The incredibly polite and considerate kids in Cambodia

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Since I’ve been in Cambodia for a year and a half, one of the biggest differences I notice between Cambodian youth and those in Western countries is the level of consideration they have for other people and responsibility in the home.

I usually take a nap at my Cambodian colleagues’ house. When I arrived at her house two days ago, her energetic and playful seven-year-old sister who was the only person at home. She was eating on a bench and I just started to lie down on the best beside her. I heard her immediately go into her house, get me a pillow and ran to get another chair for herself so I could sleep on the whole bench. I was very impressed.

Today I also went to an NGO school located 12 km outside of the Siem Reap city-centre. I was prepared to sit on the floor with my computer and as soon as I walked in the room, a 12-year-old girl ran out to get me not one, but two chairs. She said, “One for you and one for your computer.”

I run into a lot of Western expats, whether I want to or not, in town and many would barely have the consideration to get up to get you a chair or do something to help a new visitor or a guest. I was very impressed with my friend’s sister who is much more polite than most Western adults I’ve come across in Asia.

When tourists or expats visit people in rural villages, they’re often surprised how well-behaved many of the children are. Many don’t have a chance to live out a full childhood because they have to help their parents clean the house, pick up their siblings from school, cook around their school schedule, if they even go to school at all.

I keep learning to shut up when I complain about working long hours at times because some Cambodian friends tell me that they wake up at 6:00 a.m. to drop their sister to school before starting their 8-hour work day then going to university for three hours where their teacher may or may not show up because they drank too much the night before. They don’t tell me this to make me feel bad; my friends are just open about their lives. I’ve heard too many “poor” me stories from expats who didn’t get the perfect massage or not having air conditioning.

When I visit my friends’ hometowns in the villages, I’ve seen 11-year-olds who know how to cut and clean fish, young kids helping set up the tables before a meal and kids sweeping and watering plants happily at their schools. They are extremely modest and rarely ask for much from their family, mostly because they can’t. But they know how to use their imaginations and play well with each other.

 

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Back to Back Cambodian weddings

The happy newlyweds.

 

I know I should probably be writing about my New Year’s Even in Siem Reap but I have been and will continue to be very busy with my new job with a travel company for the next 10 weeks. I still have to upload pictures then I’ll do a late post.

The last two weeks have been filled with back to back dinners with friends, reunions and consecutive Cambodian wedding parties. I love the openness of Cambodian weddings. One of my friends asked her cousin to give me a formal invitation so that was very sweet. I’ve really enjoying spending time and getting to know their families.

My very sweet friend Mara who got her cousins to invite me.

I went to the smaller pre-wedding party at the house which was really fun. We ate Cambodian food, there is as usual an unlimited supply of beer and soft drinks, karaoke and dancing.

Every time I go over my friend’s place, they are extremely hospitable in typical Cambodian fashion and offer to share their food and ask if I’ve eaten. I was really impressed with my friend too, I know she was so busy helping them prepare for many things, but when she saw that my ice was low on my drink she refilled it for me. Wow, talk about being a great host.

Girls just wanna have fun. Cambodians love karaoke. 

Last year I went to three Cambodian wedding parties in total and three weeks ago I went to three in a weekend. Her cousin’s wedding had the best food of all the weddings I went to and was at a restaurant. It was a fantastic time and I got to meet more nice people.

Great way to spend a Monday night.

Mara’s fun, intelligent and adorable daughter.

This is not soda, it’s duck’s blood. The real Cambodian food.

Pictures from the wedding party

There were at least 700 people at the restaurant of the wedding dinner. I don’t think I’ve ever been to such a big restaurant in Cambodia.

 

 

Getting ready to dance.

 

A mega Cambodian salad.

 

Happy happy

 

Beautifully cooked fish.

 

This generation of inspiring Khmer women

Apologies again for delayed posts, it’s been a crazy two weeks of life transitions, getting a bad cold in a country that is at least 27 degrees on any given day and social obligations.

I’ve met some more inspiring and strong Khmer women on my soccer team that plays games weekly. In many traditional Cambodian households, particularly rural areas of the country, which over 85% of the population lives in rural areas, many Khmer girls and women are expected to become housewives and are often not supported to attend school.

When I joined my first game, we did the usual introductions then one of my friends told me, “I’ve been playing football since I was small. But when I was young my father cut my ball in half because he said women do not play soccer and should learn to clean and cook. But he could not stop me and after a long time, he finally understands he cannot stop me. Women empowerment!”

I learned that this same friend was sponsored to attend a five-day program that uses football to also empower women too, which is amazing. When I first joined football, I wasn’t expecting to as many Khmer people playing as there were. But I’m very happy especially to see more women playing than I expected.

Another one of my teammates told me that her family often discouraged her from going to school and only supported her brothers’ education. But she found her own scholarship that enabled her to go to university. She was the first woman in Cambodia to graduate at the top of her marketing class at her university. Now she earns much more money than most of her male colleagues and uses her extra money to buy good books for her younger siblings.

Another teammate is raising her niece in addition to her own children but she keeps reinforcing the important of working hard and always learning. She provides everything that her niece needs to thrive.

While there may be some NGOs that have some impact with advancing women’s rights, it’s ultimately the women like my friends who will have the biggest influence to change the mentality of the next generation and their siblings to value education and support the empowerment of women.

 

The Jatiluwih rice paddies in Bali, Indonesia

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While I was on Bali island in Indonesia, one of 13,466 islands that make up the country, my friend and I rode our mottos to see the unique Jatiluwih rice paddies, a popular place for foreign visitors. Jati means “really” and luwih means “beautiful.” The rice fields were dug in terraces on the slope of Mount Batukaru around the middle of Bali. When the rice almost reaches harvest time, the colour often varies between green, and dark yellow.

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Indonesia has one of the most stunning landscape and it’s why the motto rides are the best way to explore the country in my opinion. The entrance fee was no more than $2.50 US, about the same price as most temples and sights. Compared to Europe, the value for these places around Asia are much more  beautiful and unique. The Jatiluwih rice fields are definitely worth a visit.

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The dream of Nyomen in Bali

The lovely Nyomen.

I was very happy to meet Nyomen, a staff member at the villa my friend was staying at in Bali, Indonesia. Every time we passed her, she greeted us with the most genuine and warm smile. She doesn’t speak much English and I don’t speak much Indonesian, but I can feel the warmness of her personality. If she didn’t see us for a few days, she would run up and give us a hug whenever we came back.

Nyomen has worked in three villas and is also a mother of two, one of whom is not her biological child, but she so generously took into her family. She grew up in Bali with six other brothers and sisters and now is busy taking care of the family after her work shift is over.

Nyomen’s lifestyle, modesty and unconditional love for her family is typical of many women I have met across Asia. She wakes up early to make breakfast for the children and does a lot of shopping. Husband doesn’t cook but if he has a day off he will go fishing and bring fish back home.

Nyomen makes these beautiful bracelets and sells them. I bought two as a souvenir of her wonderful and generous personality.

Marriage is highly valued across Asia and if people are not married by a certain age, often between 20 to 30, then many people act like it’s the end of the world for you and you have not fulfilled your ultimate mission in life. The families of the bride and groom have to agree with the marriage.

I was curious and asked Nyomen what the common age is for people to marry and she said girls can marry as young as 20 years old and 24 to 27 years old for boys. Sometimes if kids don’t have a job they marry instead.

In today’s Western dating culture, there is so much gaming involved, playing hard to get and often acting like a bad boy/bad girl to attract a partner. So I found the simplicity and genuine affection in Nyomen’s story of how she met her husband very sweet and a great of example of old school romance.

Nyomen’s husband came from the same village as her and they met every day. She said, “We spent a lot of time together and one day my husband said he fell in love with me.” They were not in a relationship for a long time before they got married. She was 20 years old at the time and he was 25 and is now working at a hotel.

I asked her if she wants her kids to marry early and she said, “No, I want my children to go to university, have a good job and then marry. In Bali it’s expensive so I want my kids to be successful and I can help my kids go to university.”

 

Indonesia Cost Summary

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Over the next few weeks I will start posting detailed costs of my time in Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Taiwan, Cambodia and Thailand. What I spent for 6 weeks in Europe lasted me 10 months in Asia. I wasn’t on a specific budget necessarily and I didn’t hold back on anything I wanted to do including doing my diving license, mutli-day tours, and doing a motorcycling trip.

These places could be done for even cheaper than what I spent because I also treated my friends out regularly and bought extra ingredients to cook for them. My three weeks in Indonesia would have been $371 US if I didn’t do the diving license.

All of the prices will be in US dollars. At the time I was in Indonesia, the exchange rate was on average $1 US=11,500 rupiah.

Accommodation

  • 9 days in Bali: free, at my friend’s villa in Jimbaran
  • Ubud for two nights: $15.00 per person
  • Lombok: $12.00 per person for three nights at Diyah Homestay guesthouse. We happened to arrive when there was a wedding going on and the owners were kind enough to share a few meals with us and invite us to the local ceremony
  • One night accommodation in Yogyakarta at EduHostel: $6.00
  • One night accommodation at a crappy hostel: $5.00

Diving license at Tulamben

  • $400.00 for the license, two nights at the diving resort including all you can eat breakfast and dinners

Adventure and sights

  • $25.00 to go river rafting 12 km through the jungle in Bali that includes an all-you-can-eat buffet
  • $7.00 to watch a variety of traditional dance shows for 2 hours in Ubud’s Kelod centre
  • Most of the temples and sights are about $2.00 for entrance fees and some of the best sights and unique jungle landscape has been in Bali. Often I find in Indonesia the surrounding jungle area is more beautiful than the temple or main sight itself.

Transportation and gas

  • Got around with scooters and ferries. We used my friend’s scooter and I rented a scooter for four days for about $3.50 a day
  • Four-hour overnight ferry ride from Bali to Lombok on scooter was about $11.00
  • Every gas fill for the scooter was about $2.00

Food

  • You can get food for $0.25 when you go to the right places and many meals are $1.50 to $2.00 for a full plate of fried rice, noodles and other types of local food.
  • In Skybar in Kuta, they have all you can eat for $5.00

Total spend for 3 weeks in Indonesia: $771.00

Got a travel story or tip to share?

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I’ve met so many incredible people the past year who have shared inspiring moments, lessons and stories with me during their own travels. If you’d like to share your story to be published here, please email marcokokotravels@gmail.com.

I’m sorry I still have a growing number of posts to publish from my time in the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia and my return to Cambodia. The experiences I still have to share include couch surfing in Palawan, living in a driftwood house in Ko Chang island and spending a week learning from a 16-year-old jungle master in Marinduque, Philippines.

Stay tuned!