Making Personal Connections When Traveling
Research proves that social connections are a path to happiness.
On our trip to the famed Angkor Archeological Park in Siem Reap, Cambodia, we left with more than just fabulous photographs of the ancient temples. The warm and hardworking locals gave us a good and lasting impression of the Cambodian peoples.
During our 4 days touring Siem Reap and the amazing artifacts, our tour guide Phirum explained the different temple styles, the stories of Khmer empires and ancient wars with the neighboring kingdoms. He also shared his personal story of leaving his fishing village near the Vietnam border to Siem Reap and learning Spanish and English to be a certified tour guide with 360-hours training. Phirum takes a 5 hour journey every few months to bring home money and visit his wife and children. He broke into Cambodian folk songs a few times during our rest-stops on the temple trail, his soothing voice brought to life the ancient souls amongst the stone temples.
I wanted to watch an Apsara dance performance on my own, as my companions had other plans. The receptionist, Raskmey, at my hotel (Hotel Somadevi Angkor Boutique & Resort) reserved a table for one at the evening performance in the adjacent sister hotel. Not only that, she escorted me through a ‘secret’ shortcut between the hotels to my dinner table. And later, came to accompany me back to our hotel after the performance. Raskmey came to the city for her college education, however she dropped out after a year when she was need to support herself with a full time job. During the performance my table server dropped by a few times to see if any extra service was needed. He was a full-time student at a hospitality management school and worked evenings and weekends. I enjoyed the show at my solo table feeling well cared for with a high degree of touch that was not intrusive.
After a hot day on the temple trail, our party cooled down with delicious ice cream at our hotel café. It was late and we were the only customers in the café. The manager of the hotel restaurant and Raskmey chatted with us and shared a bit of their life stories. They had left farming villages to study and work in cities like Siem Reap to better themselves and their families. They learnt English after arriving at the city and have become fluent in just a couple of years. They showed me that Cambodia is more than just ancient temples, and the Cambodian people are very friendly, warm and resilient.
Next time you travel abroad, do chat with the locals about their daily life and learn their stories. You may well return home with authentic heartwarming tales in addition to memorable pictures of famous attractions.
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