Our journey began in Phnom Penh and immediately on arrival I felt the lighthearted ease that is present throughout the entire country mixed with a dose of lingering melancholy. I love the varying atmospheres that you can almost taste when you travel to different places. The people and their culture give each destination its unique feel. Cambodia may have many similarities with Thailand from the language basis to the architecture and the food, but at its core it is a much different experience just like India is radically different to Singapore. With no road surface markings or traffic lights, our tuk tuk driver honked and and wove his way through a sea of mopeds, tuk tuks and cars to our hotel that looked out right over the Mekong river.
Phnom Penh's face is weathered, leathery, dusty, and marked with the scars that Pol Pot left behind with his unspeakable, genocidal crimes against his own people. Although this residual melancholy is omnispresent, Cambodian's have left this black part of their history behind, at times even to the point where for them the lines of reality and nightmare become blurred. Their positive outlook and earnest friendliness which plays over their faces, crinkling with laughter, makes you want to hug each and every one of them.
In Phnom Penh two of the destinations were of course the Royal Palace with its beautiful gardens, glimmering, golden roofs and intricately carved stupas, as well as the Killing Fields memorial, which left my eyes bright red when I left. Listening to the stories, seeing the now tranquil lake and field that used to initially serve as a Chinese cemetary, later to be turned into a genocidal playground for Pol Pot, left a bottomless hole in my heart.
After three days in Phnom Penh we drove cross country to Siem Reap, stopping quickly in the city of Skuon where local delicacies are fried, hairy spiders, scorpions and snakes (I couldn't bring myself to try any of these!). I'll be whisking you away to beautiful Siem Reap and Angkor Wat in my next post! Sending you lots of love from Chiang Mai until then.