I have flights booked to Cambodia for October this year and am beginning my trip with 2 weeks of volunteer teaching work. Because I will be placed in the same city/town for two whole weeks, I plan on traveling around the country for an additional week/two weeks afterwards.
This is my first ever overseas travel experience, and am planning on doing it alone. I am a 22 year old female.
I was wondering if anyone has advice for a lone female traveler like myself? My parents are begging me to do tours. What is everyone's thoughts on the opportunities lone traveling provides, safety, etc.? (My objective of this trip is to experience the REAL Cambodia and not get caught up in the touristy/cliche activities - and I don't necessarily want to do tours, but will if they seem good enough...mainly to get my parents off my back).
#1 jocschneider has been a member since 3/7/2013. Posts: 6
"Because I will be placed in the same city/town for two whole weeks..."
Two weeks in one town is not a long time unless it's a pretty small town. You will barely scratch the surface, have time to learn a couple of basic phrases and maybe make a superficial friend or two. Don't rue the idea of spending time in one place. It is the only way to get to know a culture. Racing around from place to place, making no indigenous friends, hanging out with other westerners at night, and sightseeing in the day might be fun (which is cool - principal reason you go on vacation is to have a good time) but it is not going to teach you a whole lot about any country, Cambodia included.
I am not a fan of tours. I want to do what I want, when I want. And I don't see any particular reason to think of them as safer, except insofar as you are moving with a group, and groups are inherently safer than being alone. On the other hand, members of the group might not be trustworthy, and that has to be considered since these people in the tour are not people you know. Tours also move around a lot, and I'm not a fan of that either. Time on a bus is wasted time. I hate them.
Defining the "real Cambodia" (or the real anyplace else) is not so easy. Urban settings are just as real as rural ones, but for many will seem less "authentic". Your challenge is, of course, language. When you leave the urban settings and move into rural ones, language can be a real challenge. So you will have to balance trying to suss out the "real" Cambodia with the fact that you don't speak the language to even order a meal or ask for a room. The language challenge can be overcome (food in the "real" Cambodia, IMHO, sucks - so for me that's a limiting factor to exploring urban Cambodia) but you will have to work at it and accept you will not get what you want the way you want it.
Since you are spending two weeks volunteering first in one location, that will doubtless give you some connection to the area, so if you are not interested in sightseeing and hitting Angkor Wat and so forth, then you might consider just staying where you are, learning more of the language and getting to know more indigenous persons.
#2 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Cambodia is a safe country to travel alone in as long as you keep you head screwed up, generally keep your wits about you and take the usual safety precautions that you would if venturing into unknown areas at home. Don't get drunk on your own, keep an eye on your belongings and don't walk around late at night on your own.
It's also an easy country to travel in. The bus service to get between destinations is pretty good and relatively cheap. Your parents are just being normal parents in being concerned about your welfare. It is unlikely that you will experience the 'real' Cambodia as the standard places that tourists visit are, well, touristy. BUT... it is much better to visit them on your own than with an organised tour that leads you around like a flock of sheep.
This has been really helpful. Thankyou so much busylizzy and MADMAC. As you can probably tell, I really have no idea what to expect, so I'm super thankful for your honesty.
#4 jocschneider has been a member since 3/7/2013. Posts: 6
No worries - I was a bit rushed in my last reply. I had also wanted to comment about the fact that people (ie parents and concerned friends) often warn about the dangers of travel, but in most cases I think this is more due to their lack of experience and/or knowledge of what it is like travelling through SEA. So while they mean well, they are sometimes providing bad or misinformed advice. Forums like this one are full of people who are out there travelling independently now, and are generally pretty open and honest about their experiences (good and bad). You will find that horror stories are pretty rare in SEA. I'd suggest getting your parents to view some of the discussions but I''d be afraid that they'd latch on to the first 'bad' story that they came across!
Try to convince them how this will be an opportunity for you to challenge yourself, to learn to become self-sufficient. It will be a life-changing time for you - go and make the most of it!
Also Madmac mentions language being a possible barrier. This isn't really the case in Cambodia. If you're keeping to the more popular areas you'll find that many locals can converse reasonably well in English. And traveller sign language gets you through the rest of the times! Having said that - it's always a good idea to try and learn some basic language, even if it's Hello, Thank you, etc. They'll appreciate the effort. Get hold of the Lonely Planet language guides...
Also if you plan to stay in the backpacker type places, you will no doubt meet up with other people and hire tuktuks, etc to do day trips eg visiting Angkor Wat or whatever. They will provide company for you and provide an extra layer of comfort for you and your parents (safey in numbers, etc)
Language is a barrier if she wants to visit the "real" Cambodia. I noticed from your first post, you pretty much assumed that just wasn't going to happen. And you are probably right. But since she is teaching English her first two weeks, that location MIGHT be a connection to the "real" Cambodia, since obviously if her students already spoke Enlgish well, they wouldn't need her.
I know almost no one subscribes to my notion of learning indigenous culture by actually immersing yourself into a single location where there are few or no other westerners around. But when I first came here in 2002 I spent my entire vacation - minus one night on the return trip - in a small village in Yasothon Province. During that trip I met three westerners when I was in Yasothon city shopping. That was it. Otherwise I was in the village with no outside contact - no internet, no phone (the village has two land line telephones), two other people who spoke English (my wife and one other lady I met there). I lived in a real homestay... my in laws crappy, dirty little house. We have fixed it up since. This experience taught me a lot about Thai - Issan cultural norms and it also taught me what was hypberbole from guide books. It was the beginning of my sisyphean task to learn Thai. I made real friends with whom I am still friends to this day.
Now, of course, I had the huge advantage of having a close personal relationship with someone who brought me into that environment. Without her, that location would not have been possible. But the OP here is going there to stay in a specific place already. That might be a similar kind of "in". It just depends on what's important to her as to whether or not she wants to go that route. My first time to Thailand I didn't "travel" anywhere, and I'm glad I didn't. For me personally, cultural immersion was more important than sight seeing.
As for safety, Liz is, as usual, spot on. Just exercise common sense and don't put yourself in compromising positions and you should be fine. Have a great trip and let us know how it goes.
#6 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Hey Mac, I don't disagree with your ideas of 'Ã§ultural' immersion but I also know that the reality is most people don't have the luxury of time to enjoy that, nor the relationship to help them through that immersion process.
As a first time traveller in her early 20's chances are she's going to want to explore as much as she can, within reason. Her first 2-week teaching gig will give her some level of immersion - more than most people who visit Cambodia - including myself. But she'wanting to see other places too - so I'm trying to advise her accordingly.
Lack of language won't be a barrier. It will make things more difficult if she's in an area where English isn't spoken, but she'll get by. Most people do. She'll also learn some basic language during her teaching gig - that will help.
With respect to the 'real' Cambodia - the perception of what this is will be different to first-time travellers to those of us who have had more experience travelling in the region. I think I have a good understanding of what she will probably be looking for... and what she wants to avoid. Hopefully I've been able to help her a little bit.
Once again, thanks heaps for your replies. Liz, I actually sent my Mum an email today with everything you mentioned; that this experience will be life changing only if I do it my way, not hers. And I sent her the link to this thread too haha.
Thanks again for all your tips & general advice!
#8 jocschneider has been a member since 3/7/2013. Posts: 6
Crikey - I just noticed the typo that I made in Post #3. I meant 'keep your head screwed on'', not 'screwed up'! I guess you worked out what I meant.
Good luck with your Mum. I'm sure she'll come around. Best thing is to provide re-assurance by letting her know that you're thinking things through and are coming up with a plan. And learning from the experiences of others.
"Lack of language won't be a barrier. It will make things more difficult if she's in an area where English isn't spoken, but she'll get by. Most people do."
Well you won't die... at least probably not, but it can definitely make things interesting. I noticed when I went to Cambodia I hated the fact I could speak the language at all. Couldn't read it either. I take for granted here I can do that. Back in my wife's village you would certainly survive - but man, it would be tough. As I said above, the language barrier isn't insurmountable, but it is a real challenge when you move to a place where you don't speak a single common word. You learn then how dependent we are on language to function. You go to the restaraunt, and can't tell someone what you want to eat. You get what you get (which in Cambodia for me would not be a happy outcome). As for real conversation, well, forget it.
#10 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
OP - you won't die (jesus MADMAC, the things you throw into a harmless conversation), you will be fine as you are. If you pick up a few sentences in Khmer great, if you don't then it's not the end of the world. Always carry a phrase book, point in restaurants (also try what the locals are eating) and smile at all times - it goes a long way to breaking any barriers.
Don't mind MADMAC, sometimes he likes to assert what he thinks is his superiority over the rest of us because he has "cracked" rural SE Asia and speaks some of the language. For the rest of us mere mortals, travelling through the region with only a handful of indigenous sayings is perfectly okay as well and you will learn plenty about the country by doing this.
Don't spend too much time on buses and definitely don't do a tour. If you have two weeks after your teaching then four places would be adequate. Siem Reap/Angkor--PP--Kampot--Sihnoukville/the islands would give you a nice flavour of Cambodia.
#11 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 740
We were talking about the "real" Cambodia here. From that phrase I got the impression she wanted to spend time in areas where people are not as influenced by externals and have maintained older historical cultural norms - and that has to include language of course.
"...sometimes he likes to assert what he thinks is his superiority over the rest of us because he has "cracked" rural SE Asia and speaks some of the language."
Are you kiddin me? I've cracked rural Issan in the sense I can move here comfortably and understand this environment reasonably well. Throw me in rural Cambodia and I am as lost as the OP here. Ditto Vietnam. Maybe I could navigate Laos a little better, given it's close connection here. Maybe. I can only offer insights from my own experience of coming to SEA my first time and spending it all in one village. I didn't do that because I'm Mr Culturally aware. I did that to meet my in-laws and get to know them. But in every country I have lived in, I found that spending time in one place and developing human connections in that place has given me insight into the culture of it. I think moving around negatively impacts on your ability to develop cultural insight. Just my two cents. Others have other points of view, that's fine. She asked, I gave an opinion.
#12 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957