Stuck in Cambodia

Current Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

After spending a few days in Battenbong trying to get a glimpse of rural Cambodia I find myself in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.  Rolling into town on a bus I was caught off guard at how different this place is from Siem Reap and Battenbong.  It could almost be mistaken for Bangkok or a moderately sized asian city.  This mistaken idea comes from the idea that all the other towns I passed through and visited don’t even come close to the modern feel this place has.  I find myself staying the backpacker district which makes life pretty simple, $4usd gets me my own room with a bathroom attached which is quite a luxury from the dorm I was staying in Bangkok.

Battenbong is the second largest city in Cambodia yet it doesn’t get touristy like the rest of Cambodia due to the fact that there is not a whole lot there to see.  I found myself renting a tuktuk for a day to just take me around the country side to see what is out there, probably the most common thing to do in Battenbong.  It was a neat day riding around, quite charming to have kids run to the road to wave and shout hello at the passing tourist.  That was certainly the highlight of the days ride along with seeing yet more temples and completely random things like fruit bats, absolutely massive, and a jars full of snakes.

It’s strange to say that I’m staying in the backpacker quarter of the city, just seeing it seems quite contrary to the idea of backpacking, it almost takes out all of the challenge.  Though I must say that the benefit of staying in a place like that is the ability to meet other backpackers quite easily since we are all grouped together.  It’s certainly one of the joys to be able to meet so many different people, it’s sort of like college again except without the homework.

I spent the last few days running around with the folks I met at the guesthouse, first to an orphanage that an Aussie girl was teaching at for the last month.  The kids are absolutely adorable and really appreciate being taught.  It was fun just chilling out playing with toys with the kids for an hour.  After that I tagged along with a Kiwi who is playing at being a photojournalist.  He was headed to the municipal dump to see if he could visit with a community that lives on the fringes there.  We all spent a few hours wandering around meeting the people.  Not much was said that either could understand but the kids laughed a lot and the parents smiled.  It’s a fairly voyeuristic concept to do something like that but I guess that comes with being a traveler.  Derek admonished me last year for not taking more photos of people and that’s a concept I’m still not fully comfortable with.  It’s the idea that treating these people as if they were part of a human zoo is quite demeaning to them.  I try anyway, treating them as people instead of the background is what I try to focus on.

I’ll not get self-righteous and say that what we have as Americans is shameful compared to what some of the Cambodians live in.  But I will say that it certainly gives you a new perspective with which to look at life and what is important to have.  The kids living in there are quick to smile and laugh with us, an infectious behavior for all those involved.  I can’t say I know how the parents feel about living there, it would be quite presumptuous of me to say that they would want to be elsewhere, for all I know they could be quite content.  For a people who have been downtrodden on as much as the Cambodians they are surprisingly good matured.  They probably have every right to hate the falang but they treat travelers quite well.

I can see why some travelers have a hard time leaving Cambodia, it’s got a lot of charms without the chaos of Thailand and from what I hear Viet Nam can also be a challenge.  I delayed in getting my visa for Viet Nam by a few days and that has almost set me back a week due to a holiday and the weekend sneaking up on me, but I honestly can’t complain.  Phnom Penh is a nice place to get stuck.

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