Life in Phnom Penh is never boring, and as my wife and I close in on two years living here we still feel the same about this wonderful country: we've never felt so alive.
We came here to volunteer with two separate NGOs - me with a group lobbying the government on oil, gas and mining policy; my wife, with a group providing support to Cambodians, many of them poor rural farmers.
What we got out of the equation - thanks to the insight, support and guidance from VIA - is a long-term home. When our second year concludes with VIA and our NGOs at the end of July, we are remaining in Cambodia.
It's our home, now.
Cambodia's a country of sensory overloads. Traffic, movement, noise, music, laughter, smells (mostly wonderful, but some not go great). And everywhere you turn, wonderful, engaging and smiling Cambodians who are only too eager to connect with a stranger from another culture.
It is an incredibly welcoming, hospitable and stimulating place to live.
It is not always comfortable (it's hot hot in the hot season and drenchingly wet during the rainy season), but temporary discomfort is nearly always followed by uplifting happiness in Cambodia. Things change quickly, on one level, but on another, they remain the same over centuries.
It is humbling to live in a place so different from other places we have visited and lived. And having VIA support has helped us get to know this country in a thorough, intimate way that would otherwise take years go accomplish. Having VIA in your camp is like having a personal TripAdvisor for your new adopted country.
Life here can be incredibly simple (lunch in a street side hang bai for $1.50) or astonishingly complex (a six-hour bus ride turned into a 12-hour marathon due to a breakdown). And what normally would be conflicts in the west are often deflected with a warm smile and a shrug from a Cambodian who is usually more than eager to help you out.
Personal barriers disappear here. Just yesterday, I spoke in Khmer to a tuk tuk driver and remarked that he was wearing a jacket in 80 degree heat. "You are cold because you are Cambodian," I told him. "I am hot because I am a foreigner and I am fat."
We clapped each other on the back, laughed and headed off in direction directions.
VIA helped make all this possible by providing support for language instruction, guidance about living in the Cambodian culture, and tips about where to go (and not to), what to eat (ditto) and how to best sink roots in our new home.
The program provided accommodations for a few weeks until we could find our own apartment (easy to do) and get our bearings, and VIA's staff was always available to answer questions and help us deal with problems when they arose.
We've found everything we could have hoped for in our new home: great food, amazing people, proximity to other incredible countries and cultures, and a lifetime of experiences that make us happy - every single day - that we found VIA and moved to SE Asia.