A proper introduction to Cambodia

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Asia » Cambodia
March 2nd 2007
Published: March 10th 2007
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I don't have any pictures that match this blog entry...but I think the words will paint an accurate enough picture in your mind.

Our journey into Cambodia was a little scary, testing and hilarious. I'm going to quote April on her rendition of the experience because it's bang on. "As soon as we pulled onto shore 5 little children ran on board and started pulling our 50lbs packs off of the boat. We climbed up a hill to find a small shelter with chairs and more children giving orders. There was not an adult in sight. One child in particular barked orders and told us to get into a single file line. We felt like we had stepped into Never Never Land. After an hour of trying to communicate with these children our tour guide showed up and we walked down a dusty sand road from Vietnam to Cambodia And that was customs. It seems that "lunch break" is taken very seriously over here and this is why we had children keeping us busy while the officers finished their Tom Yam. We didn't find humorous at the time, but later that night Celia, Heather and I were giddy from fatigue and we were in absolute stitches over our Cambodian border experience."

We spent the next 4 hours on a boat that we quickly realized was probably built to hold 25 Asians NOT 25 Westerners. We suspect it also wasn't meant to have 25 backpacks either, each probably equating to a small child. For hours we sat on the bathroomless boat they call "the slow boat" with people smoking all around us, the sun beating down and absolutely no room to stretch out. To make matters worse, every time anyone made any sort of simple movement, even just to change positions, the boat would start to rock and our 14 year old sea captain would get an unsettled look of fear in his eyes. Once a large boat was catching up to pass us and he seemed to get seriously worried at what the wake would do to us. I just sat there praying until it passed...vowing to stay away from boats as much as possible from now on.

The scenery however, was enthralling. We were always travelling close to land (presumably a safety tactic due to the overloading) and would saw a lot of rural Cambodia. People live in hut like shacks on stilts and all are farmers with oxen. At that time of the day everyone seemed to be in the water, the adults bathing the oxen and the children (all naked) playing games in the river. Again they would start jumping, screaming and waving as soon as they saw us. One kid got so excited he tripped and splashed down in the water. The only reason we can assume they get so excited to see us is because tourism is just opening up in this part of the world and they really don't see white people very often. If I had to sum up how they lived I would say it's not impoverished just very simple living.

When the boat ride was finally over we transferred to a bus. The buses here are not coaches and are built to hold about 25 people. However, they are NOT built to hold 25 people and 25 backpacks because there are no luggage compartments. You can't even put your bag in the isle because they have fold up seats to fit more passengers. So we all piled in the most ghetto looking bus I have ever seen and watched as the men "found room" for out bags. They were piled high on the front passenger seat and more in the back seat...each pile so unsteady that bags would constantly fall on the person next to them. Then just when we thought they were done, they packed in a massive bag a banana's...come on...was that really necessary? By this time we had been travelling together as a group since 6am...for 9 hours...only 3 more to go! Everyone had the giggles and just couldn't believe how we were being introduced to Cambodia. The other thing is that when buses are advertised they really stress that it's an Air Con bus. Only in this instance the air con leaked and the poor people in the back had to fashion a bag device to catch the water that was soaking them. Well the bag didn't do so we had to turn the air con off and open the window's to breath the "fresh" outdoor air. The next little quirk was that I was in the aisle seat and the poor guy in front of me had a broken aisle seat. I spent the entire trip with my legs straddled around his seat as he was struggling not to fall in my lap, breathing through my sarong to save my lungs, and trying to retreat to the serenity of the music on my MP3 player. Before we left, we had been warned that the road we were travelling on was going through some repairs. We soon learned that this was the understatement of the year. It was more like they were building the road which resulted in a very bumpy journey. Again, through all of this we had no choice but to giggle and the ridiculousness of the situation. At one point we looked behind us and realized we actually were travelling in luxury. There was a passenger van packed so full that people were hanging out the windows and then more were piled on the roof. Asia never ceases to amaze me.

My first impression of Cambodia was that it's a lot dirtier and poorer than the other countries we've visited. There are many children on the street begging and they all come out at night selling various things such as copied Lonely Planets, flowers or handmade crafts. They are always begging for money, "lady you give me money for school?" It's heart breaking and makes me feel like such a greedy rich person because of the life I live compared to them. However, giving money encourages them to beg more and they often skip school to do so. Instead we have bought some individually packaged biscuits and snacks to hand out. Cambodia is a really hard sight to take in, because it is obviously much more devastated and poor. However, in saying that, it is also much more pure and less tourist dominated.


11th March 2007

Wow, Heather, that is a really great description of Cambodia. What an incredible way to learn more about these different countries, people, and what you are capable of. Keep writing, I love reading your perspective on travelling. xoxo Steph

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