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Cambodia

When you go to a country, do you ever have expectations, and then the country far exceeds them? I generally try not to have any expectations for any aspect of my life, which is something I’ve found to be very helpful, even day-to-day.

No expectations means you’re never disappointed and usually pleasantly surprised! It’s not a bad way to live if you ask me! So, back to Cambodia…

Not knowing much about it, I had no idea what to expect, and I’m sad to admit that I wasn’t overly excited for it either. I’d never been to such an impoverished country, and I’d heard many stories of pickpocketing and sex-trafficking. You could see how my desire to go might be slim. Well, the story totally changed when I got there.

Our first location was Phnom Penh, where we learned some important parts of the history of Cambodia. We went to The Killing Fields, as well as The Genocide Museum (S21). Both places were equally graphic and horrifying, at least in my opinion. Learning about their recent and horrifying history gave me so much more respect for the country and its people. If you choose to go to these places, I’d recommend hiring a driver for the day. It made transportation extremely easy. We had some time to kill before our bus to Siem Reap, and our driver was nice enough to drive us around the city a little bit before dropping us off at the bus station. After a long two days of traveling, we arrived in Siem Reap that night, and gave ourselves the next morning to sleep in.

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After a late start to the day, we walked around the city, and grabbed some lunch before heading to a floating village. The trip to the floating village was a half-day excursion and definitely one I’ll never forget. The adventure started on the way there, with a herd of cows blocking a very narrow dirt road surrounded by water. This was one of those “What am I getting myself into?” moments, but that feeling quickly dissolved once we got there. The tour started on a boat, where we were just floating through the village. Many locals were sitting out on their steps, watching the tourists float by with their nice phones and cameras, taking pictures. I almost felt like I was intruding, but learned a little later that the community survives off of tourism, because the small fee of the excursion goes to them.

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For the next part of the tour, we actually got off of the boat and walked through the village a little bit. We stopped at the temple, where it started pouring down rain. Some local boys were playing soccer outside the temple, just embracing life. There’s a school in the village that teaches English for free, so we got to talk to some of the students as well. For future knowledge, if you choose to go, you’ll see women walking around selling pencils and notebooks. They claim that the money goes toward the school, but our tour guide informed us that the women sell these items for their own personal gain. The tour ended by watching the sunset on the nearby lake, Tonle Sap.

Having the opportunity to walk through this village and see how differently their lifestyle is from mine, had me thinking. They live so simply and happily, both things that America seems to be in the absence of, most times. We don’t live simply, and we’re not happy. I wish that I alone could fix this problem, but that’s impossible. However, I’m happy to have had the eye-opening experience of visiting this community, because I realized just how much I take even the simple things for granted, sometimes.

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We ended the night at a local market. The sellers here were much more aggressive than any in Thailand. They’ll yell and follow you around the market. It wasn’t a great experience. The next day, we went to Angkor Wat, which was cool, but truly nothing could have topped the floating village, so I was a bit underwhelmed.  

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Cambodia, in all it’s glory, was so eye-opening and life-changing to me, and probably one of my favorite places I’ve ever been. When we were leaving the killing fields, I saw a little girl washing dishes in a puddle of mud in the parking lot. That was the moment I realized just how impoverished this country was. 

The number one reason I love traveling is to see and learn about different cultures. There’s an entire world out there full of people and knowledge, just waiting for you to visit. If you ever get the opportunity, I’d highly highly recommend visiting Cambodia. You can learn so much from seeing someone else’s way of life. I encourage you to not only do this when traveling, but even in your everyday life. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Be vulnerable, and willing to learn. Ask questions. Be open-minded. We need it now, more than ever. There’s so much judgement, unhappiness, and one-sidedness, especially in The United States. That’s the end of my political rant, but seriously: treat people with all the love and kindness and understanding you possibly can, no matter race, religion, ethnicity, anything. People are people. 

All the love,

Stephanie

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