We caught a public bus to Vietnam border and as the bus travelled toward the border I reflected back on my time spent here both as a volunteer and as a traveller on the Intrepid group tour. This country and it’s people will always have a special place in my heart and I am sorry to say goodbye.
How is it possible that a country with such a recent history of a gruesome war can get on with life with such apparent ease and be so welcoming to people from foreign places? The people here were so incredibly friendly and helpful and we encountered minimum hassle throughout our travels here.
One common thread I found interwoven in all my interactions was that many of the people here had incredible aspirations and were not afraid to dream. From the kids I taught at the orphanage who dreamt of a better life through education, to the guy who served us breakfast in Siem Riep with dreams of being a German tour guide to Dino our tour guide with his own dreams of breaking through the fashion world…they inspired me all …every one of them.
I feel one of the worst crimes committed by Pol Pot through the actions of himself and his followers is that he deprived millions of people in this nation a chance at realising their destiny. Just about every person you meet here has a story of someone they know who went missing or was killed during the Khmer Rouge years. The nation is recovering but it will take a long time to reach the levels of prosperity that its neighbouring countries such as Thailand or Vietnam have reached.
I was equally inspired by the many westerners I met on my travels who have given up their comfortable lives in the west to work as volunteers or in NGOs, so they could make the lives of Cambodians a little better. From teaching English, to water filtration, to HIV infected patients and rescuing women from trafficking, the work done reaches every corner of this society. We wondered what would happen to this country if the NGOs packed up and went home.
One such person I met briefly is Veronica. She and her husband moved here from Australia with their four children because she wanted her kids to grow up experiencing real life. They now live in a rural part of Cambodia working with the village women to give them a chance at a better future. The women weave baskets and bags which are sold in Australia to generate an income. Read about her work by following this link:
Many travellers feel the government could be doing a lot more to improve the quality of life here. Life in a Cambodian village is quite basic with no running water or electricity or any of the luxuries we take for granted. Yet, they just get along with life enjoying other qualities that perhaps many people in the west wish they had. Quality time spent interacting with their kids and each other, time spent doing nothing as they laze in hammocks in the middle of the day, minimum time spent commuting to work…..it almost seems idyllic. The general impression of most travellers was that the Cambodian people seemed to be happy. Certainly happier than the average westerner you encountered on the street at home. They have put the years of conflict behind them and are looking forward to a better future with wonderful smiles on their faces.
Cambodia is a country that I could quite happily live in for awhile. There are enough places to escape to and get a western fix, occasionally essential when immersed in an Asian culture. There is also a great expat community to tap into if you wanted to find friends from home. I come away from this experience having made real connections with a number of people, who I hope will stay friends for life. We have already made plans to catch up in London, Sydney and Canada…and perhaps Cambodia if I come back. I will miss these wonderful people who made a difference in my life by sharing their stories. I will miss the cocktails, the food and most of all the wonderful generosity and friendliness of the Cambodian people who opened up their lives to me.
As I say goodbye Cambodia and look forward to my journey through Vietnam I hope this country is able to keep moving forward and its people realise their dreams.