holiday that you have 'that moment'. OK we are here, after 25+ hours of travelling and 8 months of planning and looking forward what do we do now?! Now...we have a quick shower and off we go out. It might be late, but we are way too excited to sleep, there is a whole city out there waiting to be explored!
We spent the evening on The Riverside which felt strangely Parisian followed by a trip to Street 51 following the recommendation of a waiter. You won't find a Khao San Road in Phnom Penh. The main area for backpackers to hang out was around Beoung Kak Lake, however this has recently been filled in to make way for new developments. Street 51 is OK however its obviously somewhere where Western men go to pick up Khmer women. And quite often I was the only western women there. But all the same there is a nice enough atmosphere and plenty of places to eat and drink along leafy tree-lined streets.
Phnom Penh, Saturday 13th April
Our first full day, how exciting! Breakfast at the Blue Lime set us up for the day ahead. My Malaria tablets seem to be making me feel a little bit all over the place though...not surprising given the amount of side affects that come with them though! We weren't actually 100% sure whether we needed to take Malaria tablets. A lot of our friends have travelled the country and not touched them but Sihnaoukhville and Koh Rong Samloem are risk areas so better to be safe than sorry!
What's the plan for today then? Off to the Royal Palace and then seeing the city Counsell stylee, which basically means walking every block until you can't walk any more! We did the same in New York, London, Bangkok (although that was mainly because we got lost) and many other places. We find that by walking rather than using lots of public transport (especially the underground?!!) you get to see and experience so much more.
The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh is a very serene, peaceful place. Nick tells me a lot of it is relatively new due to war and the Khmer Rouge many parts of it have had to be re-built. I'm not sure whether it was because it was New Year but it was very quiet...very quiet. It was a truly beautiful place but for me in many ways I didn't feel a connection it was more like looking round Buckingham Palace than going to a temple, unlike the Grand Palace in Bangkok. We spent a good couple of hours there. The gardens were a very nice place to just sit and take things in, and it was VERY hot.
As this is a work in progress here is just a couple of images. More to follow (lots more!)