Three days in Cambodia captivates my heart

by Doug Mendel, Jan 13, 2004 | Destinations: Cambodia / Phnom Penh

In 1997 I visited Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and South Korea for a six-week adventure. At the tail end of the trip, almost on the spur of the moment, I decided to visit Cambodia for three days. I had wanted to visit the country since October 1995, when I was in Eastern Europe and met a gentleman who had visited Cambodia and loved it. The seed was planted, and for eighteen months I looked forward to gaining a new perspective on a country with a troubled and dark past.

In mid-June 1997, I flew from Bangkok to Phnom Penh for a three-day adventure. My eyes were glued to the window of the plane as we descended from the clouds for the approach to Pochentong International Airport. The landscape was dotted with fields of green and vast, open spaces of nothingness. The plane landed, and as I walked down the stairs of the plane to the tarmac, the stifling humidity and heat caught me off-guard. I almost gasped for a breath. We walked to the terminal to give papers and passports to some people in uniforms for processing. After a passport was marked with a visa stamp the Khmer passport control person would hold it up, and whomever the document belonged to would grab it and be on their way, minus the $20 application fee.

On the plane flight over my seatmate was a British lady, and we decided to travel together for at least a day or two. Once we were both outside the terminal, we were mobbed by motodrivers wanting to take us somewhere, anywhere, for a buck or two. My new found friend hopped on the back of a motobike; I did likewise on another motobike. We decided on a guest house named Bert's Books and Guesthouse, and after about 20 minutes or so and a gas fill-up of one of the motos, we arrived. The guesthouse exuded ambiance with its' close proximity to the Mekong River and a balcony that was perfect for watching the sunset with a COLD beer in hand.

The next day I took a flight to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat, the Buddhist temple complex in the northwest of the country. Angkor Wat is a sprawling complex of over 100 temples that comprised the sacred skeleton of a magnifiacent religious and administartive center. The Angkor period covers over 600 years from 802-1432 and comprised a time when the Khmer Empire consolidated its position as one of the great powers of South-East Asia. Because of the immensity of Angkor and the history associated with it, a couple days at the complex was mandatory.

Once in Siem Reap, I took a moto to Mom's Guesthouse. The motodriver I used from the airport in Siem Reap to Mom's was a cautious driver, so I decided to have him be my guide for the day I was at Angkor Wat. I bought a $20 ticket for Angkor Wat, and the day started early to watch the sunrise and walk around the many temples of the complex. The guide and I returned to the guesthouse for two hours at midday because of the stifling heat. It was a nice break from seeing the temples in the morning. Recharging my batteries with cold drink and food made the afternoon easier. Toward dusk, my guide took me to Phmom Bakeng (a.k.a. the Hill) to watch the sunset. It is about a 300-step climb to the top from the road, with young kids selling drinks, film, handicrafts and food to the tourists. Watching the sunset over the rice paddies was a very beautiful sight, and I took many pictures. I was one of the last to descend the Hill, and my guide was very happy to see me, as he thought maybe I was lost! Just wanted to take it all in. Once back at the guesthouse, I collapsed in my bed for a good night sleep.

The next day started early, as I wanted to buy five brooms. They are made of reeds and bamboo and are used for light dusting. I fell in love with them, and after I bought my brooms, I headed for the airport in Siem Reap for the flight to Phnom Penh, and then back to the States via Bangkok. Once in Phnom Penh, though, I had about ninety minutes to mill about before my flight to Thailand, so I took a moto to Bert's to see if my friends were still there. Unfortunately they were out and about, so I left a note for them and took a moto back to Potchentong International Airport for my one-hour plane flight to Bangkok.

During the three days I was in Cambodia, I fell in love with the people, culture, history, food, handicrafts, weather and landscapes. I knew I would return for a longer stay.

* * * * *