Tag Archives: Cambodia

Sometimes it’s hard to share

I am sure everyone who has travelled has encountered this situation.  You are out touring, maybe in a third world place, and you are met with big eyes and outstretched hands – usually a child’s.  It’s hard to say no to this but you should.

When I travelled to Vietnam and Cambodia our guide was extremely strict about not giving money or even candy to the kids who surrounded us at every stop.  She got very cross with one of our group who handed out one dollar bills and she said that this encouraged children to stay away from school and instead turn to begging on the streets.  Even worse than that was the fact that mothers with too little money and too many children might turn out the prettiest or the cutest onto the streets to beg.  It is one of the saddest parts of being a traveller.  You still have to smile at the ingenuity of these kids.  Stepping off a small boat somewhere in the Mekong Delta we were greeted by a small crowd of kids from one of the remote villages.

“Hello – how are you?  Hello Canada?  Very nice country!”

I found similar situations in India and there too our guide in Mumbai spoke sternly to the young women and children hanging around the tour buses.  As a busy guide in this huge city she knew many of them by sight.  I was surprised when she told me that not all of these people were homeless and that begging can be a profitable “job”.  She also was very upset at the practice of tourists bringing big bags of candies and handing these out left right and centre.  I could understand this concern.  Suddenly a kindly tourist is surrounded by a horde of excited children.  Eventually the candy runs out and yes – there are going to be some disappointed kids there – usually the smallest and the youngest.

So what to do if you want to share the wealth.

The first thing is to check the tour company you are booking with.  Many of them have initiatives where a donation for every booking goes to a registered charity in your country of destination.  For example when I did my tour with Insight Vacations to India there is an automatic donation of $5 per  passenger included in your total trip paid to the Indian Children’s Charity.  Now $5 may not sound like much but let me tell you – it buys a lot in India.  We could not believe that a short cab ride we took in Mumbai cost the equivalent of a dollar.

Secondly check that your tour company uses as many local guides as possible.  I read somewhere about a tour company that boasts about having North American guides so as to identify more easily with the guests.  What?  Why would you want a North American guide on your tour to India for example?   We learned so much from our lovely guide in Mumbai.  If you really want to experience a country let its own people show you around.  G.Adventures is another company that does this very well and also supports many local endeavours to support small business in the countries in which they operate.

Finally check the charities supporting the country you are visiting and make a donation there, find out if there is a school visit planned so that you can take books and pencils but find out first what they need most and lastly tip generously.  It doesn’t add up to much in Canadian dollars but in Rupees, or Vietnamese Dong or Cambodian Riel or Thai Bhat….

Well …. you do the math!

 

Killing Fields

A visit to the Killing Fields of Cambodia and the infamous S21 detention centre is not a pleasant experience.  It is traumatic.  It is upsetting.  It is incredible how again and again these atrocities occur – despite the fact that we believe we learn from history and recite the mantra – Never Again. 
  The detention centre in Phnom Penh – S21 – used to be a high school.  Pol Pot’s regime turned it into a chamber of horrors and the evidence is still there – the shackles, the horrific photographs.  Only 7 people survived by the time the Vietnamese arrived and I had the honour to meet one of them.  Now in his 80’s  Chum Manh speaks little English but he does know a few words – like electric shock.  He explained to me by sign language and a few words how he was tortured by shock treatment in his ear.  He also showed me his knuckles and slid off his shoes to show me his feet where he had been tortured.  He has been a witness in the trials of the leaders of the Pol Pot regime.

His story and the stories of all the Cambodian people should be treasured and perhaps one day in the future we will be able to realise the dream of Never Again…   Slide show of our photos Genocide Cambodia

Phnom Penh’s best dry martini

Sipping a dry martini in the roof garden bar of the Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh I could not help thinking back to what it must have been like in ’93 when Cambodia opened its doors to foreign journalists and diplomats.  The country had been through hell and the FCC as it became known was THE place to hang out.  It still retains a special atmosphere with its wooden rafters, ceiling fans and wide selection of menu surprises – such as cottage pie or fish and chips with mushy peas.  Clearly the Brits had let the restaurant know what their favourite food was.  No noodles for this crew!

Our ride town the esplanade along the river front by tuk tuk was an education in itself.  The streets were crowded, motorbikes competing with fancy imported cars.  The riverwalk pathway was wide enough for what looked like an aerobics class – speakers set down on the pavement, instructor standing in front of what must have been 50 people.  At first I thought it was a line-dancing class – hey you never know. 

Every second store seemed to offer either food or massages – or maybe both.  Can you believe $4 for a massage?  Conterfeit DVD’s were on sale everywhere.  Films probably not even released in Hollywood yet….  And yet I found the street sellers so much nicer than places like Mexico or Jamaica.  Yes they wanted to sell their wares but they did not become a nuisance, were never aggressive and those big smiles just melt your heart.  So needless to say I have a whole bag of “stuff” that I would normally not have purchased but console myself with the thought that I am doing my bit for the Cambodian economy.  Just hope I am not going to end up paying for extra baggage!