My husband and I had the distinct privilege of visiting Cambodia in May. I went to this country with one expectation, but came home with something entirely different! In all my travels, I have never met a more beautiful people in a country steeped in a history of war, sorrow and loss. Cambodia has an unimaginable and horrific past. Where 3.4 million people were murdered (only 40 years ago) because they could read, write and had an education. Murdered in such a terrible and hideous way, you can not believe your eyes and ears. But yet, the Khmer people carry on with love, purity and kindness. They are open, friendly, beautiful and sincere. They are grateful for everything they have. They do not concern themselves with what they do not have. They are peace loving and honest, and very curious about those of us from other lands. I carry the experience we had in this raw and beautiful country with me every day. I try to share this experience with everyone I know, even those I don't. So now, I will attempt to share some of this experience with you. In hopes that you will sincerely consider going to this beautiful country.
Before you consider a visit to Cambodia, you must understand a few things. The first is, you MUST go with an open heart and an open mind. If you do not, you will not enjoy the experience nor will your life change as mine has. My life is infinitely better because I made this trip. I have a completely different view of the world. I more able to differentiate between those things that matter and those that do not. I am more in-touch with my soul and purpose.
Starting from the beginning; you must consider how long it will take you to get there and what to expect when you arrive. We left from JFK, it took 2 flights to get to Cambodia with over 20 hours of travel time. The first flight was 15 hours to Shanghai, where we spent some time, the next flight was 5 hours to Phnom Penh the country's capital. You will also need to consider the 11-12 hour time difference. This was one of the biggest hurdles we had to overcome. Day is night and night is day. This is not a trip you will want to make in a week. You will want to designate at least 14 days to fully enjoy the country and the culture. Because of the time difference, you will lose at least 1 day. Then you will need time to acclimate, took us a minimum of 2 days to feel "normal" with the ability to sleep through the night. The first couple of days you will want to take it easy and not plan too many activities so that you can allow yourself, and your body, time to get on a regular schedule.
About 60-90 days prior to departure I would recommend you go to a Travel Clinic at your local hospital to discuss what vaccinations and medicines you may need while in Cambodia. There are illnesses and diseases in Cambodia that you will not want to risk getting while you are there or when you return home. We did this, and were very happy we did. In addition, prepare for the heat!!!!! This is no joke! It is HOT, nothing like I have ever experienced. It is HOT with 97% humidity! The heat is overwhelming, oppressive and exhausting. You must go with a deep respect and understanding of how hot you will be. Being prepared is half the battle. Cambodia has 2 seasons-hot and VERY HOT! The difference between the wet season and dry season. Also, you can NOT and should NOT drink the water! Bottled water is available everywhere, and easily found.
In Cambodia they use American money....all the time, every where!! And everything is ridiculously inexpensive. A draft beer is .50c-$1.00. When shopping they expect you to negotiate the price. They will be insulted if you don't. You will notice that the prices are very low and you will feel bad trying to get an even lesser price. But trust me, they want you to negotiate. American money goes a very long way. They also speak English incredibly well. You will have little to no language barrier. Tips are included in most of the bills you get at restaurants and pubs, however, the tips do not always go to the service staff. It will, more than likely, go to the owner. You can tip, and I encourage you to, directly to the service staff. They will be incredibly grateful and thankful.
Next I want to explain about the culture and what you will see. When you first arrive, you will be shocked by what you see. Cambodia is about 100 years behind the USA in advancements. (this was explained to me directly from our Cambodian tour guide) You will be overwhelmed by the sites, sounds, smells and their mode of transportation. You will be surprised by how they live and the conditions in which they live. You must keep in mind, they do not know any different way of life, this is their normal. Yes, they eat crickets, tarantulas, embryo duck eggs and many other odd things. (we did not partake) At first you will feel bad for them. You will pity them. You will want to save them. In the end, you will respect them, celebrate them, love them and rejoice with them. Within a few days you will get use to seeing all of this and will hardly notice. I never, at anytime, felt unsafe! This is important, because most people believe that you are putting yourself in certain danger. Nothing could be further from the truth. For clarification and full disclosure, we were traveling in 5-star hotels and a luxury river cruise, and were guided by an incredible team of tour directors.
The sites throughout the country are absolutely mind-blowing. Ancient cultures and cities followed by sadness of war sites known as 'The Killing Fields". You will see ancient monasteries, ruins that are over 1000 years old, you will have the chance to be blessed by a Buddhist monk and learn about the young boys who join a monastery at 9 years old and about the nuns who serve the monks. You will meet beautiful children in blue and white uniforms traveling to and from school on their mopeds and bicycles. You will meet children selling trinkets at tourist sites and on the streets. You will visit river cities, actual towns on the river. Their only means of transportation is a boat. While visiting the river cities, you will see fresh water alligator farms, churches, stores and a whole entire community that lives on the water.
I absolutely fell in-love with the people. They are beautiful, warm, kind, funny, curious and genuine. This is eventually what I came home with. A respect for a culture and its people beyond all measure. A deep understanding and respect of the human spirit and its ability to survive and grow despite such, perceived, disadvantages. I would love to discuss this further with you and see if this is a destination that is a fit for you. Travel changes the way you see the world! Cambodia will definitely change you and your perspective on life.