Cambodia: Lost and Found in Ratanakiri


dsc_1624I had been trapped penniless in Phnom Penh for over a month. It had been ten weeks since I was conned out of five hundred dollars by a bank in Malaysia.

Seven weeks since my beloved and irreplaceable journal, my glasses, wallet, iPod, all of my bank cards, and most of my money was stolen from the beach on Koh Phi Phi.

Five weeks since the last of the cash I had secretly squirreled away was taken, unbeknownst to me, from the bottom of a bus in Bangkok as I fled to a friend in Cambodia. Accustomed to laughing off such calamities in the dizzying dance of infinite carelessness I have called my life, something was different this time. I felt bereft of more than just things when I arrived in that corporeal city with nothing but a dollar fifty left to my name and the sweet savior who was willing to take me in for nothing in return. It felt like I was giving up .

From my first day in the busy capital city I was an apparition. The smile on my face a pale shadow of the one that used to stretch through every limb as I discovered a new part of the world. As it was, Barbara and I explored the sweaty streets, she an easy distraction from the precarious sorrow that burrowed itself quietly inside. Knowing all along that one last card would topple my shaky tower I took careful care to keep it standing. My breath was ever baited, afraid to blow it all down. But when the laptop with every word I had written since I left inexplicably died, I was helpless to stop the tumble. For the first time in a long time, I gave up, and gave in to the tears that had been waiting for their turn to fall.

treetoplodgeI knew I needed to leave this city, to find the piece of me that had been lost along with everything else. My only thought was to abandon the motos swarming shrill in the streets as they dangerously whipped past, the stench of sewage hanging ever in the air like some sepulchral fog, the grime of a city that never seems to wash off, to leave it all behind. The moment my Western Union transfer came through, I found my way to Ratanakiri.

As the crowded mini-bus jostled its way along the gutted red clay roads into the heart of the quiet province, hope sat perched in my chest for what was to come. I somehow knew this place would be my remedy. Within moments of my feet touching the soil in Ban Lung, a young moto driver whose face beamed with warmth and welcome took me to a guest house sitting hidden in the tree tops amongst the mountainous terrain. The quiet terrace of the lodge overlooked the vigorously green hills, lush in vegetation and untouched save for a sprinkling of red roofs hinting at their presence beneath the trees.

Lifesaver.I spent my first day in the rare, sweet silence of my own thoughts. It was my first time in Asia when there wasn’t a party pulsing heady into the night, a hundred backpackers to meet, a bus to miss, another to catch, there wasn’t anything at all.

But when I was ready to find adventure, it was ready for me too. Riding an elephant with that warm boy, deep into a jungle littered with forgotten waterfalls, trodding over less than beaten paths. Swimming each day in a volcanic lake until sunset, talking to strangers or not as I pleased.

Pushing through the vibrant volcanic clay roads on the back of a stranger’s motorcycle, tracing like scars through the verdant countryside, rich in every way imaginable. We crashed three times but I didn’t care. I laughed the laugh of a woman who knows something you don’t and smiled without boundaries. I kissed a stranger and never said goodbye. I simultaneously existed completely within myself and yet somehow belonged to this province, this place. It was everything I thought Cambodia would be but hadn’t yet seen.

volcaniclakeIn just one day my bruised and withered soul effloresced into the woman I had been before and more. Nothing I had lost mattered now, because this place offered everything I could ever need. And once you realize that the things you need aren’t ever actually things, that is when you know you’re truly free.

About the Author: Taylor Ahlstrom is a ceaseless wanderer, seasoned heartbreaker, and aspiring raconteur. She currently has no idea what she is doing with her life other than living it. You can read more about her adventures at WanderLustLogs.


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2 responses to “Cambodia: Lost and Found in Ratanakiri

  1. I’ve never been stranded while traveling, but I can only imagine that it must an awful experience. Needless to say this post was enjoyable to read. Thanks for sharing your story, it was an interesting read!

    1. Neli, thanks for the love! i’d never felt more like the whole world was attacking me, or asia was trying to kick me out. but once you get through it you remember that we all pretty much always get through everything. like my mom used to say, worry is a downpayment on trouble that never comes. 🙂

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