Whenever you visit a new place, you get grouped in with the tourists. Not only might you not no directions, but you don’t even know the language or the local customs. But, there are a few things that worked for me in Cambodia to get more of a local look.
Many people want to go on vacation and feel relaxed and comfortable. Not me. I want to have my limited pushed, learn new things, and grow. I can go to a sit on a beach or eat American food at home. You need to travel with an open mind, and who knows what you’ll find.
One of the first things is to talk to the locals. I made friends with my tuk tuk driver and met a couple more drivers along the way. Working with tourists, they spoke English well and were eager to practice. A couple times I ate dinner with them instead of going back to the hostel and eating with the rest of the travelers. I learned a lot from them about Cambodia, and answered their questions about America and Korea.
You have to be open. When I went out to eat with them I asked them to suggest good food. I didn’t care about going to the best American or Korean or Chinese food. I didn’t care about making sure I got back to the hostel to go drinking with the other tourists. I wanted some good Khmer food. And every time, we went into a restaurant with no foreigners. Maybe it was luck of the draw, but my guess is that the real best Khmer food was there in the places that hadn’t tried to adapt to attract outsiders. I got a few strange looks, but it was more of something to remember than if I had gone to the Mexican place down the street for food and margaritas.
Learning a few words of the language helps. In Cambodia most people know a decent amount of English, especially the ones who work with foreigners in tourism, transportation, or trying to sell things at the temples. Even though they understand us, I like to meet them partway. There was no way I could learn Khmer in a week, but I could learn to count. I could learn hello, thank you, and goodbye. Plus food names. People are more likely to open up to you if you try to adapt. (And on top of that, I really enjoy languages. Which is probably obvious…)
I guess one thing that’s easy for me is to just sort of go with the flow. I didn’t know the culture, so I followed their lead. I let them show me how things were done instead of just doing it the way I did at home. At first I was quiet and let my new Cambodian friends take control. Once I’d learned a bit, I could follow some of their etiquette without a problem.
I’ve seen the people who come and vist without learning anything about the local culture. Maybe next I’ll say something about my two classes of tourists.
Korean word of the post:내국인 (nae-guk-in) a local
Chinese word of the post: 本地人 (ben3 di4 ren2) a local
Khmer word of the post: រជ្ជវាសី (raccea’viesey) a local