I visited Phnom Penh which is the capital city of Cambodia, a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina peninsula in Southeast Asia. The “Kingdom of Cambodia” is the official English name of the beautiful ASEAN country. Their neighbor includes Thailand to the north and west, Laos to the northeast, and Vietnam to the east and southeast. Time in Cambodia clocks at GMT +7 hours, which is the same time zone as Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos.
This is the first time I’d fly Tiger and on Changi’s Terminal 2. Previously I only show up on my flights an hour before, and I still have enough time to eat pastry and drink tea in Delifrance or Starbucks. My instinct told me to go earlier. So I did. To my surprise, Tiger’s check-in counters are chaotic. 4 destinations, one long snake-like queue that didn’t seem to move. Why? Only 2 counters are open and as I check my watch, I just hissed under my breath and thought about missing my flight. Much to my relief, 15mins before the check-in closes, they opened a special queue for our flight number.
The flight took off and arrived as scheduled, and I tried not to laugh when I saw the hotel driver holding up a sign with my name on it, from the arrival area at Phnom Penh International Airport. Well, outside the airport’s Arrival Hall, a traveler may also take a taxi provided by the Airport Taxi Association, which costs between $12 and $18 depending on the destination. We also bought a local SIM card with data at the airport. It took us almost an hour to reach Anise hotel. I checked in at 930am.
Tired from my whole week, I dozed off. I saw myself looking around inside the same room, but this time there was a small, red, toy piano playing by itself like a music box, on top of a table. As I approached it, I saw it burning slowly and spitting out little sparks, like wood crackling in a fireplace. The sparks hurt my hand, and so I wanted to take the fire out with water. As I move away to get water, I see another room ornament on another table. It was a Buddha. It is still standing solid, but burnt and black like charcoal. I head to the door hoping to get water, only to find another door. I opened it. I looked outside. Nothing. I closed it back. When I turned around to the first door to enter my room, I saw a man standing. He was an old man, with tanned-like skin. He has short white hair. His beard, white. He was wearing an orange batik polo shirt and cream pants. I was startled. I got scared when he walked towards me. I couldn’t move. Just as I was telling myself not to panic, the old man touched and rubbed my forehead softly with his thumb. I opened my eyes and it was almost 130pm.
I asked a friend back home to track me using GPS, and I haven’t left my room since arrival. I had a lazy, late lunch at the hotel, went up in my room, went downstairs again to eat ice cream then planned for my day tour the next day. Went back in my room, watched tv for a couple of hours. I decided to go for a walk which brought me to a local supermarket. I tried to stop myself from buying instant polenta and a tub of ice cream. I just grabbed a cherry Coke, a few toiletries and a chocolate bar. I asked my friend for the GPS accuracy. It shows I’m headed to a bar. I was at the supermarket cashier, paying for my groceries.
Woke up early to prep up for my day tour. I just learned that it rained very early due to the wet streets and plants outside the hotel’s terrace restaurant. I was tempted to be lazy again and stay in bed. But since appointments were already made, I had to brave it all up. By 8am local time, me, my tour guide Hong and our tuk-tuk driver are all set for the trip. I got a bit blur when Hong told me I had to shoulder all entrance fees, in which on every single stop that we make. Which is okay. At least he informed me ahead and he told me how much each time. He also offered me flexibility since it’s an exclusive tour. I can skip whatever or add to the itinerary. I had no time to think. All I ever thought about was not to get a migraine as the weather was so hot.
The rain had no plans to come back after all. I was required to walk under the blazing hot sun in most of the Royal Palace tour. I was amazed at its massive collection of Cambodian art and architecture, along with the historical tidbits that Hong was hurling at me. It’s ironic to see huge Buddhas made of pure jade and gold adorned with diamonds and different gemstones, while they have a very morbid past not so long ago.
I didn’t realize that it took us almost 2 hours inside the palace alone, considering that there were still off-limit areas within the property. Next in line was the National Museum. No picture taking was allowed inside, which was fine with me. Another in-house guide lectured me with their art’s history. Not a big museum, thank God. I went to the toilet and I laughed when I saw myself in the mirror. I was sweating really bad and my cheeks are burning red. I looked like a flustered China doll. And it’s not even half of my day.
We continued the journey to the Watt Phnom center and before lunch, the creepy Tuol Sleng or S-21 prison. I can only wonder as Hong narrated to me it’s ugly history. I tried not to look into the eyes of those faces; those photos hanging inside the prison walls. I tried not to absorb the negative energy that this place is emitting. Two of the men who survived the tortures from this camp are just outside this museum, selling their books and life stories to tourists to support themselves. I had the chance to see them from afar, and I opted not to buy their books. The images are depressing enough. I had no intention to carve it in my soul. At the exit, Hong happily told me we are heading for lunch. Great. Just great.
After that depressing tour, I get to replenish my not-so-hungry self. We went down for a buffet lunch, in which the only things that I really enjoyed are the seaweed soup and an ice-cold Coke. Am checking on how am I supposed to hold up to the heat. It’s still burning hot and humid outside. And we are about to travel another 15km outside the city in a tuk-tuk for the Killing Fields. I checked my paracetamol and menthol oil in my bag, held my water bottle tight and said a little prayer before braving out from the restaurant.
As we exited the city, the roads are very dusty due to the road construction on some parts. We armed ourselves with face masks. I’m already weak from the heat, but willing to endure this as I don’t see any signs of my migraine creeping up on me anytime soon. Perhaps the aromatherapy massage last night helped me prepare my body for this excruciating day tour. Good. After a slow and long travel just outside Phnom Penh, we finally reached the killing fields or the Choeung Ek museum. The stupa which housed the skulls and bones of those found in this massive field of dead bodies stood 17 levels high. Surrounding it are the mass graves, where they estimated for more than 1 million lives claimed by the Khmer Rouge.
The worst part of this tour is seeing the killing tree wherein the heartless soldiers smashed babies and children’s heads, and their lifeless bodies were thrown in a deep pit beside it. Hong explained to me that the Khmer compared rebels to a grass. If you don’t take the roots out, the grass will grow back. They killed babies and children of their prisoners, so as not to let these young minds grow up and eventually avenge the deaths of their fathers.
Where were you between 1975 to 1979 when this all happened? I asked Hong. He said he was lucky to be far from Phnom Penh. I did not ask anything else.
Feeling spectacular as I got back to the hotel from the day tour, I hurriedly took a long hot bath and threw myself in bed. I started to think about drinks and dinner. I decided to go Spanish at a tapas bar nearby. Since the local beer made me a bit giddy, I headed back to my hotel’s resto for dessert and tea – only to find out that they are on happy hour. All guests were enjoying alcohol while I have a pot full of tea and chocolate mousse in front of me. Just right for me though. Near perfect. It was a good day.
I slept well and woke up just right for my last brekky in Cambodia. I slowly enjoyed everything around me. Anise hotel‘s terrace is beautiful. One can practically stay there for hours comfortably. In fact, I checked out early just so I could also enjoy my lunch there and read further as I wait for my car service going to the airport by 130pm.
Phnom Penh International Airport at last. Quite small but not too crowded. By the time I passed the Immigration and bag scanner, I checked my boarding pass from my passport to see if what gate should I go to. Since I still have an hour to spare, I headed to the coffee shop near the boarding gate. I took a table to contemplate first on what to get, approached the counter with my bag, paid for my coffee and sat at another table. As soon as I started writing on my journal and sipping my coffee, I instinctively looked for my passport. It’s gone.
I asked the coffee shop staffs, searched my bag calmly, and tried to recall how that was possible for me to overlook this. As I felt no progress on what I was doing, I went to look for airport security for help. It’s been 15 minutes since I discovered I don’t have my passport. As he tried to understand my situation, went back again to bag searching and tracing my steps. As we were on our way back to where I left off, someone announced my name on the PA system. Somebody found it. I didn’t understand where they found it for their English is not good. I heard they found it from the bag scanner, but it’s impossible for I checked my gate number while I was walking towards the coffee shop. And that was all after scanner. I just stopped asking and just thanked them sincerely for surrendering my passport to the right people. Embarrassing. But I couldn’t be luckier. I was at my happiest.
So even if this last event went a little berserk, I just had to leave Cambodia now with a huge smile on my face.
Travel Guru Stories – Cambodia