Culture Shock: Cambodia

Sarah and I arrived in Sihanoukville yesterday and realized we had taken zero pictures in Cambodia. We had been trying to get used to this new country and hadn’t been able to relax enough to break out the camera. We thought we would be ready for Cambodia after Thailand but it feels quite different here. The first difference we noticed after we crossed the border is that there is red dirt everywhere. Even on the paved roads, it is blown onto the shoulder and gets whipped around by cars and trucks. Our clothes and bicycles quickly became covered with red grit.

We have also seen many more beggars here in Cambodia. It is mostly children and the old or sick who come up to you and ask for money or just moan. There are signs all over the place asking you not to give them food or money because it makes it impossible for the Cambodian social workers to help them. We heard the Cambodians are very relaxed and honest, but so far we have felt like the people want to rip us off more here. On the boat from Koh Kong to Sihanoukville, one of the workers loaded our bicycles onto the boat and then demanded a tip from us afterwards. When we arrived at Sihanoukville, another dock worker unloaded our bikes and we gave him 100 baht (~US$3), which was the same that we paid in Koh Kong, but he said it wasn’t enough and demanded 150 baht. Today, we went to the beach and it was crawling with hawkers selling fruit, seafood, and jewelry.

This woman was selling grilled squid which looked good, so I said I wanted some. She cooked up some squid and when we attempted to pay, she held up six fingers which we assumed meant 6000 Riel (US$1.50). We gave her that, but she just stared at us and said something else in Khmer. We gave her some more Riel and again she just stared at us and chuckled. We ended up giving her 20,000 Riel (US$5.00) before she was satisfied which is a very large amount when you consider a meal in a restaurant costs between US$2 – US$3 here. Afterwards, we were annoyed but told ourselves it wasn’t that much money and we will have to get better at determining prices beforehand to avoid getting ripped off. After that incident, we decided not to buy anything else and just watched all the hawkers going by.

This afternoon we went to the town market to have a look around. Wow. Outside the market, the motorbikes were swarming like bees and it sounded like every single driver was using his horn at once.

Inside it was just as frantic. People were pushing, vendors were yelling at each other, and we were quite overwhelmed as we tried to make our way on the slippery, uneven floor. There was an open ditch full of sludge running down the middle of each aisle. Every kind of food was being sold inside. Live fish, chicken, frogs, and crabs and entire dead pigs were on display for purchase. We saw women skinning live frogs and cleaning out chicken intestines in buckets. We were cautious though and just bought some bananas, mangos, and longans.

It appears anything goes on the roads here. People drive and ride motorbikes in every lane, even the ones going in the opposite direction. No one yields when turning or doing anything else, everyone just honks and keeps going, hoping the other guy will stop. We have had a couple close calls but luckily no accidents yet. There are also cows on the roads here. Yesterday we saw one lying down for a nap in the middle of a lane while everyone swerved to avoid it. The one we saw today was better behaved. At least he is traveling near the shoulder on the correct side of the road!

We have already had a couple of warnings about thieves in Cambodia. One restaurant owner told us to sleep on top of anything valuable and that thieves had crawled through a tiny air-vent in the wall of his restaurant to rob him. After we checked into our guesthouse, one of the workers was watching me lube our chains outside and so we didn’t pay any attention when he was still outside when we left to walk around the city. When we returned two hours later he was still standing outside in the hot sun near our bikes and we couldn’t figure out what he was doing until we realized he was personally guarding our bikes! At night, our guesthouse has a guard outside so we think our bikes will be safe.

The final thing we have noticed is people seem a little more reserved here. In Thailand if you smiled and nodded at someone, you got the same back. Here we have been getting a lot of blank stares in return, especially from men. Maybe that is just Cambodia or perhaps its just part of touristy Sihanoukville.

Tomorrow we are on the road again, heading for Pnomh Penh. We should arrive there in about two days.

5 Responses to “Culture Shock: Cambodia”

  1. Mark Stosberg Says:

    Thanks for another interesting update.

  2. Robert and Emmy Says:

    Hi James and Sarah,
    Great to see your site and read how you experienced the first days in Cambodia. We met you in Koh Kong. There we took the ‘surfaced’-road. It was a big adventure for us, see some our site…
    We are in Phnom Penh (where do all the h’s go?) until the 5th. Maybe we can meet again tomorrow? We will check mail in the morning.
    We will follow you on the web and whish you a blast.
    ps. If you go to Tuol Sleng, we found it quite shocking.
    _Robert & Emmy

  3. Robert Carlier Says:

    Hi James & Sarah,
    Great site and fun to read your story while we are in Cambodia aswel. We met you in Koh Kong and we took the ‘surfaced’ route to Kampot. It was a big adventure for us, lots of mud and four river crossings by ferries. It would be fun to meet you again, we will have dinner in The Boddhi Tree today.
    We wish you a good time on your journey and lots of tailwind!
    _Robert & Emmy
    (I hope I do not double post.)

  4. John Erck Says:

    Cambodia sounds kind of creepy. Sounds like you’re going to have to learn how to sleep with one eye open! Have fun!! haha

  5. Sihanoukville Says:

    heh – are james and sarah married – I love it! I tried to find out but I had to guess.

    Just wanted to drop in and say awesome trip!

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