Being the world weary traveler that I am, I needed something out of the ordinary to peak these jaded senses. Cambodia did not fail me.
It is a city, perhaps like Durell's "Alexandria", perhaps like New Orleans, perhaps like Beirut (in its darkest hour), that is a mixture of the beautiful and horrid, joyful and sad, light and heavy, warm and deadly all at the same time, or at least the same day.
My two months were spent mostly in the capital, Phnom Phen. It lies at the confluence of the Tonle Sap and the Mekong. It gives the sense of a smaller city, with most of downtown reachable on foot. There is a broad range of hotels and guest houses. My favorite was Bert's Books and Guesthouse.
Bert's was right on the river and had a wonderful balcony. A block away was the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, where I worked. Another block away was Phnom Phen, from which the city takes its name. Phnom means hill or mountain, or stupa. Phen is the name of a woman who found a budda statue floating in the Mekong nearby (so legend has it). One block further on was the International Youth Club, replete with an exercise room, an olympic pool, and innumerable tennis courts.
During the day there are many smiling faces and looking down from the Foreign Correspondants Club, sipping an Angor beer watching the river flow by, you can actually feel at ease. As night settles in its good to keep track of the company you're with, how close you are to your hotel, and routes of egress. As a rule, it is safer to keep your passport and money belt at your hotel.