Faces Along the Way: Thailand and Cambodia

Hanoi, Vietnam – I find that one of the most exciting parts of traveling is the chance to meet new people. You never know who you might run into, what kind of experience(s) you will share, or for how long your paths will cross. Think about it, a life changing event or your future best friend could be out there somewhere, and all you have to do is get off the couch and start wandering until you find that person or experience.

To that end, I thought I would share some of my encounters while in Thailand and Cambodia. I may not always rememeber, or have gotten, eveyone’s name, but each encounter has enriched my experience, as I hope I have enriched their’s as well. So, here’s who I’ve met along the way:

Meet Chris. I sat next to Chris on my flight from Tokyo to Bangkok. Chris is from Cape Cod (Massachusetts – it’s the arm that sticks out into the Atlantic – for those of you scrambling to find a map) where he owns his own video production company. Chris was flying from New York to Bangkok (via Tokyo) with a client to shoot a promotional video. The catch is, he was only going to be in Bangkok for four days. By my count, that’s around 48 hours of flying for 96 hours worth of work. Oh, and he had family arriving a couple days after he returned. Hope there’s a nice paycheck in the mail for him.

Meet Philip. Philip owned the hotel I stayed at while in Phuket, Thailand. He was quite an eccextric fellow (when I first met him he was wearing a t-shirt with a Pepsi logo, only – upon furher inspection – I realized it said Penis instead of Pepsi), but he was a very nice guy. Turns out he worked for a travel agency in England during a past life, and he covered the agency’s account with Turner in Atlanta. Apparently he doesn’t have very fond memories of the place (he thought it was boring and bloody humid), but, then again, when you live in paradise I’m sure everything else seems a little less than perfect.

Meet Stephanie. Stephanie was my paddle partner on the sea canoe tour I took in Phuket. Stephanie was travelling to Thailand from Melbourne, Australia where she works as a project manager. In fact, she was still working on her vacation. Apparently, no one else really knows how to do her job. So, when she goes on vacation she’s allowed to “work from home”. Good to see Americans aren’t the only ones being over worked.

Meet the English guy I met at my hostel in Bangkok. He was living at the hostel and teaching English in an international school located in Bangkok. His biggest complaint with the school was that you couldn’t fail anyone, no matter how poorly they were doing in class. Because, you know, that’s how the “real world” works.

Meet the guy from Milwaukee, WI I also met at my hostel in Bangkok. He had also been living at the hostel for the past month while volunteering to teach English in a local school (apparently, I found the English Teacher hostel). He was leaving a couple days later, but he enjoyed his time in Bangkok so much, that he was interested in making a permanent move back.

Meet the two English girls I met at my hostel in Phnom Penh. In an interesting twist of fate, I had the exact same travel schedule as these two girls while I was in Cambodia. Which means, we were in all the same places on the exact same days. However, the only time I ran into them was the two nights we stayed in the same dorm room in Phnom Penh. In another interesting twist, both of the girls had quit their jobs to travel around the world for a full year. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who’s gone crazy.

Meet the Cambodian Government Official I sat next to on the bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. This would be same gentleman who spent six hours with his shoulder in my rib cage due to my large stature compared to the tiny bus seats. We had a very nice discussion about politics, culture, and history. He was very interested in how the political and social structure works in the US, and I was interested in his thoughts on Cambodian politics and life in general – past, present, and future. I think it was a very eye opening cultural exchange for both of us. It definitely made me realize both how lucky I am to live in a developed country and how much pain our wars have inflicted over the past 30-40 years.

Meet Dhara. I ate lunch with Dhara when our bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap stopped for a 30 minute break. Dhara was a Cambodian refugee whose parents were fortunate enough to escape the Khmer Rouge. He was raised in Michigan before moving to Southern California to attend Law school. After Law school, Dhara tried to work full time in So Cal while working on volunteer projects in his native Cambodia. Realizing he had to choose one life or the other, he moved to Phnom Penh to start his own NGO. His NGO’s main focus was on inviting other local NGOs to join together so that  he could run the financial and legal operations (areas most local NGOs do not have experience or expertise) while the local NGOs focused on carrying out their missions. Our conversation really opened my eyes to the way international aid really works (that’s a whole other blog post just waiting to happen), and made me realize there’s hope for Cambodia’s future.

Meet the group traveling from Malaysia that I met at the hotel bar in Siem Reap. This was a fun group. There was the husband who was an Engineer, Lawyer who had had traveled around the world 3 times (seriously, name any country and the guys can tell you story after story about his travels there) while studying and working. There was the wife who seemed extremely happy to live a life of luxury while tagging along with her husband whenever he traveled. And, there was the single guy who is a businessman in Kuala Lumpur and really knew his beer and alcohol – some might call him a conneiseur. We had a great discussion about life in Malaysia (even though it’s a Muslim country with Islamic influenced laws, 40% of the population is not Muslim. Which they found frustrating.), and about travel and various travel stories. They were also the ones who showed me the bottle of Snake Whiskey behind the bar.

Meet Hong. Hong was my tour guide through the temple zone outside Siem Reap, which includes Angkor Wat. Hong told me stories of fishing in puddles on the street (there’s a Cambodian saying that says, “Where there’s water, there’s fish), cobra wine, and playing with unexploded ordinances when he was a kid. However, what I found most interesting was his admission that he tried to be a Buddhist Monk. Apparently he wasn’t cut out for the 4AM wake up calls, two meals a day, and all that praying and silence stuff. Better luck next time, I guess.

Meet Daniel. Daniel is a Venezuelan Biologist currently living in Peru whom I met at the hostel my second time through Phnom Penh. Daniel left Venezuela a year ago to escape the political and economic conditions of his home country. Unable to find a job in his field in Peru, he decided to travel for a little bit before trying his hand at being nature travel guide. Daniel was also trying to pull off the Fabio look (long hair, tanned skin, walked around the hostel without a shirt on) which I could care less about, except the dude took an hour to get ready in the morning (there was only one bathroom). Even the two English girls combined only took about 20 minutes. Seriously, c’mon man.

Meet the South African guy I rode on the hotel bus with when I passed through Bangkok on the way from Cambodia to Vietnam. Quite an interesting fellow from Durban, South Africa. He was probably in his 60’s, and he was spending five weeks in Thailand and Cambodia (with a carry on suitcase as his only luggage). A veteran traveler to Thailand, he first started coming to Bangkok in 1980 before the tourist and economic booms changed the face of the city and the country. It was fun listenening to his stories about the “old” Thailand, but somewhat sobering to hear him talk about the decline of his own country (the young generation is leaving in droves while the economy and safety continue to decline, but, don’t worry, it’s still a beautiful country).

2 thoughts on “Faces Along the Way: Thailand and Cambodia

  1. I enjoyed reading your commentary on the people you encountered on your travels. You are on an enviable adventure. Best of luck.

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