Poor but Happy
Cambodia is without a doubt the poorest place I have ever been. People live in simple wooden houses without plumbing or electricity. Even in the middle of Siem Reap, where the tourists come and the people with a little bit more money can come to try to find a life with more conveniences, life is hard. The hostel had blackouts a couple times a day. Not enough electricity was coming over from Thailand.
A decent sized meal costs two or three dollars. A large bottle of water is about a dollar (or less if you find the right store). A day’s worth of riding around with a driver can cost less than $20.
Part of the problem is from when the Khmer Rouge ruled the country. They abolished all money, making what there was little more than fuel for the fireplace. Since communication was not great, and warlords or other local leaders were not always on the same page, one province might have some Khmer Rouge money for a while before it was taken away again. Although they began to use the Riel after their problems started to settle, confidence never grew to the old levels. Now people are happier to accept dollars or baht than to use riel. (But I was told that they think Vietnamese dong is just ‘scrap paper.’)
Despite these problems, just about everyone I met in Cambodia was smiling and happy. Everywhere people were friendly and polite. They might have been annoying as they tried to get you to buy this, eat that, or hire them as a guide or driver. But at the same time, they were not rude or angry. Maybe the happy attitude comes from tourism…a guest who feels welcome will be more willing to spend. I’m going to let my optimistic side take over and say that it was all due to genuine good-natured people.
There are now some positive possibilities. The government is still full of red tape, bribery, and corruption, but things are stable. Inflation can be a problem, but the economy is improving. Tourism is increasing. And these tourists come bringing much needed money. The infrastructure is impoving thanks to groups like Artisans d’Angkor and the Landmine Museum. Every day other organizations from around the world donate money to help build schools, houses, and rennovate new areas of the temples. Many nicer houses along the country roads had signs saying what church, school, or person donated the funds. Someday the Khmer won’t need outside help, but until then they receive what they can get with a smiling face.
Korean word of the post: 캄보디아 사람 (kam-bo-di-a sa-ram) Cambodian person
Chinese word of the post: 柬埔寨人 (jian3 pu3 zhai4 ren2) Cambodian person
Khmer word of the post: កម្ពោជិក (kampoocik) Cambodian person