When I landed at the Phnom Penh airport in Cambodia, I was immediately bitten twice on my arm by some mosquito while I was waiting for my luggage. Luckily, since the airport was very small, I didn’t wait too long and so I only suffered one more bug bite before I was met outside by the tuk tuk driver who would drive me to my hotel. The air that night was warm, and I could tell that it was hot during the day. The temperature difference between Chicago and Phnom Penh was almost 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and I was ecstatic to get away from the freezing cold and the 19 inches of snow from the day before. Since it took about a half hour from the slow tuk tuk ride in the warm heat, it felt good to turn on the air conditioning when I arrived at my hotel, and I slept pretty well because of the exhaustion of going through about 22 hours of travel time.
When morning came, my balcony window presented me a with a pretty view of a pagoda, and I couldn’t believe I was there. After breakfast I was met by Bill, my friend’s friend who would show me around Phnom Penh in his supposedly scary moto bike. Bill and his wife started a foundation there and I was to visit, although his wife wasn’t there during this trip. So never having met Bill before, he warned me via email about his crazy driving on his moto bike. I responded back by saying that I don’t get scared easily. After all, I take solo trips around the world and have skydived! The only thing that did scare me, though, was the fact that I didn’t have a helmet and Bill did. Not fair, I thought, as the traffic in Phnom Penh was the most horrendous I have ever witnessed. There seemed to be no rules as Bill zig zagged between cars, tuk tuks, and other moto bikes, and he even drove on the opposite side of the road to oncoming traffic. Now, I can’t say that I was scared. It was thrilling, as crazy as that may seem. It was more like a roller coaster ride. But as he was constantly speeding, I did get a little nervous when I thought about the no helmet part. Add to this the fact that Bill told me that if we saw cops, that he might have to speed up more to avoid them as the cops were looking for his friend along with Bill since Bill was associated with him! I honestly didn’t know if he was kidding or not so I was kind of wondering what I got myself into…
When we got to A New Day Cambodia, the school where Bill founded to shelter the Cambodian kids who are scavengers of the garbage dumps, I was reminded of my volunteer trip to Peru where the underprivileged kids were living at the school. I admired and respected Bill for being so dedicated to his cause. As he gave me a tour of the property, when we got to the very top of one of the buildings, the view was very scenic and beautiful. You couldn’t tell at all that we were in the poorest neighborhoods of the garbage dumps where people lived on stilted houses with no bathrooms with mounds of garbage in their backyards, if you could call it a backyard. Feeling the nice breeze under the roof overlooking the colorful rooftops under blue skies was a profound experience. How could it be that we witnessed a beautiful landscape only right under us were the ugliest and the most dire of circumstances to humanity?
After the tour it was time to get some lunch and drinks by the roadside cafe. My stomach wasn’t ready for an authentic Khmer lunch yet as it was my first day in Cambodia so I ended up having a tuna salad which was actually very fresh and very good. With two glasses of white wine, sitting across from the river along with Bill and his friend, I was relaxed and happy. Be warned, however, that if you go to Phnom Penh, there are many beggars and young kids coming by your table if sitting outside, which is something you really should do when the weather is so nice When it was time to take a break and rest up before meeting up again later that night, I found myself with a pounding heartache and nausea. It was definitely from the malaria pill I had to take as it was recommended that I take the meds before going to Siem Reap. Bill said the medicine is hard on the liver and hard on the body, and I couldn’t have agreed more. I felt like someone punched me and I was knocked down and out. I could not get out of bed to meet for a night out. Just so you know in case you go to Angkor Wat, malaria medication may be suggested by your doctor when you go to get your travel meds and immunization. However, what is supposedly the expert advice vs. the reality of the place are sometimes two very different things. I found out later after doing my own research that unless you’re going into the remote jungles near Angkor Wat, malaria medication is not needed. In my rush to get immunized just a few days before my travel, I relied on the “expert.” But you live and learn. This is one of the best reasons why I love to travel. Perception of the place is and can be quite different from reality.
When I woke up the next day, the headache was gone and I felt back to normal. A brand new day always makes me so happy, especially when I wake up in a new country.