When I first arrived in Siem Reap for a six month stint teaching English with my husband, little did I know that three years later I’d be leaving with two years as a journalist under my belt, a couple of Cambodian cats and a baby bump.
I had no idea I’d end up working with four-year-olds for the very first time (a concept which terrified me), learn to ride a bicycle at the ripe old age of 35, and embark on various adventures in the name of journalism including zip-wiring (sustaining a blackened toe from the experience), hot air ballooning (the balloon crashed on a busy road) and eating scorpions and tarantulas (by far the safest option of the three).
I learnt to navigate dusty, pothole-filled roads to work, survived the Great Flood of 2011 (our first year), put up with power-cuts and deal, after a fashion, with my lifelong phobia – cockroaches, which became my unwelcome office companions at the Post.
I discovered what it was like to dress up as a Khmer bride, attended more weddings than I can remember and ran my first (and frankly, last) half-marathon.
So it is somewhat surreal, and with a heavy heart – and even heavier belly – that my time in Temple Town ends. As I pack my bags, dust off the CV and cry into my mango juice, I find myself reflecting on my time here. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve cycled down Pub St dressed as a witch in a tiny black cape.
In my final farewell, I have rounded up my checklists of the Best and Worst things about Temple Town. But mainly the best which I list here:
Sunshine –There is no doubt about it, sunny days and blue skies make everything better.
Swimming pools – where else in the world can you lounge by crystal-clear waters in a boutique hotel, for the cost of a coffee back home? Something I will miss when faced with my local north London municipal swimming pool, full of shrieking kids and floating plasters.
Fruit – mangoes, passion-fruit, watermelon. Cambodia is where the fruit is almost as good as the sweet treats. Almost.
Blue Pumpkin pastries – I am addicted. The custard slices are divine, the chocolate tart decadent, the lemon tart zingy and refreshing. I also have a soft spot for The Hive’s lime and coconut slices, and Park Hyatt’s cupcakes.
Foot massages (and general pampering) – some people come to Asia for the 50c beers, but I’m all about the foot massages. And let’s not forget about mani-pedis, an affordable treat here.
People –the “Cambodian smile” is one of the biggest clichés in the book by and large, Siem Reap locals beat Londoners hands-down in the friendliness stakes. Never before – and particularly since becoming pregnant – have I encountered such interest in my general health and wellbeing. Staff at my local swimming-pool ask how the bump is, and are full of sage advice – my favourite being that I should eat a swan’s egg for the baby’s development.
Creative freedom – I have never lived anywhere where entrepreneurship is so rife. It seems easier here than anywhere to reinvent yourself, or start a new business. Siem Reap is a town where bankers can become restaurateurs, graphic designers can become photographers and producers of trash TV can even become journalists – and language school owners (oh did I mention? Somehow we ended up buying an English school too).
And here’s my worst list:
Humidity – in all my three years here I don’t think there is one good photo of me. Make-up? Pointless – lasts about half an hour. Hair goes puffy and frizzy within seconds of stepping outside the house. In my pregnant state, friends have commented that I am “glowing.” This is nothing more than sweat, and I will not miss it. Not a jot.
Mosquitos –Nothing good to say about these little buggers. Lurking in dark corners, they will find a way into your house, through that one hole in the mosquito net, they will hunt you down.
Ants – there is always an ant. In your kitchen, in the crevices of your wooden furniture, marching in little determined trails up your walls.
Cockroaches – (notice a theme here?) Even after three years I never quite got used to them. Large, black, shiny and FAST – the scuttling sends chills down my spine.
Power cuts – An occurrence that is both random and regular (at certain times of the year , usually April, the hottest month). Blackouts taught me all sorts of inventive ways to stay cool – the most effective being lying prone on the balcony, clasping a tea-towel full of frozen peas to my head, and trying to move as little as possible.
But all this aside, the last three years has been nothing short of a great adventure, full of memories that I will treasure forever. It will be hard to say goodbye, but I have no doubt that I will be back. Until then, li-hy and som nang la’or. And don’t forget the frozen peas