Spending a few days in steamy Phnom Penh gave me the chance to settle and explore a city I imagined I would like, but really started to love. The architecture is gorgeous and otherworldly – the rooftop peaks and curling spires of temples and pagodas and palaces are decorated with gold and colored tiles and possess an undeniable magic – so wildly Eastern. I would swear, too, that the ancient statues of Hindu and Buddhist deities, the friezes, and miniature stupas at the National Museum hold a palpable energy that left me wishing I had the foresight to better study Eastern religions (or at least had paid better attention during my college Hinduism class).
Still, arriving in Phnom Penh also created an explosion of different emotions. In addition to the heady high that arriving in a new country offers, I’ve also come to confront Cambodia’s all-too-recent genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge with a visit to the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, as well as an abhorrent and blatant sex tourism trade – despite the presence of what seem like throngs of NGO workers and their projects.
The city also seems filled with passionate travelers, a fascinating enclave of people with incredible stories and backgrounds – from the married couple (with 2 toddlers in tow) who left behind careers in the States to train as counselors for victims of sex slavery, to our new Canadian friends, Jeanne and Al, who in 35 years of marriage have traveled to 51 countries and counting.
I’m excited to dive further afield into Cambodia – our plan is to explore the southern coast and Cambodia’s islands for a stretch before making our way north to Siem Reap. Here’s to continuing the journey, the learning and the fortune to have new lives touch mine.