After 106 days in Cambodia, it’s time to go. I’m on my way to Borneo! I am excited but sad to leave. I loved living in Phnom Penh and I met some great people here, both in my apartment and my colleagues at the magazine. For me, Cambodia has been infuriating, saddening, uplifting and inspiring all at the same time.
The Cambodian people are very passionate about their families and their country. During these past few months the political crisis has been really heating up and everyone is talking about the prime minister. From Rath my cook at home, to the guides at Angkor Wat and my quadbiking instructor in Siem Reap – they all want to talk about it, discuss the situation and take a stand for change. This decade will almost certainly see the beginning of an important chapter in Cambodia’s history.
One of the most fascinating people I was fortunate enough to meet was Youk Chhang at the Documentation Centre of Cambodia. He grew up during the Khmer Rouge time, lived through it, went to prison, escaped to the US and eventually came home to Phnom Penh – his story is part of the audio tour at The Killing Fields. Watching the premiere of his film, “Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll” it was moving to see how the country changed between the 60s until the late 70s. I went to meet Youk at his office and he is the kind of man you just want to listen to, he is a great storyteller.
The way he spoke about his research, and his memories of the music he grew up listening to, was so moving. My favourite part of the interview was his answer to “do you have a favourite song?” He replied,
“Yes, a song I memorised as a child called “Ruomdoul Kratie” (or “The Flower of Kratie”). It is about a tree dancing down the Mekong River. Growing up, I always imagined that I would go to Paris, I would be well-educated, I would travel around Cambodia, I would go to Kratie province and find a girl and I would marry her. In my mind it was beautiful. But I only visited Kratie in 1994 because of the war and I was disappointed. It wasn’t so beautiful anymore like it was in the song, because during the Khmer Rouge era it was devastated. The river was dry and it was a poor province. We had the genocide and I didn’t go to Paris. I didn’t become the most handsome, educated traveller and find a girl. The song really captured my heart.”
My favourite thing about living in Phnom Penh was the restaurant scene. For a city that’s the size of a large town rather than a sprawling metropolis, the city has an unbelieveable choice when it comes to cuisine. Lebanese, American, Thai, Korean, Indian, British, Mexican, French, Nepalese, German, Italian, Japanese, Burmese, Spanish – the list goes on, there is everything here. It is great to see so many places opening too – granted, many establishments end up closing after a few months – but I liked that it was constantly changing. The quality too is excellent; perhaps we can thank the French for that?
I spend the last couple of weeks in Cambodia having various leaving do’s before Mum and Dad arrived at the beginning of February.
We spent a great couple of days in Phnom Penh (at The Pavilion hotel, which was amazing) before driving to Siem Reap to do the temples. It was the second time for me at Angkor Wat but it was still interesting to see again.
The sheer scale of the place (it’s the largest religious centre in the world) is impressive enough but we had a very knowledgeable guide with us who pointed out parts of the temples you would perhaps walk by.
Goodbye Cambodia, I will miss you!