With less than one week to go before I am back in the U.S. and enjoying a delicious meal of Hamburger Helper (CRAVINGS I HAVE THEM), I’ve been reflecting a lot on what it is like to travel in this region. I’ve been bouncing around here for the past two months, minus that interlude in China. (Oh yeah, that thing.) Southeast Asia is a tourist mecca for a number of reasons – there’s a well-trodden backpacker’s trail, plenty of varied food options in the larger cities, relatively cheap costs (you can live a mid-range lifestyle for well under $50/day) and you can always find someone who speaks enough English to help you out when needed. Plus it’s a pretty gorgeous region.
Despite that, I was surprised by the unexpected difficulties and just how foreign this region can be. Crazy concept, huh? The very act of walking outside is an assault on the senses. It’s oppressively hot (and yet Cambodian women most often wear jeans, two long-sleeved tops, a scarf, and GLOVES when I would rather be naked than wearing shorts and a top I stole from my friend last year). The act of walking down the street is hard, as you navigate broken or missing sidewalks – and where there is a sidewalk, it’s usually covered with parked cars and scooters – forcing you to walk on the street. Dirt kicks up and cakes your skin as you pray no cars hit you. You can’t go two steps or stand still for five seconds before being ascended upon by tuk tuk drivers shouting and waving “TUK TUK? TUK TUK LADY?!” And saying no once doesn’t matter, because the thirty after him still think maybe I’ll say yes to them. Even if you navigate the streams of people, the exhaust spewing out of vehicles, and the heat, the smell of trash, street food cooking, and just plain humanity is enough to knock you over. So, who’s ready to go visit?!
It’s not a surprise that I’ve often taken refuge in places that exude the calm environment or the atmosphere at home. My dad and I were giddy walking through the nicest hotel in Phnom Penh after drinking at the bar, inventing our alter egos in case anyone asked. Even now, I’m happy as anything sitting in a huge Western-style coffee shop, sipping on an iced chocolate coffee and tapping this out on my phone.
I partly feel like a failure for wanting to escape to the nice when so many around me don’t have the option. I recognize I should be more adventurous when it comes to getting out of my comfort zone. But I have had my share on perching on a plastic chair on the street eating food from a cart and walking steadily across the street without getting hit. Sometimes baby needs to reward herself by sitting in an awesome café and watching the Lizzie Bennett Diaries (everyone, please. Watch them.). Cause you know what? That gives me just enough juice to jump back into the next level of crazy and prepare myself for this last week abroad.