"Holiday" in Cambodia

I don't mean to defile such a wicked Dead Kennedys song by the use of inverted commas, but I don't want to leave any ambiguity about how I feel about my time in the Kingdom.

The thing is, this place has killed my appetite, and I don't just mean metaphorically. For the last week or so I've hardly felt like eating, especially the street food. It's not just that all the meat is unrefrigerated and the streets are covered in rubbish, everytime I pull out my wallet I have to worry about who is driving past on a motorbike ready to snatch it off me.

More than that, alot of the stuff that goes on here frankly puts me off. There isn't one decent hospital in the country, and despite massacring around one quarter of the population more than thirty years ago, the Khmer Rouge still remain largely unpunished. Life literally bursts from every nook and cranny in the the land, yet somehow half the population is underfed and underdeveloped.

And Lexus 4x4s are as common a sight on the streets as 6 year olds selling flowers at 2am!

Justice obviously isn't a concept that translates to whatever form of Khmer the elite are currently speaking.

Many of the Westerners here are no better. The older ones lounge around the riverfront in Phnom Penh in their Hawaii shirts drinking happy hour cocktails with bored looking prostitutes like they're some sort of big deal. These sad, fat arseholes would do the world a favour if they could just waddle over to the Mekong with bricks in their pockets and jump in.

Many backpackers meanwhile treat the country like a massive dollar vodka playground. Sure, you can drink beer in hammocks on the beach until your wallet's empty, but there's no point running to the teacher if anything goes wrong - they'll probably be worse than the bullies.

As long as its part of the South East Asia Experience however no-one seems to care.

But there are slivers of light. More than anywhere else i've been, Cambodia abounds in the sort of self help civil society organisations that neo-liberals love to argue make up for the State actually giving a damn for the people it's supposed to protect.

One of these is the Sisters Cafe in Kampot. The proprietress there is an orphan who was saved from being sold into sexual slavery in Thailand by having her leg destroyed by a passing motorbike when she was twelve. She now runs an orphanage in the town, teaching the kids how to cook and screen print t-shirts.

Another one is Friends in Phnom Penh. There, former street kids prepare and serve massive portions of tapas that, though somewhat clunky and unrefined, have more soul than all of Phnom Penh's fine dining restaurants put together.

The country is beautiful and the majority of Cambodians are the nicest people you'll ever meet, but I think the country has a long way to go before it's anything like a good place to visit.

Sure, the food is nice, but what difference does that make when hell is raging just outside the restaurant door?