Travel Update: Back to the Kingdoms I Know and Adore

After the overwhelming response to my last travel update – honestly, I wasn’t expecting so many of you to read it or to leave such thoughtful comments! – I figured I had better make good on my unspoken promise to keep you looped in on my movements. For anyone who was left waiting in anticipation to find out what I’m doing next, this is for you!

This update was supposed to be all about settling down in my new city.

But it’s not.

No – I have another travel update for you instead.

I know, I know. I only just got back from a huge 10-month trip. I just barely finished venting about how exhausted and burnt out I am, and how much I’m looking forward to pumping the breaks and knuckling down on work. I guess life had other plans.

We were in Yerevan when it all started. Thanks to a few very well-timed emails and some good old-fashioned nepotism (!), my partner, Ross, was presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live out a childhood dream of his (quite literally).

I urged him to go for it. So he went for it.

Six days after we arrived in Brisbane, he was back at the airport ready to fly out for his next adventure. I can’t say where exactly (because what’s a childhood dream if it doesn’t involve signing an NDA?). All I can tell you is that he’s currently half-way through an epic experience that will give him bragging rights over all us mere mortals for the rest of his life.

There was some hesitation, of course. This curve ball didn’t exactly fit in with our life plans. We still have every intention of staying put in Australia for a while, but we’ve had to push back the date momentarily.

With Ross out of the country for eight weeks, I was presented with a wholly unexpected opportunity to do my own thing. Sensible, just-turned-30-years-old me would have stayed home and saved my shekels. But impulsive, still-hanging-onto-my-20s me kept thinking: Is this my last chance to indulge in long-term travel before life gets real?

So where exactly am I going?

Imagine this: You can go literally anywhere in the world (within reason, of course) without having to spare a thought for anyone else’s needs or wants. Where do you choose to go?

I guess solo travellers face this conundrum all the time. But I don’t think I’ve ever been in this situation before. I caught myself off guard when my first inclination was to return to a country I’ve already spent a lot of time in: Cambodia.

Cambodia… Where do I begin. Ross and I first visited Cambodia way back in 2014. I still have scenes from that trip imprinted on my brain – and I don’t mean in a good way. We ended up living in Phnom Penh for 12 months in 2016/17 – another wholly unexpected life twist. Deep down, I always knew I’d be back. But I didn’t think it would be this soon.

It took me all of a few hours to settle on the idea and book my flights. I leave on Wednesday.

A lotus field in Siem Reap. This photo was actually taken by my dad when he visited us in Cambodia in 2016.

The plan

I’ve given myself a very generous four weeks in Cambodia. Assuming I survive the long-haul budget airline flight… I’ll be spending a good chunk of that time in my former adoptive city of Phnom Penh, catching up with old friends and work colleagues, and meeting a few new squishy humans (AKA friends’ babies). I’ll also travel around a bit, revisiting two of my favourite small towns, Kampong Cham and Kampot. But my first stop is Siem Reap. It will be my third time visiting Angkor – how lucky am I? (Side note: The photo at the start of this post was taken during my second visit to Angkor in 2016.)

Why Cambodia, you may be asking? My blog – this blog – played a huge role in my decision. Strategic me is looking forward to updating my old and dreadfully outdated Cambodia content as well as rounding-out my coverage of the country. If there’s something Cambodia-related you want to learn more about, please leave me a comment below – I’d love to have your input.

Can’t-say-no-to-anything me has also solicited a bunch of exciting work opportunities. I’ll be ‘on assignment’ for part of the trip, research and writing about various destinations and responsible tourism projects for a slew of cool publications.

On my way through, I’ll also be spending a few days in another kingdom: Thailand. My reason for stopping off in Bangkok is a bit different – it’s purely to eat enough bowls of khao soi to make Ross jealous. Payback time.

Travelling solo

Another reason I gravitated towards Cambodia: It’s a place I’m familiar with. But that doesn’t mean I’m not nervous about hitting the road solo for the first time in a long time.

Apart from a few solo trips home (which don’t really count) and a handful of work excursions, Ross has been by my side on every trip I’ve taken since 2015. And for the past 10 months, we’ve been together 24/7.

I’m not ashamed to say that I rely completely on him for a lot of things when we’re away. There are just some things I’m really bad at, like navigating, managing money, and washing dishes, for example. All these things (especially the first two) are kind of important, I know. It’ll be interesting to see how (if?) I can manage them on my own.

Rekindling my love-hate relationship with Cambodia

Thailand is easy – it’s all love. Cambodia, on the other hand, is more complicated.

I had a challenging time when we lived in Phnom Penh. My work in the healthcare field involved some very confronting and frustrating experiences, as you can imagine. By the time we left in February 2017, I swore I’d never go back to Cambodia. I don’t think I ever really believed that, though.

You know the way you feel when you’re standing in a group and someone starts talking about your ex boyfriend or girlfriend? Your ears prick up. You strain to hear every syllable and read between every line while still maintaining a veneer of cool, lest anyone pick up on the fact that you’re even slightly interested. You want to know everything and nothing at the same time. You start wondering if other people in the conversation are even aware of your history. Do they even remember? Do they even understand?

Well, that’s my reaction when I hear people talking about Cambodia. I get giddy. I want to chime in with some eloquent statement that illustrates how well I know and understand her – but I can’t find the words. I’m not even sure I do know and understand her. Not anymore.

How do you find the words to talk about an experience like the one I had in Phnom Penh? It’s almost impossible, which is why I’ve avoided writing about it.

In many ways, I feel like I know too much. When you live somewhere like Cambodia and you get to see what’s going on behind the curtains – just a little peek – it can suck the mystery and magic out of a place. I feel the same way about Hanoi.

But at the same time, I have a deep, unwavering love for Cambodia. The painful history and stinging problems combined with some of the absolute best humans on planet Earth – it’s entrancing and addictive. I can’t stay away. I want to be there.

I think this Joel Brinkley quote sums up my feelings pretty well: “Be careful because Cambodia is the most dangerous place you will ever visit. You will fall in love with it, and eventually it will break your heart.”

I guess I’m ready to have my heart broken. Again.

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