By Richard Chapo
Given the recent history of Cambodia, you might wonder why I refer to it as the happiest place on earth. Well, there is a real reason if you understand what happy means in Cambodian slang.
Cambodia is located in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by Thailand to the west, Laos to the north and Vietnam to the east. As you may know, some very nasty things happened in Cambodia in the 1970s and 1980s. During this period, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge ruled the country or were fighting to do so.
Reign of terror is a phrase often over used, but not when it comes to the Khmer Rouge. The group implemented what can only be called bizarre policies and managed to starve and murder roughly twenty percent of the total population of Cambodia. The reign of terror was eventually ended when the Vietnamese invaded and pushed the Khmer into a small, isolated pocket of land in the far north.
A few years back, I had the urge to travel. I get it every two or three years. I get it bad. I usually sell off whatever I have and travel for as long as I can. In this case, I flew into Thailand because I didn’t have a lot of money and the flight from Los Angeles was cheap, cheap, cheap! Thailand was pretty touristy, so off to the wilds of Cambodia I went.
To be honest, Cambodia is not as wild a place as you might think given its recent history. These are some seriously strong people from a mental perspective. If you walk around the major city, Phnom Phen, it looks like nothing happened. In fact, you keep seeing signs for happy this and happy that just about everywhere. I am not kidding. The signs literally say “happy dinner”, “happy pizza” and so on. Gee, these people are happy.
As you might imagine, happy has a particular connotation in Cambodia. Do I even need to tell you? Yep, it refers to that funny tobacco that so many in the hippie generation liked to enjoy. Simply put, the Cambodians mix marijuana with just about any type of food stuff – pizza, cake, shakes, tacos. It is used like a spice, to wit, it isn’t obvious it is in the food. If you don’t know what happy means, you can be in for a BIG surprise an hour or so after eating! It was not uncommon to see tourists giggling and staggering around the sidewalks.
At the end of the day, I found Cambodia to be a great place to enjoy notwithstanding its past and the happy food. Angkar Wat and the surrounding Khmer structures are stunning and definitely should be on your list of things to see. So go ahead and take off to Cambodia, but make a mental note regarding the happy food!
Rick Chapo is with Nomad Journals – makers of journals that are great travel gifts.