Susadei from Phnom Penh!
Mr. Chuckles and I survived over 24 hours of transit and landed in the bustling capital city of Cambodia to begin our second trip back to Southeast Asia, this time taking us through a bit of Cambodia and across Vietnam. Our first day was fairly eventful, starting off with a bizarre airplane experience for me and ending with a weird dining experiment for both of us. Perhaps this is foreshadowing that the next two weeks will be full of quality blog material; I hope you get a chance to follow along.
Weirdo on a plane
Our journey to Cambodia included a 15+ hour flight from Toronto to Taipei, a 3 hour layover, and a 3.5 hour flight from Taipei to Phnom Penh. As I’ve mentioned before, our experiences on these long haul flights to Asia have been absolutely brutal, but yesterday’s experience takes the cake.
Last year, Mr. Chuckles and I got really lucky on our Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong when we snagged two empty rows to ourselves. We were hoping to be blessed by the airline gods again this time, but we ended up on a nearly full flight. In an attempt to stay as comfortable as possible, we decided to strategically select seats in separate rows, so that we could both at least be guaranteed an aisle spot. Upon our check in at the airport, we were delighted to find one remaining empty row, and in my abundant generosity, this was assigned to Mr. Chuckles. I managed to end up in a row with an empty middle seat, so thought I still ended up with a pretty sweet deal.
Little did I know that my seat mate at the window would be Crazy Weird Guy (CWG). CWG was a 20 something guy on his way to another Southeast Asian country for vacation. He initially came off normal and friendly, and we had a pleasant chat about our travel plans as we were getting seated. Once the plane was in the air though, things got weird.
CWG had taken several swigs of something that looked like NyQuil shortly after we boarded. Apparently, this was intended as a sleep aide. As the plane was taxiing down the runway, he settled under his blanket and looked to be comfortable, so I figured that his NyQuil strategy might work. However, once the plane reached altitude and the cabin lights were turned on for meal service, CWG proceeded to flip out. He awoke from sleep and started twitching and thrashing around, presumably to find a comfortable position but was having trouble with the lights on. This continued to escalate as he kept flipping the tray table up and down to try sleeping on it. Despite this obviously not being effective, he needed about 50 repetitions of aggressively flipping the tray before he gave up. I also noticed that he had taken both my blanket and the spare one, which he then grabbed and threw over onto the seats behind us.
At some point, I glanced over and saw that he had taken off his socks. He tried to stretch out onto the empty middle seat, nearly kicking me in the process, and then decided to reposition by thrusting his bare foot through the space between the seats in front of him and kicked another passenger in the head! The other passenger turned around and gave him a death stare for a solid 2 minutes, which was met with no acknowledgement by CWG. He then went on to take off his shirt and thrashed around a bit more. I joined in on the death stare for about 30 seconds before I decided that I’d had enough of this meltdown, grabbed my bag, and booked it to the back of the plane.
I was relieved to settle into a seat beside my charming, well-mannered travel companion, Mr. Chuckles, who kept his socks and clothes on throughout the flight. We tried to take turns stretching out onto the empty middle seat, but it didn’t help much. I ended up sleeping on and off for maybe 3-4 hours while Mr. Chuckles managed a grand total of perhaps 1 hour.
I didn’t notice anymore commotion when I peeked down the cabin over the remainder of the flight, so I assume CWG eventually calmed down. It occurred to me later on that his act may have been part of an elaborate ploy to get me to vacate my seat so that he could get the empty row to himself. Devious.
Sleepy afternoon in Phnom Penh
We arrived in Phnom Penh in the early afternoon. We booked our one night stay at Pavilion, a boutique hotel near the Royal Palace that is well reviewed and endorsed by Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor. We were quite happy with this pick. The place is beautiful and we were assigned one of their private bungalow rooms.
We struggled to keep our eyes open but decided to take a walk so we could stay awake as long as possible to minimize our jet lag. We went on a stroll past the National Museum and Royal Palace, choosing to just look at the palace from the outside at Royal Palace Park rather than pay the $10 USD admission and deal with the dress code – I really wanted to wear my shorts in the 30 degree Celsius weather.
Then we took a stroll down the riverside to admire views of the Tonle Sap River. Pavilion offers a complimentary sunset cruise on the river but unfortunately they were fully booked that night so we had to miss out. The river walk was otherwise bustling with activity, full of locals, street vendors, and a whole lot of pigeons.
Playing pedestrian Frogger and eating tarantulas
After returning to the hotel for a dip in the pool, we headed out for dinner. On the way there, we got a taste of navigating in Southeast Asia traffic as a pedestrian. Crossing the street here is like playing a game of Frogger. There are few crosswalks and traffic lights are more of a suggestion. If you wait for motorists to stop or clear, you may never get across the street. It appears that the key is to just move across the street at a steady pace and the tuk tuks and motorbikes will go around you. From what I’ve heard, the traffic is even more intense in the big cities of Vietnam like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, so this evening in Phnom Penh was just a primer.
For dinner, the hotel staff and other travel bloggers had suggested a place called Romdeng. It is a restaurant part of Friends International, a non-profit organization that provides social enterprise opportunities for marginalized youth. It was at Romdeng that we experienced our first traditional Khmer meal, including a taste of…fried tarantulas.
Once I got past the psychological barrier of eating a creepy crawly hairy insect, I gave the tarantula a try. It kind of reminded me of shrimp shell. 😕 I don’t plan on adding this as a regular part of my diet, but it wasn’t too bad.
Travelling during the zombie apocalypse
Based on my last post, you may recall that the weeks leading up to our arrival in Cambodia were racked with anxiety about a certain viral illness outbreak, which even led to my mom cancelling her portion of the trip. Now that we are finally here, I thought it would be reassuring to our family and friends to report that we are doing okay! There are lots of people wandering around in face masks, especially at the airport, but life seems to otherwise be going on as usual. We got through customs very quickly, I haven’t been been attacked for looking Chinese, and at best the tourist sites we are planning to visit are going to have smaller crowds now that all the big Chinese tour groups have cancelled. There is still an appreciable number of tourists around, although now they are mostly westerners with a few Koreans in the mix too.
The biggest potential set back with this trip is if any of our flights end up delayed or cancelled, but I think this is unlikely to happen based on where we are going. Just in case, I have researched a contingency plan to reroute the trip, but hopefully it won’t come to that!
Onward to Siem Reap
By the time this entry is posted, we will be in Siem Reap where we will remain for the rest of our visit to Cambodia. I am keeping my fingers crossed for no more bizarre flight experiences and lots more fun moving ahead. I’ll keep you posted.