Why Cambodia? Part 1

My first trip to Thailand was in 2004. I wasn't new to travel, I was lucky enough to have been all over the world with my parents as a child. Although I wasn't well versed, I wasn't new to Asian countries either, but this was my first overseas trip without my parents, and my first time in Southeast Asia.

I have such vivid memories of that trip. It was less than three weeks, but my time there was instrumental. I was traveling with a close friend, but it wasn't long before he had pissed me off enough to leave him in his hotel and venture out on my own. I was in a foreign country with no-one else to rely on, and it felt fantastic!

I was young and independent for the first time, and everything was exciting and new. Most interesting to me was the rough edge around everything. It wasn't clean and sterile like the countries I grew up in. I felt alive because I was on constant alert. I never knew what was around the next corner, where I was going to be that night, or how I would get there.

In some ways everywhere is like that, even Australia, it's just that it doesn't feel that way. You can get pick pocketed or robbed on your way to the corner store, it's just far less likely. You can run into people from all walks of life, from all over the world, it's just that it doesn't happen that often because the routine that is rent and a job and your habits means that every day is just like the last.

The cost of living in first world countries is the main reason for this. Especially Australia, and especially Sydney. Even creatives who lead interesting lives need to find a way to pay for their existence, and when subsistence living is as expensive as it is in Sydney people start making compromises. Some of the most interesting people I've ever known have had to resort to part or full time employment, and not only has their creative output diminished accordingly, many of them have found themselves feeling stuck and unhappy. I did not want to end up there.

I've been back to Southeast Asia twice since that first trip. The first time was in 2005 with my now wife. We travelled through the northern part of Thailand, into Laos, and down into Cambodia. We had a lot of fun, but it was just a holiday.

My most recent trip to Southeast Asia was for our honeymoon. Instead of a short trip it was a six week timeout. We had been together ten years, so as much as we made the most of our time alone and had a lot of fun, the trip was supposed to be long enough to give us some perspective on our lives. The idea being that we could make some decisions about where we were heading, and figure out if that was what we wanted for our future.

My Way Bar on Koh Pha Ngan, taken on our honeymoon in 2014. Our kind of venue! Photo © Lee Nutter.

From our busy lives in Sydney six weeks seemed like an eternity, but it was over before it began, and it hadn't offered us anything like the kind of perspective we had hoped. Before long we were again caught up in the minutae of our everyday lives, our honeymoon was a distance memory, and next to nothing had changed.

We're not boring people and spend our time wisely. We only work as much as we need to support our lifestyle, and spend the rest of our time on what we love. The problem is that Australia isn't particularly conducive to this type of life. Most of our friends are busy during the day, and socialise at night in bars and restaurants that our income doesn't allow for. The community of creatives we had built up during our younger years have been forced out due to unaffordable rental prices. Many of our closest friends have escaped overseas or interstate, or been forced into full or part time jobs that sap their enthusiasm for anything even remotely creative.

We still have a few comrades keeping us company, but the system itself has grown hostile. The increased cost of living has driven most of our friends out, and the worker bees who replaced them could not be more different to those they displaced. Throw in the monotonous and suffocating heat that is every month outside of July, the inflexibility of the western way of life, the increasingly right wing politics of the country, the systemic lack of appreciation for the arts, the arrogance and self righteousness of bourgeois wankers that barge their way into every semblance of culture we might once have had, and my longing for life in Asia seems less and less crazy.

Read Part 2 →

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Why Cambodia? Part 2

Oudong and the Monkey

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