BootsnAll Travel Network

heaven and hell

cambodia so far has been a study of contradictions… i’d already grown weary of the various travel scams (this applies to southeast asia in general, not just cambodia) and i’ve come to realize that when it comes to getting yourself to your next destination, it’s best to expect the worst. and sometimes, you must stretch your definition of “the worst” because every trip beats the last. there’s the hellish bus rides (two strangers to a twin bunk?!?), minivan adventures (14 people plus huge backpacks, crammed into 11 available seats, for a 9 hour ride!?!), and your garden-variety tuk tuk drivers ready to rip you off… it’s always something!

but no matter how bad it gets, i always try to remind myself to store away those happy memories of my travels to fortify me when it comes to dealing with the bad. so far cambodia has introduced me to some of the worst, and also opened my eyes to some of the best experiences.

after our 9 hour minivan ride from hell, we arrived in phnom penh around 10pm to stay overnight in a guest house that had “conveniently” been pre-selected for us upon arrival. i checked it out, but realized it was yet another scam and decided to check into the nicer guesthouse (at the same price) right next door instead. our bus to siam reap was to pick us up at 6am the following morning, and we all fell into bed exhausted from such a long day of travel.

the next day our guide took us out to a random street corner near the guesthouse and told us to wait there for the bus to pick us up. we were all skeptical (are you SURE they’re coming for us here? are you SURE they’ll have enough seats this time? are you SURE? are you SURE?!?) but decided that we’d wait and see what would happen. as we were just getting ready to go back to the guesthouse (the bus was now 45 minutes late), a group of schoolkids came up to us and started trying to hand us flowers.

i almost hate to admit it, but my automatic reflex was to avoid them. we’d had so many children begging for money in some of the places we’ve been that you realize at some point that you just can’t help them all, and it just breaks your heart. not to mention that most of the kids don’t even benefit from the money that they make, and the fact that giving them money encourages them to continue the same behavior, creating a cycle that really leads nowhere…

so when faced with these kids crowding around me, i started to turn away… then i looked again at their faces and realized that something was different. they were all laughing and smiling and trying to hand over a flower or two, and so i bent down and took one from the smallest boy in the group. after that, i was swarmed! they kept coming back with more and more flowers, even putting them in my hair. it was so adorable! i took out my camera to take a picture for them and they clamored around to try to catch a glimpse of themselves in the screen. as their bus arrived to take them to school, they all ran away blowing air kisses and waving from the bus window… i realized that i was too quick to judge this nation, these people, and the experiences i’d had so far.

they kept giving me flowers!

our bus also turned out to be wonderful so we were pleasantly suprised – cold air conditioning, more than enough seats reserved for our group, and stops at roadside markets (i ate a cricket!! well, just the head, but that counts right?). so i am doing my best to keep an open mind and to take it all in – the good (adorable little schoolkids), the bad (bus rides from hell), and the downright ugly (khmer rouge and the recent past of cambodian history).

cambodia is a nation still recovering from the bloody khmer rouge killings which decimated the population in the 1970’s. an estimated 2 million cambodians were slaughtered in the ethnic cleansing of cambodia under the khmer rouge, out of a population at the time of only 7 million. today, 40% of the population of cambodia is under the age of 14 because so many adults were murdered. today the country is still littered with unexploded land mines and bombs left by khmer rouge and the US army, making portions of the land uninhabitable and unsuitable for farming. the smiling faces of these kids made me hopeful for the next generation of cambodians, who haven’t had to live through the worst of it…

for a chilling first-person account of growing up during the time of the khmer rouge, check out first they killed my father by loung ung. she was just five years old when her family was forced to flee phnom penh after the khmer rouge takeover. it brought me to tears!

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3 responses to “heaven and hell”

  1. Mom says:

    Lots of contradictions in Cambodia! Seems we’re all alike more than different though….good to keep an open mind… that hammock and all the sweet kids!

  2. christy says:

    i never knew about the history there. so incredibly sad.

    cute pic of the kids and the flowers

    love you and miss you!

  3. Brianne says:

    Hi malia — doing a catch up of the latest blogs you’ve written. My first impression, you’re turning into such a great writer. I see good things coming your way after your summer session in France. I think you’d be excellent at writing stories such as eat pray love of your adventures. My second comment is that I’m totally going to check out the book you suggested to learn more about the Cambodian History. I’m putting that book on my “to be read” pile on Shelfari. Thanks for the suggestion!

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