It was a smooth flight from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. I had done this trip a couple of times by bus through rural villages, punctuated by endless rice paddies with sugar palms standing tall. Looking down from the plane, I could see a patchwork quilt of those small farms and rice fields stretching almost from the capital city to our destination. Nearing Siem Reap we flew over some of the rivers that flowed into the massive Tonle Sap lake, Asia’s largest. Dotted along those tributaries were several floating villages.
Our friendly tuk tuk drivers from the River Garden guesthouse were waiting for us at the airport. The 20-minute ride to our accommodation carried us past one huge tourist hotel after another for almost the entire route. Unfortunately, most of these big hotels are foreign-owned, and although they host thousands of visitors to Siem Reap every week, much of the money they bring in flows back out of the country very quickly. One benefit is that they are now offering employment and training to young Cambodians who are able to speak English. The ability to speak a language used by tourists means the difference between getting a job and not getting one in this town, and ultimately it offers the best chance for young Cambodians to escape the terrible poverty that exists in the villages.