5 words/phrases that describe Cambodia: Ridiculously welcoming, slowly developing, relaxed, historically twisted, simple
What seems to make Cambodians happy? You name it they smile about it! From sunshine to strangers from market sellers to tuk tuk drivers. I’m often the one to lead into a smile with a stranger but here I was beaten to it. Well done to the country as a whole!
What seems to make Cambodians unhappy? Although it’s not talked about freely in public, the atrocities of the late 70’s must still haunt the country to the core. With a third of the population slaughtered the countryside is littered with bones, graves and memories of families torn apart by the Khmer Rouge.
Did you ever feel out of your comfort zone while in Cambodia? As with most developing countries who’ve had a tragic past, the ones who live to tell the tale are the ones left to deal with the consequences. The infrastructure was destroyed hurling the country back decades, the aftermath of landmines, a lack of sanitation and healthcare are clear to see. But things are changing fast, it’d an easy country to travel through and the capital Phnom Phen is developing quickly…hopefully not too quickly. Visit now, in ten years it may have lost its charm!
What can other countries learn from Cambodia? Use a torrid past as a stepping stone for the future.
Best thing I saw: Sunrise at Siem Reap. Think you’ve seen it all in the photos? Think again and get out of bed as early as possible to get the prime photo spot!
Best thing I heard: Clown Techno. Yup seriously – staying at a French-run backpackers hostel on the banks of the river the night-time music ranged from Bob Marley to gabba to a weirdly amusing techno track complete with clown samples.
Best thing I smelt: Freshly cooked waffles from a street vendor on the river in Phnom Phen. And yes of course I bought one.
Best thing I did: Wandered through the temples and historical architecture of Angkor Park for a day. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site for good reason – bar the hordes of people it’s one of the best parts of this trip so far.
Best thing I tasted: Coconut shake, banana shake, lemon shake – shake…shake…SHAKES!!!
Best local character I met: Security guard who looked after the Colonel every night we were staying in the capital. Asked loads of questions, wanted to practise his English and was genuinely interested in the world outside of his own.
Best lost in translation or stupid tourist moment: Someone leaving/loosing/having stolen my lovely new GoPro from a hotel in Phnom Phen (I’m convinced it’ll still turn up somewhere!)
Best surprise ‘n’ delight moment: A simple kayak trip out from the beach to an island and back again. Was amazing to get back on the water after so long away.
5 words/phrases that describe Cambodia: eternally optimistic, dusty, impoverished, controversial, laid back
What seems to make Cambodians happy? Survival. Having the power to smile, no matter how challenging their situation or past is. Angkor Wat – Cambodians seem incredibly proud that this architectural masterpiece (and international tourist magnet) was created by their forefathers.
What seems to make Cambodians unhappy? Reflecting on decisions they’ve made in the past for the sake of survival (e.g. Being practically forced to kill their own people during the rule of the Khmer Rouge. Cambodian families have also been known to sell their children into sex slavery when in dire straits financially).
Did you ever feel out of your comfort zone while in Cambodia? I felt uncomfortable about the amount of help Cambodia needs in order for it to be in the right place. Reading up on things such as child trafficking, the illegal trade of animals, the amount of poverty and corruption which exist – it’s quiet distressing and overwhelming.
What can other countries learn from Cambodia? How to find happiness in the simple things and not sweat the small stuff. How to choose to be positive.
Best thing I saw: Ta Prohm in Angkor Wat. It’s a magical union between mind-blowing-architecture and formidable nature. Wandering around this ever-changing temple ignited my childhood dreams.
Best thing I heard: The audio tour at the Killing Fields outside of Phnom Penh. It was raw, emotionally gut-wrenching, informative and unforgettable.
Best thing I smelt: The weed at Otres Beach. It wafted through the air and created an invisible cloud in practically every restaurant – especially the one that sold weed pizzas with a side of spliff.
Best thing I did: Make the effort to jump out of bed at 4:30am to see the sun rise at Angkor Wat and visit the Killing Fields. Both are must-do experiences in one’s lifetime.
Best thing I tasted: Dinner at Friends Restaurant in Phnom Penh. The food was pretty good, but it deserves extra kudos because it’s made by marginalised kids who are being trained in hospitality and given the opportunity of a brighter future.
Best local character I met: A little girl selling bracelets on Otres Beach. She worked like a Trojan, was a sales genius and packed some serious personality. She could imitate any accent you could possibly imagine.
Best lost in translation or stupid tourist moment: Repeatedly struggling to find our tour guide at Angkor Wat. At the end of each stop, hundred of Cambodians in their tuk-tuks sat waiting for their passengers. It was really hard to identify which one was ours. At least our guide didn’t have trouble telling us apart in the sea of tourists – he always had to find us!
Best surprise ‘n’ delight moment: The Greenhouse near Kampot. After long days driving on dusty roads, the lush riverside setting was a welcome shock. If we’d known it existed, we would have allowed time to stay there for a few days.
CHECK OUT our pics of Cambodia here.