May 29, 2011
GREETINGS FROM PWP CAMBODIA!
We just finished our first full day in Cambodia, and it so far it has been an adventure, starting from our long day of travel that started Thursday evening. Rather than re capping the whole LAX -> Taipei -> Phnom Penh airport experience, I’ll share a few highlights of my/our experience.
1) The non-existence of May 27th
(Get to the airport Thursday May 26th at 11pm, 14 hours to Taipei, 2 hour layover, 4 hours to Phnom Penh, arrive in Cambodia at 11am on Sunday the 28th. Saturday has been obliterated by the 14 hour time difference. Greetings from the future, America!)
2) Free massage chairs in the airport in Taipei while we wait for our second flight. The perfect way to recover from a 14 hour red eye.
3) I read the Hunger Games. Major page turner.
We arrived in Cambodia in the early afternoon and were greeted by Kosal’s family, who drove with us to our hotel, the Villa Langka.
We were instantly welcomed to Cambodia by the heat and humidity we were told to expect, but the intensity was definitely relieved a bit when we arrived at the hotel with cold minty-lemonadeish drinks and cold towels waiting for us. What a great welcome!
We had a few minutes in our rooms to relax and then hopped into some Tuk-Tuks to our first visit.
I think I shall pause here and explain the concept of Tuk-Tuks to those who are not familiar. Here in Cambodia, people mainly get around by motorcycle. And instead of taxis, we get around by these nifty carriages that hold four people and are pulled around by motorcycle. Riding in a tuk-tuk is quite an adventure it itself, because here it feels like there are absolutely no rules to the road, so cars and motorcycles whizz by and honk at you from every direction as you cruise around the city (crossing the streets, which have very few crosswalks, is a whole other story. Forget everything you thought you knew about waiting until no cars are coming and then swiftly making your way across the street. No, here, you jump right into traffic and then slowly make your way across the street so that cars have enough time to either stop or avoid you. Or, if like some of us, you are too afraid to do so, the traffic police here will assist you in your jaywalking endeavors). Anyways, I mention tuk-tuks here because (spoiler alert!) they may come into play into a later story (which Caroline will be telling in her blog entry)!! I know, you want to know now, but you’re just gonna have to be patient.
The first place we went was a non-profit organization that focuses on archiving and preserving Cambodian history and culture. The downstairs of the building was a small art gallery that had work themed around Cambodian women, which was really cool to see. They also had a screening area where they periodically show documentaries. After checking out the gallery, we took off our shoes and went upstairs to check out the online archives, where we got to watch video clips and view photo galleries about various aspects of Cambodian culture, such as Cambodian women, traditional dance, environmental issues, etc. Jennifer and I were at the same computer, and clicked around until we found a documentary on S-21, the main prison site of the Khmer Rouge where victims of the regime were systemically tortured and executed. After we all had some time to explore the archive, the woman who was showing us around told us about the goals of the organization in archiving and preserving Cambodian history and giving the public access to this documentation of their rich culture.
After the visit, we hopped back in our tuk-tuks back to the hotel, where we got the cell phones and sim cards we will be using to stay in contact with each other while we are here. Then we had another rest break before dinner!
We went to dinner at a beautiful restaurant called Malis (?) which Kosal told us was a must-go. Right off the bat we were excited about how beautiful and peaceful the atmosphere of the restaurant was, as well as the quality of the service. They greeted us with mango juice and were very attentive about constantly refilling our glasses with bottled Evian water—without us even asking! (That fact will turn out to be important later). I personally was pretty amused by the geckoes that were just hanging out inside the lamps, so we could see their shadows on the lampshades. We all got our first taste of Khmer cuisine; we ordered food like stingray curry (although they were out of stingray), garlic eggplant, noodles with vegetables, fish amok, and more. A few of us split pumpkin crème brulee for dessert as well. The food was great! However, when we got our bill we were in for a bit of a surprise…Remember that Evian water we didn’t ask for but were kindly provided with? Well it turned up on our bill: $53 dollars (which was about a quarter of our entire meal!). We were also charged for the steamed rice that some of us had specifically been told was complimentary. The extra charges were certainly a surprise, but the meal was delicious anyway and definitely a lot less expensive than a comparable meal would have been back home. And now we know—in the future, make sure to ask whether the water is free!
One of Kosal’s friends who studied at UCLA joined us for dinner, and afterwards we went to a gallery of his photos, which were totally amazing! A lot of the images depicted scenes from the parts of Cambodia that we will be visiting, and some of them had made National Geographic stock photos. They were really cool to check out and talk to him about, especially for those of us in the group who are interested in photography!
After this, we headed back to Villa Langka. It was around 9pm here, but we were exhausted. I immediately headed back to my room, wrote a quick email to my parents, and then fell right asleep, ready for the adventures to come.
*”Bong”, cleverly used as a cheesy pun in the title of my blog entry, is the Cambodian word for “brother” that is used to refer to someone you are talking to in a sort of friendly manner or term of respect.
PS: I have photos and will add them later, if the internet allows me! **UPDATE: I HAVE ADDED THE PHOTOS!!! However, they are tiny. Hmm… still working out the kinks of this blogging thing, will try to do a better job next time.