If there are one thing you shouldn’t expect in Cambodia is the staff of major attractions to actually be nice. That hasn’t been my experience. You know the Western saying of the customer being always right, forget that. It doesn’t even come close to it here.
However, you can expect locals to be really kind to you. I always felt really taken care of by the people outside the tourism sphere – from passengers in bus telling me when to get off, to people in restaurant helping me order and to motorbike driver charging me the actual price of a drive, not a tourist inflated drive. Locals are truly kind and the vibe they cast is so unexpected considering the poverty of their country. I have observed a great deal of things here on that account, but I think this should be kept for a future post.
I did go to a spa in Cambodia, but I went to a slightly more expensive one because I thought the atmosphere would be better for relaxing. I didn’t regret that, because after the feet treatment (my feet were quite the mess) I had a very good talk with the girl about tourism in Cambodia. It seems most of the tourism in Cambodia comes from richer Asian countries and even more so the new Chinese middle-class. It would also appear that they are not just rude toward Westerners. I do think however that Chinese middle-class being a rather new phenomenon, the behaviors of Chinese tourists should improve with time and exposure to other cultures.
Enough on that subject though. I mentioned in an earlier post that I bought slightly more expensive souvenirs at the Artisans d’Angkor. Not only were the souvenirs good quality, but I knew I was contributing to a good social initiative that would keep on giving long after I was gone. This being said, like most backpackers money remains a concern for me when I travel even if I consider myself privileged. If I wasn’t financially conscious, I wouldn’t be able to travel. This means I can’t go crazy on souvenirs for everybody and I can’t give to every person who asks me on the street, even if I would like too. This being said, I always try to be fair.
Which brings me to negotiating. I found that a good rule of thumb is to start negotiation at a 1/4 of what is asked and to settle at no more than a 1/3 of the asking price. That seemed valid in markets and for tuk-tuks. Now, this might not always work and at that point, it’s up to you to decide how much you want the item you are negotiating for. It’s up to you to decide if you are willing to pay the asking price or if you can just walk away.
I learned that by watching a Chinese girl negotiate and riding the wave of her negotiations (negotiating is not exactly in my nature). That’s how I bought a drawstring pant for $4 instead of $12. Of course, you must also be able to recognize when the asking price is fair. Like that time a motorbike driver asked for $1 for a 5 minutes ride… For sure, he was not a driver that typically catered to tourists – that makes a big difference. I guess, it’s about knowing when to negotiate and when to pay up.
Also, in Cambodia and in South East Asia, drawstring pants are your best friend. In the heat, you will find that they are your most comfortable clothing option.
It is also here that I really learned the meaning of standing my ground. No choice here, if you want to keep your sanity intact you have to be firm with tuk-tuk drivers who will try to cheat you or will harass you on the streets because, sometimes, walking away is not going to solve the problem when you are dealing with an overzealous driver. I have been followed by drivers for three blocks while I was here. You have to learn how to deal with it.
Cambodia is well worth a visit. It is beautiful and lively. It has a rich history. However, it can also be a difficult country, which may cause quite a shock to you. If it gets too much, you always have the option of staying in your room for a day to read a book or something until your batteries are fully recharged and you are ready to face the bustling streets again. I learned that while I appreciate complete freedom, I have a hard time with chaos.
Ok, as for things I wish I had done, but didn’t? I wish I had found the courage to seek out and try the fried tarantula. I also wished I had gone to a representation from Phare, the Cambodian circus in Siem Reap.