When I first arrived in Phnom Penh my host Greg started talking about all of these great NGO’s in town and how they support different programs. I didn’t think much of it and was still not impressed when we visited a few of the shops, to be fair though I was working on maybe 4 hours of sleep. Now, after having been to Kampot and seeing various businesses set up there I understand what Greg was talking about. It’s heartbreaking to walk around and see the children begging for money or trying to sell trinkets on street corners, but it’s also hard to know which ones will benefit from your money and which are being used. That’s what make these businesses so cool, you can know where your money is going and who’s going to benefit from it, and even better it’s money spent on things you’d be doing anyways, I mean you do eat, don’t you?
I'm not sure if you've caught on yet or not, but the people in Cambodia are really friendly, I can see why people never want to leave this place. On my second full day in Kampot, I figured it was time to get out of town, away from the tourists and explore the countryside. There are a few options for doing so: hire a tuk-tuk ($5-$25 depending on where you want to go, rent a motorbike ($5), rent a bicycle ($1) or walk. I chose to rent a bike figuring it wouldn't hurt to get a little exercise [the food here is delicious and cheap] and I had plenty of time to kill. My handy little "Costal" guidebook mentioned various day-trip options, most of which were accessible by bike so I just had to pick my poison.
A visit to Phnom Penh isn't quite complete without a visit to The Choeung Ek Genocidal Center aka "The Killing Fields". It's one of those places you're not really sure that you want to visit, due to the graphic history and sadness, but what you take away from it something that can't be explained through history books or even documentaries. I knew little about Cambodia before coming here, but even through the little reading I did in my guidebook I was taken aback by the chilling details. To most of the outside world I believe Cambodia lies in the shadows of it's big brothers, Thailand and Vietnam. For the everyday tourist Thailand is king, the food, beaches and parties get much acclaim; to the East lies another giant, Vietnam which also get's much hype for its natural beauty and history. So where does that leave Cambodia, somewhere in the in between.
After a fitful night of sleep in the Kuala Lumpur airport it was off to Phnom Penh, which would have been really exciting had my brain/body knew what was going on. I actually felt like a zombie as I ate breakfast, and downed a coffee - not really sure how that mixed with the residuals of my sleeping pill, but it tasted good. I caught some more zzz's on the plane and was soon touching down on warmer grounds, time to wake up.
Only recently has this country shown up on the SE Asia tourist route. With a dark, harrowing past it's amazing to see the smiles spread across the locals faces. I've met travelers with mixed impressions, but if you're lucky enough to connect with a few locals I'm confident you'll fall in love.