There are countless articles online promoting, bashing, critiquing and otherwise inspecting all that Facebook has to offer, it's often a topic of conversation between both young and old. The opinions critiquing the good and bad of Facebook could fuel the fire for many heated debates and arguments; there are those that absolutely despise the site and refuse to ever sign up, but then there are the so-called 'Facebook addicts'. I myself fall somewhere in the middle of the road, seeing valid arguments from each side. Sure, it can suck up a majority of your time while providing little in return, other than pangs of jealousy or resentment at your friends pictures. But if you use it correctly, Facebook can also provide you with some great information, connections, and if you're lucky some awesome experiences.
This needs a little explanation, how exactly did Facebook lead me to being a guest at a Cambodian wedding? Well, it was thanks to one of my Facebook friends that I made contact with a great tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap who clearly wanted me to have the ultimate tour of his country, ending with a full on wedding celebration, but let me start at the beginning.
Nearly three years ago I came across a friends post about the wonderful tuk-tuk driver he met and spent nearly a week with. I knew that I'd one day be visiting the country so I stored this tidbit in my long term memory. A few years later, as I was wrapping up my life in Korea and preparing for a SE Asian adventure it came back to me. While in Phnom Penh I contacted Dara to see if he would be available when I toured in Siem Reap. Not only that, but I remembered Kyle mentioning that Dara was originally from Kampong Cham so I asked for some travel advice, as I planned to stop there on my way. Dara's response was incredibly fast, friendly and helpful. He ensured me he would be available when I arrived in Siem Reap and also told me he could arrange his brother to help show me around Kampong Cham, if I was interested.
A few days later I was in Kampong Cham and spent the day with Dara's family. First touring the town with his younger brother, being invited home for lunch, more touring and back home again for dinner. Another brother, Teng had such an infectious smile and appeared to be so happy, I was shocked when he started sharing the details of his family with me. "You will go to Siem Reap? My father works there near the Old Market selling books, but he has no legs....my mother died though, you know Pol Pot? Yes, he killed her." I was surprised how casually he threw this into the conversation, and was quickly back to telling jokes and being his cheerful self afterward.
The day ended with a family gathering, dinner and drinks included. Just as we were getting started an entire second family came to join, sitting down with big smiles and more beer in tow. Basically, I spent the evening learning Khmer (drinking lingo at least) alongside many smiles and laughter with Dara's family. Cambodia doesn't have quite the same drinking culture as Korea so I was viewed as a drinking champion (being able to chug a beer) and had no worries about a rough morning to follow. So far my decision to reach out to Dara was proving to be a good one.
The next day I caught the bus to Siem Reap and before leaving received a call from Dara, confirming my time and company. Clearly Dara is not a newbie to this business as he was on time and waiting with a "Welcome Ms. Stephanie" sign for me, talk about service. Without having to fight through the crowds of tuk-tuk drivers at the bus terminal I enjoyed a pleasant ride into town where we made our way to a guesthouse Dara had suggested for my trip. The room was a bit more than I would usually pay but it was gorgeous so I had a hard time saying no, at least for one night anyway. The previous nights activities were catching up with me so I decided to catch a nap before Dara was back to pick me back up so I could go enjoy dinner with his family - seriously were they adopting me? It was another warm welcome from his family, and even a few nearby neighbors. As we sat talking Dara explained that the following week one of his cousins would be getting married and hoped I could come back to Siem Reap for the party...hmm I think I can do that.
After my two days in the city, one of which was spent at Angkor Wat with Dara, I ventured a little bit outside of town so I could do some volunteer work at the Angkor Tree School. Once this was all finished, I returned to the city for the wedding.
Dara once again picked me up at 5 o'clock and we made our way back to his house; this time instead of warm smiles I was met with a few inquisitive and questioning glances, I guess some of the relatives weren't expecting me. I was left on my own as everyone finished preparations, thankfully I had some adorable children to observe and a friendly grandfather who was trying his hardest to communicate with me (I've decided I'm selecting my future husband based on how cool his father is). The party was a little different than I was expecting and I was taken by surprise when Dara ushered me over to another table and told me to "eat first".
This is when the night got a bit awkward as I sat in silence with six other people, none of which really seemed to want to be there. Thankfully, I had one ally at the table, a cute boy with a shy smile, who offered me beer and multiple 'cheers'. I had flashbacks to staff dinners in Korea where I was stuck at the boring table, but thankfully everyone at my table decided to make an early departure. This led me to the nearby table of older men, one of which I had met on my previous visit to Dara's home. We shared some more drinks and decent conversation before I was being swept away to another table, apparently I was now to be paraded around the room. Again it was a table of all guys, no real surprise there I suppose, and before long numbers were being exchanged. Dara came to check on me, making sure that I wasn't at all uncomfortable before eventually telling me it was time to dance! I wasn't too sure about this, but upon seeing that their dancing was more or less walking around a table, I figured it couldn't be too bad.
Dara originally planned to take me home between 9 and 10 pm, what time the party really ended I had no idea, but agreed to his suggestion. Just as the dancing was starting to pick up, aka they played a few songs I knew and people started talking to me, Dara announced it was time to leave. On the way, almost back to my hostel, Dara was saying he wished I could have stayed longer and that his brother wished to talk to me more. "Well why didn't you say so??" was my initial thought, so I told him that I could stay, I didn't have anywhere to be. "But I thought you have to get up early for your bus, so I want to get you back" was how he responded; realizing my sleep was his only concern I convinced him this was no problem and that I could in fact return, and so after a swift U-turn we were back to where we came from.
A few heads turned as we drove back into the party but those were accompanied with smiles, so I was glad about my decision. Unfortunately, in thew short time we were gone a good number of guests had left and the party was appearing to die down, and the dancing finished within the hour. We spent another hour talking and drinking and one boy invited me to the clubs with him, but Dara insisted he be the one to take me home. Although he was playing a bit of a Dad role, it was nice to know that someone was on the lookout for me.
So that's how Facebook led me to eating multiple meals in the homes of friendly Cambodian families, ensuring a great tuk-tuk driver for Angkor Wat, and celebrating a beautiful couples wedding day. I guess after experiences like these I can't have many bad feelings towards the social media site that sometimes eats up so much of my time.
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.