I admit now it may have been a mistake to come straight from an icy snowy country to South East Asia. When we arrived our bodies had no idea what was going on. We were drenched in sweat within a few minutes, we had crossed many times zones, been traveling for over 22 hours and jet lag was already setting in. Not to mention neither of us were smelling all that fabulous either. The three flights we had taken had all been very good and the brief stop over in London made me very nostalgic for home but now, here we were in such a significantly different place. It wasn’t just culture shock but everything shock!
The ride in the tuk tuk from the airport to our first hostel was both fantastic and an eye opener. I had heard of the crazy roads of South East Asia but never experienced them until now. It was complete chaos but ordered chaos. The rules weren’t exactly cemented in stone, everyone did their own thing, went their own way and were happy to just go with the flow and yet it worked. Pete and I sat in the balmy evening air completely entranced by traffic! As someone who couldn’t overtake a sedate bicycle without panicking in the previous three years I was surprised at how quickly I was happy to just let it all happen around me and we reached the hostel in one piece. Driving around Cambodia would quickly become my favourite way to see it. You can see everything from the mundane to the monstrously mad all in the space of a few minutes. I love the way the landscapes can change from jungle to bustling market life in just a few metres, it really is a fascinating place.
We had a challenge the next day of walking to our next stop for the night, a hotel a mere 700m away. However we hadn’t acclimatised much to the heat and as we left the air conditioned hostel we stepped into another world. The heat seemed to reach through the door with fiery fingers, take hold of you and refuse to let you go. Within seconds 700 metres seemed like a marathon in the desert not helped by our heavy rucksacks.
Once we had made it to the hotel we were rather exhausted and collapsed in front of the joyous wonder of air conditioning. Jet lag and heat fatigue were quickly taking over so we relaxed for the rest of the day in one of the most visually beautiful hotels I had ever seen. Or rather in the grounds of it. It is incredibly easy to forget you are in the middle of Phnom Phen city whilst sat in this luscious piece of paradise.
At this hotel, the previous hostel and many other places we would visit I fell in love with the smiles of the Khmer people. I asked a staff member of the hotel how to say “thank you” in Khmer. In response he drew himself up to his full height, beamed across as me and told me with so much pride in his voice. Despite its history these people always seem so proud to be Cambodian and even more pleased to share some of their culture with you. I have to get used to taking my shoes off before entering buildings and master the use of a “bum gun” (Cambodias’ answer to toilet roll) but it’s a pleasure to witness a place, a language and a people so incredibly different from anything I had experienced.
We were very excited that evening in discussing what the next three weeks might hold as we had come to Cambodia for a very specific reason. Our zoo keeper roots had beckoned us to a place where we could do what we do best – look after animals. I was looking forward to meeting all our new charges, learning their histories, making suggestions and coming up with new ideas. The idea of partaking in strenuous keeping tasks in the current temperatures and humidity did seem a touch daunting but as long as we kept hydrated I knew we could acclimatise. In fact we were told that if we pee more than twice a day we were doing well.
And as time passes we can eventually get used to the heat.