Cambodia. Same, same? Not really.
I really didn’t know what to expect of Cambodia, except that I assumed it would be less developed than Thailand. I was only there for 7 days so I’m no expert, especially when 3.5 of those days were in Siem Reap, which is entirely devoted to foreign tourism. But, there were certainly things that stood out immediately, in comparison to Thailand.
-We’re back to driving on the right side of the road.
-Visibly poorer and the look of poverty is permanently etched in the faces of the majority of people. This is directly correlated to a higher level of touts, scams and ploys to earn a few extra cents from foreign visitors, but given their relatively recent violent past, I can hardly blame them.
-Dual currency: Both USD and Khmer Real are accepted. While it took me a little bit to get used to paying for something in USD and getting change in Real, or vice versa, I realized that this handy trick gets rid of the need for coins. That’s a serious bonus in my book. I hate coins.
-Amputees everywhere you look. It’s such a shocking and sad sight. Even though the 3 decades of civil war are over, there are still millions of unexploded land mines in the countryside that kill or maime people regularly. According to the land mine museum which I visited near Siem Reap, more than 1 out of every 300 people in Cambodia is missing a limb. That statistic is devastating. Great museum, by the way. Near the Lady Temple, it’s a must visit if in that area (www.cambodialandminemuseum.org)
-Food is quite a bit less spicy than in Thailand, at least the dishes I tried.
-One of the hot sellers: Khmer amok. Fish in a creamy curry & coconut sauce steamed in a banana leaf. To die for!
A highlight of my week in Cambodia was the 2 times I got caught on the road when kids are let out of school. The pour out of the gates at top speed, all nicely matching in their uniforms and they take off down the dusty roads on their bikes. But rarely did I see kids on kid-sized bikes. Instead they were all using adult bikes, much too big for their small frames. But that’s not a problem here, they improvise – some sit down on metal part so that they can reach the pedals with their arms way up high and others sit on the seat and just push the pedal down and wait for it to come back around until they can reach it again…and always with younger brother or sister (or two) on the back. It was a hoot to watch.
But the difference between Thailand and Cambodia that I got the biggest kick out of was life on the road. I thought the Thai had mastered the art of transporting crazy amounts of things and people on motorbikes, but the Cambodians have them beat. Plus, they also have mastered the art of doing the same with a regular push bike. Some of the cargo was outrageous. For the most part I didn’t get pictures since I never had my camera handy when crazy things rolled by, but here are a few pictures: