Descending the steps of Silk Air Flight 618, Cambodia welcomed us with a warm, sweet embrace. Our flight was a breeze- each of us had a window seat and entire row to sprawl our bloated selves on. Plus Silk Air hooked it up with DANK chicken curry, Angkor beer, and ice cream. Silken and Nicole claim that the chicken curry was made from infected dog meat, but I scarfed down a second helping and am feeling better than ever! Rather than playing Candy Crush on the flight, our eyes were glued to the window – tall Columbus cloud columns shot up out of low-laying smooth Sirius clouds protecting the rice paddies and swamplands below (thank you to Ms. Tick’s second-grade meteorology). These types of things don’t even exist in Photoshop. The cloud spectacle was enhanced by hot pink sunset streaks breaking through the clouds, contrasting the cool blue and green hues.
After receiving our tourist visas for the Kingdom of Cambodia, the sliding doors opened to a friendly Khmer man holding an official sign: “Annie Edwards.” Now that’s what I’m talking about! It felt good to be back; we loaded our luggage onto our new friend’s tuk tuk and used our feet to keep it inside the vehicle while zooming towards Siem Reap. When we arrived at luscious Jasmine Lodge, a familiar face greeted me: Hout, in the flesh! This darling man was in charge of the orphanage I volunteered last year, and we’ve been emailing back-and-forth for months. We weren’t supposed to meet up with him until the following evening, but I couldn’t have been less surprised to see him standing in the lobby. That’s Cambodia for you – the people’s kindness continues to be over-the-top, and everyone knows everyone. Need to reach me? Send the letter to Annie Edwards, Jasmine Lodge, Siem Reap, Kingdom of Cambodia. I’m not kidding, it will work. Test it out. Send Ghirardelli and Trader Joe’s buffalo jerky for the kids!!! (that time I was kidding, it’s definitely not for the kids). Addresses and zip codes aren’t really a thing here, but landmarks work just perfectly in the organized chaos that is Southeast Asia. Although we were boring AF zombies, we sat down with Hout to discuss his projects for us. Due to some administrative changes Hout no longer worked at the old orphanage, Hannah’s Hope. Now he works 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, at an ATV tour company. The small guy has a heart larger than his stature (an average Cambodian male is 5’ 2”, so yes I qualify as an ogre here) and in his little spare time meets with us plus collaborates with his Hungarian friends to create a new philanthropic organization. It’s called the Smiles of Cambodia foundation, and the project will build a rural school, provide ways for poor villages to become self-sufficient, and deliver food and supplies to needy villages. Its IndieGoGo campaign just launched with a goal of $85,000, so I highly encourage anyone to visit the site, donate, and spread the word – it’s for a truly amazing cause.
We took the weekend to get our bearings, rent bicycles, and slowly adjust to the 16-hour time change. Oh and get really, really wet. Get your mind out of the gutter - it’s monsoon season, and there aren’t gutters here. It just floods. Siem Reap’s thick air has the effect of making us move and think in slow motion, creating perfect conditions for getting a massage. We went to Namaste for a $7 hour-long Khmer massage, where three girls led us upstairs and told us to undress and lay on white plastic-y tables. Great, so this is the part where we get sex trafficked. We might’ve been more scared when they rolled us onto our backs and entered the upper no-no-square, if my masseuse and I not been cracking up like immature hyenas. My girl Sawyed was only nineteen but only ten at heart – she was cracking jokes in Khmer the whole time and randomly started singing in my ear during the full-frontal exam portion. After our hour-long bliss sesh was over, we hung out with our masseuses for another hour. Nicole’s chica started braiding Nicole’s hair, moved onto Silken’s long hair, and lastly my mane. Upon seeing my schizophrenic ‘fro, my girl Sawyed lost it, slapping her knee and cackling, which made me start tearing up from uncontrollable laughter. Even with the brick-wall language barrier, we’d made friends in Cambodia!