As I sat in Boston airport, I thought about the long journey I had ahead of me… I had booked my return flight back to England from Boston, America before I planned to go to south east Asia, this meant I had to book my flight from London to Phnom Penh at a time which coincided with when due to land in LHR from the US. Of course, I didn’t, I booked it a day earlier due to overnight flights/time differences/general stupidity! Anyway I managed to fix this in a very expensive yet efficient (panicky) manner—make sure you always double check your flights!!!!
I flew at 11pm Boston time for 7 hours to London where my layover was 12 hours, this was all well and good because I could visit friends in London for a couple of hours. It also happened to be a Sunday, so I picked up a chicken and some potatoes to roast – a perfect British Sunday and a perfect break for a long layover.
I mention this because the first I heard about Coronavirus was when I was in London, I read a couple of articles on my newsfeed and my brother (who was living in China at the time) had messaged me saying something about a virus starting to break out there. My next flight was from LHR to Shenzhen, China. I spent the last few hours of my layover seriously worrying, wondering if I should even get on the plane – this was when we had no idea what the virus was about, it was so unpredictable, all I knew was that people were getting sick in that part of the world and that was exactly where I was headed. I decided to go ahead with my trip since I wouldn’t be in the airport for long and this was before we knew the disastrous effects it would have all over the world!
Eventually I headed back to LHR full and sleep deprived, I hopped on my 12 hour flight to Shenzhen, China where I would have just 45 minutes transfer time. Amidst the Covid panic, this was a scramble to say the least, filling out multiple health questionnaires on top of navigating Shenzhen airport. Another thing that nearly made me miss my flight to Phnom Penh was that you have to have a visa to even transfer in Shenzhen airport. You can get this visa on arrival, but it takes quite a long time, a plane full of transfers took us about 25 minutes to get the visas complete. There is very little information about this online, I read something about it on a forum that said a couple of airports in China require a visa for transfers so I had an inkling, but most of what I read online said I would not need one, which of course you don’t at most airports. Shenzhen is one of the few exceptions. This was basically a very stress filled transfer, let’s move on.
Visa on arrival is available in Cambodia! It is a valid visa for 30 days and is $30 usd. I pre-empted this taking a long time, however, so I bought my visa in advance online and printed it out before my flight, this meant I could go straight through into Phnom Penh. This is a massive time saver, the last thing you want to do when you get off any flight is stand in a queue for ages! (Check out my top tips for travelling Cambodia style- I will be posting next week).
The time difference between Boston and Cambodia is 12 whole hours, so when I arrived in Phnom Penh at 11pm local time, to me it felt like mid-morning, and when it was 3am at night, it felt like the middle of the afternoon. I swear I did not sleep for 2 full days and 2 full nights when I arrived in Cambodia – in the daytime I was super excited to do things and at night my body clock was just too confused to sleep, as much as I tried. I’m generally a great sleeper so this was very strange to me, but by the third night I was SO shattered that I slept the whole night and after that my sleeping pattern was totally fine. So there you go, GB 1 – Jet Lag 0.
Another radical change was the weather conditions. I came from -4 snowy rural Vermont, to 33 degrees busy Phnom Penh city. They were both equally as fantastic, but my body was shocked.
I was wearing leggings under my trousers and carrying 2 jumpers when I walked out of the airport into the Asian heat – I did not think this through! I took off some layers in the back of a tuk tuk on the way to a nearby hostel where I had some friends already waiting for me. (Grab is the south east Asian version of Uber, so make sure you download this before you get to Cambodia! Its super useful for getting around to places you don’t know the name of and eliminates the possibility of drivers overcharging.)
As I was wide awake and had been travelling on and off for the last 33 hours, I just wanted to head out to a local bar or restaurant and see a little of the city. Phnom Penh is a bustling city, even late at night the streets were full of people. Food and drink is cheap – a beer in most places is only $1 and a full meal is just a couple of dollars – so this is a perfect opportunity to try loads of local cuisine and really expand your culinary knowledge.
The next day (although I easily could of slept all day) I got up in the beautiful, scorching sunshine of Cambodia, I let the warm rays sink into my skin and I felt completely happy and ready to begin exploring. We were headed to Kampot today! Our bus tickets from Phnom Penh to Kampot were booked, the problem was FINDING where the bus would leave from. We left our hostel with 30 minutes to find the bus – plenty of time since google maps said it was just a 10 minute tuk tuk ride away. However the address that we had been looking at was wrong! When we arrived at our destination and realised we were in the wrong place we PANICKED! We frantically tried to ask people where the bus was departing from but few people understood, with just 5 minutes until the bus was due to leave we finally found a tuk tuk driver who would take us to the bus. I’m sure we overpaid for that tuk tuk but in the flurry of panic, I was happy to pay more. We were late for the bus but LUCKILY Cambodia is not known for its timely public transport and the bus was also late. Buses in Cambodia are very hit and miss, they can be hot, stuffy, crowded and unpleasant or they can be cool and deliciously air conditioned, basically just cross your fingers and hope for the best. That being said, they are definitely the best way to travel around Cambodia, they are also super cheap! This bus happened to be a good one, our journey was very comfortable, and it’s only a couple of hours. Finally, the bus arrived in Kampot and we got another tuk tuk to our hostel for the week – Arcadia.
Arcadia is a great hostel outside of the main town of Kampot, but not too far away. It is located on the edge of preaek tuek chhu river and has a waterpark! Arcadia is a fun hostel for the young and adventurous, if you’re ready to throw yourself into the water at any time, then this hostel is 100% for you! There is a rope swing, Russian swing, a diving platform in the middle of the river, a zip wire and loads of other things. Everything is built from rickety pieces of wood, so nothing feels entirely safe, but that’s all part of the fun, really! The food and drinks in Arcadia are delicious and reasonably priced, you are given a wristband at the beginning of your stay and everything is put on a personal tab for you to pay at the end. I think this is a great way of working things in the hostel, because you don’t have to worry about carrying money around with you all day if you’re in and out of the water. We stayed in a 4 person dorm in Arcadia, it’s very authentic, the rooms are built in little huts along the river, it’s basically everything you’ve ever dreamed Cambodia would be. The bar is great, there is often entertainment in the evenings and of course it is full of friendly backpackers so there is always someone to chat to! There was also some adorable puppies hanging around Arcadia when I was there so that is a definite plus!
They are set up to treat cuts and grazes if you get any and there are plenty of motorbikes for hire when you can drag yourself away to explore the local area! We spent a lot of our time in Arcadia because its super fun, but went out every day to explore, for food, or to adventure up Bokor mountain (I will do a blogpost about the top things to do in Kampot because this one is already getting far too long!)
One thing I won’t mention in my “top things to do in Kampot” post is maybe my favourite activity of my time there. Swimming in the river at night. I won’t mention this in my official ‘things to do’ post, because I would never advise anyone else to swim in a Cambodian river at night! This can be very dangerous! But it can also be very beautiful…
One evening it started to rain out of nowhere, the only time I saw rain in Asia (January-March so it was hot hot hot) and swimming in the river seemed like a romantic notion to my beer addled mind, and truly, it was. I swam out to a floating platform in the middle of the river, no one else was around, and lay in the warm evening rain under the clear starry sky, it was such a fantastic feeling. There was bioluminescent plankton floating in the water, which would light up in a fluorescent light show when the rain hit the surface of the water, or when my limbs stirred them up underneath. This was breath-taking, it was truly alien and incredibly beautiful, something I never thought I would be lucky enough to witness. This is one of the main reasons I want to travel more, to be able to see unimaginable things like this and share them with the world.
There’s so much more I could write about this part of my journey but this blog post is too long and there’s a lack of pictures to accompany it – THERE WILL BE MORE. I will post in more detail about my journey up Bokor mountain in Kampot and some other antics with lots more pictures very soon but thanks for sticking with this read if you’ve made it this far!
If you are looking to travel to Cambodia, or just want to find out more, check out my posts next week, I will be posting “the best things to do in Kampot, Cambodia” and “top tips for travelling Cambodia style”!