Cambodia – Phnom Pehn to Siem Reap & Beyond – 2018 Part 1
Following on from my last two blogs where I dedicated the Cambodian Islands blog to my cousin and his wife; the updated news on my cousin’s wife Kaz (Karyn) has been most tragic with her passing sadly 17th Oct 2020 before she could return to her hometown of Grafton NSW Australia. In dedication to her memory; my blog below is timely in that I get to spend a week with her at Siem Reap for her planned Health Retreat in 2018. With COVID-19 restrictions her family & limited friends celebrated her memorial 14th November 2020. Karyn was only 57yrs old. Her husband Michael, my cousin is fighting the good fight but is terminal as well.
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From my last blog I spent 6hrs travelling by bus from Sihanoukville to Phnom Pehn, the capital of Cambodia thinking mostly of my youngest brother, Rod who past the year prior on this day a year earlier. My Phnom Pehn visit is to see a few tourist things I could not see during my last visit plus to sort out a few personal goals that involve hopefully changing people’s lives so that part is private. Part of my life mantra is to ‘make a difference’; so hopefully I can fulfil that in this visit. For more information on my previous visit to Phnom Pehn please refer to a previous blog; Summary of My International Travel 2018 – Part 4 – Phnom Penh – Cambodia.
I arrived at Phnom Pehn City Centre at 2.30pm amongst massive traffic and a thunderstorm (of course, almost daily now) and straight into a tut-tut to my Billabong Hostel where Janny (Manager) & staff remembered me immediately. Is that a good sign … or a bad sign? Turned out to be a good sign … whew!! They had my room ready and it was an instant chill out time. I highly recommend the Billabong Hostel (backpacker style hostel & appropriate pricing) with a good range of dorms and private rooms with ensuite and a pool, etc.
Can’t explain this but I slept in till 9.20am!! Somehow my body & ‘brain’ must of needed this … certainly not a beauty sleep .. OK? In hindsight it might have been the hot shower I had before bed as it was my first hot one for some 24 nights. I certainly dislike cold showers but one must toughen up and shower often, otherwise you can easily offend people from a distance if you know what I mean. Thank God the in-house café still had brekky till 11am. I had to catchup on some computer stuff so I soaked up the energy of the backpackers enjoying the pool and various alcohol drinks on the large pool deck. It was a morning of great spirits.
Being some 10mins from the old city area by tut-tut I decided to walk it and take in the normal city/ suburb living, seeing the merchants and stores along the way. The walk was so diverse in what type of stores and services with scooter/ mechanical workshops, cafes and just about everything you could imagine or need. Some of the local people smiled and waved while others were stern-faced city affected dwellers who seemed to not give anyone the time of day. I had a few missions to sort out so I needed Google Maps to get me around however, the app was playing up like my last visit. My frustrations were escalating as the app was taking me all over the place and somewhat in meandering circles. The hours I ‘wasted’ before I could complete my tasks leaving me less time to soak in the environment and culture.
Calling it almost a day, the sun was setting I ended at the Vattanac Capital Building; must be the highest tower structure in Phnom Pehn @ 187.3m/ 39 storey with a jutting out Sky Deck. It won an architectural award in 2012. I thought a reward would be to see the city sprawl and enjoy a $7USD beer in a luxury lounge with a view before heading back to my hostel.
Taking the lift, I shared it with a family. The father was of Indian descent and the mother was a younger English woman. They had a young son about 9yrs old and they were taking the father’s mother (wheelchair bound) to a celebratory dinner at an aloof restaurant on the highest above skyline level. The reason for raising this commentary is that I found it confronting especially on what I will now describe. The family were immaculately dressed, obviously very wealthy. I smiled and parted their company as they entered the restaurant while I took to the large glass panels to view the skyline and getting my geographical boundaries/ compass aligned. I saw a section of the city I had wished I knew beforehand. It was the newer part and seemed like a great place to inspect viewing in the distance near the river. It is also where the Australian & other embassies are located.
Walking back on my steps I noticed the young mother with her son sitting at a high bar table. She caught my eye so I walked over & said “hello again”. We talked openly and was asked to sit at the other chair opposite to her & her son. They were sitting at the table because the restaurant excluded their son as they do not cater for children and therefore no entry for under 18yrs of age. The Father/ husband continued with his Mother for dinner and ushered his wife out to stay with their son until they were finished. I was gob smacked to say the least. How abhorrent!!! Again, we talked for some 40minutes plus without any apprehension however the son remained somewhat sheepish as expected for a well-controlled & mannered child. I managed to make her laugh & smile and talked about both our travel experiences, life, etc to take away the time and loneliness frustrations. She was most thankful I stayed with her; and I left before the father ventured out. He will take them elsewhere to have dinner (probably a take away). I had to leave so as not to confront the selfish uncaring father/ husband. I didn’t even wish to partake in my $7USD beer either, such was my disgust however, I felt good that I helped someone through a terrible and awkward time. I hope the lady & her son are doing OK.
It was now dark and not a tut-tut in sight so I continued to walk back towards my Billabong Hostel. Thankfully, my memory served me well to remember the streets back without referring to the faulty Google Maps. Arriving at the hostel I was still able to order dinner and check my phone to confirm I had walked almost 17klms!! Wow!!! The beers were a real reward and so was the extra hot shower. No muscle cramps either. Yay … knowing I was a bit low on Magnesium intake as well.
The next day it rained all day however I managed to get my personal goal sorted and improved a person/s life so all is good with the universe. I wish I could tell you more but it’s private and very confronting for print but rest assured everything was perfectly legal; just private. I hung around the pool area most of the afternoon and an early night to ensure I awake at 6am to take a pre-ordered tut-tut (reception booked it for me) to the airport. Phnom Pehn was quite easy to say good-bye to so I’d say that’s natural for a capital city feel and a flying visit (excuse the pun). I don’t mind airports as such, always like to be early for flights, get through Immigration/ Customs, etc and to see the buzz in people. I like to people watch … & especially over a hot coffee. I also have a background working at The Sydney Airport constructing taxiways, runways and redevelopment of the International Terminal Building.
My flight to Siem Reap was on time and $57USD by the airline Bassaka Air and only took 32minutes. We reached the flight height and straight away descended, much like a rainbow flight path. So much better than a 6hour drive or 8hrs bus trip. The tut-tut ride-in was different to my initial arrival in early April (2 months ago) where I used a dedicated tour driver and escort. I have no idea where I am going, so I’m placing a lot of trust into my tut-tut operator. After about 20mins or so we take a hard-left turn into a very narrow dirt lane that is in need of decent repair, mainly for drainage. This laneway ‘road’ was uninspiring and a bit of anxiety was setting in wondering where in the heck am, I going. With a sudden stop and to my relief I am shown the wall signage and walk-in garden entrance to The Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel. “Whew”!! The resort Kaz (Karyn) had arranged for me.
My arrival and welcoming were amazing and it felt like royalty. The Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel was awarded the TripAdvisor’s Number 9 Bargain Hotel in the World 2018 with 25 air conditioned rooms, restaurant, bar and located just 1.1klms from Pub Street & the City Centre and 15minutes from the famous World Heritage Site, Angkor Wat temple. Our Kim (a young local lady, also featured in photos on their website) was the receptionist and she showed amazing professionalism and warmth checking me in and to see my room in brilliant presentation was quite a surprise! In Cambodia they say their Surname first. I had a bit of time to settle in, as most of the Health Retreat participants (women) had already arrived and headed off to the local foot & body massage parlor down towards the main road to start off their ‘therapy’. I was told that parlor will be used quite often.
The Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel was co-founded, owned & operated by Aussie ex-pats (Ilana Tulloch & Adam Scott … married) starting originally with Ilana’s mother, Carmel www.babyelephant.asia Over time they managed to buy the neighbour’s place and converted it to another hotel wing and removed the fence in between which opened up to a better courtyard and serenity area. Honestly, you would not believe what these two wonderful people have achieved for Siem Reap. They have provided in-house & external traineeships with other employments for the locals, helped other entrepreneurs, local schools and commerce organisations, cooking seminars and the list goes on. Post Blog: The Baby Elephant just celebrated their 5th year anniversary along with Ilana being recognised as one of the Top 20 Social Entrepreneurs in ASEAN2020.
I was happy to stay beside the pool and talk to the staff and getting to know the new star attraction, Lenny, a Pomeranian puppy belonging to Ilana waiting for the rumble of the surge of Health retreaters. I didn’t have to wait long for the hotel uses two dedicated Tut-Tut operators and they know how to ramp in & park within the courtyard. The voices were nearing and coming in loud, energetic and alive!! A hearty “hello” and long hugs from Kaz (Karyn) and meeting another Australian, Michelle. Is it wrong to say all that great noise was from just 2 women? They were excitement plus. Later on, we thoroughly enjoyed ‘Happy Hour’ .. the ladies with their varying cocktails & I with my scotch. What a great day & night overlooking the pool and taking in the luminous lighting of the pool and adjacent walls. The other participants, Louise and her daughter Charise arrive tomorrow from Singapore (Ex-pats).
Kaz was the Director/ Owner at Real Food Real Weightloss (RFRW) & worked also at Cassia Wellness Clinic in Australia and from all these client bases she arranges for these international health retreats to hone in and reward the participants with what another world offers. Certainly, a caring and wonderful health professional entrepreneur that puts a lot of energy into these international retreats. I’m feeling blessed to be invited, welcomed, and with little notice.
I’ll end this blog here so I can start afresh for Part 2 on the week with Kaz & Co on a great Siem Reap Health Retreat and some of my escape free time. Lol!!!!
Thank you again for reading my blogs and I trust you will stay safe, happy & healthy, specially through this COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. I always look forward to seeing the feedback so don’t be afraid to comment. My next blog/s will be the amazing Vietnam experiences and quite a few were life changing.
Live life to the ‘mostest’ as Kaz did often & encouraged everyone else to be so.