Portrait of Cambodia: Introduction

Portrait of Cambodia

And it’s finally time to write about Cambodia. My Cambodia. And it’s just that this country doesn’t leave me indifferent. It’s not for nothing, I’ve already been more than 6 months here, although my travel drive is now kicking me in the ass.

So far I’ve been talking about every town I was visiting trying to write posts not very long, but that format is not possible anymore for Cambodia. Nevertheless I think some of you will like the new format since you’ll get a better insight into the country and into my day a day while traveling. I hope. At least until I am able to update the blog (yeah, I’ve been 10 months trying it stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes ).

Well, what I’ve decided is to write a series of post to create a Portrait of Cambodia.

My vision of Cambodia is not the vision of an occasional traveler and least of all the one of a tourist. Despite this, next post will not be part of the Portrait and will be for those who get only short holidays and just want to know what the fuck they can see in Cambodia; with all my love stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye

I’m not either to tell you what an expat would do: all the western stuff that is possible to do here with a Cambodian touch and “little” money. With all due respect to them, most of expats have only a superficial vision of how Cambodia is. They live their lives loaded with a very favorable exchange rate and/or with much higher salaries than Cambodian people (except those rolling in bribes: politicians, judges, attorneys, lawyers, policemen, doctors; and the list goes on and on). And most of them don’t bother either to learn the language, just a few words they hear repeated). Hopefully I’m wrong about that and I’ll receive tens of comments of pissed off expats grin

 

What I’m going to describe in this series is the real Cambodia, the one its population lives, suffers and enjoys everyday. You’re maybe wondering what gives me the right to say that this is the real Cambodia; after all, despite my words, any expat has been here much more time and knows much more about the country than me. Well, there are a lot of realities; mi reality is the one of those who have nothing, perhaps subjectivized by my own existence. In this series I’m not going to tell you about places (at least that’s not the main aim), I’m going to tell you about people, about feelings, about souls. I want you to see Cambodia as I see it. I want you to see Cambodia from the eyes of those who have not any other choice but survive here and from the eyes of those who try to get the country off the ground with their small acts. I’ll tell you about what I read in the eyes of the people, in their face, in their hands, in their skin, in their wrinkles. If I’ve learned anything in Cambodia it’s to read, to understand, to pity, to not judge and to love what would be easy to reject and send away from us. I still have to work a lot in myself in those aspects but without any doubt Cambodia has left a mark on me and I’ll try to make you understand that mark.

If I’m able to transmit you all of that is because in Cambodia I’ve got what I couldn’t get in Laos and frustrated me. I’m totally integrated in the country, I can live and feel as they do. An important part of that achievement is due to Sothy, a young Cambodian girl who owns a small farm and produce the famous Kampot Pepper (one of the best in the world; I’ll write also about it on a post aside from the series). I was happily working 4 months at her farm in exchange of accommodation and food. She taught me a lot about Cambodian society, about the life here and about humans in general. The other part is due to my way of traveling, poor as a church mouse, what allows me to share a table with the most grim reality of the country.

Many people ask me what I’ve seen in Cambodia, why I’m staying here so long. Well, the ugly truth is that at the very beginning I stopped here because I didn’t have money anymore. I arrived to SE Asia more than 8 months ago with around 1000€. Due to a moderate consumption and to hitchhiking I could spend only 400€ per month in Thailand and Laos. However when arrived to Cambodia it was almost nothing left in my bank account so, knowing how easy is to extend the visa here, I decided to look for a place where I could stay without time limit until I could find the way to make money online while traveling. And that’s how I arrived, along with Belén, to Sothy’s Pepper Farm which I already knew about thanks to Hans and Håkon, two Norwegian guys whom I met in Ban Hoy Bo, a small village neighbor of Ban Na, north of Laos. So far I’ve not been able to make money but I’ve got something much more important/interesting: not to spend. Or at least spend almost nothing (although maybe they don’t know about this, Mélanie and Tristan, a French couple I met at Cade’s, my CouchSurfing host/friend in Phnom Penh, were a very important key for that, so thanks blush ). Unlike what you could think, I don’t care much about my accounting now, I just have a general idea of what I can spend and in the last 6 months in Cambodia I’ve spent less than half the money I was spending in 1 month in Thailand or Laos: on average I live with 1€ a day. And yes, I’ve also continued traveling smile

I’ll write later about how to survive with almost no money. Now it’s time to talk about my loved Cambodia.

Calm after the storm

It was 6 in the morning of the day I decided to leave Luang Prabang and I still didn’t know what to do. Anya and Liam left the day before back to their respective countries. Poor Elena was sick but I was looking forward to leave and Casey and the Finnish girls came the day before keeping her company. I had two options: head towards south and leave the country ASAP or continue further north to explore less touristy places, the villages in the north of Laos. What kind of traveler would I be if run away when I don’t like a country instead of exploring it more? Later in Cambodia I would find out that the problem is not the country or the people, the problem is that we always do what other people have already done because we’re afraid of getting really lost or something bad happens to us. So eventually we don’t live our own experiences but a commercialized copy of other people’s experience.

6:30AM, backpack ready, something to have breakfast on the way and 2 hours walking out of the city to hitchhike. Direction: North. Continue reading

KM 52, Hmong village

Small Hmong girl carrying her brother

On the road between Vientiane and Vang Vieng/Luang Prabang, 52km away from Vientiane is sited a village called precisely like that, Km 52 (in Lao, the official language of Laos, that’s pronounced like Lak haa-sip-song). That originals are people here, and it’s not the only village with that type of name. Laos is full of them.

Since I left Vientiane I set Ban Km 52 (Ban means village in Lao) as my next destination. Firstly because it was a village in the middle of nowhere and no tourists stop there; and secondly because in CouchSurfing, surprisingly, there were several guys offering couch. But I arrived only to find that there was a big festival and every guest-houses were full or really overpriced (that’s why I didn’t get either positive replies to my CouchSurfing Requests).

I was wandering around, looking for a guest-house where I could sleep without paying too much when I walked a second time by a house where around 40 people of the same family were eating. One of the young guys made me gestures to join them and they invited me to eat, to party with them and to sleep in their home grin And that’s how I spent Christmas Eve in 2014 santa

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Surviving with 1€ a day

Cheap food

And that was my situation my last day in Thailand, having only 50 bahts (1,25€).

I had already spent my last 500 bahts in Chiang Khan (a town in the Mekhong riverside, which is a holidays destination for Thai people so I couldn’t find anything cheaper than 300 bahts for sleeping) and having dinner with Tamara, the German CouchSurfer who was hosting me in Nong Khai.

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Being swept away

Phu Ruea

Sometimes nothing happens as one expects, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Attitude is important and one must know how to let oneself be swept away.

The travel drive kicked me off the western comfort of Pai and I was heading to Isaan, the Northeast region of Thailand, the most rural and less touristy. But exactly when I was starting to hitchhike I began to feel something wrong in my stomach. Around Pai there was a kind of virus and everybody was a whole day throwing up and with diarrhea. Damn it! It wouldn’t be very nice if I throw up and shit to the road from a pickup stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes But I could manage it well, and after a couple of vomits, nothing to eat in the whole day and sleep a lot I woke up next day fresh as a daisy muscle

After a couple of days hitchhiking towards Loei, in a village whose name I do not care to remember, the local postman insisted on I couldn’t get a lift there and, with all his kindness, drag me to the police station and convinced the policemen to take me to the previous (bigger) village to take a bus. And that’s how I hitchhiked a police car and had to buy a bus ticket to Phuruea (or Phurua or Phu Ruea, you’ll see it written in different ways).

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Sukhothai and Kamphaeng Phet

Wat Phra Kaeo in Kamphaeng Phet

And hitchhiking I reached Sukhothai, former capital of the kingdom with the same name which existed between XIII and XV centuries before being absorbed by Ayutthaya Kingdom. In this town is found the Historical Park of Sukhothai, a place where are sited the ruins of that kingdom (it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, like Ayutthaya one). It’s divided in several zones which cost 100 bahts each one (around 2,5€) for farangs (you’ll see that in Thailand everything has officially a local price, normally free, and a farang price, around 5-10 times more expensive). It’s possible to rent a bike by 30 bahts in the places surrounding (+10 bahts to get the bike into the place). 1 or 2 hours is more than enough to go around the central zone with the bike. Rest of zones are similar and I think they’re not worthy (although I didn’t get into).

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