Cambodia: Expectation vs Reality & Avoiding Disappointment
Whether you’re travelling long term or going on a short vacation you always have an idea of what your time away might be like. You’ve been doing research online and seen 5 star reviews. You’ve seen Instagram posts of beautiful people standing on stunningly white beaches. Everyone you’ve met has raved about it. But what happens when you get there and the whole place is just a bit… well… shit. This was our ‘expectation vs reality’ experience of Cambodia.We had been told that Cambodia was spectacular. It was 'everything you imagine Vietnam should be'. The reality of the country was far different. This was our 'expectation vs reality' experience of Cambodia. Click To Tweet
Let me start off by saying that we didn’t hate all of Cambodia. There were lots of incredible parts and I still think that Angkor Wat should be on everyone’s must-see list. To show what I mean we need to go back a year before we went away. We had been told that Cambodia was spectacular. It was ‘everything you imagine Vietnam should be’. The people were ‘some of the friendliest you could ever meet’. We were pumped! We had just spent 3 months in northern Vietnam seeing some of the most spectacular scenery you could imagine and we were being told that Cambodia was better?? We’d spent time in Laos where strangers would give us food because they could see we were on a long journey – and Cambodia was friendlier?? Cambodia was going to be INCREDIBLE!
The reality of the country was far different. The scenery was flat, dry and boring. The roads were long and straight. Hundreds of kilometres of highway had been turned into one giant rubbish tip. The locals were friendly, so long as there was a dollar in it for them. The genuine kindness we felt in other parts of Asia just wasn’t there. It felt as though every single road user was out to kill us, and the whole place left us feeling a bit… meh. On the flip side we met up with some friends in Siem Reap who had flown across from Australia to see us and after seeing them again a few months later they were raving about the place and were already planning their next trip back.
So what was the difference? Why did they enjoy it so much and why didn’t we like it? I have thought about this on the many long hours on the bike and I have come to the conclusion that our expectations were too high. We had such high expectations of Cambodia that there was no chance for it to live up to them. Let me explain.
At various points on our trip we went places on a whim. We simply picked a place that was in the general direction that we were travelling and went there even though these places barely rated a mention in guide books. More often than not when we had zero expectations of a place we enjoyed it more than places we had spent hours planning to see. Places like Phong Nha in Vietnam with its spectacular rock formations, Ban Gioc waterfall on the border of Vietnam and China or Koh Tao in Thailand. All of these places were places we could easily have skipped over if we wanted an extra day or two elsewhere yet all of them are highlights of our time away.
With this in mind we realised that we had done most of the research and planning for Cambodia whereas our friends just showed up and did what we were doing. They were seeing everything for the first time on the ground.
It’s no wonder that we have unrealistic expectations given the modern age of social media. No one puts up on Instagram the face full of acne they have broken out with after having to apply sunscreen every day for 3 months straight. No one talks about the moment every traveller in Asia will eventually have as they have to teach themselves how to use a bum-gun without blowing their asshole off (seriously why are these things such high pressure?).
The application of expectation vs reality is looked at a lot in Buddhism. They believe that the disparity between a person’s view of reality (our expectations of what reality will be) and the actual reality as it is to be a major reason behind human suffering. To butcher and simplify an ancient religion into one sentence, Buddhists believe that by developing an awareness of actual reality you will reduce suffering. So how do we get to that point when travelling?
Live in the Moment
You can start by simply living in the moment. You’re going to the beach: don’t expect either a clean empty beach or a beach full of tourists. You know there will be a beach there, just go down and enjoy whatever is there. You have no control over what will be at your destination.
Prepare to Change Your Plans
Understand that plans can change quickly when travelling. Flights might be cancelled, roads might be closed. You may have accidentally flown into a country during a public holiday and things might be closed. Accept in advance that there’s nothing on your holiday important enough that if it fell through it should ruin the trip. Remember that often the worst situations can make the best stories in the future.
Don’t Blame Yourself
I’m very guilty of this. I book most of our accommodation and on the odd occasion that I booked something really shit I would get really down that I hadn’t seen the warning signs or read the reviews properly. Instead I should have been using it as an excuse to get out of the room and go exploring instead. If you’ve done something that has a negative effect turn it into a positive.
Control Your Own PerceptionsControl Your Own Perceptions: If something bad happens you have a choice: let it either ruin a moment or turn it into something positive. Click To Tweet
This may sound dumb but you do have a lot of control over how you perceive something. The author Charles Swindoll said “life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it… we are in charge of our attitudes”. I believe that this is the most important point I’ve made. If something bad happens you have a choice: let it ruin the moment, or turn it into something positive.
The fact is travel is amazing and incredible but it can also be fucking hard work. You aren’t going to love every destination and there will be many trials and problems along the way. But if you let your travels happen and just go with the flow instead of trying to force the trip you had pictured in your head you are going to enjoy your time a lot more.
Maybe one day I will give Cambodia another chance and if I do I will go in with no expectations. I have no doubt I’ll enjoy it a little more next time.
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