A good friend of mine introduced me to Couchsurfing a couple of years ago. For those not in the know, it’s a hospitality exchange website where locals open up their homes to travellers. The origin of the name came from people who had spare couches (I’ve slept on comfy beds, couches and even on the carpet once) at home and would let travellers to sleep on. For hosts, it’s a great way to meet people all over the world without leaving their doorstep. For travellers, it’s a great way to get in touch with the locals and understand the local culture better while saving money on accommodation. CS is not the only exchange website around, others include BeWelcome and Hospitality Club. It’s just CS happens to be the most popular.
The questions that people ask when they are introduced to CS – “Is it safe?” “Do locals really open up their homes to strangers?”
Well, to answer the first question, it’s generally safe but there are negative cases. Being a huge network, there are users who abuse CS for their own gains, so take necessary precautions if you use it. As for the second question, yes! You would be surprised at the number of people around the globe so readily accept strangers and ensure that they have a good time.
I signed up 2 years ago but never used it as nobody send me a Couchrequest. Since I was travelling long-term, I decided to give it a try. In Siem Reap, I started sending requests to prospective hosts in Phnom Penh. I got rejected/ignored initially, but in the end I was accepted by an Indonesian guy. Apparently he was working in Cambodia and hosted travellers whenever he has the time. I was excited but wondered what would be in store for me.
I arrived at the capital a day earlier uninformed as there was little else to do in Kompong Luong and I didn’t have a landline to contact him. I wasn’t sure if he was going to accept me. I knew though he was still at work and decided to go to the guesthouse he stayed in and chill out at a nearby cafe. They had wifi and I was able to message my host on Whatsapp. Thankfully, he didn’t have other guests that day, so I didn’t have to worry about my accommodation!
When he returned from work a couple of hours later, we introduced each other and had dinner. It turns out that he has been working in Phnom Penh for a few years. He prefers to stay in the guesthouse as it had all the amenities he needed. Since there was a spare single bed, he decided to use it to host travellers. He was genuine and one of the friendliest guys I’ve met.
Come to think of it, I was very lucky to have him as my first host. We got off pretty well. Being a Malaysian myself, we had a good chat about our respective countries’ politics and economy. It was interesting to compare the similiarities and differences between 2 nations that share similar culture, language and religion.
Since I was in Phnom Penh during the weekdays, we only met for dinners and beer in the evenings. Most of the time, I was wandering around the capital.
Being the capital, the roads are better if not more congested, people drive better vehicles, skyscrappers are slowly emerging and dominating the skyline, street food tastes better and is more readily available. Like any developing nation however, the income inequality is apparent. While most of the population outside of the capital can ill-afford to eat out, sports cars driven by rich locals isn’t a rare sight here.
Here’s an interesting fact about Phnom Penh. It used to be known as the Paris of the East and the pearl of Southeast Asia circa 1960s which saw an economic boom and a surge in modern architecture work. Although progress was halted halted during the turbulent years of the 1970s, traces of the capital’s past glory could still be seen around. Walking around the city, you can’t help but wonder what Phnom Penh would be today had the civil war and communist takeover not occur.
I spent most of my time walking around, exploring any interesting open markets I come across, visiting the Royal Palace, the museum, the Central Market and had an introspective time at the genocide museum (I’ll reserve this for a separate post). The central market was interesting. It was huge and had almost everything you could imagine on sale under one roof. As usual, there was a section for food vendors where locals and travellers alike dine at. Great place to sample some Khmer dishes and desserts.
After 3 nights, it was time to say goodbye to my friend. I’m actually quite bummed that I didn’t take a photo with the guy. I was rushing to catch my bus to Kampot on the final day but hey… neither Indonesia nor Cambodia is far from my home.
That should be a good excuse to fly!
On March 2013, I bought a one-way ticket to Siem Reap and travelled to various places for 5 months. I returned home in September and decided to blog all the memorable stories and photos. I believe it’s the best way to conserve these memories and also to share them with my friends. All posts are tagged to the category 2013 Travels, should you need to browse the entire series.
I was in Cambodia from March 4 to March 20. Most of the shots were taken with Olympus OM-D E-M5, with either the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 kit lens or the original Panasonic Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens. They were shot in RAW and processed, edited in Adobe Lightroom. Others shots were taken with my HTC Desire HD smartphone.