In Cambodia, A Return to Gratitude

B&R Veteran Guide Alice Van der Voort reflects on visiting Vietnam and Cambodia with fresh eyes, and her lessons learned on gratitude amidst hardship.

It’s been four years since my last visit to Cambodia and three years since my last trip to Vietnam. Being back after such a long time, I realize how much I’ve missed this place. Seeing the impact of the lockdowns and the hardships that the Khmer people have had to endure due to Covid is heartbreaking. Without tourism, they’ve had to go back to the basics: things like surviving on rice and water.

B&R Veteran Guide Alice Van der Voort

Mr. Hak, B&R’s head Tuk Tuk driver since 2007

I was saddened to learn that Mr. Hak, B&R’s head Tuk Tuk driver since 2007, had to sell his new car and move back to his hometown to support his family. He worked so hard for that car and was so proud of this achievement, but he was forced to sell it at a big loss due to the economic impact of the pandemic. But when I arrived, I saw Mr. Hak waiting for me in front of my hotel in his old Tuk Tuk, and the joy of seeing each other again erased the four-year gap between us. We hugged, and he started laughing and smiling, and we were back to our good old times.

These moments made me realize the lasting relationships that we've built here. Mr. Hak told me about the many restaurants that closed down due to the pandemic and how he lost a dear friend from Sweden who had supported him and his family for the last ten years. Despite the obstacles he faced, Mr. Hak still managed to focus on the positives. It was heartwarming to see him back to work with his jokes and infectious smile, and I'm grateful for the friendships that have been forged during my time in Cambodia.

On a day off during my trip, I visited the Killing Fields with my friends as they wanted to understand more about the Khmer Rouge regime. Although I prefer not to visit such sights, Mr. Hak dropped us off at the Memorial site. I must warn you, spending an hour here will guarantee that you won't sleep for at least three nights!

It is a horrible sight, and nobody speaks. The silence is deafening. When we exited the site, a scooter passed by with two little kids who greeted us with smiles shouting, "Hello, hello!" I was amazed at how quickly they turned the tide. They're so happy to live in the present moment and forget about the past.

This is one of the many reasons why I like to guide expeditions. I believe that we need to experience these emotions, be grateful for where we live, see how other people cope with their problems and enjoy the simplest things in life. They expect only the best, do not worry about tomorrow and cherish every moment.

What's more, the colours of the countryside, the little shops, the smell of food, and the background noise of the Tuk Tuks all melt together with the smiles of these lovely people. I am so grateful to be here and witness all of this. It puts me back into the right perspective, which I had lost in the last three years: being grateful instead of resentful. Carpe diem.