As I tried to comprehend the poverty surrounding me, I was quickly jolted out of my thoughts when a child’s hand tugged on my arm. I’ve seen a lot of hardship around the world and it never gets easier.
Last week, I visited Cambodia for the first time. I stayed in Siem Reap and my hotel assigned me a tuk-tuk driver for the duration of my stay. He was the best! I think a mutual respect set in when I didn’t freak out after a motorbike splashed a mud puddle all over us, on the first day.
I asked if he would take me out into the country for a few hours and show me what Cambodia is really like–just real life, without tourist traps. After double checking that I really didn’t want to do a tour of some sort, he agreed. He was quite excited to show me around and told me that he was happy to have an opportunity to practice his English.
Cambodia has a history of war and genocide as well as poverty and the various issues that stem from it, including human trafficking. As we rode through villages, I witnessed some of the physical effects. Even with the driver’s broken English and my lack of Khmer language skills, we talked about the complexity of it all. Hiding my tears behind my sunglasses, I listened to him share about the contrast between his family’s opportunities and other Cambodians that have little. I think he knew I would not forget this day.
Get Out There
Wherever you visit next, I encourage you to travel beyond what’s in the brochure. Seeing Angkor Wat and walking around the Old Town in Siem Reap was amazing, but deepening my understanding of the Cambodian culture by going beyond the tourist sites was priceless. Ask a driver or another person that lives locally to take you around. Or if you’re in a large city, walk around neighborhoods and see how people live.
by Julie Slagter