Cambodia

One of the many reasons why I chose Vietnam as the location to start my ESL journey was its ability to offer trips around Southeast Asia relatively easily and cheaply. This time, I was able to meet up with my brother, sister, and Dad, who all made the trip across the Pacific to accompany me on a trip I’ve looked forward to for almost a decade. We met in Hanoi for a couple days of relaxation and then boarded a plane to Cambodia.

As I mentioned before, my little sister was born in Cambodia in 2001. It’s a country of difficult history, poverty, but tremendous beauty. Due to the logistics of a big trip like this, as well as both my sister and mother getting sick over the past couple years, I had not yet been able to visit my sister’s birthplace. We traveled just before the New Year, first to Siem Reap, nearby the famous Angkor Wat temple, and then eventually to Phnom Penh, the capital and largest city of Cambodia. For me, it was an incredibly emotional and important trip.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

It struck me during the trip that as of the turning of the year, I had been in Vietnam for half of my time here teaching. Very suddenly, I realized how temporary my stay has been here, as well as how important the next five months can be for both myself and my students. I found it very difficult not to become reflective around the many beautiful temples of Cambodia and the time spent focusing on appreciation are immensely valuable going forward.

Buddha statue, Bayou Temple, Siem Reap

Buddha statue, Bayou Temple, Siem Reap

Our first couple days in Cambodia were spent in Siem Reap, the city located nearby the ancient temples of Angkor. We stayed a modern resort and ate Cambodian-Western fusion food, but for me, the most important time was spent amongst these beautiful buildings. Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and the other temples we visited are literally crumbling before our eyes. They force visitors to confront the meanings of place and history. We wandered through ruins and I was shocked at the accessibility. If you were quiet but for a couple minutes, you could hear dozens of languages from visitors and feel the historical gravity of the place This was a place that felt connected. My mind wandered to consider what life might’ve been like, how far we’ve come, and the decorated walls left me with a deep sense of appreciation and peace.

Ruins, Siem Reap

Ruins, Siem Reap

We spent New Year’s in Siem Reap and then awoke early the next day to board a plane to Phnom Penh, about an hour and a half flight. Throughout our travels, I was repeatedly reminded of how lucky I am to speak English. On a flight between two cities in the middle of Cambodia, on the other side of the world, the airline gave instructions in Khmer and English. In the airports, English. Throughout the city in both Cambodia and Vietnam, English. All along the way, there were people wanting to practice their English. We chatted and did some light pronunciation practice.

After landing in Phnom Penh, we collected our things and walked past a Dairy Queen (a Dairy Queen!) to a shuttle to our hotel. We stayed at an incredibly modern resort next door to where my Dad had stayed almost 15 years prior when he had come to pick up my sister from her orphanage. The views were gorgeous, the weather warm, and the food delicious.

Street view in Phnom Penh

Street view in Phnom Penh

The Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

The Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

After a couple days of sightseeing, we were able to visit the orphanage where my sister had lived as a baby, even getting to meet her childhood nannies! It was a trip that I had always hoped to take. Among the most important and valuable experiences of teaching in Vietnam is the accessibility of trips such as mine to Cambodia. It is easy to feel at home in a culture so far apart from my own. For part of my teaching salary, I am able to see places I’ve never imagined I’d be able to see, and after weeks of travel, come back to Vinh to my bed and a comforting bowl of pho soup.

Lucas McCamon is teaching abroad with API in Vietnam

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