Laura Mina here. As Caroline’s visitor and younger sister, I decided that it would be fun to make a guest-appearance on C&T’s blog.
After graduation from the University of Victoria at the end of March, I chose to squeeze in a trip to Cambodia to see my big sis and open my eyes to something completely different than Victoria, university textbooks and North American culture. What a journey it has been so far!
The first (and biggest) highlight of my trip was obviously to see Caroline again. We ran at each other in the airport and I swung her around in my arms. Caroline and Tyson have been incredibly hospitable and it’s been wonderful having adventures with them both.
Phnom Penh is a busy and booming place. Immediately upon leaving the airport, we hopped into a Tuk Tuk and I was able to experience Cambodia’s driving conditions first hand. To a foreigner’s eyes, the roads here appear to have zero rules and regulations and intersections look like death traps. Motos, Tuk Tuks, giant SUVs and pedestrians veer around each other, however, soon it is obvious that there is a system to the roads, and for the most part, it works. People just wait their turn and drive when they see a gap in traffic. (Also, no red lights means less idling – something that can only be good!) I’ve loved riding on the back of the motos, which has only rekindled my desire for a motorcycle…(sorry Mom and Dad!)
Caroline and Tyson were extremely overjoyed with the suitcase full of food and snacks put together by my Mom with love. I had great fun simply watching them get excited over licorice, good chocolate, dried fruit and granola bars – things that are difficult to come by here. Tyson’s Mom also included some quinoa, which we have been enjoying these last couple of weeks.
I have really loved meeting and greeting Cambodian people, who are incredibly friendly. They are eager to share a smile with us or for the chance to practice some simple English. Men, women and children are polite and gentle. Since my trip coincided perfectly with the Khmer New Year, the city has been full of excitement and celebration. One night, Caroline and I were returning from a run when we were invited to join a group of family and friends celebrating on the side of the road. They offered us drinks and food. One of the snacks ended up being so spicy that Caroline and I both turned teary eyed and red in the face until one man brought us a litre of water. They thought this was hilarious, as Caroline and I laughed along with them in between large gulps of water.
Phnom Penh is incredibly alive and colourful. The markets are packed with people and merchandise. Salespeople call out to us since our skin colour gives them hope that we will be spending more money than the average Khmer person. Still, for the most part, people are not aggressive. I have been able to practice my bartering skills at the markets, although I am nowhere near as good as Caroline at driving a price down.
Caroline and I spent a day studying the history of Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge, visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the nearby Choeung Ek Killing Fields. Caroline has already written a fantastic post describing the Khmer Rouge so I will not get too much into a description. While it was an emotionally exhausting day, I am much more able to appreciate and understand this country, and what it has been through after losing 2 million of it’s most educated people from 1975-1979.
Recently, Caroline, Tyson, Matt (Caroline’s colleague) and I recently ventured to a remote island called Koh Rong, where we stayed in Bungalows on “Lonely Beach.” After a 3 hour boat ride, we arrived at an incredibly untouched tropical beach. (In fact, just weeks before our visit, it was used as the site for the French version of the TV show Survivor.) We were lucky to share our stay with a friendly girl named Jess, who was born in Zimbabwe and now lives in Australia. We were also able to get to know Danny, the man who owns the bungalows. Danny has lived in Cambodia for something like 12 years, after leaving France. However, when I asked him where he was from originally, he responded that he is a child of the earth. He is now married to a Khmer woman and they have a beautiful 10-year-old daughter together named Rechina. Luckily, Danny also owned a beautiful, friendly dog and so I was able to get my dog fix while staying on the island, since many of the dogs in Phnom Penh run the risk of carrying diseases or being less than friendly.
At Lonely Beach, we enjoyed swimming in the warm ocean multiple times a day and exploring the island. We saw lizards, geckos, frogs, huge spiders, barracudas, crabs, flying fish, and more, but only Jess was lucky enough to spot an octopus! We are also still confused over what jumped out of the water and flew at me, but we’ve decided to agree that it was some sort of alien jumping squid…
On the second day, the five of us ventured to the nearest village, a 45 min walk away from our site. At first, we greeted some of the local youth and adults, who were all enjoying being together and celebrating the Khmer New Year. While the language gap was very large, the people of the small village were happy to greet us. One group offered us some drinks of what tasted like a wine made from fermented coconut water.
A group of young kids was also playing games in a large sand field and Tyson and I thought it would be fun to get their attention. Tyson initiated a cartwheel and I followed his lead. That was all it took – around 20 kids with big curious eyes and wide smiles came running over to see what us strange people were up to. The next hour and a half was spent laughing and running around barefoot with these energetic kids and while no English was understood, they were quick to pick up on our games like leap frog, wheelbarrow races, limbo, long jump, piggybacks and tag. Compared to North American children, who have vast forms of entertainment and incredible opportunities, these kids live off of very little. However, they were some of the happiest and kindest kids I have ever met. The young girls kept dusting the sand off of Caroline and my legs whenever we stopped running around. The kids loved having their photo taking, only insisting afterward that they could see the result on the small camera screen. Our visit with them was one of the most rewarding parts of my trip so far. It was hard to say good-bye.
On the walk home, a young man motioned to ask us if we were thirsty and proceeded to scale a coconut tree to fetch us each a coconut. Before doing so, however, he removed his two pet birds from his pocket and handed them to us to keep while he climbed the tree. We left the island with amazing memories of Lonely Beach and the welcoming people of the small Khmer village nearby.
Caroline and I leave Phnom Penh tomorrow morning for Siem Reap and the temples at Angkor Wat. This will be the last adventure of my trip in Cambodia and then I am headed to training camp in Phoenix, Arizona, where I know I will miss my big sis, Tyson and the many smiling faces of the Cambodian people.
All the best,