After a long flight we arrived in Phnom Penh early in the morning, awaited at the airport by Ratavy and her younger sister. It was unfortunate that we got such great treatment after living life pretty well in HK since showing up to Ratavy’s beautiful house and comforts would have been even more refreshing after a stint of cheap guesthouses and cold showers, but either way, the hospitality and friendliness her family showed was more than enough during our stay, and we really appreciated it.
Ratavy had just recently arrived back to Phnom Penh from graduating, so we didn’t see much of her during our stay since she was busy visiting family and friends before heading back out to Tokyo. So in the end, her house was mainly our location to return back to after a long day, but we kept ourselves busy, everyday visiting the city and volunteering at an orphanage teaching English.
The first day we arrived, we met some of Ratavy’s extended family for lunch at a French restaurant, having the chance to taste real bread in a very long time. It was a bit surreal actually, just arriving in Phnom Penh and in a matter of hours being surrounded by baguettes and pate while everyone at the table was speaking French, I felt like I was in a different world (Ratavy’s mother’s side live in Paris). For the rest of the day we spent time touring some sites and finished the day off on a boat ride along the river, visiting a piece of land Ratavy’s family owns - a nice introduction to the city and in a very different manner than usual.
The next day we continued as if we were in every other destination. We started early in the morning and walked all day until the sun set. During our second day we visited The Killing Fields, Genocide Museum, and a few other neighborhoods along the way. Both sites dedicated to the Khmer Rouge regime and their atrocious actions were very moving and enlightening, especially since most of the world is in the dark about what occurred not too long ago. The Killing Fields is the location where thousands of people were brought, tortured, killed, and buried, and the Genocide Museum was the location of a detention center where much the same occurred. We did a bit of research that night and found an orphanage we wanted to visit the following morning to see if there were any teaching opportunities.
We arrived early in the morning at the Orphanage, Save the Poor Children in Asia (sounds fake, but it’s not), and were immediately embraced by the students and founder. They even forced us to join them in lunch against our wishes, while they struggle with enough food to feed their family and 13 other orphans that live under their roof. The teaching was one of the more rewarding things I’ve done in my travels and I couldn’t be happier we decided to stay on for the additional day. We bought school supplies and food to bring with us, and while at that moment, there were enough volunteer teachers to lead the classes, Jessie and I were able to focus on helping individual kids during the different class periods, which in the end was even more rewarding. The kids were unbelievable in every way. They always had smiles and were quick learners, not to mention probably the cutest kids I’ve ever seen. We decided that Cambodia takes the cake for having the cutest children in maybe all the world, literally we saw hundreds while there and every single one was picture worthy.
After our two days at the orphanage we went on a tour trip to the Wildlife Refuge Center which came very highly recommended, and while the trip had redeeming aspects to it, such as watching a baby elephant with a prosthetic leg taking a swim in the pond (absolutely euphoric), we were a bit disappointed about the rest. After that day we grabbed a few Cambodian sandwiches for the ride back home and ate dinner back at Ratavy’s, the type of dining experience we had almost every night. We were obsessed with the sandwiches - deliciously crisp bread, mystery meat, a pate-like substance, and pickled cabbage with a sweet and spicy sauce. The next morning we left early for the trip to Siem Reap.