Trip Start Apr 08, 2012
9Trip End Ongoing
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Darren: "Hey, I'd like £300 in small USD bills please - no higher than a $20"
Money Exchanger: "So where are you off to?"
Darren: "Malaysia for a few days then back to Cambodia"
Money Exchanger: "OH MY GAAAAAWD. WHY?!!!"
The lady asked me the same question my colleagues and more boring friends keep asking. Why why why?
My answer to her, and to my friends is "Because it's exciting". What I really want to say, however, is "Because fuck you, that's why". What I really mean by that is "Look you orange skinned, duck faced, dumb arse slapper, not everybody finds the idea of being sorted airtight by three lads from Hartlepool whilst getting paralytic in the paradise of Magaluf to be that much fun". Not everyone finds the idea of throwing on my football t-shirt and shouting "tits out for the lads" to be particularly appealing.
However the idea of going somewhere that still provokes the question "Why???" does excite me. Then I thought about why it does. I think it comes down to three reasons:
1) If you read any travel guide, travel forum or wiki entry to Cambodia, you'd get the impression that within 45 seconds of arriving you would have been mugged at gunpoint, raped, murdered then raped again for good measure. Travel websites just love to throw around statistics about AK 47's, landmines, poverty, the Khymer Rouge, disease, incredibly dodgy roads, terrible "child abuse tourism" and being home to various Cobras. Now I'm not going to say those things don't happen - all are alive and well in pretty much any country in that area of the world. However, my experiences tell me of a far more nicer picture.
The people of Cambodia. Check out their history. They have every damn right to hate the world, to be bitter and twisted (shit, I'm still bitter that they made Red Dwarf series 9). But they aren't. They are simply, by far, the nicest, friendliest, genuine people I've ever had the pleasure to meet. They want to know about my life. They ask about my family, my friends, where my "wife is" :-D. They loved looking through photos on my mobile phone of my house and pets. When they asked if I wanted a ride someplace, they didn't bother me if I said no. They simply asked about my day instead. Even the street kids - 6 year olds living on the damn streets - wanted to know about my life. They didn't mug me or stab me. They couldn't even be bothered to ask me for money most of the time. They'd rather play football with the fat white guy who is sweating far too much.
The lady at Angkor Wat who was running a small food trolley. After a lovely meal (probably noodles and chicken, knowing me) we talked for hours about her life. We were the same age. She had five kids. They were staffing a clothes stall next door. It was insane but somehow everything seemed so familiar - maybe that's where "same same but different" came from. We were the same, but different. It blew my mind.
Oh shit - the old guy on the Bamboo railway! Between us we had a conversation without using any proper language. Just pointing, laughing and the worldwide "man nod". It was ace.
2) I love my parents. They are by far the best parents ever. They shit on your parents. But they do it nicely. However, it is fair to say they are quite....surrounded by a bubble, I guess. Adventure and excitement isn't really on the cards. They like routine, safe, familiar. They go places early to avoid crowds, go to the same restaurants every time. They like that.
So I grew up liking it. So much so we found out I had quite a nasty anxiety disorder in my teens. Throw in some lovely OCD too. So for me, I needed that safety bubble.
Then I hit my mid twenties and started to wonder what was over the hills I would never go to. What was there? Bit by bit that feeling expanded, and well the rest is history - it was a year driving across the whole of Australia in a Campervan. It was trips to Indonesia, China, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Eastern Europe. All alien places, all places my mind wasn't imaginative enough to only dream about. I had to go see for myself.
I needed some excitement.
Now I know any backpacker reading this will laugh, I mean let's face it, I've hardly trekked to the North Pole in just my pants. But for me, all of these were huge deals. Hugely scarey, hugely fun, hugely educational. For me all of my favorite memories where when I went slightly off the beaten path - North Laos for example, jumping on a motorbike and going through the National Park and towards the Chinese border, just to see what was there. Motorbiking through the small villages outside of Vang Vieng was a lot more fun than sitting in an inner tube on a river. Having a tribal villager and fill the bike up after it ran out of petrol and it's brakes coming down Thailand's highest mountain....all of these things where when I did something to simply scare myself and to see what was there.
3) It's hot, it's cheap, the locals are friendly and I can eat shit tons of noodles and rice for 30p. I can get a paradise hotel in a jungle for $10 a night and I can spend the sunset at ancient temples whilst the sky is filled with bats.
Why the fuck wouldn't I go?