The humidity slapped us in the face as soon as we stepped off the plane in Cambodia. It had been hot in Thailand but after the plane ride and air conditioned customs the humidity was a wake up call. We were in Cambodia! Cambodia, a place I had dreamed about going for as long as I could remember. The country that held the mystical Angkor Wat, ruins that the archaeologist in me had been racing towards this entire trip. But first we had to make it to our hostel in Phnom Penh.
As soon as we recovered from that first wave of humidity the onslaught of tuk tuk drivers began calling our name. As we negotiated through the throng with our bags we finally found one who would take us to the Mad Monkey Hostel at a reasonable rate. Now we had been in a tuk tuk in Bangkok but that did not prepare us for the next twenty minutes of weaving in and out of traffic, vying with bicycles and scooters where school girls rode side saddle without a care in the world. We had been in Asia for 2 weeks and for the first time I felt that we had truly arrived in the Far East. The traffic, the chaos, the noise and even the pollution was invigorating.
The ride into the city was timed with school being let out and the streets were chaos. There were street vendors crossing at any opportunity with their carts full of steaming exotic food which filled the air, swirling with the smell of diesel. The students, on bikes, scooters and on foot, weaved their way through the traffic in their blue and white uniforms pausing as they passed us to give us huge smiles, looking at the three tall, white and gangly Americans crammed into a tiny tuk tuk with our luggage.
The buildings that lined the street into the city were in various states of disrepair, some crumbling while others showed signs of reconstruction. As we neared the city center the building began to reflect a more modern city with cell phone stores a plenty and mini marts. Then we reached the Independence Monument and the grand boulevard of Preah Sihanouk Blvd and we were treated to stunning architecture surrounded by a lush lawn.
As soon as the tuk tuk passed round the roundabout we were back into the maze of streets. As we were nearing our hostel we suddenly came to a halt. The streets were jammed packed and we could barely see the intersection that was causing all the chaos. The chaos was caused because everyone simply decided to ignore the light that was working. Our tuk tuk driver came to the rescue just as I was feeling car sick (between the lurching of the tuk tuk and the diesel fumes and the vodka we drank back in Bangkok, who wouldn’t?) and instead of crossing through the intersection we just went over the curbs instead. The man was my hero as our hostel was just on the other side of the intersection. We had finally arrived at the Mad Monkey and I was so excited to explore….right after a beer and a nap 🙂