Cambodia, Where Social Justice Meets Tourism

I almost ran down a family of three with my bicycle.

I hadn’t been on a bike in a good eight years, and I was wobbly at best. The motto “It’s like riding a bike” does not apply to me. Why I decided to go on a 20 km bike tour in Phnomn Penh, the world may never know. Yet there I was thinking I could bike in a busy city for two kilometers before hitting the countryside’s (hopefully) open roads.

I apologized profusely to the mother who looked like she wanted to slap me down (understandably) and could feel a panic attack coming. What was I doing? This is crazy? I’m riding a bike in a country that does not even bother to follow traffic laws!

“I don’t like this,” I said, my voice as shaky as my biking.

“It’s OK,” my tour guide reassured me. 

Eventually, I made it to the countryside with my super patient guide and tour group. Bouncing along back roads with children shouting hello, I got the hang of biking and had a beautiful time. We stopped at a Buddhist temple, a local school, and a home/silk factory. I felt strong being able to bike 20 km on a whim (thank you, fitness classes) and was happy to be outside for once.

When not attempting to stay upright on a bike, I made it a point to visit businesses that not only aim to turn a profit, but to turn a person’s life around.

Here are my main itinerary items while in Phnom Penh:

The Killing Fields will be a post unto itself. It’s another sobering monument, along with Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, of the Khmer Rouge’s brutality.

Romdeng Restaurant is an eatery that trains former people who made their living from the streets (I don’t like the term street children) in the hospitality industry. I sat on the top floor with a wooden ceiling fan whirring above me and white lights twinkling beneath me. It was a meditative experience with good food set at frugal prices. My waiter had a shirt that read “trainee,” and it was clear that he was nervous. He did a great job though, and other staff members helped to coach him through the process. After eating, there’s a store that sells wonderful handicrafts (re: souvenirs!). Bags made from reclaimed materials such as tires and earrings crafted from former spoons are just some of the available items. Since dinner was extremely reasonable, it’s easy to not break one’s budget while shopping there.

Cambodian Living Arts is reclaiming the cultural history that the Khmer Rouge regime attempted to destroy. With regular nightly performances at the National Museum, it’s a gorgeous show that keeps professional dancers gainfully employed and also gives background information on folk dances. It’s best to buy tickets in advance for this.

Mali’s is good eating. Period. I got a pri-fixe menu and enjoyed fish amok, a traditional Cambodian dish, soup, wine, tea, and dessert. The one thing I didn’t like is that they tried to sit me at the bar even though I had made a reservation. After I asked when I was going to be properly seated, I was moved to a small table. I don’t care if I’m a female solo diner. Don’t throw me at the bar in an empty restaurant. I’m glad that I stood up for myself though because usually I’m a “well, it’s fine” kind of gal.

What  I enjoyed the most about Phnom Penh was my hotel though. I stayed at the Rambutan Hotel and was just in love with the smooth cement floors and friendly staff. I would go back to Cambodia just to lounge at this hotel for a week.




2 thoughts on “Cambodia, Where Social Justice Meets Tourism

  1. Pingback: 10 Tips for First Time Solo Travelers Going Abroad | (Im)Migrating with a Purpose

  2. Pingback: Vientiane, Laos | (Im)Migrating with a Purpose

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