From the moment we landed, I thought it was a mistake choosing Cambodia and Thailand for our honeymoon.
It was a 14 hour plane ride to Tokyo. Then 7 hours to Bangkok. A quick evening layover at the airport hotel and the next morning a 1.5 hour plane ride to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
After a haphazard visa experience in the airport where you shove 25 US dollars in the general direction of border patrol agents and they yell out your last name to collect your newly-minted passport with a Cambodian visa, I walked outside to see a gentleman holding a sign for PETERSON. He had the largest grin I had ever seen and gestured proudly to his tuk tuk while offering us water from a small knock-off Igloo cooler.
I sat in the first of many bumpy, dusty, tuk-tuk rides on the way to our guesthouse. It had a kind sign letting us know that our driver didn’t speak much English and it was in that collective, jet-lagged, exhausted, heart-pounding, eye-opening moment that I wondered if we should have chosen Europe for our honeymoon.
I was in complete and utter culture shock.
It took a day or two to adjust to the new sights and smells. Oh the smells. I never, ever thought I’d get used to the smells. It didn’t take long, but I did. The distinct smells of pure delicious street food could be taken over by a quick waft of sewage. By the second day, I didn’t even flinch.
It’s funny there’s a route I take while running here in Florida that goes over a small bridge that has a sewer drain and every once and a while on a hot, humid day (every day) you can get a whiff of something not so spectacular. Ironically, I immediately think, “Awww, Cambodia.” And I write that sincerely without condescension.
They say smell is your strongest sense for evoking memories and I have some amazing memories from Cambodia.
Cambodia has forever changed me in such a wonderful way.
It slapped me in the face for my preconceived notions of a third world country and enthusiastically questioned my version of a good life.
There are undoubtedly issues pertaining to living conditions and education that shouldn’t be glazed over when speaking of Cambodia.
Joseph Mussomeli, former US Ambassador to Cambodia, once said, “Be careful because Cambodia is the most dangerous country you will ever visit. You will fall in love with it and eventually it will break your heart.”
The truth is, I was left with so much more in my heart given to me by the people we met.
Such as, Nary, an employee at a guesthouse where we were staying, who pointed out the Detroit Tigers hat the hubster was wearing and asked him if he was American while winking at him.
Or Nat. Oh, Nat, our tour guide that took us around Angkor Wat, who spoke with such an enthusiasm for his people and culture one minute and the next, openly spoke of the atrocities that occurred in Cambodia in the late 70’s. He told us so many times he was happy we were here and we needed to tell all of our friends back at home about Cambodia.
So I am.
I can’t wait to share more with you about our experiences.
Have you ever had a city or country forever change your perspective?