🇰🇭 Cambodia is a sweltering Southeast Asian country of 15 million, sandwiched between Vietnam and Thailand and wearing Laos like a long skinny hat. It's still reeling from the 1970s Khmer Rouge genocide (which eliminated 25% of the population) and a messy war with Vietnam that didn't end 'til 1991. It's technically a monarchy now, but less in a What's-Kate-Wearing-To-The-Polo-Match kind of way and more in a vaguely communist free-market state with a relatively authoritarian coalition ruing over a superficial democracy kind of way. If you're a pasty American with a penchant for toilet paper and an aversion to prostitution, you might find it a bit bleak. But that doesn't mean I didn't have a great time.
✋ Disclaimer: I did not go to Cambodia to build houses or to distribute Toms. I went there to see Angkor Wat and eat Fish Amok and learn to Scuba dive. As such, I'm finding it difficult to write about third world tourism without feeling like an entitled asshole. Appropriate, since this particular anatomical hotspot was so intrinsically involved in the experience. More on that later.
✋✋ Disclaimer #2: If the emojis are showing up as little squares in your browser, it's most likely the toilet symbol or the sweaty-face.
🎯 We spent two weeks here and really only went to the touristy parts, but it was an incredible experience that I'm fortunate to have had. Were it not for my long-term travel arrangement, I doubt I ever would've made it here before retirement. And it's hard to squat 🚽 over toilet holes when you're 65. So yeah, lots of new feelings to Internet about.
😓 It's 100 degrees when we land in Siem Reap. Plus 100% humidity. This remains a theme. We get to our $20/night hotel, which has an in-room bathroom 😀 but also no windows 😬 and smells like Pampers 💩 because used TP goes in the trash, not the toilet. We tour the temples at Angkor Wat, which is so amazeballs it warrants this awkward prayer emoji 🙏 but I can only enjoy it for 2 hours before the heat becomes so oppressive all I want to do is sit in a tent with a coconut and whimper. I don't even care how Instagramable that one temple with the tree growing through it is, because my brain is sweating 😩
The next day we rent bikes for $1/day 😀 and ride 7 miles at dawn to avoid the heat 😓 It's dark, the traffic is insane, and I almost die 15 times 💀 We make it to Angkor before sunrise 😍 to find a crowd of 200+ Chinese tourists selfie-sticking the view on burst mode 😶 which doesn't even make sense. Riding home in the heat I almost die again 💀 and Andy and I get in 10 fights because I'm sweaty, hangry and have to pee 🚽 or maybe worse 🚽 🚽 🚽 (This remains a theme).
While in Siem Reap we try to walk around during the day, but it's too hot 😓 and crossing the street is 😱 scary and also prostitutes make me uncomfortable 😬 because I'm suburban like that. We eat lots of delicious meals including one of my all-time top ten 😋 ($28 for a 6-course tasting menu!). We tour a local hospitality training program for at-risk youth, which is impactful 😥 and also makes me hate myself for all the times I whined about advertising clients even though they never at any point asked me to make their beds or take out their trash 😳 We avoid tap water and manage to make it a week before I get food poisoning 🚽 on the flight to coastal Sihanoukville. This is a land 😬 full of trash, prostitutes, drunk travelers, and in lieu of TP, bum guns 😬 which it turns out, are not really my bag. We learn that our Airbnb hosts are not eccentric thrill-seekers as we'd assumed, but instead Ukrainian refugees who have nowhere else to go 😳 I'm too sick 😩 to go out. The mosquitoes are relentless. There's a 7-ft. barbed wire fence outside our window.
Two days later, we take a three-hour "boat" to a pristine island which is amaaaaaaazing 😍 except I'm still sick 😩 and there's no running water 😐 and the spiders are as big as my fist 😱 But seriously, look how cute our little hut is!
We stay here for a week. I get better. I stop showering and it's fine. We take a 4-day open-water Scuba class which sounded like NBD, except I can't swim, our instructor is a chain-smoking Frenchman, and I'm generally not very "relaxed" which it turns out is a key Scuba skill 😭 Four days and 18 panic attacks later 😱 😱 😱 😱 😱 I get dive-certified on my birthday 💪 which helps distract me from the fact that one of the other divers got evacuated for a snake bite 😬 as well as the memory of finding a 5-inch tarantula 😫 laying eggs in my Scuba vest. We see amazing sunsets, we eat fantastic food, we meet travel friends, we guest DJ at the tiki bar. I wear flowy tank tops 😘. and drink a lot of wine. We high-five each other often and agree that life is good 😏 even though yeah, a shower would be nice.
After a week on the island, we take the "boat" back to the mainland. The seas are choppy 💀 and a 20-year-old Swiss traveler jumps overboard 😬 when his bag falls in the sea. His friends are drunk and he has to be rescued by a pole. NBD. We sleep in a roach-y hotel 😷 on the mainland, and the next day we both cram into shotgun inside a $10 van that drives us 🙈 five hours to Phnom Penh. We spend our last riels on Tiger Balm and espressos before boarding a plane to Ho Chi Minh. We smell bad, but agree... 👍 👍 good times. Leah sin houwy Cambodia!