Our first day in Cambodia, our first two days actually, consisted of seven culture shocked Americans aimlessly wandering Phnom Penh in a state of fatigue and wide-eyed confusion.
We left Shanghai on Thursday evening- and as usual it was a scramble out the door and through the airport. Traveling is so much paperwork and so many security checks. There are departure cards, customs declarations health questionnaires, some countries require visas on entry, some do not. And often we are navigating this in foreign languages. By the time we got to our gate it was past dinner time and none of us had eaten. We are still new to Asian airlines so I wasn’t sure what our options would be on the plane, but there were no restaurants anywhere near our gate, so we managed with packaged noodles and crackers. Travel is so glamorous.
We arrived to Phnom Penh around 11:30pm and did all the arrival things- visas, border entry, etc. A driver had been sent for us, but he was just someone hired by the hotel and he first took us to the wrong place. There were some phone calls, some frustrated exchanges in English and Khmer and it took a long time for us to finally get to our Guesthouse.
From the moment we walked into our “hotel” I had a bad feeling. I have a pretty high threshold for what I can tolerate for sleeping accommodations. I can handle a lot, I slept in a hostel with my parents, husband and my four kids in Edinburgh. (At least the hostel was clean.) We reluctantly went up to our room and I told the kids to just get into the beds and go to sleep. It was 1:30am and nothing could be done, so everyone went to sleep while I searched for another place to stay. I found a cute hotel close by, booked two rooms and tried to sleep myself.
The next morning we woke up, we didn’t need to pack much because we hadn’t even used the bathroom, (think: dead cockroach on the floor) and ate the breakfast. The food was good, and the woman working at the front desk was confused why we were leaving. I felt so guilty but also just couldn’t do it, so we told her our plans had changed and then we lugged our suitcases out into the broiling sunshine to walk a few blocks to other hotel. We didn’t even make it far before we eagerly hefted our suitcases onto the tuk-tuk of an enthusiastic driver. We were all sweating so much – so he drove a few of us with the luggage to the new place- The Frangipani Royal Palace and Hotel. It sounds fancier than it was, but it was charming and infinitely better than the last place.
Our tuk-tuk driver waiting patiently for us while we checked into the hotel, and then gave us a tour of Phnom Penh. I wish I had paid closer attention, but it was hard to hear him over the noise of all the motorcycle engines, and hard to understand him through the unfamiliar accent. It was also really hot. But we covered a lot of ground and got to see a lot of the city, even if we weren’t really sure what we were seeing.
After the tour our tuk-tuk driver took us to a restaurant for lunch. We tried fish amok for the first time- instant love- and we also had fresh fruit smoothies and mango sticky rice. Those three dishes basically became the staples of our whole Cambodia vacation. I probably don’t need to say another word about food because that pretty much covers it.
We went back to the hotel, went for a swim, and then dressed for a cultural dance performance that night. I’d bought tickets online months ago and I was really excited- especially since the rest of the day felt like a bit of a flop. We ate some pizza in the hotel lounge before braving a crazy rainstorm to get to the concert. Unfortunately, for reasons we could never ascertain, the event was cancelled and we didn’t get to see the concert. We walked along the river for a little while, but we were still feeling overwhelmed and culture shocked. As a consolation prize we took the kids to a Cat-fe.
Yep, a Catfe. A place where you order smoothies and desserts and consume them right along with feline friends. Some of us were thoroughly creeped out, some of us were in Cat Heaven. I’ll leave it to you to observe.