The Road to Siem Reap

For my time in Southeast Asia, I decided to try a tour company I have never used before.  The tour company is called Intrepid, and I took a 2 ½ week tour with them that hit the highlights of Cambodia and Vietnam.  This is the first entry for that tour. 

We left Bangkok and headed for the Cambodian city of Siem Reap.  The drive and border crossing were to take about eight hours; half in Thailand, and half in Cambodia.  The portion through Thailand was pretty easy, with nicely paved roads and I didn't really pay much attention to the surrounding areas.  It wasn't until we reached Cambodia that I truly noticed the abject poverty that plagues this land.  The road, National Highway 6, that leads to Siem Reap appears on a map, just like any other road, however this is a road into another world, and it was unlike anything I have ever seen.  

This is a road...

 

With ramshackle dwellings for homes...

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Where cows graze while their ribs protrude...

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Where piles of old water pipes litter the side...

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Where small markets and restaurants can be found every few miles...

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Where trash is piled high...

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With three story gated mansions...

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Where beautiful archways are constructed next to a shack...

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Where the concrete disappears and turns into dust...

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Where overloaded scooters are the workhorses...

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Where trucks are dangerously packed with brave souls...

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Where young boys ride on the back of bicycles...

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With a country club...

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As we drove down this long and narrow highway, in our nicely air conditioned bus, shielded from the bone-permeating heat, I felt two things:

1) Immense sorrow for these people, who were born into poverty, and will most likely die in poverty.   I can’t even begin to imagine what their lives have been like, the struggles they have faced, and the struggles that lay ahead.  In 2012, the GDP per capita (Gross Domestic Product divided by the midyear population) of Cambodia was $944 USD, which places the country right above South Sudan, and right below Tajikistan .  When you compare that to Norway at $99,000 USD, Switzerland at $78,000 USD, Australia at $67,000 USD, the United States at $52,000 USD, or even Thailand at $5,500 USD, it is very easy to see how their standard of living can be so low.  

2) Gratitude that I have been fortunate enough to see and do everything I have done, including riding down this road.  I don't apologize for any of the gifts I have been given, or the circumstances with which I have been lucky enough to be part of.  Being born a Caucasian, middle-class, American male means that virtually anything is possible.  The potential for where life can take me is almost endless, and for that I am very grateful for the situation with which I was born into.  But for these people, they don't have many choices, due to their extreme lack of resources, education, and just unfortunate circumstance.

In the developed world, we see any difficulties in our lives as "major" problems, but they really aren't.  If you are reading this now, chances are you don't have to worry about your next meal or having clean drinking water, unlike some of the people that slowly traverse this long and brutal road.

The souls I photographed on this journey will never read this, as many do not have electricity, let alone a computer...or a tablet...or a smartphone...or an e-reader.  Their focus is on surviving and taking care of their families.  I guess that is the one commonality between the fortunate and unfortunate alike, regardless of nationality.