Last year, I spent three and a half months backpacking through a handful of island in Southeast Asia, and it was truly one of the most life-changing experiences I’ve ever had. Although I had already traveled pretty extensively, Asia just has this aspect that can only be described as magical. Like any other trip, you’re going to have favorites that every time you look back on it, your memories – even the bad ones – bring so much joy. Cambodia is that for me. Through good and bad it remains the highlight, and here are 10 reasons why.
IT WAS MY FIRST STOP IN ASIA
It’s hard not to have a soft spot in your heart for a “first” in your travel history. I had been dying to get to Asia since I was 16-years-old and so many other opportunities kept coming up before this trip, but landing in Cambodia, seeing all the new sites, smelling all the smells, hearing tuktuks beep and zoom past. I was finally there and I had never felt so alive.
Eastern Religion was a huge part of my studies in college with most of my studies being about Buddhism. Although, I had been to a few temples in Missouri, it was a whole different feeling being immersed in a culture where it’s so present in everyday life. I finally felt like my education had come full circle and that I was learning again in a whole new type of classroom.
CULTURE SHOCK STRUCK
I had had some moments on other trips that hit me from time to time, but nothing like I had in Cambodia. A little over week into this trip I took a minibus ride with a 10 gallon jug of oil shoved between my legs and five people more than max capacity shoved into this thing, and when a rooster crawled into my seat and I was yelled at to join it for the last half of the ride, my mind had had enough and I went into full meltdown-mode, tears and everything. But the great thing is that even though those moments suck, they’re fleeting and it’s all part of the experience and necessary for growth.I SAW JOY, EVEN IN POVERTY + SUFFERING
I’m from a middle-class family that took loads of vacations, I didn’t miss out on any of the typical American experiences growing up, I had most of my college paid for by my parents and have more possessions than I’m proud to admit. Because of the life I was lucky enough to be given, I was so moved to see so much joy surrounding me even though so many of these people didn’t have much at all. Kids playing outside ran after us waving and saying, “hello” with smiles from ear-to-ear as we rode our bikes through tiny villages in Kratie Province. At the S-21 prison, I shook the hand of a man who had been tortured here just decades before and we shared the purest moment of gratitude I’ve ever experienced. I was just so humbled by his joy to simply be alive.
I DON’T NEED ALL THE STUFF I THOUGHT I DID – ESPECIALLY CLOTHES
I have an addiction, and that addiction is clothing. I don’t need expensive jewelry or designer labels, but I love to buy new things to wear. I had been stressing about feeling trapped by my “tiny wardrobe” and being bored with my clothing, and even though I still felt that way certain days on the road, Cambodia was the first place that I felt truly ashamed of myself for feeling limited by pack full of clothing. I saw that even if all I owned was what was in my pack, I was still leaps and bounds ahead of those around me. This is something I definitely brought back with me, and I’m working on even today.
ANGKOR WAT IS REALLY THAT BEAUTIFUL
A lot of people are all about “not being a tourist”, but I feel like there’s a reason that everyone flocks to these big sites, and Angkor Wat is no exception. Sure the main attraction is super-busy (especially at sunrise) but there are plenty of places to experience it all by yourself. Heck, we even meditated in a small ruin here for about 20 minutes and weren’t disturbed by a single person. Not to mention that the temple-complex is massive and even the less-popular sports are unreal. Even with a three-day pass we barely scratched the surface. Don’t miss out on stunning sites just because it’s “uncool” to hit the tourist spots too.
I GOT TO DIVE INTO NATURE
I mean this both figuratively and literally. I am a nature-lover so I love to explore the “wild side” of different destinations and Cambodia has no shortage of natural sites. I took a 12 mile trek in the jungle, jumped into a massive crater lake, bathed in waterfalls and really enjoyed filling my soul with the natural beauty of this country.
I GOT SPIRITUAL
Even though I have studied religion extensively, in my adult-life I had looked at religion in a strictly scholarly way, but seeing such a beautiful, ancient religion in action, I was caught off guard just how moved I was. I meditated in temples, I received blessings and left offerings and it felt so genuine and so good to be in touch with a side of myself that hadn’t been touched in such a long time.
Cambodia will always be place that moves me, a place that I became a better version of myself, and a more joyful person. Although I loved at least something about every country, I never hesitate to say Cambodia is my favorite country that I’ve visited thus far.
Thanks to Paige of For the Love of Wanderlust for this brilliant post!