My wrap on Cambodia includes a shout out to all the travellers who took time to answer my questions, even while they were in the midst of their trips. Their willingness to help a complete stranger sift through information was something I had not expected.
My longest online "outreach" is this blog and personal finance bloggers in my experience, have mostly been a totally different type of personality. So I found the openness shocking at first but have come to embrace it, now that I've had a chance to pay it forward with others. It probably shouldn't come as a surprise that I resonate most with the travellers' spirit.
For someone who has always prided herself with sorting stuff out on her own, I had met my match with the increasingly complex places I am choosing to go see. No amount of books and sites can compared to recent first hand experiences that I had to go outside of my comfort zone to get. And am I ever glad I made that leap of faith.
My advice is to do your homework, then swallow your pride and put it out there. You never know where it will lead you. The wealth of knowledge within the travel community is pretty astounding.
I've also been surprised at how many people sincerely wanted to touch base after my trip so we could compare notes. Am still in contact with a couple of them. It's been great as I've been getting inspired by their future plans.
There is no way I can finish without writing about all the super nice people I met as well.
The hotel manager in Phnom Penh (surprisingly young), who I had gone back and forth via email, not only arranged my airport transfer himself but figured out who I was the next morning and sat with me for breakfast. Each day he was curious to what I had seen, learned and any conclusions I came to. He always had time for me.
My airport transfer driver, a father of 2, had been working since 7 am that day (picked me up at 11 pm). He owned the vehicle (Toyota Camry) and has enjoyed being a driver for the last 1 1/2 years -- Much easier. Prior, for 8 years, he worked in de-mining and asked me if I knew what that was...OMG, I said. Even though I wasn't tired, that woke me up in a hurry and officially notified me that this is it, I had arrived in Cambodia for real. Not surprising, he was happy not to be doing it anymore as he saw many of his colleagues get hurt and killed.
I met 2 young ladies who were like the 2 sisters I never had (always wanted a sister). My "younger sister" works at my hotel in PP, who got teary eyed when she told me she wasn't going to be working the day I was leaving and was going to miss me. When was I going to come back? She is the type of person you automatically want to protect. I'd be the older sister who would kick the crap out of any guy that hurt her. Workers work 7 days, then 1 day off with shifts that last on average 8 hours but can extend to 10.
My "older sister" works at my hotel in Siem Reap. You should have seen her when I was leaving. Couldn't leave without a picture and advised me in advance to get dressed up with make up! Walked me out to the tuk tuk herself and talked sternly to the driver about getting me to the airport safely. Got me water and tried to climb into the tuk tuk herself saying maybe she'll come with me. When I told her she'll need a warm coat to go where I was going, she shivered and admitted she would not do well with winter.
The guest manager at the hotel in SR. He personally thanked me over and over for helping his people, when he found out I had spent time at the NGO. I kept telling him I haven't done anything yet but it didn't matter. He felt that the current younger generation has it easier than he did as help for schooling wasn't widely available when he was growing up so it was very hard work to get to where he is in life. It was embarrassing for me because he spoke quite loud, there were people all around and I had just come back and was covered in dust.
My guide for S21 and Killing Fields who came and sat beside me (probably from seeing how deflated I looked). Once we got talking about my visit, he told me he used to work in a factory at the garment district. Didn't enjoy it at all. Never got enough to eat for the amount of work he did, which was admittedly less than the women. He was the one who told me not to talk about politics in public. Loves being a guide and he is great at it. Very passionate about his country.
My guide to Kompong Khleang. Spoke perfect English, very sharp and motivated guy. Is getting married in 2015. In Cambodia, it is very common to be asked shortly after you meet, if you are married, how many children you have...So it was always interesting to see expressions when the answer is yes to being married but no to children and especially after telling them that my preference would be to adopt first when I'm ready to be a parent. They cannot believe I would want to help someone else's child that way. That's when I found out just how much they want a chance to leave their country for one where they would have better opportunities. He wasn't the first to offer to let me adopt him.
My guide to Angkor Wat. His family was educated and quite well off, living in a upscale neighbourhood in PP when the Khmer Rouge took over. I could tell he harbours strong emotions about losing that life. I didn't feel he loved being a guide as much as the others I met but he was really good at it. It could be that he suffers from some physical ailments -- Knee pain, something that many guides contend with having to clamber over boulders day after day wearing subpar shoes. He is very proficient with languages and we spoke in French part of the time as he was keen to practice. Would be able to have almost unlimited work if he could speak well (he's pretty much there, perfect accent). His studies with Alliance Francaise had to end as he couldn't afford the hourly rates anymore as he is supporting a number of his nieces and nephews.
The Filipino American couple I shared transportation with who took me under their wings, making sure there were enough pictures of me so that D could be completely convinced I really was in Cambodia...He served in the US Navy and his last deployment was for operation Desert Storm. One of the most generous and warm couples I've ever met on a trip.
The couple from Paris I spent time with Kompong Khleang. She had just turned 40 and her friends and family came together to give her this trip as a gift. The location was deliberate, knowing the issues of the country, even though she was quite burned out. They had a month's time and had just gone to a center in SR known for their humanitarian work. Because they had younger children, she was not able to give of her time so they donated money after asking a lot of pointed questions to make sure funds went to proper places. We have a picture of each other to remember our conversation.
The fellow from Berlin I spent the day in Angkor Wat with. He had just quit his job as a developer and was taking 6 weeks to tour around SE Asia. Had just come from Bangkok. He and a few friends had started their own company and were excited to prove themselves. Told me that would be the only thing holding him back from being away much longer as he has a need to be productive. I asked him about the status of the new Brandenburg airport which was supposed to have opened nearly 4 years ago. That got him going because the extent of the errors to the structure and the lateness of the whole thing has pretty much guaranteed its out datedness. Very unlike what we have come to expect from German engineering. He helped me laugh again.
This trip has been beyond enriching on so many levels. Wish I hadn't waited until I was really really ready inside and heeded the notion earlier to go to a developing country. I cannot encourage you enough to go if you have even the slightest inkling and can.