The last week of January brought my parents and my mom’s best friend, Galya, to Phnom Penh. My parents had never been to Asia, and I was sure they wouldn’t come because “Asia had no appeal for them.” This being my third trip to Southeast Asia, I spent some time trying to convince them they didn’t know what they were missing and was so excited when they mentioned they were considering it. When I was home in November, we booked them a trip to Cambodia and Vietnam, hitting many of the highlights: Phnom Penh, Angkor Wat, Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, Hue, and Hanoi.
They arrived to Phnom Penh after a flight delay and extra day in Seoul. I tuk’d to the airport to pick them up, marveling at the crowds of entire families that were waiting for their loved ones to arrive. I remembered the times when US airports felt like this: patience, anxiety, joy, all wrapped in expectations. I felt lucky to witness family reunions after who knows how long apart.
We had about 36 hours together in Phnom Penh before they flew to Siem Reap to explore the temples at Angkor Wat. I hired a Russian guide and we went around the city, seeing the highlights:
- The Royal Palace, with its beautifully-landscaped grounds and impressive buildings
- The White Building, a Cambodian take on housing projects, now in desperate need of renovation
- The National Museum, where I left the group to do their exploring since I had seen it a couple weeks earlier
We ate at two of my favorite restaurants, Friends the Restaurant (a social impact restaurant that trains underprivileged locals to be restaurant staff and offers workshops for kids) and St. 63 (a hole-in-the-wall near my apartment with amazing food at unbeatable prices).
I was nervous about what my parents would think about the hectic, undeveloped feel of Phnom Penh, especially having never been to Asia. It’s not exactly the easiest “starter” city… When I expressed this, I got one of the best nuggets of travel wisdom ever: “It’s not about liking it or not. It’s fascinating to experience different places and see how people live.” I’m so proud of my parents for making the trek to the other side of the world and having such a positive, inquisitive perspective. (And now I know where I get that from…)
Last Days in Cambodia
After my parents left for Siem Reap, I spent my days catching up on work (including one glorious day working from the pool at swanky Aquarius Hotel) and spending time with the group.
Our farewell event was at a villa on the shores of the Mekong River, where we had a pool party, saw a beautiful sunset, and appreciated the fact that we were about to enter our last month on Remote Year. I was definitely ready to leave Phnom Penh, where the tuk-tuk drivers’ calls of “where you go, miss?”, the pollution, and the lack of walkability had gotten to me (even though by this point, I was really good at giving directions in Khmer).
I was equally in shock that all of this was really coming to an end. While I packed, I watched a Remote Year webinar with alumni from the first group, which completed about six months prior. Hearing them talk about how different their post-Remote life was and how different they were made it all seem too real.
Onward to Vietnam
Our last travel day was quick – an easy flight to Ho Chi Minh City – but I had the strange in-the-moment nostalgia feeling you only get when something’s really special. This was our last time traveling as a group, goofing off together at the airport, seeing our group leaders, Sam and Travis, in their matching onesies, having staff waiting for us with sandwiches when we arrived…
I’d been to Vietnam once before, and was looking forward to traveling with my family after their detour to Siem Reap.
Last month of Remote Year, here we come…!