Watching the sunrise this morning, I knew it was going to be a very good day.
Ever since my cruise in Venice, I’ve been somewhat addicted to chasing the sun whenever possible. Unfortunately, the wet season here in Southeast Asia has meant mostly cloudy weather, and therefore sunrises and sunsets completely obscured from view. Nonetheless, I decided to take a leap of faith and set my alarm for 5am, hoping to luck out with a golden sunrise.
And ohh did I ever!
Propping open my windows to check the weather, I was instantly greeted by the sight of the sun creeping up the horizon, illuminating the sea of clouds with a warm orange light. By some stroke of luck, my cabin was facing directly East, which meant that I had a front row seat to the most spectacular Mekong sunrise imaginable. I think it’s these little luxuries that I’ll miss most when I return home in a week!:
This gorgeous start paved the way for an unforgettable day en route to Phnom Penh. As we disembarked in the village of Kampong Tralach, my eye was immediately caught by a long row of ox carts waiting at the top of the hill. 12 wooden carts each with two large oxen and a smiling driver. As we hoisted ourselves up on the carts (with padded seats for comfort!), I couldn’t believe I was getting my own private ride. I felt like Cinderella on her way to the ball!
After everyone was safely seated, we began our journey through Kampong Tralach. The cart took us at a slow pace through a diversity of beautiful landscapes, from small village houses and shops to reflective emerald rice paddies. As I enjoyed the bumpy ride to the pagoda, with the gentle clop of oxen trudging forward and the Cambodian countryside passing me by, I couldn’t get over how incredible this country was. There was something undeniably special about this whole experience, and as my fellow passengers agreed later, it was an unforgettable ride.
When we arrived at the pagoda, we were greeted by a flurry of local children wielding gifts of handmade grass rings and flowers. Initially confused by their gesture, I assumed the gifts were for sale and so politely refused as I kept walking. Still, peering behind me, I noticed the kids trailing behind, carrying the brightest smiles on their faces. They shook their heads and began placing the gifts directly in my hands. “For you!” they giggled. These adorable villagers accompanied us for the rest of the visit, proudly serenading us with songs in English and of course, the occasional compliment.
Stepping inside the pagoda, we saw a series of colourful murals (now slightly weathered from age), and a large Buddha statue at the front end of the room. Cross-legged on the floor was a monk, dressed in traditional orange robes. He invited us to take our own seats on the floor as he closed his eyes and led us through a beautiful Sanskrit prayer. One by one, we were then given a chance to take part in a blessing ritual, where he said a short prayer for each of us before tying a single red bracelet around our wrists. These bracelets, a common sight around the country, are meant to bring good luck and fortune to its owners.
After another ox ride back to the boat and a free afternoon in Phnom Penh, we were treated to an adorable Aspara dance show on the sun deck from local children. With careful movements, shy smiles and plenty of costume changes, it was a very heartwarming thing to watch! My favourite part came at the end of the performance, when all the children took turns introducing themselves - sharing their names, ages and dreams. While some spoke of one day becoming teachers, doctors and models, I couldn’t stop laughing when one boy decided to stay completely true to himself, simply telling us “I like to eat chicken.”
We have officially arrived in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, and tomorrow, we’ll be embarking on a long day of visiting the city’s major sights. I’ll update you all soon with the details!