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The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Unexpectedly vibrant

City College student vacations in Cambodia

Robert Pace | Staff Writer
[email protected]

The streets are dense with people. Cars and SUVs pack intersections, but it’s the scooters that dominate. Carrying as many as five people each, their experienced drivers deftly navigate through traffic and rarely bother to pause for such mundane details as red lights or gridlock.

There’s a vitality here in Cambodia’s capitol, Phnom Penh.

According to the country’s official Killing Fields Museum, roughly one-third of the population was wiped out between 1975 and 1979 by the Khmer Rouge, a communist guerrilla group. Additionally, an undocumented number of Cambodians fled the country both immediately following the Khmer Rouge’s seizure of Phnom Penh in 1975 and following its ousting by the Vietnamese in 1979.

All of these factors have had a hand in making Cambodia the young nation that it is today; the most recent national census reflected a massive population growth from approximately 6.5 million in 1980 to about 13.5 million in 2008. Without factoring in births or deaths since the time of that census, that means that today over half of the population is under 30 years of age.

Tourism is one of the largest industries in Cambodia. The American dollar, despite being globally weak, goes a long way here, making Cambodia an excellent vacation destination for broke students.

My 15-hour flight from San Francisco to Phnom Penh via Taipei, Taiwan was the most expensive aspect of the trip at $885. That’s a typical price from discount carrier Eva Air.
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After arriving in Phnom Penh, my first stop was for some authentic Cambodian food. For two American dollars I was served a dish of steamed rice, spicy grilled chicken with basil and jalapenos, and an array of fresh vegetables so large that I wasn’t able to finish.

After my first meal, it was time for me to check into the guest house. Surprisingly, I had running hot water and air conditioning. The room rate was upped from eight to $13 per night for these luxuries, and it was the best five dollars I’ve ever spent.

I spent the remainder of my first day visiting some of the city’s tourist attractions. From the king’s royal palace and the Independence Monument I walked away with a sort of wonder at the beauty and uniqueness of a world where culture and inspiration are celebrated, while the Killing Fields Museum left me with a sobering outlook on the tragedies Cambodian people have faced.

I took my host’s advice to finish the night by hitting a club. I quickly learned that there are two types of clubs in Phnom Penh: those that play American music and those that play Cambodian music. Both are worth a visit, and once the drinks started to flow I found it rather difficult to differentiate the two.

The next morning, after a bumpy four-hour drive, my head pounding in the most unholy of fashions, I stepped onto the warm sand of the beach at Kâmpóng Saôm forgetting entirely about the aspirin I’d been fantasizing about.

The beaches in the U.S. have got nothing on Cambodia. The tepid indigo water, the green island across from the beach rising out of the ocean like a giant sea turtle, if not for the bamboo gazebo and hammocks, there would have been no indicators of civilization at all.

I spent an entire day at the beach, and the return trip through the pitch-black countryside seemed to pass in a heartbeat. Unlike most tourists, I decided against making the trek to the ruins on Angkor Wat – I spent the remainder of my vacation in Phnom Penh, soaking up the local flavor and opening myself up to an entirely new perspective on life.

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