Culture shock 2



Here I am back at the Phnom Penh airport, along with half of the group. Boeun and his team dropped us off one hour ago, and it was a sad moment to see them go, after having cared about us for two weeks.

Here are a few more items that could be striking for a westerner spending some time in Cambodia.
One important aspect is the presence of the king’s picture in all places, along with his parents. It reminds me of the book from Guy Delisle in Pyongyang, where the dictator and his father had their pictures in each and every rooms. Not as omnipresent here, but for a king without power, he sure is visible. And of course I never snapped a pic of that 🙂
Coming back on the road traffic a minute, as in all poor countries you can see overloaded cars, buses, trucks and else. People cram on top, they cram stuff at the back door, strapped ajar by a cord, they sit everywhere and make the most of the space available. Security is clearly not the main concern.
You also see a lot of farm engines used as vehicles, notably these small motors with very long handles, that people drive with their feet, moving at maybe 10-12k/h. They also leave the special metal wheels that are necessary for plowing the drenched rice fields, probably damaging the roads a bit more. Behind such a contraption would be a long cart, with a few people and wood planks, tools, or some harvest.


What’s been striking me in almost all areas were houses along the road, for miles on end. We were out of any town for an hour or two, and still houses were aligned every now and then. I guess this is in order to be closer to fields, and have quick access to the road, as on the other hand, they are far away from everything else. This was less true in the south of the country, with more void and natural areas.

In any area though, you can see a lot of litter, of any kind, in any place. This seems to be a common factor of poor countries and poor regions. I have noticed a few litter cans, notably along the road where they are probably gathered, but this was rare. Plastic, bottles, construction material, you can find any kind of crap around. Bottles and cans are often gathered by some people, to be returned against a fee. We even passed a house almost covered with metal cans at one point.


Another constant feature is the use of cows or buffaloes as lawn mowers. They are attached at one point, often along the road, and keep the grass in check. Fields are mostly open, so that would be the only way to retrieve them – although they can get loose easily. It’s quite funny to see a large field, with cows being placed at regular intervals like a giant chess game!

Many fields are also protected by a wall. And that would be only one, lonely wall, generally on the side of the road, or sometimes along the next field. All other sides would be open. And most of these fields remain raw, uncultivated spots.
Using them everyday during the trip, I almost forgot that most of the little shops use cooler boxes and a lot of ice, having no fridge around. In most areas outside cities this is how drinks are kept and sold.

I made quite a few pictures of monasteries. There is a lot around, and we passed a huge one being built, south west of Phnom Penh. Most are living places, and used by monks or common people. There is usually a couple large buildings for ceremonies, a few housings, some statues, and a few stupas. These are the family mausoleums where ashes are kept, as all Buddhists are being cremated.

Another extremely common faith item are what could be seen on a first glance as birdbaths : small decorated houses, perched on a pillar at man’s height. These are used for incense burning and offerings, and can be found in almost every middle class garden. Many are sold here and there.

And finally, to conclude this second list, I often noticed French written below Khmer, especially for police and official buildings. It’s probably been there since the fifties!


Well, this is about all I can remember on this subject for now. It’s been an intense discovery, mind-clearing, eye opening, physically challenging, that went by in a flash. I remember clearly standing here two weeks ago, thinking it would be fast, and it has been. Two weeks is a quick period of time, but you can do a lot though, like visiting a country or fucking up your life.

I think I had a very diverse view of Cambodia in a short timeframe, thanks to Boeun and his team, clearing the way, taking care of all details, and explaining everything. Riding on a bike remains the best method to discover a place : you go fast enough to see a lot, and slow enough to enjoy it all by yourself. It’s been a great adventure.



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