It hits you as you pull out of the small airport. Sharp and acrid. The heat makes the smell of the petrol fumes that much more intense. As we slide into the stream of moving vehicles heading into town, like a small tributary of a massive river, we intermingle with hundreds of moving people. Sitting of motorbikes, tuk-tuks or on open topped trucks people look around at each other, smile, and then swerve into the next knot of traffic. We wave to a girl holding her graduation diploma on the back of a scooter. A family of five slip past us on their two-wheeler, the smaller members of the family sandwiched between the adults.
We overtake the slower portions of the pack and I hold tightly onto my back-pack. As we approach the riverfront the traffic worsens and so do the petrol fumes. I get my first glimpses of the Tonlé Sap, and far off into the distance the huge expanse of grey water where it meets the massive Mekong. The marathon continues, past a multitude of bars, travel agents and massage parlours, past the beautiful royal palace. It’s Sunday and the grass in front of the symmetrical spires is full of brightly dressed people who have come in from the countryside. Children run around, laughing, and feeding the pigeons.
We continue our way towards 21 Street. Someone hits their high pitched horn but it’s immediately drowned in the general cacophony. I catch tantalising flashes of the sprawling mess of Phnom Penh, and already can’t wait to explore. We finally cut into a tiny alleyway, and after zigzagging a few hundre.d metres stop in front of a small block of flats. Some of the houses around us are large colonial constructions and boast lush gardens, with fruit trees overhanging the sharp fences. We climb two flights of steep stairs. I’m already completely soaked by the time I walk into the flat and see Katrina and little Lyra.