"Thanks and thanks again to Him who offers to the man whom the sorrows of life have assaulted and left naked–offers to him the fig leaf of the Word with which he can cover his wretchedness." -Søren Kierkegaard


Posted in Travel by matt on Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cambodia’s a country that’s been to hell and back, and it’s got the scars to show for it. But it took a few days for me to realize this because, when we first arrived, I was nothing but frustrated.

We took a train from Bangkok to the boarder. Crossing was probably the biggest frustration because we found out the visas we stressed so much over getting in Houston aren’t multiple re-entry. That means we have to pay about 35 bucks (per person) each time we want to re-enter Thailand. That may not sound like much, but when you’re making under 600 bucks a month it starts to add up – especially when you leave the country as often as we do! The sweet immigration lady said we could get it fixed at the immigration office, though, so we’re gonna try that soon.

Anyway, we paid this money on the Thai side and then bought our Cambodia visas. These were supposed to be 20$, but the guards at immigration pulled a good cop/bad cop routine and tried to scare us into paying more. I tried not to be too rude, but you know me and diplomacy rarely go together. I got mad, argued, and even considered turning back and just going home if it weren’t for the plane tickets we’d already bought. So we paid a bit more than 20$ and dealt. But this is just the beginning of our chronicled travels in sCambodia.

We finally make it across the border and into the country only to be assaulted by half a dozen taxi services. We foolishly took the free one and were transported to an overpriced travel agency pit stop with inflated bus and taxi fees.

Yet again, we caved and just bought tickets to Siem Reap anyway. And things went well for about 3/4 of the trip. Then the “bus guide” started acting strangely. He kept announcing to everyone that we would be dropped off at a “better” location than the bus stop. I actually enjoyed his announcements because Cayla and I hadn’t made any reservations yet, so we weren’t any better or worse off location-wise. And the best thing was he kept saying these bizarre things like, “Please don’t be scumming on me.” and “I only want love-love-love-love you so fast now.” or “I know you upset but now you just cool and chill out so we be happy friends.”

I can only guess at how to translate all this, but I sure did laugh. And don’t think less of me for laughing (aloud) at this guy’s funny phrases. I’m not a bigot, I’m an English teacher living in SE Asia. And there’s a slight difference.

Anyway, the bus guide drops us off at his hostel and instructs the other workers to put out bags inside his hostel. Fortunately Cayla and I trust our bags with noone, so we had them with us already. We grabbed the rest of our group and bounced as fast as we could.

We found an awesome place to stay called the Golden Mango Inn and things got much better. We rode free bikes out to the ancient temples of Angkor Wat and were pretty blown away. We’ve seen a lot of temples since we got to Thailand last year, but nothing like this. Incredible.

Also, thanks to French imperialism and the enslavement of French Indo-China, we enjoyed baguettes and cheese. The western influence was totally evident in the food, architecture, and the French words all over the place.

We took a bus to the capital city of Phnom Penh and enjoyed a scam-free trip. The AC went out, but such is life. I’m way more comfortable with sweat than with dishonest business practices.

We stayed two nights in the capital at the Royal Guesthouse near the river. If there’s anything that Cayla and I were born to do together, it’s travel. We can get from point A to point B and really rarely even differ in opinion. That’s not true of everything, but when we travel we’re pretty like-minded.

That said, our shared combination of cheap and adventurous tends to result in a lot of walking and trekking through strange places. I mean, why take the taxi down the main road when you can explore all the back roads on foot for free?! Haha, so we walked all day in the sun and I’m now 8 shades darker and have a ridiculous farmer’s tan. We saw the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum where the Khmer Rouge, under Pol Pot, tortured and murdered thousands of Cambodians. Then, after we were thoroughly sad, we walked over to the Russian Market. It’s basically a smaller version of the markets in Bangkok, so not much to see really. I tried to find out why it’s called the Russian Market, but I’m still not sure. I sure didn’t see any Russians around…

The next day we met a guy from Germany and a girl from Australia and all split a tuk-tuk ride out to the Choeung Ek Killing Fields. As the name kinda indicates, this was also heart-wrenching.

Have you ever wished you had experienced  horrendous pain just so you could understand other people better?

I wish I were a better writer because I know that’s a strange feeling to describe in a blog post, but while we walked around the fields and saw all the skulls and mass graves I felt this weird desire for empathy. I regretted my blessed life because I just couldn’t empathize.

Suffering to me is a speeding ticket or having to be around annoying people who talk too much; It’s certainly not watching my baby get used as target practice for some maniacal soldier’s entertainment. I just wanna understand, and that’s normal. It’s good for me to pray often for empathy and a more compassionate heart. I need it.

After this we flew home. Phnom Penh International Airport was our first experience with an ‘airport tax’, though, and it was just one more annoyance. Cay reminded me of how poor the country is and how dependent it is on tourism, so I shrugged and paid it. That’s quickly becoming my new role as the husband – just shrug and pay it. Haha, it’s worth it all though.

All-in-all, Cambodia was good. It cost more than I thought it would, but my attitude was much better when we left than when we arrived. It was one itty-bitty chapter in God’s plan to redeem our hearts. I’m grateful!

Also, I’ve posted a bunch of pictures of our trip here.

3 Responses

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  1. Dad said, on Friday, July 10, 2009 at 9:16 am

    Thanks for the post. I will need to re-read it. This visit made a deep impact upon you. Dad

  2. grunto09 said, on Friday, July 10, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    Y’all are intense! (Accept the Texan… You were one.) Blessing and a curse that we dont know persecution. Simple life, simple faith. Love you!

  3. sharethewell said, on Sunday, July 12, 2009 at 4:37 am

    I really enjoyed this post. Especially the bit about empathy. I want to be broken and weep for the people around me, but sometimes my thoughts wander off… am I really that cold-hearted? I guess so. Praying for mercy.

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