dinsdag 24 januari 2012

How to travel around Cambodia with a one year old

Summary: buy thee a manduca. Because the words "road", "path", "walkway" and "street" are used in many wildly diverging contexts and the actual infrastructure described does not necessarily bear any resemblance to Western definitions of those nouns.

Original text: I did not want to go to Cambodia. I lusted after white Thai beaches with palm trees and all-inclusive resorts, with reputable doctors and easy access to swift airline connections. You know, just in case. The Bigfoot travelguide to Cambodia (do not purchase this NGO-bashing, cocktailbar biased guide unless you are a jaded, tourist-hating, Hemingway-inspired backpacker looking for paradise hoping to be disappointed) warned us that if we needed anything other than the painkillers we brought ourselves, our best bet was a plane to Bangkok. (S. did not read this before we arrived in Siem Reap.)

I mean, we were travelling with our non-walking, fourteen months old baby. Do we pick a tourist friendly place where they have lots of experience with demanding expats or go with the completely destroyed, abjectly poor third world country without any proper infrastructure? See, I knew you'd agree with me.

S. however, prevailed, as is usual in these kind of cases. He then left me to actually organise the trip. Which turned out fantastic. As S. likes to point out: "We make a good team. I make good decisions, you make sure they turn out right." And history supports this claim, as he decided to kiss me first eight years ago (so what if my response almost beat the speed of light? The point is, he started it).

But it's not just us. Anybody can go to Cambodia and have a wildly wonderful time. Because:

Cambodians are really really really nice.
They just are. Lots of smiles, lots of sound advice ("hide bag, many thieves"), lots of cooing and admiring of our lovely E. (including touching her skin and hair in wonderment - yes, she's still really white). Cambodians love children. I did not see a single angry parent during our two week stay. And they also love visiting babies. Even if the baby purposefully sets out to rearrange all the presents underneath the huge Christmas tree in the lobby of the Most Expensive Hotel In Phnom Penh (manager upon seeing the destruction wrought by E.: "My son is the same age! Is she walking yet?"). Or if the baby scatters all the room keys across the bar area while smiling beatifically. When I apologetically ran in to clean up after her, they shooed me out. Yes. They shooed ME out. They let her stay.

Manducas are wonderful inventions.
I could not see us taking the pram to the admittedly otherwise glorious ruins of Angkor Wat (the key word is "ruins". To make myself completely clear: this also means the walkways, hall ways and paths are "ruined", i.e. not suitable for things on wheels. Language takes on new meaning once you become a parent.) So we bought a manduca, a German Ergonomic Baby Carrier.

It is the BMW of baby carriers. E. loves it. We pranced around centuries old temples for hours while inspecting intricate carving work and she just cuddled and giggled and slept while the tuktuk was ferrying us from one overgrown jungle complex to another. And when S. put on the manduca the next day, her face lit up and she tried to climb his leg to get into it herself. Not only did we get to see loads temples, but she even let us leisurely inspect the killing fields, the genocide museum and take a bike ride. (All right, so she freaked out when we got lost in the mangrove forest on Rabbit Island. But in our defense, we didn't know there were lethally poisonous snakes hiding in the mud.)

Foreign do-gooders have opened amazing hotels.
Every single hotel we stayed at was wonderful. And owned by foreigners trying to do some good in Cambodia, either by sustainable labour policies, or sustainable energy policies, or sustainable economic growth and often all three combined.

The Villa at Siem Reap: the nicest staff ever (possible because they apparently had a very good maternity policy and a lot of the staff was either pregnant, planning to become pregnant or parent to a same age baby as E.). Very helpful ("Better not go on cycle trip with baby. Very hot. Poor baby!"), very nice, and very accurate.

The Kabiki in Phnom Penh: wonderful pool area for children and lovely enclosed garden in front of the hotel room, so E. could crawl around to her hearts content, while we could lounge around with huge glasses of fruit juice to our hearts content (substitute "cocktail" if you, unlike us, intend to stay up longer than 8 pm).

The White Mansion in Phnom Penh: lovely, huge, airy, bright and comfortable room. Free dvd's, so I watched the movie of the Killing Fields, and they even gave E. a little teddy bear!

The Vine Retreat at Kep province: an ecological pepper farm with a natural pool in a traditional farm house. Amazingly, no one complained even though the walls were made of wood and E. woke up around 5 am every morning. Lots of animals and plants and general exciting outside things for E. to see and, eventually, even to touch. And the food... Oh, the food was luscious and wonderful and fresh and not spicy at all, because:

Cambodian cuisine does not use chilis (well, not a lot anyway).
So E. could eat basically the same thing we were having. If she would try. She often wouldn't. Finally we figured out what was going: our little albino had "white days". On these days, she would only eat white stuff, such as white rice, white bread, white oatmeal, white eggs and white crabmeat. The sole exception were yellow fruit juices. No matter what day, she would always have fruit juice.

As a result, we had to haul all the emergency baby food supplies we imported into Cambodia back home again.

Poor S. They were in his backpack.

(Bonus: Cambodian airports are tiny and take no time at all.
When we left via the country's main airport in Phnom Penh, I worried arriving an hour and a half before the flight was scheduled to leave, would mean serious hassle and, worst case, a missed flight. S. worried that we might not be at the right terminal, since he couldn't find any signs telling us which airline flew from which terminal.

There was only one terminal. With 20 desks. And ours opened fifteen minutes after we arrived. We were first in line. We ended up with an hour to kill.

So I got a massage.

It was the most relaxing holiday I've ever had.)

1 opmerking:

  1. love this - esp since we are going to Cambodia next week with a 1 yr old!