My First Trip To Cambodia

My first trip to Cambodia was in 2008. I was thinking where I should go in winter that year and I decided that Southeast Asia would be the best as it wouldn’t be too hot. Angkor Wat appealed to me so I decided to go there. Little did I know that 11 years after that, I’d be back in that country and while I was there this time, I decided to start a blog which is this one that you are reading and started an initiative – online language tutoring and established a ‘scholarship’ using the money I earn from the online tutorials to sponsor students who are struggling financially. It started not long ago so I still do not have enough funds for myself nor in the scholarship yet. But anyway, this is something that I still aspire to continue.

Surprisingly, the prices in Cambodia over the past 11 years haven’t changed much. Still, with USD1, you can buy quite a lot of things. So, you can imagine, with USD100, what sorts of things you can buy. I asked my students to do a presentation on this topic to teach them the value of money. You can find the blog here.

Back in 2008, I was only interested in Angkor Wat so that was where I went. Of course, I went somewhere else around Siem Reap too. That’s why when I went to Siem Reap again in 2019 during my holidays, I visited some other places and basically, I spent my time relaxing and eating there. You can find those posts here, and here. 😛

Anyway, there I went to Siem Reap.

A little drama happened though. I was carrying a backpack which was a bit large for a carry-on luggage so it flew separately to Siem Reap. When I say, separate, I really mean it.

I was waiting at the luggage carousel at the Siem Reap airport after I arrived. I waited there for a long time until all the luggage arrived but I still didn’t see mine so I checked with the lost and found staff at the airport. Here’s what she said, ‘there were just too many bags for the plane so the crew decided to leave some at the airport where you took off and transport them to Siem Reap airport with another plane the next day.’ The way she said it was like, ‘it’s very common. Don’t be shocked. We handle this every day.’ Jaw dropped. Eyes wide opened. That was my response, not hers, of course. I asked, ‘when will my backpack arrive?’ she answered, ‘tomorrow.’ ‘So, I need to come back to the airport tomorrow?’ ‘Yes’ was the answer. Apparently, they wouldn’t deliver your luggage to your hotel. I should have just brought a smaller bag but that backpack was the only one I had back then. This kind of ‘customer service’ (without giving you prior notice and consent to handle your belongings) remained in 2019.

It was late evening / night when I arrived. I took a taxi to the hotel I booked. The hotel cost less than USD30 per night and the room was very decent. While I was waiting for the taxi, I talked to some tourists. I told them about the price of my room. One of them didn’t seem to believe me. As I always emphasize, don’t use the European standard to measure the local standard.

I hopped into the taxi and talked to the driver. I saw a piece of paper showing the price of hiring a taxi driver for the whole day. I asked him about the details and instantly I said I’d hire him. I needed to travel back and forth between the airport and the city centre and then around Angkor Wat. I had a job back then so I could afford all that. When I was in Siem Reap again in 2019, it was a totally different story. I stayed in a hotel for a couple of nights (much cheaper than the one I stayed at in 2008) and then switched to a hostel and of course, I walked most of the time. In 2019, I visited the restaurant that I went to in 2008 and found that I was so willing to pay for pricy food. The spending behaviour when you have a job and when you are a volunteer is so different.

I asked the taxi driver about the night life in Siem Reap. He didn’t just drive me to the pub street and had dinner with me there, he also took me to a club. I couldn’t find it in 2019. I believe it’s because it’s on the outskirt of Siem Reap.

I didn’t know what to order at the restaurant in the pub street, so I asked for the driver’s recommendations – Amok. It’s meat (one of these: fish / beef / chicken / pork) in coconut milk. And he also recommended Angkor beer which tasted like… any other beer to me. In 2019, the priests told me the beer was called Angkor beer because the beer company wanted to create a positive image of their brand. There had been drinking problem in Cambodia so beer was considered as something ‘evil’. In fact, in 2019, when a Cambodian guy from an NGO saw me drinking beer, he grimaced. Angkor was a sacred place in the country so the company took the name Angkor and put it in their brand name.

Humans never blame themselves for things they do. They always have other excuses and blame others. Beer is not ‘evil’. Addiction is.

|Related post: check out other authentic local Cambodian food here

The club the driver took me to was a trendy one. He confirmed there had been no fighting there so far (well, drinking led to fighting. Hence, it was ‘evil’). It was huge and it had that kind of ‘casino’ style. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside. When I googled it just now, it has karaoke rooms too.

They had a live band singing Cambodian and English songs. I recognised one of the songs they sang – Hotel California. 😀 After the live band finished, the DJ played some English songs. I saw some gay guys on the dance floor. The driver later told me there were actually many gay guys in Cambodia. I didn’t really expect that.  And I didn’t expect that I would be ‘molested’ by a girl there too.   :_(   She put her hands on my waist and asked me to dance with her… Lucky that I didn’t put anything around my waist if you see what I mean. When I went to Cambodia in 2019, I didn’t recall anyone doing this to me including my students. They would just hug me and put their arms around my waist but not like what that girl did to me. I doubt it was a friendly gesture.

So that night, I went back to the hotel, forgetting about the problem with my backpack which should be on the way to Cambodia, and went to sleep with a tummy full of Cambodian food and Angkor beer. Satisfied. 🙂   As the driver said, ‘Don’t worry, chicken curry.’ 😀

Floating village. Another tourist spot. Visitors needed to pay for a boat which would take you around the village and the floating market (and some other areas). When I walked towards the pier, someone took a snapshot of me and when I left the place, they tried to sell me a plate printed with my face. I didn’t like this idea. I wondered what they would do with all the unsold plates.

People living in the Floating Village looked just like the fishermen I could see in any other parts in Asia, actually. I wonder why it became an attraction.

According to the driver, the Cambodian government didn’t want to give land to the Vietnamese so they had to live on this river. The houses built on the land close to Floating Village were all occupied by Cambodians.

Floating school. This little girl was showing me her textbook. It’s all in Vietnamese. She even taught me how to say some words in Vietnamese.

As mentioned before, all the residents in Floating Village were Vietnamese, so the school was only for Vietnamese and they only taught subjects in Vietnamese. Even when I talked to the teacher there in English, he couldn’t understand me. I felt quite sad for them. On the one hand, it’s good that they could learn their own culture and language even when they were far away from their home. On the other hand and practically speaking, they lived in Cambodia where Khmer (Cambodian) is the official language but they didn’t learn it or they were not given a chance to learn it.  How could they blend into the society?  They were isolated.

The river was like a prison.

When I was in Cambodia in 2019, I then learnt that some Cambodians didn’t like Vietnamese. I met a few youths who were born in Cambodia but their parents are Vietnamese. They told me they were bullied in schools.

Not only that, the guy from the NGO who dislikes people drinking beer said Vietnamese controlled their country. When I asked him how, he said, ‘Vietnamese have so many businesses in Cambodia. Even the internet and the Wifi that you are using belong to a Vietnamese company.’ Interestingly, he didn’t mention the Japanese (e.g. big shopping malls targeting the middle class), Chinese (e.g. real estate and other projects), Singaporean (e.g. real estate projects) and Malaysian (e.g. internet service and casino) who also have many businesses in Cambodia, just to name a few. He also didn’t mention the number of jobs that these foreign companies have created in his own country.

Discrimination exists everywhere, unfortunately.

According to some researches, babies are born without discrimination.

We are all born without it.

So, what changes us as we grow up?

The driver drove me back to the airport to pick up my backpack which was fortunately intact. The lost and found staff told me sometimes the luggage could be erroneously sent to Sydney in Australia when it was supposed to be flown to Cambodia. Anyway, I was glad to see it again, my good old friend. 🙂 I asked the driver where I could go. He suggested Cambodian Cultural Village which was kind of close to the airport. So, here we were.

This monk made tremendous contributions to preserving the Khmer (Cambodian) language. The Cambodian language was dying at one stage. He didn’t want to see it happen so he started to work on a Khmer dictionary. That’s how the language got preserved and it is now the official language in Khmer (Cambodia).

|Related post: Have a glimpse of the Khmer language here.

When I was in Cambodia in 2019, I learnt that a French priest also made numerous contributions to Cambodia. He translated a lot of literature into Khmer and vice versa, he built reservoirs all over the country, he introduced advanced technology to the villages like the one I served. The sewing machines, the dentist chair and tools are still in the centre in the village I first served in. The Cambodian government respects him a lot because of his contributions. Unfortunately, he’s getting old and gradually losing his memory and he’s sick too. In fact, many people have contributed to the country over the past decades after Khmer Rouge. It’s time for Cambodians to contribute back to the world.

Grand theatre. This one is very similar to the one built in a school close to Coco de Takeo. One thing that annoyed me was there were way too many performances in this Cultural Village and they were all very repetitive.

At this Cultural Village, I learnt about the meaning of the place Siem Reap. There was once a battle between Thailand and Cambodia. Cambodia won so they called the place Siem Reap. Siem means Thailand and Reap means defeat, so Siem Reap means defeated Thailand.

So, do you eat here or poo here? And what is that bowl for? 😛

Tomorrow, I’d start my first day in Angkor Wat. Stay tuned. 🙂

8 – 9 December 2008

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