Besides the Portrait of Cambodia that I’m writing, I promised before a post about things to do as a tourist in Cambodia. I’ve spent more than two weeks working full-time on it, but hopefully it will be worth. About my opinions of tourist places you can be sure I’m not going to tell you that something is awesome if I think it’s a fucking shit. I really hate those websites that say how impressive and wonderful is a touristy place just because everybody says that. When anybody talks exaggeratedly about how amazing is anything we use to nod and confirm what was said. So even when we think that it’s not so special, we’ll enhance those virtues up to the point of convince ourselves that what in other moment we thought it was silly it’s indeed amazing and we must recommend it to everybody.
And following this line of thoughts I repeat what I’ve already said once about the tourism: we don’t live our own experiences, but a commercialized copy of other people’s experiences.
Warning: No, it’s not a short post, it’s a tourist guide about Cambodia adorned with my Navarradas, that is with my own feelings and experiences. The main objective is not only that you read it (maybe in several days) to know more about what I’ve done here, but you also keep it as a reference and share it with your contacts and in the social networks. So with your permission I’ll elaborate on it
In order to make it easier for reading I let you here an interactive index/summary. Continue reading
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 ).
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
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
Not against expats
Just in case my previous text sounds a bit aggressive, I don’t hold anything against expats, in fact they are generally a good source of knowledge and help, a comfort of shared culture and good company I just believe they don’t tend to integrate into the local culture but to expect/force the locals to adapt to the western culture because it’s “better”. This kind of subculture has pros and cons: it can attract the worst of the local society and also create ghettos or it can mean a very positive influence in traditional societies not open to the rest of the world, its freedom and its opportunities.
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 ). 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
I’ll write later about how to survive with almost no money. Now it’s time to talk about my loved Cambodia.
While hitchhiking in Thailand is really easy despite the communication problems, but hitchhiking in Laos is not that simple. In Thailand seeing a farang at the shoulder is weird and many people stop for curiosity or trying to help because they think you’re in trouble (so sweet! ). In Laos a farang at the shoulder is not weird, it’s very weird and most of the people will either look at you with curiosity not knowing what to do and not stopping because they don’t speak English or look at you like a dollar with legs from whom they can get some profit; the last ones use to speak a bit of English. Indeed many of the drivers who stop ask for money and not, it’s not for sharing costs, it’s even more than the bus whether one would have taken it from origin to destination.
Of course there are a lot of people who are not like that (more in the South than in the North) and thanks to them I could travel hitchhiking around Laos:
Short, very short was my time in Si Phan Don (literally 4000 islands) named after the numerous islands in that part of the Mekhong, the last one belonging to Laos. Just a couple of weeks ago I was looking forward to leaving the country and now, despite a bad experience in the first island we slept, I feel sorry for not staying more time here enjoying the relax.
Although we left Thakhekhitchhiking, the last kilometers we had to take a local bus since it was already dark and we preferred to reach Pakse that day. There we’d perform a similar motorbike loop to the one in Thakhek but only for 2 days and, in my opinion, more interesting. The Pakse loop goes around the Bolaven Plateau, a plateau formed millions of years ago after the eruption of an ancient volcano. This region is famous for its waterfalls and for its coffee (mainly Arabica and Robusta, planted during the French colonial times) which is worldwide exported and it’s an important income for Laotian families. It was mid January and the coffee plants had flowers so driving through the fields we could smell its delicious aroma which reminded me to the sweet jasmine at first. Besides the good moments with my friends in Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang, this would be with no doubts the best part of my trip around Laos.
Three long journeys under rain and cold from Nong Khiaw but finally Belén and I arrived to Thakhek, the first big town in the South of Laos. The town itself was not very interesting, just a town at the Mekhong riverside, but in the surroundings there were several caves to visit and beautiful karst landscape. Once we properly rested in a hostel at the town’s outskirts we rented a motorbike to do part of a recommended 3-days-loop. Continue reading