The end of the road in Cambodia

This weekend, we stayed in a hotel in Phnom Penh. We walked along the riverside with backpacks strapped to our backs and took photos of the Royal Palace. Tuktuk drivers asked if we wanted to go to the Russian Market or the Killing Fields. We felt – and looked – like tourists in our home city.

The home we’ve had for the past three years, that is.

But tonight we hop into a tuktuk as we’ve done hundreds of times before. We head to the airport as we’ve done countless times in the past.

Then we’ll do something we’ve never done before: Leave.  

The mere thought of it makes me well up with tears and savour every second of this last day. I’m seeing sunsets tinged with more gold than usual, feeling cool breezes when I’d previously experienced sweltering heat and looking longer into the eyes of people squatting on the street.

I don’t want to go but I don’t want to stay. I want to see the magic in other parts of the world but it’s hard letting go of the hand we’ve held for more than 1,000 days.

At the same time, I’m bursting with excitement to see Otto, my 21-year-old nephew who I haven’t seen for more than a decade, and thrilled to be spending Christmas with mummy, Jonathan, my beautiful nieces and some of my dearest friends in the world.

It’s this in between time that’s the hardest – saying goodbyes, seeing things through the eyes of last times and waiting for the next door to open as this one slowly swings shut.

I’m not so sad about leaving friends, as I know we’ll be in touch with the small special group who will be forever in our lives. Facebook, Skype and email make that possible. And some of them, I know, will be visiting – or perhaps living – in one of the places we end up.

It’s the Tonys and SomOns that will be hardest to leave and those we’ll think of often. The Saraths and the Heangs. The camp waiter at Brown’s who giggles when we order coffee. The receptionists at the Himawari gym and Miss Care Spa and the young girls serving cupcakes at Bloom. The joking, poking and cajoling of the tuktuk drivers who cackle when Skip stops by to tease them. The melodic announcement of the egg and bread sellers as they push their carts along the street and the haunting sound from the pagodas when the monks chant in prayer.

It’s the comfortable familiarity of walking along broken up sidewalks and dodging motorbikes bearing tiny brown-eyed children. The time-tested knowledge of how to cross the street, order meals in Khmer, give directions to tuktuk drivers who don’t know the way and knowing who to call and where to go for the best pizza in town, the fastest bus to Mondulkiri and the most enjoyable foot massage.

It’s the aroma of stinky prohok wafting up from our downstairs neighbours and the blistering sun on my back as I walk to a yoga class. The feeling of being part of the chaotic mess of humanity, dogs and rubble wherever I meander during the day.

It’s the little people and the street people who I know we’ll never see again. The smells that are only found on the streets of Cambodia. The sounds we’ve awoken to and the warm nights we’ve fallen asleep in. That’s what I’ll miss the most.

And I know – no matter where the next door opens – when the wheels of Korean Air Flight 690 leave the ground tonight, Skip and I will hold hands tightly and choke back tears when we see the lights of Phnom Penh fade into the distance and the stars come out over the mighty Mekong.

      13 comments

      • Abigail

        Ahh, beautiful, Gabi.

        All those things and more which are so difficult to articulate about what makes Phnom Penh and Cambodia so special.

        Looking forward to have a random encounter with you two somewhere in the future. Wondering where that might be and knowing how much fun it will be!

        Som nang l’or!

      • Wendy Hiles

        Saying goodbye to friends, family and a much loved country is SO hard. You have wonderful memories and new adventures to look forward to. I have loved reading about your travels and will be in touch when you get back to UK.
        Loving thoughts are with you Gabi and Skip

      • Allie

        But think of all the memories yet to be made in places you may not have even imagined visiting. May you and Skip always be amid the sounds of laughter. Journey on xoxo

      • Barrie

        Safe journey, and hopefully catch up with you while you’re in the UK.

      • Your words made me feel like I was living the experience with you and Skip and even now I’ve got a lump in my throat thinking about the places I’ve left that were so meaningful to me. I’m looking forward to your next adventure and wish you both unlimited abundance in your life since you give so much to all of us with your stories and photos, but most of all with your joie de vivre. Much love, Roberta

      • Ann

        Cambodias loss is our gain! We so look forward to meeting up some time over Xmas lovely Goddaughter and special spouse!
        Or is it ‘extra special’?
        Love. xxx

      • Matthew Rinder

        You journey for the past several years sounded awesome and knowing you it is not over.
        Continue to do what you want and what makes you happy, as your wonderful memories will be with you forever.
        May your life’s continued to be happy and healthy and full of adventure .
        God Bless.
        Matt

      • Sheila

        Gabi — As always, very well written. You have certainly made the most of your time there, and it has made the best of you. You no doubt will soon be writing about more and completely different — yet fabulous — adventures. Godspeed as you begin yet another chapter.

        Sheila

      • John

        Beautiful. Brought me right back. If you hadn’t love it so much, and Cambodia loved you back, it wouldn’t be so hard to say goodbye. Safe travels. And excited to see where you guys go next, you are an inspiration!

      • Marshall

        Your farewell sonata to Cambodia was beautiful music. I savored each melodic syllable. You and Skip will always be in my heart.

      • Theresa Hickey

        Missing you–of course–at this time of year and saddened by the goodbyes you have had to make. Through your eyes and in the words you write, I’ve learned so much about a culture I’ve not yet had the opportunity to visit, so, at one and the same time, I’m sad along with you but excited for the unexpected, still ahead in your lives. Joyful holidays and may 2014 continue to enrich you both, Gabi and Skip. Love, Terri

      • Francie

        Well, Gab. The shifting sands of time and curiosity! You are off to yet another part of the planet, having left an indelible mark on Cambodia and many friends there. I wish you wings and speed and soft landing — you and Skip both. Already awaiting the details of the next adventure! xo

      • Roger

        Gabi – I only met you a couple of hours ago with your amazing mother who I know well – what a transition from Phnom Penh to sedate downtown Eastbourne…love the piece on leaving the places you have fallen in love with and I am passing your web/blog details to my son, who really is younger than me hohoho…hope to be in touch via your email. Enjoy your next adventure.

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