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Cambodia Impressions: Bits and Pieces

Following is a collection of random observations and tidbits that I’ve collected in my two weeks in Cambodia.


The currency used in Cambodia is the US Dollar.  There are no coins.  Cambodian bills, called riels, have such low value that they are used to give change.  A 1000 riel bill is equivalent to 25 cents US.  It’s common to get change in a combination of US bills and riels.


Cambodian money

Cambodian money: US dollars and Cambodian riels.  There are no coins.


Because there are no coins, a bubble gum machine would be a total failure here.  As would vending machines – I have yet to see one.


Most people in the tourist areas speak English, making this an “easy” destination.  Many also speak French, perhaps because Cambodia was under French rule from 1863–1953.


Cigarettes are cheap.  It costs about 60 cents for name brands like Marlboro.  Looks like the cigarette companies are trying to get another nation hooked.


Alcohol is cheap.  I suppose this is why many backpackers think Cambodia is paradise.  A beer in a restaurant can be just 50-75 cents.  A cocktail anywhere from $1-$3.


A basic private room in a guesthouse in Phnom Penh costs about $10 US.  Hostel beds are about $5/night.  For the luxury-minded, rooms can go up to hundreds of dollars a night.


In Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, western food is everywhere.  Want nachos?  No problem.  Pizza, burgers, spaghetti – all here.  And if you want to alter your reality, you can order “happy pizza” which is topped with marijuana and available all over.  Technically, pot is illegal in Cambodia but that doesn’t seem to matter.


Pajamas at Angkor Wat Temple

Just roll out of bed?  Nope!  A visitor at Angkor Wat temple in pajamas.  A common sight in Cambodia.


It’s perfectly fine to wear pajamas.  Anytime.  Anywhere.  Women (and men too but more women) wear pajamas in public.  It’s fine.  Apparently.  This is a trend I wouldn’t mind catching on in the United States.  I guess we Americans have our sweatsuits.


Cambodian electrical outlets accept American plugs.  No need for an adapter.


Animal lovers beware:  You will see things here on a daily basis that will break your heart, whether it’s a truck full of live pigs stacked five-deep on top of each other, or 100 live chickens hanging upside-down off of a motorcycle or the many stray animals that are malnourished and mangy.


Toilet paper is a precious commodity.  I suggest you carry it with you at all times.  Outside of hotels, most toilets have only a water sprayer beside the toilet, however, how one is supposed to dry themselves after said spraying remains a mystery to me. I’ve never seen paper towels in a restroom.


Garbage is everywhere.  It’s the failure of the government to get it together as far as sanitation goes.  As an outsider, it’s upsetting.  It would be hard to capture a picture of the Cambodian countryside without capturing garbage in the shot.  The waterways are also horribly polluted.


It’s easy to eat vegetarian.   Tofu and vegetable curries are common fare in the tourist areas.  Noodles and rice are always an option.  Fresh fruit, especially pineapples and coconuts, are cheap and delish.


You can buy counterfeit anything.  Counterfeit Lonely Planet guidebooks seem to be popular going for $1-$3 a pop.


If you are picky about your food being prepared under sanitary conditions, do not come here.  I have yet to see a restaurant that would pass even the most basic health inspection in the US.  Denial comes in handy.


The traffic is insane.  There are laws, but none are enforced.  Which might make Cambodian drivers the bravest and best I’ve ever seen.  Tuk-tuks, motorcycles, huge SUVs (the very rich), bicyclists, pedestrians, and animals all share the road and go in all different directions at all times.  If you’re walking, may the force be with you.


French bread

French bread is available all over Phnom Penh, Cambodia.


It’s easy to find a baguette.  Due to the previously mentioned French rule, Cambodians like their French bread.


In Phnom Penh, there are many tourists that come here to buy sex and the rumor is that many come here specifically for the under-aged.  I find it hard to look at these “men”, many with wedding rings, and wonder who they are at “home”.  And I find it hard to see the emptiness in their “companions” eyes.  It’s an unpleasant reality that one can not avoid here.


There are children everywhere.  68% of the population of Cambodia is under age 30.


Poverty is everywhere. In 2009, nearly 20% of the population lived on less than $1 US a day.


Which leads to begging.  Very young children beg from tourists.  They are professional heart-string pullers.  Many of these children (some sell items, some beg)  are basically pimped out by adults to make money.  While this is a quandary for the compassionate, many advise not to give to these kids but instead to give to charitable organizations operating within the country that can actually improve the overall situation long-term.


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