Before I came to Cambodia, I read countless blogs from other travelers to learn as much as I could about the country, what to pack, and how to do things once I arrived. The same things seemed to come up every time: save as much money as possible before coming, haggle on prices, pack light; I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. I filled my mind with the knowledge of seasoned backpackers, and left feeling somewhat prepared and confident in my ability to adjust to whatever else I discovered.
Then I actually got to Cambodia, and turns out things are a lot different! This is not to say that I gained false knowledge from scouring travel blogs, but rather I behave differently than the travelers I sought advice from. Whether it is from being a volunteer in one location rather than a backpacker who moves about more frequently, or simply an odd ball, here are five “weird” things that I do in Cambodia.
1. I brush my teeth with tap water
What!? Yes, I know that this sounds awful, terrifying even. After the horrible stories the doctor’s offices tell you about how dangerous the water is, and how quick everyone is to remind you to drink only bottled water, the idea of brushing your teeth with tap water seems appalling and irresponsible.
In reality, the water in Phnom Penh, Cambodia has actually been declared safe by the government. The staff at the volunteer house for my program shared this with me and the other volunteers our first day here. While it is still recommended to drink bottled water, tap water is fine for brushing teeth. My second day here, I christened my tooth brush with tap water and guess what: I am fine.
2. I go on runs and workout
“Cambodia is so hot, working out is impossible. You will sweat out everything, you don’t need to workout. There is too much traffic in Phnom Penh to run.” I heard and read phrases like these often before coming to Cambodia. Some of them turned out to be true: Cambodia is hot, I sweat a lot, and the traffic is insane. However, with a volunteer house equipped with Nutella, I definitely do not “sweat out” all the calories I consume in a day. While I am not too concerned about trying to keep up my workout routine from back home, I would like to somewhat maintain my girlish figure, or at least not turn into a pile of flab.
So I workout, in the heat, and sweating like a monster. It feels good. As a volunteer here and not a backpacker, I spend most of the day NOT moving around a lot. When I taught, I stood at the front of a classroom for hours. Now volunteering at a NGO, I sit at a desk and work on my laptop. Unlike backpackers who walk around all day, my lifestyle here is much less mobile. I need to actively create opportunities for myself to move and get my heart rate up. Doing short workouts a few times a week fixes that, and also makes me feel like a better person who deserves that extra spoonful of Nutella.
And the running? Traffic does not bother me. I have to walk places in the traffic, running in it isn’t much different. Just like with anywhere, I keep one earbud in, one earbud out, and remain vigilant.
3. I wear jeans
The one item of clothing forbidden on every packing list for Southeast Asia that I read. When I first learned not to bring jeans, I laughed out loud. Of course I would be brining jeans. At home, I live in jeans. I love wearing them, they are comfy, versatile, and in my case, stretchy. There was no way I was zipping up my suitcase without a pair.
And guess what? I wear them here. At night when I go out, during the day while I am at work, and sometimes just for a second to make sure they still fit and that I am not gaining too much weight here.
Sure it is hot, but I wore them back home when it was hot. Heck, I spent last summer wearing them around in 90 degrees Fahrenheit and up when I was working as an Orientation Leader for my university!
A word of advice to future travelsmiths, if there is an item of clothing you love and wear often, then just bring it, you will probably wear it.
4. I keep my phone in my pocket
With motorbike and general theft an issue in Phnom Penh, many people warned me against keeping my phone out. The first few days I was here, I kept it safe at the bottom of my bag, far away from the clutches of any potential thief.
Then one of my friends got her bag snatched and lost her phone, and I realized something: do not keep anything too valuable in your bag! On the daily, no credit cards, no big sums of money, and if possible, no phones. I keep my phone in my pocket, or in my shirt if I don’t have a pocket, so that if my bag got stolen, at least my phone wouldn’t be
5. I do NOT spend a lot of money on alcohol
I know what this sounds like: Southeast Asia is notorious for being cheap. Beers are fifty cents, shots one dollar, and cocktails three dollars. Of course I am not spending a lot of money on alcohol.
Let me clarify then: I hardly spend any money on alcohol. I spent a lot of time reading about how easy it was to party and get drunk in Southeast Asia. For a person coming to the country just to travel and have fun, that may be fine. However as a volunteer with a routine, and just as a person who does not like alcohol much in general, drinking every night is not my thing. Sure I have had my fair share of adventures with alcohol, like when I went to a Ceilidh in Scotland and that time I got drunk on a boat in Estonia. Even in Cambodia I have indulged in a drink or two. But the crazy party culture epitomized by the club I went to in Siem Reap?
Not part of my every day routine. If you know me, you know I do not like drinking much. The minute I can taste the alcohol in a drink, I no longer want it. And I am a light weight, a one drink wonder. After a drink or two, I’m done, and I like it that way. I don’t spend a lot of money on alcohol because I would much rather get a piece of cake at Joma, or buy a bus ticket to Mondulkiri, or even sip on a Sprite. I don’t want to drink away my money, but rather use it to experience Cambodia. And that is exactly what I am doing!
And there it is, five weird things I do in Cambodia. Whether it is because I am a wild child, a secret genius, or a nutcase; the world may never know.