While I was preparing for my trip through Cambodia I thought I'd check Couchsurfing for any cool hosts or people to meet up with along the way. I'd had great success with this during my previous travels in both Malaysia and Taiwan so I figured it was a definite possibility for Cambodia. I didn't bother looking around the Phnom Penh area since I already had plans to stay with friends but I did search in Siem Reap. There were a few different hosts offering their couch but one profile stood out to me. Sokhom Khit was looking for volunteers to help teach at the Angkor Tree School a place he started with his wife to offer free English and Japanese lessons to the local village children. The offer didn't exactly fit the Couchsurfing criteria as he asked for a donation in return for room and board, but I was still interested in helping.
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?
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.