I lived and worked in Asia for 4 years and visited Cambodia twice. Out of all the countries I visited in Asia, Cambodia was the most instrumental in changing the way I think about my life, travel, and the world. Here’s what I learned:
1. There is so much more history than in the books we are given.
As Americans, the history we learn is largely in the range of early European to current American. Beyond briefly mentioning the slave trade, the early explorers getting lost and landing too far south, and WW2; I learned nothing about the unique histories of Africa, South America, and Asia. Things I learned about Cambodia, about their recent history, about things that aren’t ancient history made me angry. I was angry and embarrassed that big things had happened and I had no idea.
Cambodian food is really, really good! Once I tried Amok, it was difficult for me to order anything else in restaurants because I loved it so much. The food is so fresh and you can usually trust that Asian food will be free of all those pesky preservatives and chemicals we have in our food in the US.
Cambodia has a few great and accessible national parks. If nature is what you crave, you’re sure to be satisfied!
4. Ancient Culture
The Angkor Temples are probably my favorite place on the planet. I’ve been twice and I would go again in a heartbeat. The age, the size, the trees growing through the walls… they’re beautiful, historical, feats of engineering. Being able to see a sunrise at one of the world’s oldest still functioning religious complexes is life changing.
5. The beach
While beaches in Cambodia aren’t the most beautiful Asia, they’re still pretty great. Being able to take in culture, history, and a little beach time all in the same country is definitely worth consideration.
6. Your view on poverty will be shreddedThings I saw and people I encountered made me really rethink what it means to be poor. On the bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap I saw loads of small shanty-style houses and small buildings that looked like they were about to fall down. I also saw small farms and lots of free range livestock. What I saw were self-sustaining communities. The “oh these poor people” thought flashed through my mind, and then I realized that there is nothing “poor” about living a peaceful, non-materialistic lifestyle. I’m sure they want for things, but because they have so little, they learn to make do with what they have and build a sense of community instead a material stockpile. In the relatively small downtown area of Siem Reap, there was this real sense of community. Everyone seemed to know and like each other. The guys who rode around the city with their tuk-tuks didn’t fight for attention like cab drivers in the West.