Having been lucky enough to travel the world extensively and develop a strong sense of wanderlust, Asia is where my passion really lies. Which is why, with excitement, I am now able to tell you about a country I have not had the chance to visit... until now - Cambodia.
Cambodia: even as I begin to tell you about this enchanting place, I feel I could write entire sonnets on it... as a dyslexic that is something I very rarely want to do! However, in maybe a few more words than a sonnet, I am going to tempt you over to my way of thinking on this south-east Asian wonder-country. As well as returning to England with a no space left on my camera or phone, I have returned with a heavy heart. Yes, I have fallen head over heels for Cambodia.
I suppose if I began to tell you how welcoming and friendly Cambodians are, you wouldn't be surprised - doesn't just about everyone seem to be these days? Well, towards tourists anyway... However, Cambodians have stories to tell and, with faces wrinkled with laughter, they welcome you into not just their country as a tourist, but into their homes and lives as a friend.
I was fortunate enough to meet a complete dichotomy of Cambodian society, from survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime, to children living in floating villages on the great Tonle Sap Lake, to hotel managers who work hard to send pigs back to their villages to feed local communities. These different characters are what make Cambodia such a fascinating and humbling place, filled with smiles and laughter.
Cambodia's complete sense of 'other-ness' in comparison to the western world is part of its charm - local farmers laughed in disbelief at the thought of us Brits not being able to grow pineapples, coconuts and papaya naturally in our gardens! And it is this total difference in way of life that makes Cambodia so captivating to the western visitor. Little wonder, then, that it is home to a significant expat community.
For a country in the midst of a serious deforestation crisis, I couldn't believe how stunning the countryside, coastline and jungle areas are. I began my trip in Phnom Penh, a relatively small capital city, making it easy to get around - a nice change for a capital city in Asia! Having been once colonised by the French, the city has a Parisian feel with symmetrical street designs and old colonial buildings on the water front. From Phnom Penh we drove to Kampot, passing through lush green countryside, with palm trees dotted around sporadically. Rice paddies glistened under the bright Cambodian sunshine, and everything just seemed so intensely full of life. October is the end of the monsoon season so everything was bursting in colour - they don't call it the 'Green Season' for no reason.
Cambodia's coastlines are charming with locals frolicking about in the deep blue haze of sea, most fully clothed, which is not uncommon here - I even witnessed a man taking a dip in a suit! Definitely not a sight you would see in England.
Moving further away from the quaint fishermen's villages towards the archipelago of Koh Rong, the setting became intensely tropical. For me, it was the sunsets that intrigued, the horizon tricking the eye with zigzag shadows in the distance, creating a quite magical setting.
That's all for now, folks, stay tuned for Part II...
I haven't even begun to talk about Cambodia's famous temples or delectable cuisine. Trust me, it's good enough to go back for.