Last month I wrote about the top 5 things I will miss about Cambodia when my partner and I move to Australia in January.
Well, now it is time to talk about what I will NOT miss. It was actually pretty difficult to narrow my list down to five things, so I am going to present to you the most irritating aspects of Cambodia. Every country has its good and bad (except for perhaps, Finland; I hear that is an awesome place), and this is what irks me the most about Cambodia!
Feeling as though I am going to die every time I drive my motorbike
Now, don’t just assume I am a bad driver. I am actually pretty good, because I learnt to drive a car in Australia, which has to be one of the strictest countries on earth. Having learnt to be alert when driving and to always check my mirrors, I have been able to narrowly avoid accidents more times than I can count.
Most people on the roads here do not check their mirrors; nor do they look both ways when coming out from a side street onto a main road; nor do they care about others on the road apart from themselves. Added to this, a large amount of Cambodians do not wear motorbike helmets, and for many that do, they are low quality (you can literally buy motorbike helmets for $2.50USD on the side of the road), and they only wear it when they are near police checkpoints.
It is no wonder that Cambodia has seen a marked increase in road crash fatalities since 2010 (OECD Road Safety report 2016). Six people die on the roads each day (on average) in Cambodia and dozens more are injured. Motorcyclists, pedestrians and cyclists represent more than 80% of traffic causalities in Cambodia.
And I’ll tell you what, it isn’t just the motorbike drivers that make me feel like I am going to die every time I head down Sok San Road in Siem Reap. It is the tourists who walk in the middle of the road, assuming others will drive around them. It is the truck drivers who barrel down roads, expecting everyone else to get out of the way. And it is the car drivers who shouldn’t even have their licences, yet drive their expensive cars and don’t think about the consequences of their speed and drunk driving.
I do applaud the government’s efforts to enforce the traffic law, however it will take years to change the attitudes of people on the road. And I don’t want to wait for something to happen to me before it does.
Terrible customer service
I once complained to the CEO of the biggest book center in Cambodia, as his staff in multiple branches were, for lack of a better word, shit. His response was that Cambodia is not like my country, that they don’t have the ability to be better. I was appalled. Just because Cambodia is a developing country doesn’t mean it isn’t able to have high customer service standards! Everywhere I go, customer service staff, whether it be a small roadside stall or a large supermarket chain, just have terrible service. There is the lady who cleans her ears while serving me, the staff who don’t even say hello, the people who purposely short-change me, the representatives who are talking on the phone or to their workmates the whole time they are serving me. It is ridiculous. There are only a handful of places where I receive consistently good customer service in Cambodia, and I am running out of places to eat and shop because I can’t take the rudeness anymore!
“Voluntourism, wherever it occurs, takes jobs away from local workers. Why pay someone to do a job, when a volunteer will do it for free? This is especially harmful in communities with high rates of unemployment. Sure, there are some projects that might require volunteers, but you still need to ask why you’re needed, and why the work could not be better done by a local professional worker. ” – Mojo Abidi
It has been blogged about enough, yet this industry is still on the rise. I feel sick when I see organisations in Cambodia advertising for volunteers and say the children need ‘love, care and support’. This cannot be achieved by volunteers moving in and out of their lives. What they need is the care of their family, friends and permanent teachers.
If you ARE a skilled volunteer, and have cooperated with a local team to see if there is an opportunity for you to upskill staff, then that is good. But even now, what I often see is many skilled volunteers going to one organisation over time. What should be happening is the local staff are up-skilled and then able to pass that skills and knowledge onto other/future staff so that there isn’t a need for more volunteers. However that rarely does occur.
I was having my weekly bitch to a fellow Human and Hope Association Inc. board member the other day, expressing my frustration about how difficult it is to get the HHA name out there in Australia. She said that we are ahead of the time, given we are entirely run by locals and don’t accept any foreign volunteers, so people just aren’t ready for it. I hope this changes though, as voluntourism and ineffective volunteering HAS to end. There are just too many bad repercussions from it.
The photo above was from a couple of weeks ago. I was taking advantage of a day off by putting in the time and effort to make a lovely dinner for when my partner got home. Then, of course, the electricity cut out. I was cooking via iPhone light. This is a common occurrence, and during certain times of year, the electricity cuts out up to five times a day. It’s pretty annoying when you need to do work and have no battery left, or it is 40 degrees outside and you aren’t able to even use a fan. I don’t even know how I will feel in Australia with access to electricity 24/7. It’s been so long since I have experienced that.
Higher prices for foreigners
A few weeks ago I was invited to visit Phnom Kroam, a mountain on the way to Tonle Sap. As much as I wanted to go, I couldn’t. To visit the top would cost a $20USD Angkor Wat pass (soon to be increased to $37USD). For my Khmer friends, it was free. For me, a foreigner, nope. That is the same with many places in Cambodia, and items you buy, too. There is a dual pricing system, which though I can understand a bit, can also be really unfair if you are living here long-term and also have a limited income. I am really looking forward to visiting places in Australia and not having to worry about dual pricing for my partner and myself.