Lately I’ve been receiving more requests for information about Cambodia than expected, so I decided to do a post on why I loved Cambodia, and what I’d recommend based off my experiences with Language Corps.
Here’s how to do Cambodia, Chloe Does China style.
1. Learn a few words of Khmer
Don’t overwhelm yourself, but learning a few words of Khmer will make your experience all the more unbelievable because it will open you up to more than just the offerings on the English side of Cambodia. When we learn a few words, like “Thank you,” “How Much?”, “Hello,” “Goodbye!” and “Coffee with milk please”, we make ourselves vulnerable, and being exposed is something that every person, no matter what language, no matter what experiences, no matter what country… It’s something that every person can relate to at some point of their life. When I was in Cambodia, every time I tried to use the few phrases of Khmer I did know, I made a connection that I wouldn’t have made had I not attempted. Those connections took the forms of smiles, laughs, confused looks, and sometimes English responses because they felt so bad for my pathetic and desperate attempt at Khmer, that they wanted to save me or teach me from embarrassing myself further.
Allow yourself to lose some of your defences when exploring a new place.
2. Be Safe
Cambodia is a beautiful, and wonderful place as long as you are able to remember to be safe at all times. It’s easy to get lost in how friendly the people are, and how safe the city feels at times, but it is very very important to keep your head or you could end up very hurt or worse. Cambodia is the land of freedom for foreigners because you can literally get away with anything as long as you paid your $20’s for the Visa, but because of that ability to do ANYTHING, you have to be careful with what you pick. Some people go, and they pick hard drugs because they are readily available in every direction. Some people go, and they pick the booze because it’s cheap and that is the expat lifestyle sometimes. Some people go, and they decide to try and save Cambodia with some form of love. Some people go, and just teach the best they can. Go, but don’t forget that it’s a developing country. Your decisions will not only affect you, but they will also affect the people you interact with. Be smart. The hospitals are ridden with counterfeit drugs, so do not get so intoxicated that you fall out of a Tuk-Tuk and need to go to the hospital where they may or may not give you the wrong medicine, and they may or may not give you something that will be a fatal mistake. Be smart because you don’t want to hurt all the people who love you. If you get hurt, go to Bangkok to get treated. If you get in trouble with the police, knowing a few words of Khmer might help you to bribe your way out of the situation. Be smart enough to be safe. But at the same time…
3. Don’t be afraid to go off the map
Be safe, but don’t be so safe that you’re afraid to explore. I was never afraid to go out exploring by myself, because Cambodia is safe as long as you don’t put yourself in unsafe situations— aka getting so drunk that you can’t remember how to get back to your hotel, walking into a dark alley flashing off your fancy western jewellery. You know, the basics. Some of my best memories are from sitting down at a random food stand, and talking with the locals. My favorite spots were the places that I happened upon by chance, and it’s easy to find those tiny hidden beauties when we look.
Immerse yourself in what makes Cambodia, Cambodia,instead of what makes Cambodia western enough to be tolerated.
4. Be a tourist sometimes too.
Like I said, Cambodia is a developing country because of the hell they went through during the Khmer Rouge. Because of that, they are very dependent on foreign currency. Don’t take that for granted. Go be a tourist and understand Cambodia a little bit better by going to some of those places like the Killing Fields, or S-21, Angkor Wat, and the Grand Palace. Go learn something about Cambodia because their economy, their growth as an independent country, is partially dependent upon the support of tourism, and the survival of their culture is also dependent upon appreciating not only the astounding aspects of Cambodia, but also the pain and suffering that the country went through as well. We have to understand the bad in order to understand the good. History helps us accept and understand cultures as well as our selves because at the end of the day we are all human. The only thing that separates us from each other is experience and circumstance.. As a middle class, white girl from the United States, who has never had to worry about where her next meal is going to come from, I can’t pretend to know what it is like to have everything stripped from me through massive genocide, but I can look at the facts, and use those histories to help me understand why some Khmer people might not understand why saying “I hate blacks” or “I hate gay people” is not socially acceptable. The knowledge base in Cambodia is vastly different from that of the Western world. Instead of letting your Western knowledge control the way you see the Khmer people, learn more about their history before you judge the things they say and do. That is something that I try to apply to every person I meet.
Cambodia helped me to learn how to open my eyes, open my ears, open my heart, and learn how to love people for who they are, not who I want them to be.
5. Don’t be afraid of what you don’t understand
Try to understand it instead.
6. Just choose and do you.
I suck at recommendations for hotels, restaurants, and things to do, because I believe that no matter what you choose, you should just enjoy the crap out of it. Can’t go wrong! I didn’t go to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat because I knew I was too exhausted to enjoy it. I didn’t ride an elephant, because I knew that this wouldn’t be the only chance I’d ever get to ride an elephant, and I didn’t feel like spending the money. It’s wasn’t about what I did, it was about how much I enjoyed those things. Don’t exhaust yourself by doing all the things that you think you’re supposed to do, instead let life wash over you. I think sometimes we get overwhelmed with trying to do and see everything that we forget to love what we do do. Because everything is real, and every choice is the right decision if you decide it to be. I may not have seen the sunrise over Angkor Wat, but I was well rested enough to hike through the jungle and chase kids through the ruins of Being Melea temple. I may not have ridden an elephant, but I had an amazing dinner with a local Khmer Couchsurfer who taught me more about the differences between Western and Khmer culture than I would have ever learned from a text book. Do you, and you can’t go wrong. Being exhausted will only make it hard to enjoy the moments you do have, so calm down, and enjoy.
You don’t have to do it all at once. Just do what makes you happy and screw everyone else who thinks you aren’t living your dream. You’re already living it. Don’t overwhelm yourself with the things you haven’t done, instead love fully the things you’re doing.