Living and Giving

36 Hours in Cambodia [Part 1 of 7]

Share This Post

This is the first of a seven part series entitled 36 Hours in Cambodia. This is an unedited account of a personal journey and will be followed by stories from a few more of my international volunteer trips. Many of the experiences on these trips would become the impetus for founding UniversalGiving™.

June 16, 2002




My first impression as I got off the plane in Angkor Wat, Cambodia: greeted by sweltering heat and surrounded by flat. The ground was crusty alternated with green shrubbery, and stark, single, silent palm trees jutted out alone or in uniformed pockets of three of four.  Truly it was beautiful, peaceful, clear, especially as the blue sky opened up, uncovered by any part of the earth.  A full blue sky and puffy almost creamy white clouds floated stationary above.  It was the beginning of the erasure of the American images I had of only starving, bloated children in a devastated Cambodia.  I came to greet the real country.

I cannot say it was easy.  I really try to travel with someone else, and especially to live with or be taken around by someone local.  If I don\’t, I feel I will miss 70% of what is really going on.  You don\’t get it from books.  You get it from people.  You hear their stories, views, perspectives, and be prepared that some locals\’ stories will conflict with others.  Why… because we all have our own impressions, thoughts, experiences… And so these thoughts — are from one American\’s perspectives, culminated I am sure from a mix of influences from the media, personal relationships, stories, books, newspapers, and, quite simply, my own heart and eyes.

My passport took awhile to clear.   Was it because I was born in Holland?  Some looked at my trip to India…. and I am not sure. I was the only American on the plane, which many times I prefer as I think at times American tourists, or (visitors as I prefer to think of myself!) can be rather loud….

I chuckled a bit silently to myself that the guidebooks touted this airport as \”really opening up its flights as an international hub.\”  It was a warehouse. With a tin roof on top and spaces in between.  There were 6 officials and 4 lines to process about 20 people.  And the officials\’ office had no ceiling — there was a constructed, stand-alone wall behind them; an implanted wood desk-bureau of some sort, and then a door on the side.  Even though it had no roof or full sides, you still had the door.  It seemed pretty important.  They kept entering in and out through it, and it just seemed comical and important, conjunctively.

I was nervous.  Most times I am fine.  But navigating a country on your own pulls on you.  You must be on and alert and aware and figure it out for yourself constantly.  Plus, this time, I wasn\’t meeting anyone locally.  I was there to see Angkor Wat in a day; in and out; and while many say you cannot get a feel for a country, I believe there are different types of travel and different types of expectations as to what you will learn and gain from the experience.  And for me, as I stated above, I think that both for learning perspective, it\’s important to have someone local be with you, but also for safety.  There are just a lot of variables in what I would call emerging countries.  Additionally, when you don\’t have a travelling partner, you constantly have to figure out all the variables yourself — money changing, taxi getting, hotel comparisoning, culture understanding, sights to seeing, languaging, timemanagementing…!  And, just personally, stay aware — of yourself, of your belongings, and most particularly the space surrounding you and behind and in front of you.  You will develop another sense and instinct that guides when you something or someone approaching you doesn\’t feel right.  It feels as if a skill, another sense.   Then, be present in the country and learn from its beautiful history, culture and people!


You can take action.

Give $20 to provide gardening tools to a Cambodian family.

Give $25 to clear landmines.

Give $100 to support economic development in Cambodia.

Volunteer with an arts center in Cambodia.