Day by day I fall more intensely in love with Cambodia. Each place I encounter is more beautiful and impressive than the last, and that’s saying a lot considering I started with Siem Reap – home to Angkor Wat.
Some people say that Thailand is the land of smiles, but I suspect they haven’t been to Cambodia.
Kids wave to me and shout “hello!” and flash their beautiful smiles on a daily basis.
And they really are glowing, beautiful smiles.
They chase after me on my bike, sometimes racing me on their way home from school in their long skirts and white, sleeved shirts. The dirt roads are full of potholes, but it only adds to the friendly competition.
If I smile at a local and say hello, they always smile a warm, genuine, beautiful smile back to me and wave. It warms my heart they way they’ve welcomed me.
Considering the hardship and genocide these people went through so recently, so many of them experiencing it first hand, it’s so humbling to see the way they love life, even with so little by way of possessions and money.
It’s like each day here is a new lesson to be learned about the beauty of life and how to appreciate it.
I haven’t had a hot shower in weeks – I don’t even remember what they feel like anymore. Nowadays, the cold water is welcome after a hot day covered in a glaze of deet and humidity.
I’ve done nothing but share rooms, usually full of bunk beds, for nearly the full month I’ve been traveling. My bed often consists of a slightly sandy and damp mattress with a mosquito net covering – usually a holey one. If I encounter soap in a bathroom I’m completely astounded and delighted. I can’t remember what air conditioning feels like. I sometimes don’t even have a fan, or electricity for most of the day. I spent a good chunk of this month in a damp existence covered in sweat, sea-water, or some mixture of the two.
The best part? I couldn’t care less. I’ve gladly traded all of the comforts of Western life for this Cambodian lifestyle and I don’t miss them at all. I look at my makeup bag and laugh now. There’s no way that’s going on my face.
I’m kind of shocked at how little I really need to be happy. Is this what traveling does to people? I think so.
Every day here is like a new intense high. I wake up and pinch myself, completely understanding how some travelers come here planning on a few weeks, and end up staying for months, or even years.
My time in Cambodia has sadly come to an end, which makes my heart ache. However, I have to get up to Laos, get through that beautiful country, most likely fall in love again, and make it up to Chiang Mai for the lantern festival. Besides, there’s a big world out there for me to see.
Trust me, Cambodia, I’ll be back for you. You will see me again. I’ll wear this place like a thumb print on my heart forever. It has changed me.
For the better. Absolutely for the better.