Cambodia is my favorite country. The first time I arrived in Seam Reap three years ago I was immediately in love. The people are beautiful, exceptionally nice and the culture rich. Not much has changed in that regard since I first visited.
The people are still beautiful, especially the men. Everywhere you turn there are very attractive, well dressed guys. I am told by one of my Cambodian friends that fitted clothing is inexpensive to have made for you. “So why not have it fitted properly?” he said. Nearly every guy wears a fitted shirt and slacks and they look great!
The people are still exceptionally nice. It’s rare to encounter someone in Cambodia that is rude or unhelpful. It does happen (and it seems to be happening more and more, unfortunately), but thankfully it is still uncommon. People still throw you a smile when you walk down the street, shop owners go out of their way to be helpful and in general people are just happy and nice.
The culture is still rich. The people still practice traditional customs even in the face of massive change and growth. They have a deep respect and understanding of their history and continue to move forward in spite of the darker chapters. Cambodia has a relatively young population, yet it seems to be finding a balance between popular cultural and Cambodian culture, which is great.
There are some things that have changed dramatically in the last three years. Growth is unbelievable. Seam Reap is much larger and far more touristy than before. Some places are far more developed now than they were three years ago. Cambodia is growing and changing at a breakneck pace and in some areas it shows.
There are many more touts and they are far more aggressive than they used to be. Prices have really jumped up. In fact, Cambodia is not that affordable relative to Thailand. I think this is a bit of a problem. The infrastructure is still very undeveloped (dirt roads, poor water management, etc.). If you price out the people willing to go to the effort to visit Cambodia, then the opportunity to develop for more traditional tourists won’t happen.
Not everything is crazy expensive, and, in fact, I find the price variations to be rather dramatic. Food seems to be pricey, but clothing still cheap. Tuk tuks in busy areas are competitive as long as you negotiate, yet almost extortionate in other areas because there is little competition (and the drivers are willing to take nothing rather than a fare that is less than what they tell you). Even Cambodians think prices have gotten a bit expensive, but they also will tell you it is helping people out of poverty.
The sense of business also seems to be lacking at times. It’s not uncommon to wait a long time for service or to receive your order. Sometimes the service is exceptional, though. It really just depends. Things move fairly slowly in Cambodia and it’s safe to assume that a 4 hour bus ride is really 6 (no exaggeration). Hotels seem to miss some of the more basic concepts of hospitality. In general, there is a somewhat short-sighted view when it comes to financial interactions.
Of course, none of these issues are unique to Cambodia. I am just disappointed to see some of the more negative aspects of growth in my favorite country. I am like the man who finds his lover is not as perfect as he initially thought. And yet, I am still fascinated and awed by how amazing Cambodia is. Most of my friends that I said should visit immediately fell in love just as I did three years ago. Cambodians are so happy, so nice and such wonderful people that Cambodia remains my favorite country.