Hello Cambodia, I’m Home!

I’m so excited to write this post!!! After the 4,000 Islands, I took a “bus”, which was actually a boat and three different junky minivans packed full with 13 of us and our luggage across the border to Cambodia. It took about an hour to get to the checkpoint, making it close to noon when we arrived. The sun was beating down and sweat was rolling out of every crack and crevice of my body, but I was so happy! Finally, after checking out of Laos, I reached the Welcome sign where tears started flowing. From the first immigration officer I encountered, the whole vibe changed. Cambodia is my love, these are my people! Everyone was smiling and happy even through the process of visa applications, passport checks, fingerprints, etc. It was “Welcome to Cambodia”, “Thank you so much for coming!”. This is what I love about this country. The people, after going through so much….genocide, civil war, poverty, etc, are still so positive, friendly, and generally happy and smiling. It warms my heart!

After getting a snack and a new SIM card, we packed in the third minivan, headed for Siem Reap. The trip was supposed to take 8 hours, but as it goes on these roads, etc…we arrived 12 hours later. I quickly connected with Koy, a friendly tuk-tuk driver and we headed off to my little boutique hotel, The Cockatoo Nature Resort. The guard was waiting for me and took me to my beautiful room to settle in for a good night’s rest.

In the morning, I did a meditation and yoga and then set out to see how the city has changed since my last visit in 2018. During the pandemic, they built a new road through the main part of town and cleaned up a lot of the trash in and around the river. Other than that, and many less tourists, it’s the same beautiful, welcoming city I remember! I spent the day wandering through the streets and the old market, having fun buying a temple skirt and a couple other little things to support the locals. I also found an amazing natural products store with a spa, and bought some essential oil. Of course, they talked me into scheduling a salt/rice body scrub, massage, and facial for late in the afternoon….pure bliss! Everything was so perfect; it could not have been any nicer!

Carmen had recommended Chalky, a tuk-tuk driver/guide she was friends with, so I connected with him and scheduled a trip to Kulen Mountain the next day. This was a site I had rushed past the last couple of times I was here, but now, traveling indefinitely, I’m really trying to slow down and get the full experience! We met briefly the day before to buy the ticket and have lunch and agreed on the motorbike instead of the tuk-tuk. For a 70 km drive down mostly dirt roads, this was a better option!

The drive there was nice through the country, until he explained many the changes happening in Siem Reap. During COVID, the Chinese have bought much of the land, and are building a new airport, a new train (which is now partially complete in Laos), and many new housing developments. It’s sad, they are taking over many of the rice paddies and turning them into new housing developments because they are near the beautiful lake. The people here are desperate, and have lost so much of their land, homes, and possessions during the pandemic. My heart bleeds for the Cambodian people…

Finally, we reached Kulen Mountain, where I was surprised see to a depiction of the Hindu 1,000 Lingas, carved in the sandstone in the river bed, as well as Shiva and many other mythological characters and symbols. These were said to have been carved in the 11th and 12th centuries AD, but were not discovered until 1969. They were later closed to visitors until after the civil war ended around 1993.

After seeing the 1,000 lingas, we continued on to the giant sleeping Buddha carved in stone on top of the mountain…AMAZING!!, then on to the beautiful waterfall where we took a swim to cool off and relax!

Later, we had a late lunch, and headed to Kampong Phluk, the floating village, for sunset. It’s crazy, I was here in 2016…,check out my earlier blog post, during the dry season, and it was so different (no boats floating!!) This time, we boarded our own private boat and headed down river towards Tonle Sap Lake. It was so cool to see the houses on stilts with the families out in their boats working, running errands, and just playing around! We stopped at a Mangrove forest were we got off the motorboat, and onto a hand boat. These people are amazing…so strong and calm! We took about a 40-minute tour through the trees where they greeted us in boats with snacks and drinks. They really know how to show the tourists a great time in their country! As the sun sunk down, we got back on our motorboat and headed into the lake for sunset. Before the pandemic there were often 600 full tourist boats on the lake for sunset. Now, there were only about 20 boats with a maximum of 6-10 people, and many with one tourist like mine. Again, through the struggle, the guides have an amazing resiliency and always seem to show up smiling and happy!

After it grew dark, we headed back up the river to the dock. When we arrived at the motorbike it started pouring rain. Chalky looked at me as I laughed, and said, “okay, get close and hold on…!” I climbed on the seat behind him, grabbed his tiny waist, and we set off down the bumpy red dirt road in the dark. We played tag with a tuk-tuk decorated with flashing colored lights for about an hour, until we made it to the paved road. Every time we came up on them, I would yell, “yi yi yi yi”, and then the driver and I would look at each other as we passed and laugh….it was so dirty and muddy, and soooooo much fun! The ride was exhilarating, and I felt like a kid again!

When we arrived back at my hotel, I took a nice shower, and we met back up at the restaurant deck for a snack and a couple of beers Chalky went out to buy. I don’t think I mentioned it, but I’m the only one at my little hotel, so I’ve got the run of the place! My personal resort, pool and all!

This was when the true special connection happened. He shared with me his life growing up during the Khmer Rouge, the genocide. It was awful, he was an only child, and his parents were both killed when he was 7. He was taken to an orphanage with hundreds of other children, where he lived in extreme poverty, and through the civil war, until he was 18. His story touched my heart so much. I am so humbled by the strength and pride he carries with him after so many horrible years. If you would like to learn more, I would like to recommend a book I recently read. It is written by a woman who went through many of the same things, and is a very touching recount of the history of this time. It is called, First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung. It is also a movie with Angelina Jolie, but I have heard it is not very good, and the government removed many of the important parts. I have not seen it.

So, with that, I will leave you for now, and will be back soon!

Peace and Love,

Michelle

4 Replies to “Hello Cambodia, I’m Home!”

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