02 January, 2014

First Impressions

Jum - reap suor!

I am back from Cambodia. A two week trip that seemed to go very fast but also felt like forever. Hopefully you understand what I mean. I will dedicate a couple of blog posts to share my thoughts and tips from the trip, along with plenty of photos taken on my trusty iPhone 4s.

Highlights from the trip:

- Meeting new people: It was actually easier than I thought to get along with the people in my volunteering group. I just had to remember that every one was in the same boat. They didn't know anyone else either. I was the youngest one there, but found it pretty easy to relate to the others. I honestly thought I would be much more awkward and unsure of myself but I am happy to say that I proved myself wrong. It was very lovely meeting everyone and made me more confident in my ability to travel alone.

- The tuk-tuk rides: This is one of the things I will miss most about Cambodia. The transport. It was a very fun, easy and cheap way to get around. If you did not want to walk to your next destination, there was always a driver waiting around the corner so you were never left stranded.

- Cheap food: Even though the range of food was some what limited, I will miss the cheap cost of food. Usually in Phnom Penh you can have dinner and a drink from a local restaurant for around $3. And although food was more expensive in Siem Reap, it was still considerably cheaper than eating out in Australia.

- Watching the circus in Siem Reap: This was one of the stand out moments of the trip. I was both humoured and enthralled by the performance. I loved how authentic and entertaining it was. You will hear more about the circus in my third and final travel post.

By going on this short trip, I realised that there is so much out there for me to discover. There are so many more people to meet, more food to eat, more places to visit and cultures to experience.

I booked the 'Cambodian Experience' through Real Gap, which was a volunteering and site seeing package. It included airport pick-up, accommodation and a planned itinerary. Even though I appreciated experiencing another culture and being away from home for a bit, it was generally very exhausting and the repetitive long days made site seeing a little mundane. In saying this, it was definitely a nice way to ease myself into traveling alone.

In the future I will probably not do a tour like this. I would much rather have more freedom while I traveled. To take my time at places I enjoy, or to speed things up when I am disinterested. To sometimes take days off site-seeing, just to enjoy the country I am in.

The biggest thing I got out of the trip was inspiration to travel more. Becoming more passionate to explore the world. My next small trip will be to re-visit America this July. I will be going for around two weeks to see my aunty and her family over Independence Day. Then, the next big trip I will be saving up for will be to backpack through Western Europe. Hopefully during all of semester 1 break in 2015.


My plane left at midday on the 6th of December, with a one night stop in Singapore. It was a little over 7 hours to get there. The idea of staying in Singapore for one night frightened me. The scariest parts were going through the airport by myself, catching a taxi from the airport and sleeping in a hotel alone.

However, my fears were quickly wiped away after my dad gave me a very comprehensive guide to use during the trip. He wrote me an email entailing all the airport intricacies - which documents to show when etc. It was like my dad was holding my hand the whole time.

Despite a fitful baby on the flight, it wasn't too bad. I kept myself entertained by watching two movies - Despicable Me 2 and We're The Miller's. Along with being provided plenty of food and drinks, I only had a little bit of sleep before we landed in Singapore. I like Singapore airport. It is very spacious, clean, and has high ceilings (which is a feature that impresses me.)

Tip 1. When traveling alone, especially as a young woman, choose to sit at the back of the taxi.

For a moment I thought I may offend the taxi driver if I didn't sit in the passenger seat. But I soon realised that while traveling, you have to be two things:

Assertive and just a little bit ruthless. 

Biggest plane meal ever? Thank you Singapore Airlines! 
Perfect reading material for the plane. Picked up The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul from the airport because I really enjoyed reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. It has similar tones and themes to the best seller but is primarily about women in Afghanistan. With the effortless change of perspectives, I thoroughly enjoyed being taken away by each story. I didn't want the story to end. A Million Little Ways is a beautiful Christian book that I received from my friend's mum before I left for my trip. It has so far been very encouraging in terms of discovering what living a creative and self-valued life looks like. 
More food!
Taxi drivers seem to come in three general types: the grumpy silent, the pleasant silent, or the friendly talkative ones. My taxi driver was very much the last kind. He went on and on about the demographics of Singapore as I politely nodded along, making several remarks here and there. It is amazing what you can learn about the country you are in, just in a conversation with a taxi driver. 

Holiday Inn Express was a very nice place my dad booked for me. It had a lovely bathroom, and an unbelievably fluffy queen sized bed. I decided to be a little brave and go out into the streets to have a look at all the Christmas lights. I thought that I should make the most out of it since I was only going to be there for one night. And it was definitely worth it. After taking a quick warm shower, I got into bed and watched the ending of The Hobbit on TV before nodding off to sleep.

In the morning I had breakfast at the hotel and then went out to see as much of Singapore as I could before having to head off to the airport in the afternoon. And what better way to do that then to go on the Singapore Flyer. It is apparently the largest observatory wheel in the world. A very relaxing, eye opening and enjoying experience. 

I also took some time walking through the shops on Orchard Street after this. I munched on some snacks while I tried to fill a couple of hours before my flight. There was honestly not much to do there. I didn't have enough money to shop and I soon wished I had taken more time looking around the Singapore Flyer. All I could do was eat. I ended up finding an asian food court in Takashimaya Department Store, it was quite amazing. There was Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Singapore cuisine to choose from. So I stopped for lunch before heading off. 

All in all, Singapore was a very clean, humid, bustling city. It was much more commercialised then I would have liked. But I had a positive and captivating experience over my one night and half a day stay. The flight to Cambodia was only a couple of hours; this is where my journey really beings...

Trying a little bit of Congee for breakfast. I had never tried it before, but it is pretty much a warm savoury rice porridge. The unidentifiable meat ball in the centre was only given a little nibble, before being left uneaten in the bowl. 
I am definitely my mothers daughter. Whenever my mum goes to a buffet she tries to get her money's worth and wraps food in tissues, so that we can take it home to eat. I usually find this very embarrasing. However, on this morning I had the urge to do the same. I sneakily took a couple condiments and these pastries for the road. Hehe! 
The Singapore Flyer from a distance. 
A sit down dining option! 
Panorama shot. 
A soccer field on the water? Why not!
Lunch from the shopping centre. 

Now, arriving at Phnom Penh airport was extremely nerve racking. Immediately I found the locals much less friendly then I had expected. We all know that immigration officers aren't usually the most talkative and chirpy people; but this man was seriously serious. In the short interaction that we had, he merely gave me a grunt or two before looking back down to his keyboard. 

I was getting picked up at the airport by an "onsite team member" and wondered what they would be like. I was terrified. This team member ended up being a tuk-tuk driver that the organisation had hired. He held my name on a piece of paper, greeted me more enthusiastically, then took my large luggage and walked it across the car park. We got to the side of the road where he told me to wait for him. He was going to fetch himself a tuk-tuk.

In the meantime I was exposed to Cambodia. To the smells, the busy road and people eating at street carts. I had three other tuk-tuk drivers pull up next to me asking if I needed a ride. How ridiculous I must have looked with my huge bag, seemingly lost and abandoned outside the airport. Luckily I remembered what shirt my driver was wearing and didn't get into a tuk-tuk with someone else! Finally my driver made a big illegal (in Australia) U-turn through a two-way road and picked me up. 

This was the first time I had gotten into a tuk-tuk before and boy oh boy! In peak hour (6pm) traffic it was an experience. During the 30-40 minute ride I had to the guest house, I was scribbling away in my note pad like a maniac. It was intense. I used my pen and paper as an avenue for my anxiety. Cars were used as a mode of transport, typically rich individuals driving Range Rover's or Audi's. 

However, the most common form of transport was motorcycles. During peak hour traffic I realised that there weren't many road rules at all. It seemed like vehicles went where ever they wanted, whenever they wanted. Bikes were coming in very closely besides us and trying to make every opportunity to overtake one another. Some bikes occasionally traveled against the traffic if they decided they needed to turn back. 

Feet were used more then accelerators as drivers were coming to sudden stops every couple of seconds. Near accidents seemed to appear often, and horns were going off left, right and centre. It was also not uncommon to see a young family of four sharing one bike, toddlers standing up, no one really wore helmets. It was insane! I was the only one on the road stressed. Everyone else was composed as they swerved in and out, around the tuk-tuk, almost scraping the sides of cars. 

I sat in my seat exposed to all the elements, scared out of my skin. Tensing my whole body preparing for an accident to happen. My leg muscles hurt at the end of the trip because I was clenching my body that tightly. The fear that I felt on the first night is something I laugh about now because riding through the streets soon became all too normal and comfortable.

Tip 2. Always hold onto your belongings on a tuk-tuk by placing them on your lap or on the ground behind your legs. This is to avoid pick pocketing, which becomes very easy from the absence of windows and doors. 
What a typical tuk-tuk looks like. Drivers tend to decorate them differently by adding curtains and lining the seats with different patterns/materials. You often find drivers dead asleep or lounging around at the back of their tuk-tuk's from slow business. Some even invest in hammocks to hang up. 
My very basic room while in Phnom Penh. With one rotating fan on the roof to keep my room mate and I "cool" while we slept. 

Grabbing some chicken wings for dinner because the place seemed clean enough and I didn't want to try street food yet. These wings plus two bottles of small water cost me under $3. 
Tip 3. This is probably a well known fact: always buy bottled water for drinking purposes. Also do not consume drinks with ice in them unless they have hollow centres.

In the evening I met the three other ladies that were part of my volunteering group; Khanh, Deborah and Kate. All of us represented different States in Australia - Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and of course Sydney (that's me.) I got to know my room mate (Kate) a little before we decided to get to bed early, ready for our first day of site seeing in Phnom Penh.

I had a very restless sleep that night and awoke to the sound of the rotating fan.

To be Continued…

No comments:

Post a Comment