Night. Heat. Overwhelmed with pleasant excitement, I pull my suitcase through the crowded streets of Bangkok towards the bus agency, because I know – the next dawn I will meet in a new for me, interesting and mysterious Cambodia. While I’m waiting for the bus, I notice a group of young people who seem to have just finished school. From their accents it was clear that they came here from around the world. It didn’t take much effort for me to approach them and get acquainted – traveling alone, you involuntarily start to sail along incredible currents, meeting interesting and so different people on the way. We talked for a long time and played various games until our bus arrived. And how cool it was! The seats are wide, comfortable, with folding backs, where you could sleep – such transport is very common in Asia. A few hours passed unnoticed, it began to dawn, and here we are on the border of two countries. We were taken off the bus because we had to cross the border on foot. After a series of different procedures and paperwork, I finally set foot on Cambodian soil.
What I saw surprised me a lot. The border area itself was like a crowded bazaar – traders shouted prices from behind the counters under the buildings of hotels and casinos, while travelers were trying to find their vehicles. Poverty, hunger and hopelessness immediately caught my eye. Homeless people sat on the roadsides, begging for alms, and exhausted, dirty women with babies in their arms wandered among the crowd. And there were so many of them that I felt helpless and insignificant, because even after feeding one poor man, I realized that I could not help hundreds of others.
When I found my bus and perched comfortably again, I just thought about how lucky I was to be born in a prosperous country, to have a roof over my head, food every day, not to mention hygiene products.
We moved on and soon arrived in Siam Reap, where I spent three busy days. The reason for this trip was my dream to see Angkor – the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire, the ruins of which are located near this city. But I will tell you about it later.
So, saying goodbye to my new acquaintances, I went to meet my host, whom I found on the Couchsurfing site. I arrived at my destination – a primary school, located quite far from the city center. No tourists could be seen here, so I, a blonde with a European appearance and a blue suitcase, was very different from the locals. I waited for my host for more than an hour, so I had time to watch people, and I noticed one very strange thing: all the women who saw me were happy and smiling, the children waved merrily at me, while the men frowned, looking furiously. I still do not understand what caused such a reaction. (If anyone has any guesses or explanations – please share them in the comments!)
At the school behind me, a bell rang announcing the end of lessons, and a noisy crowd of children, about 8-10 years old, poured into the yard. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but most of them got on their scooters and drove home confidently. I was shocked! Little kids. On scooters.
After two hours, I got tired of waiting for a host who didn’t even respond to my messages, so I quickly found a hostel on the Internet in the heart of the city with a pool and round-the-clock parties for only $3 a night. But, what a pity! I was so far from the center, and public transport was nowhere to be seen. Fortunately, I came across a tuk-tuk on the way, so I didn’t have to walk three kilometers on the hot asphalt under the tropical sun. The driver drove me to the doorstep of the hostel, where I heard loud music and laughter. Fortunately, there was a free bed for me in a room with 19 people. After a grueling road, I just dreamed of a pool! So before going to the city, I had a good rest, swam, getting acquainted with many cheerful young people from all over the world, who also stayed here. As you can see, traveling alone does not mean being lonely.
I was anxious to see the city, so without delay, I went for a walk. Despite the fact that Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, it was a great pleasure to walk its streets. Yes, the roads and sidewalks were bumpy, the houses were not in the best condition, the knots of power lines on the many poles looked unsightly, but there was so much different greenery that it gave the city a special charm. I have never seen such colorful flowers of different shapes and sizes, so I felt like in a paradise garden. Additionally, Buddhist and Hindu temples with their golden domes and ornaments only intensified this feeling. Even now, as I write this article, I am overwhelmed with emotions that I unfortunately cannot describe. I remember the monks in their orange robes resting in the courtyard of the temple in the shade of flowering trees. Stray dogs and cats perched peacefully beside them, and kittens jumped on the trees. It was very touching – the doors of the temple are open to all living creatures. Personally, I brought from there as much peace of mind and tranquility as even the sea has never given me. By the way, how many kittens can you see in this photo?
In the evening, the streets of Siam come to life. Bars and cafes are filled with people – locals and tourists. If you come to this city and want to have fun – I advise you to visit the famous Pub Street. Don’t be surprised if taxi drivers offer you to buy drugs from them – they try to make money on tourists in various ways, but keep in mind – Cambodian laws strictly prohibit the sale and use of drugs.
Having walked a lot, I returned to the hostel. After a little chat and a swim in the pool, I went to bed early, because the next day I had a long and busy program. Although I really enjoyed living in a hostel with young people and non-stop parties, staying up until the morning was not my priority, because I came to see the cultural heritage.
Dear readers, if there are girls among you who also love or intend to travel alone, then I want to warn you to be careful. There will always be many men in a hostel, cafe or at the party who will try to get you drunk and ready for sex, maybe even offer you to marry them. Never forget that you, your physical and mental health, your desires or unwillingness are the highest priority. Do not succumb to such provocations just because “they want something, and you are uncomfortable to refuse.” Be able to say no, walk away from the unwanted companion and stand up for yourself.
So, finally the morning came. The long-awaited trip. It was three o’clock in the morning, but thousands of tourists had already gathered under the walls of Angkor. I was not surprised, after all this is the former capital of the Khmer Empire, the largest city of its time. Two thousand years ago, these areas were already densely populated and technically developed. The whole complex covers an area of about 200 km2 and is marked by the geometric structure of the plan and the harmony of the composition. In total, there are about 100 multi-storey palaces and temples, built without cement or other binding materials. The stone blocks are connected by the principle of a lock. Numerous towers, decorated with inscriptions and masterful carvings will not leave visitors, accustomed to European architecture and art, indifferent.
This is not the end of my acquaintance with the culture of Cambodia. Following my tradition, I found a theater here, which was a grand performance about the history of this region. The variety of colorful costumes, masks and decorations, as well as the number and skill of the actors were breathtaking. But the events they brought to life on stage were sad. Many upheavals, wars and crises were experienced by the Cambodian people: the strong and unique Khmer kingdom became a vassal of the Siamese Empire due to endless class strife and invasion. This was followed by French colonization, Khmer Rouge terror, genocide, armed conflict, poverty, and devastation. The consequences of these events still continue to negatively affect the country’s economy and social order.
And again, I realized that we actually have so much and don’t appreciate it. We quarrel, trying to find flaws in everything. But in fact, daily food and the availability of an apartment, clean tap water, the opportunity to study – these are the reasons for the great joy. I know this is hard to believe, but without exaggeration, billions of people in our world do not have such privileges. And those who even have a peaceful sky over their heads and a stable situation in the country – won the jackpot in the lottery called life.