Special guest: Jen on travelling to Cambodia

I have a special guest post today from a local Perth woman I’ve met through my blogging work, Jen Harland. She contacted me recently because she’d noticed that coincidentally, I travelled to Cambodia just a couple of weeks after she did. Jen was diagnosed as an adult as being on the autism spectrum, which presents some challenges when travelling to foreign countries.

I really wanted to publish this post about her experiences in Cambodia to encourage other adults with autism to consider travelling to countries different from their own, because I could see that Jen had got so much out of the trip.

Jen Harland in a tuktuk in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Jen Harland (left) in a tuk-tuk with travel companions in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (Photo credit: Paul Blakemore)

Jen’s trip to Phnom Penh

I was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia from 6 September to 14 September and it was my first time in Cambodia. I went with six other people from my church (Mount Pleasant Baptist Church). We visited the Transform Cambodia that my church sponsors. The centre educates 100 children of the same age from very poor families. The children love going to the centre. There is a lot of laughter, dancing, and singing. We got to visit a staff member’s house and had dinner there and we also went to three children’s “houses” and met their families. In going to the centre and home visits, we got to journey into the poorer areas of Phnom Penh.

I was happy to be wearing summer clothes – a break from the winter in Perth. We stayed at a boutique hotel where the staff were friendly and kind.

I ate food that I have never eaten before e.g. longons, rambutans, custard apples, dragon fruit, durien fruit, jack fruit. I ate what was put in front of me at the centre and during the home visits. I have never eaten so much rice in my life before.

While I was there we went to the local markets (and that’s another experience to tell of), Titanic restaurant, which is along the river, Coriander restaurant  Romdeng restaurant, and on numerous times to Brown Cafe for coffees. I also went to Toul Sleng (S 21 Genocide Museum). I lost my mobile phone some where from the hotel to Toul Sleng and back to the hotel. I don’t know the exact point and how I lost my phone. We also visited a church on the Sunday morning.

Jen at Brown Coffee in Phnom Penh in Cambodia

Jen at Brown Coffee in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (Photo credit: Paul Blakemore)

We went to the centre and the home visits in a van – driven by a Cambodian – thank goodness. The traffic is so chaotic and extremely busy – that is another experience also to tell of. Also, if you are walking and crossing the road, do not stop, do not change direction, just walk at a steady pace or else you will get run into. We also went on a lot of Tuk-Tuk rides, which I enjoyed.

Along the roads, it is wall to wall with market stalls, there is a lot of rubbish, and all kinds of vehicles are parked on the sidewalk. The cabling above the roads is interesting. We are used to one or two cables above the roads or not at all, however, in Cambodia there are, I would say, twenty to fifty cables above the roads. On the corners there are poles and on these poles the cables are curled up and there are a few boxes on the poles. In Australia, no one would get away with those cables, the traffic chaos, and rubbish along the streets.

Market stalls and traffic in Phnom Penh

Market stalls and traffic in Phnom Penh (Photo credit: Paul Blakemore)

Despite all of this, I enjoyed my time in Cambodia very much. When I got back to Perth, my mind was in Cambodia or in Cambodian mode for a few days, thinking that I will see all of the chaotic and busy traffic, seeing the market stalls and the rubbish along side the road. I don’t think it was reverse culture shock – it was just that I had to get used to the Perth environment again.

A few days after arriving back, I even went to the fruit and veg shop, and bought most of the fruit that I had for the first time in Cambodia. I was also looking up Cambodia on the internet and reading up on the country.

I would very much like to go back to Cambodia – to explore Phnom Penh more and to go to the provinces and to explore and experience what daily life is like for the Cambodian people. I would also like to visit Vietnam and Laos – to go to the touristy places, but to also explore and experience what daily life is like for the people in Vietnam and Laos.

Thanks so much Jen for agreeing to share your thoughts about your trip to Cambodia. From other people I know who are on the autism spectrum I appreciate that travelling to such a different environment where daily routines are completely changed can be a challenge – well, it can be a challenge for anyone, but especially for people with ASD – and I’m so impressed by everything you experienced and learnt there. Readers – if you are interested in knowing more about being an adult on the autism spectrum, Jen blogs about it on her site Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder – and she’s promised me she will blog more often, because her posts are always very interesting to read!

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