It’s hard to believe I’ve already transitioned to my third remote home this year. This month, I am living in Phnom Penh (pronounced p’num pen), Cambodia – just an hour flight away from Ho Chi Minh City. Modern day Cambodia is a country on the up-and-up, rising from the ashes of a horrific genocide that included 4+ years of bloodshed, poverty, and political instability starting in 1975 and officially ended in 1979 (but unofficially in the 1990’s). Upon landing in Phnom Penh, my first thought was (1) how beautiful the people are, and (2) how impressed I was with the roads. The city is full of modern and ancient juxtapositions. Trendy shops and cafés compete for attention with the wet markets, motorbikes, and temples dotting the city.
The city, which has been the capital of Cambodia since 1862 (when the French colonized the country) and used to be called ‘The Pearl of Asia’ prior to falling into the Stone Ages under the Khmer Rouge, feels like a sprawling village full of glistening temples. The Cambodian Spirit is alive and strong and evident in all the smiling faces and waves bestowed once you’ve entered the country. Cambodians have an infectious optimism that is easy to fall in love with at first sight. 95% of the country is Buddhist.
Here’s a little peak at life in the city from a tuk-tuk – the easiest way to get around the city. A tuk-tuk is a little 4-person carriage attached to a motorbike and typically costs $1-3 per ride.
My apartment this month is called the Garden Mansion 3…Mansions are apparently a big thing in Asia as this is my second ‘Mansion’ after Saigon. Aside from the awful couch (watch the video…), the apartment is pretty awesome. Thanks again, Remote Year, for hooking us up with awesome accommodations.
So far, this is my favorite city to live in between Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh, and Phnom Penh. First off, it’s much quieter than Ho Chi Minh, there is less traffic, and there are huge green spaces and water that I can run to. We also have a pool, gym, and roof-top deck this month. Our Remote Year office space is a short 10 minute walk from the apartment, and is bright, airy, and dedicated to our group.
I didn’t realize I was such a fan of pools until I moved to Asia and the sweltering heat. I’m not complaining because I was ALWAYS cold in San Francisco…but Asia is hot and pools help. Phnom Penh has a few pretty amazing rooftop decks. Here’s a top secret one my friends and I discovered a few blocks away from our hotel. Note – if word gets out on the location of the pool, it will be run over by Remotes and therefore ruined.
Thoughts on Remote Year Thus Far
In case you’re wondering how I feel about Remote Year three months in – well, I love it! The group is amazing, our program leaders amazing, and city hosts amazing (and no, I’m not being paid to say this). You may recall that I was already contemplating traveling on my own for a year, which would have been a totally different adventure. I am incredibly grateful that a friend told me about Remote Year because it is perfect for me. I have a family of 65 people who I move to a new country with each month. We all have our own work schedules, travel itineraries, and goals for the day/month/year but it’s nice to come home to the same people every day. Flatmates change, cities change, but the people largely stay the same. We’ve had a few people drop out for various reasons (mental health, unemployment, free spirits who don’t like group settings).
Top 5 Remote Year Related Questions and Answers
- So what’s the hardest part? Also the people. We are living in a fishbowl. We live, work, and travel together which is just not normal. It feels like a combination of the Real World, Big Brother, Amazing Race, and the Office all rolled into one. It can be intense, so you have to figure out how to make ‘you’ time. In fact, it’s critical. I also have a rule to not do side trips in large groups. I have that every day so my travel time is ‘me’ time, and I have little patience – as those close to me know all-too-well.
- Am I tired or exhausted from all the travel? No. Never. I LOVE to travel. It is my lifeblood but, if you ask others on the program, they would have a different answer. Others on the program dislike the transitions. Some choose to stay in the city we are living in and not do side trips. To each, his own. I do not, and will not, judge others for how they choose to spend their time in each country. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t gotten sick. Alot. I had severe giardia in Malaysia and dehydration in Vietnam. Thank you, new germs and hot weather. I am now taking multi-vitamins and probiotics daily, in addition to drinking alot more water than I typically consume.
- How is it having a flat-mate? Well, I do love my independence and alone time so I’ve just had to set boundaries. As in, don’t talk to me or knock on my door before 9am because I’m in the middle of meditating, journaling, or exercising and don’t want to interact with the world at large. After that, I’m free game and love to hang out. I’ve had fantastic flatmates thus far, which have included a Dane, a Russian, and a Dutch woman. Love them all to pieces.
- Is it a constant, 24/7 party? Only if you make it one. I love to go out but can only handle once or twice a week. I typically cook breakfast at home (oatmeal, fruit, OJ or Coconut Juice for those curious) and have been packing my lunch this month. I tend to eat dinner out more often than not because it is so incredibly cheap (on average, $5-10 per meal). I anticipate this will change drastically in Europe where my budget will go up. There are a few fantastic bars, clubs, and lounges in town for those seeking a night out, but I have to be in the zone for that.
- Do you actually use the office space? Yes – part of the time. I’m working on writing my blog and setting up my business – a global interior goods marketplace focused on curating chic products from underserved communities. I spend about 2 days writing the blog, a day sourcing products for the business, and a day working on my brand strategy. Everyone is different though. We have a handful of individuals working U.S. hours who are on a nightshift and work all night. Others work all day. Others work all day and all night a few days a week and travel the rest. Others don’t work. Others don’t appear to be working but are. The beauty of Remote Year is that you can make it whatever you want it to be.
Week 1 Experience in Phnom Penh
One of the best things about Remote Year is that we have 2-3 ‘city hosts’ in each country. City hosts are professionals who are from the city we live in and help set up programming throughout the city for us ‘Remotes’ to experience a more personalized view of the city. I didn’t even realize this was included in the Remote Year package, and it has been invaluable to my experience thus far. The city hosts aren’t just tour guides – they are people who have made it big in their country and/or city and are now giving back- out of this world phenomenal individuals who are financially secure and are giving back by giving Remotes a personalized view of their country. They become part of your transitional family – or ‘tramily’ – and work insanely hard every month to pull together educational experiences for us throughout the month. In my first week in Phnom Penh, our city hosts took us on a tour of Botumvatey Pagoda to teach us about how the Buddhist monks were the unofficial guardians of Cambodian culture during the Khmer Rouge era. We encountered the most endearing monk who simply exuded joy.
Fun fact: the Buddhist monasteries will accept any animals that are abandoned or dropped off there. We had a sweet dog following us nearly the entire tour. The artwork around the Pagoda is also stunning.
We also visited Oudong Mountain, the old capital city which housed all the ancient burial sites of Khmer kings – the Kingdom that once ruled over many parts of what is today Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. Views from the mountain top were breathtaking as were the details of the newly built temple at the top of the mountain. A few individuals even got their fortunes read while others, including myself, were blessed by holy water.
Finally, I took a quick trip to the National Museum – an architectural masterpiece and home to the world’s finest collection of Khmer sculpture (aka Angkor Wat-style carvings).
Do you have any other questions about my experience in Cambodia or Remote Year thus far?