After I graduated, I wanted to reward myself with a backpacking trip to South East Asia. I read a lot of books and ended up picking Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia as my destination. I packed my bags and left home at the end of November, flying to Hanoi. I told my friends and family I will be back on 10th of February 2015. But December 2014 was my first time in Cambodia and I fell in love with the kind people living there, their culture and modest lifestyles.
I can't remember the last time I drank and ate so much. The first day we started eating in the morning and I went to sleep in the late afternoon because I was so full. A traditional Cambodian meal is served on the ground, without tables and chairs. We just sat down in a circle and the ladies brought the food and drinks and put it in the middle. Next to the village is a river so most of the meals were made of fish and vegetables. Amok, curry and grilled fish. It was simple yet delicious. The meals were prepared by old ladies in the village. I really wanted to help them with the preparations, but every time I wanted to help I ended up with a new drink in my hand!
It was interesting that I was the only woman among all the men sitting in the circle. All the other ladies were watching from far away, eating their own food. When the plates were empty, the food just kept on coming. And the tradition there is that no one leaves the party before the guests. So when we left, everyone left. Even if some of the locals was tired or had to work in the morning they sat with us a long time. All they wanted was to make us happy. We spent the first day getting to know each other. I was very nervous at first, but they made me feel very welcome in their company. And after being away from my family for such a long time, this felt like home away from home. Next day we borrowed some motorbikes (the uncles and cousins each had one, so there was plenty of choice!) and cruised around the nearby towns, fisherman villages and markets. How do you ride a motorbike in Cambodia? With at least 3 people on it! At the market, I felt like a celebrity. Everyone was looking at me, smiling at me and wanted to meet me. Few people also asked to take a picture. We bought some fresh fruit and drove up the dusty road over the rice fields to watch the sun set. Later for dinner we stopped by the river and caught some fish. We put them on wooden sticks and grilled them over the open fire.
On the last night, we were sitting on the ground in the backyard and one older man brought a chicken. At first I had no idea what was going on. We were playing and petting it for the whole day. But then people told me that the chicken was our dinner. It was just bizarre. But the curry a couple of hours later was amazing. It felt so wrong, but I made a pact with myself that I will try local foods while traveling and this was one of those moments where I had to put my mind over what my brain was telling me is the right thing to do. But turning down the special meal they made for me was no option because it would be disrespectful to do so. One thing all the locals found very funny was how I am not able to eat spicy food. Every time my eyes started tearing up they were laughing at me. I cannot eat spicy food and the amount of chili they put everywhere was just hard for me to handle. When I was thirsty a young boy started climbing at 20 meters high tree with a knife in his hands and 30 seconds later I was already drinking a fresh coconut. The palm tree was so high and it had no branches to hold on to. And this kid just climbed to the top of it without thinking about how dangerous this could be. I was just looking at him with my eyes and mouth wide opened, and he didn't even realize how generous and kind this was of him.
Local shop at a Cambodian village.
People in the village live so modestly. They don't have much. But still, they wanted to give me everything they have! And they are happy with their lives. The smiles on their faces brightened up every day when I was in their company. It was hard to say goodbye. Even though they don't speak any English and I didn't understand a single thing they said to me, they taught me a lot. I learned that material things are not as important as we might think. There are a lot of 'things' which can make us much happier than that. Cambodians are the nicest people I met while traveling so far and I am looking forward to the day when I can go back to my home away from home. Header Picture by Wikirictor
Have YOU ever thought of visiting Cambodia? Share your comments below!