Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Where To Start?

I was pretty unfazed by the length of the journey over -- 28 hours from door of our airport area hotel to completed check in at 11:30 pm Phnom Penh.  Didn't even watch more than 2 movies either.  Couldn't sleep but just rested as much as I could.  No jet lag the next morning when the action for me started at 7:30 am.

Sat in a row with 2 guys, both surprisingly religious (Christian).  One from Newfoundland who kind of creeped me out and the other was a journalist with the Asian division of the BBC and CBC in Canada.  Both gave me their Blessing and well wishes for a safe journey which was nice.  I was feeling really warm with the care and concern expressed by people who knew I was travelling.

Was apprehensive about the whole immigration process at PP airport having read about bribes being asked by officials.  D was worried I would make a fuss about it and get thrown in jail.  Causing a Khmer person to "lose face" is a no-no. 

The atmosphere there felt intimidating with officials wearing full military garb with more medals and decoration than I've seen before.  And deadly quiet despite a few hundred people having deplaned and people waiting outside (was open so no air conditioning) 5 -6 deep.  The heat and humidity was heavy and still.

As I had my e-visa, I went straight for the immigration line and practiced in my head my Khmer greetings.  Why not try and be friendly?  To my surprise, he answered even though he didn't immediately look up at me.  The process included a digital photo and complete set of finger prints and no mention of extra money, to my relief. 

(Incidentally my nervous anticipation on the way out of the country via Siem Reap, was much more heightened in light of everything I had experienced and I was very very concerned I would lose it if I was asked, to the point that the thought of it started to bother me 3 days before I departed.  Didn't want to be put in that position as a Woman.  Had my blurb figured out and practiced in my head just in case.  Confrontation had to be done in a way you can smile about it.)

Once I made it through immigration, I headed to the washroom to take off a few layers before looking for the driver my hotel was supposed to have sent for me.  At this point, I had yet to see someone female working there.  Be prepared to be stared at Hard. 

It felt like everyone was sizing you up.  The image I wanted to portray was of an Expat or someone that was just coming to spend a long weekend with friends.  My slash proof pack was only 25L strapped over my small travel purse.  Remember that doing anything solo there is considered unusual and uncomfortable for Khmer people. 

I was triply glad I decided on dressing very conservatively which meant I did not bother to bring shorts, skirts or even a swim suit.  I wore pants.  Sleeves were at least 3/4 and nothing low in the neck line nor too fitted.  I had to buy an entirely new set of clothes for this trip. 

Trying to find appropriate long sleeve, long pant clothing that will work in 40 C weather without turning you into an oven, in the middle of winter in Canada was a challenge.  During my stay, most days the humidex was in the low 40s. 

A couple of days in, I even did some emergency sewing of a couple of tank tops straps (wore these under a button up shirt) to shorten them further as I felt uncomfortable even though nowhere close to cleavage was shown.  Other female travellers I saw who wore shorts and tank tops or semi see through tops got a lot of attention in the form of blatant staring.

Considering that gang rape is a real problem there, I preferred not to be anywhere close to being tempting as a target.  What might work in Thailand doesn't always translate as appropriate in other countries of Southeast Asia.


  1. Envious but does sound a bit heavy on the nerves!

    1. Most of the trip was quite deadly on the nerves. I felt quite prepared for it mentally with my level of preparation but emotionally it was overwhelming. My goal was to see the real life there and I got to and beyond what I was able to handle at the time.

  2. I am glad you are back safe and sound, and I look forward to reading more about your trip.

    1. Thank you S.B., I have to admit, your words (about wisdom) came back to me a couple of times when I found myself in situations where I had to exercise prudent judgement...