I enjoyed my stay as a recluse in a remote Canadian wilderness profusely but anyone who thinks three months in the wild were a romantic dream come true is as detached from reality as those who say that Cambodians are hospitable, Thais smile all the time, Filipino have tasty food and Brazil is not any more dangerous than London or New York. Whatever was the agenda behind all this crap is irrelevant – we live in the 21st century so it’s time we pulled out heads from our behinds and put an end to this fabrication.
Mother Nature, albeit beautiful and awe-inspiring is also harsh and unforgiving. We have evolved to romanticise life in the wilderness and perceive it for something it is not. Fiction presented by books and movies portrays wilderness and people who dwell in it as peaceful and merciful but reality is quite a ways different. Real mother nature is a wicked old witch.
If you want to have a warm and cuddly wilderness experience, go to see a movie or risk getting killed. I got to spend a significant amount of time in Mother Nature’s embrace and grew to respect and admire her. It showed me how small and insignificant I am and how she’ll carry on being the same wicked old witch regardless of whether I live through my encounter with her or die.
This important understanding that Mother Nature is a wicked old witch is one of the primary reasons why so many hikers die in the wilderness. Their fear of reality prohibits them from seeing the whole truth. They see beautiful surroundings and mighty elements, but refuse to acknowledge the very thing that makes Mother Nature tick – the inherent cruelty.
I have, since the inception of this blog, offered nothing but whole truth. I don’t have a huge fan club because my reality is not partial and majority of people are not able or willing to accept unskewed facts. And I know most people are not ready to hear that Mother Nature is anything but majestic so I don’t anticipate much positive response here either.
Do not get me wrong, though. I was out there, I speak from experience yet I will be the first to defend Mother Nature’s beauty and show her respect. I love her more than I love people and enjoyed few short months living side by side with her more than years living side by side with people. There are no words to describe how much I love nature and how much she means to me, but that is not an excuse to leave out the part where Mother Nature is a wicked old witch.
While I was in the wilderness, alone and vulnerable, Mother Nature threw some mighty difficult shots at me and when I responded by bouncing back, she threw another one and then another and another. I came to understand that I exist within nature, not the other way around. Mother Nature has long been here before a sequence of events I had no influence over resulted in my creation and will long be after I and all of my achievements perished.
I am naught but a powerless, unworthy drop in the ocean of life and whether I like it or not, I’m finite. All I was given were a few short years of existence yet I was also granted the freedom to roam the nature a free man. Free to think, free to understand, free to make my own judgement. Free to do things no other creature I encountered had the privilege of doing.
It was this ability to think that set me apart from other inhabitants of the wilderness and provided me with a tool that made survival in an environment dominated by cruel Mother Nature easier – imagination. For no matter how harsh the shots that Mother Nature threw at me had been, I was always able to look forward to what my dreamed of future would hold for me. To be comforted by a thought is to gain solace where there is gloom.
Mother nature is cruel, but she’s also fair. She does not seek out her victims. She throws shots completely oblivious to whether they bring you prosperity or suffering. Her actions are unconscious and uncaring and will come down by the same force whether you worship or curse her. I respect Mother Nature’s power and admire her beauty, but I understand she’s as much my best friend as she is my worst enemy.
Let this be the lesson to you. To enter Mother Nature’s realm is to expose oneself to both the good and the bad she has to offer. Be prepared, or perish. There is heavenly beauty to be seen and endless knowledge to be gained out there, but Mother Nature is as much of a wicked old witch as she is a beautiful bride, a shrewd healer, or a guiding spirit. She’s not out to get you – she’s not out to get anyone. She’s just there, following her own course to which we respond. Sooner or later, you will be recycled. Are you prepared?
One of the earliest things I learned when I left to live as a recluse in the Canadian wilderness was that nights out there are extremely cold even in Summer. I did my hermit experience over the warmest months of the year – June, July and August, but while it was nice and warm during the day, night time temperatures dropped below zero. And since I didn’t anticipate freezing temperatures, I neither had clothes, nor other equipment (sleeping bag, tent or stove) to keep me warm at night.
The lake I chose for my stay away from civilization was very remote, but – to a point – accessible by car. The nearest paved road to the lake was more than 100km away but invasive logging industry left a passage through the forest which I was able to use to get myself closer. Needless to say, this forestry equipment road was full of obstacles and rough terrain that’s normally only negotiable by heavy machinery with continuous tracks, but being a skilled driver and having been blessed with dry weather, I was able to safely traverse this incredibly challenging stretch of the road all the way to the lake.
The entire journey took me about 5 hours to complete, but I was only about 300 km north of Edmonton as the raven fly. I don’t know whether it was these extra 300 km north or the fact that there is no civilization anywhere near the lake, but as someone who spent countless Summer nights outside while living in Edmonton, I can tell you for sure that while it does get cold at night even in Summer, it doesn’t get below freezing. Not in Summer. But as I learned after my first night out in the wilderness (and each night thereafter), despite daytime temperatures reaching pleasant 29 °C, they were followed by night time drops to -3 °C.
5 hour long drive north of Edmonton and you’ll experience brief Winter every night even during Summer months. I personally think this had more to do with complete remoteness of the wilderness than its placement along the longitude. I have not done any scientific research on it, but high concentration of warm bloodied mammals who radiate body heat into the environment surely contributes to keeping the temperature in urban centers warmer than in the wilderness. And it’s not only body heat – you have heat generating car engines, thousands of computers, stoves used for cooking, machines used in factories, people bathing in hot water – so many things to keep the environment warmer… And on top of it all, you have pollution that keeps the heat trapped.
During my first month in the wilderness, it rained almost every afternoon. July was a little better and come August, there was hardly any rain. Sky was cloudless most of the days with sun baking down on me from wee morning hours until late night. Yet even in August, when daytime temperatures were in their 30’s, as soon as the sun was gone, the gauge started dropping rapidly and got to freezing just before the dawn.
Luckily, I had everything I needed to keep the fire going and there was plenty of dry firewood around, plus night only lasts a few hours a day this time of year so even though ill equipped, I kept myself warm-ish by utilizing natural resources. Regardless, it was a lesson I learned the hard way – remote Canadian wilderness can be very cold even in Summer months. Especially at night.
In order to survive, I had to swap night with the day. I got most of my sleep during the day when it was warm and I didn’t have to spend time feeding the fire and when the sun went down, I kept myself entertained by staring at the stars. It’s mind boggling how many of them there are and how clearly they can be seen when you’re away from city lights and pollution.
First night was hands down the worst but I got right down to building a primitive shelter that would tightly wrap around the bed of dry leaves the following day. I kept improving on my natural tent every day, but night time temperature drops were just so severe, I quickly realized that the only way to stay warm at night would be by building a shelter big enough to have a fire inside. If such shelter was well isolated, the fire would keep the interior warm even during freezing nights. One would still need to feed the fire, but pay back in feeling warm over night would be well worth it.
To experience life as a recluse, I returned back to my home country of Canada. There were several reasons for it:
Canada Is Safe
I’ve been half way across the world and have seen firsthand how little personal safety means in some parts of the planets. It is a popular thing to say that third world countries are not any more dangerous than most metropolitan areas in North America or Western Europe but this is just the most dangerously misleading statement ever.
I remember vividly when I first returned back to Canada after spending a year in South East Asia. I needed a new passport because I’d traveled so much my old one was out of blank pages, but I also used the trip back to meet with my accountant to file income tax returns and have thorough medical check-up done which after a year in countries with unsafe water and no hygiene standards in food preparation, as well as high prevalence of dangerous diseases, including Malaria, Dengue Fever and AIDS, was long overdue.
While in South East Asia, I had to adapt to omnipresent dangers, inherent xenophobia, corrupt police and criminals ready to kill at the drop of a hat. I learned to live cautiously and remain vigilant at all times to avoid becoming a victim. Just as everybody else, I put up with recurrent verbal abuse without as much as turning my head and stayed put in a hotel room every day after dark. Not that taking the abuse and keeping low profile made much difference, for in many South East Asian countries you don’t have to look for crime – crime will find you.
Needless to say, after spending a year in crime ridden countries, I returned back to Canada with a mindframe which dictated me to always remain aware of my surroundings, put up with continuous abuse and never leave home after dark. But… then I realized that I had never been abused, nevermind victimized in this country, that going grocery shopping at 11pm is normal here and done by many, and that after you’re done midnight shopping, you can safely carry your groceries home through empty back alleys and won’t experience as much as someone making inappropriate sound.
Even in my home city of Edmonton, Alberta – generally considered to be one of the most crime prone cities in Canada – you’ll have young girls strolling home alone late at night after having a few drinks in a bar and it won’t even cross their mind that it could be dangerous in any way. The worst thing that could happen to them is that they would stumble upon someone they’d like to have sex with and end up getting Chlamydia which they then merrily pass on (yep, talking from experience).
Whoever spreads the misinformation that a visit to third world countries is not any more dangerous than life in most first world cities is a delusional liar. I lived in, or visited New York, Los Angeles, Miami, London, Paris, Berlin, and many other western cities and have never experience anything remotely dangerous to every day existence in SE Asia. While living in London, UK at the end of the 20th century, I stayed in Brixton where I socialized every night by going to clubs and returning from them in the middle of the night every night. I also attended many concerts at the Brixton Academy pacing my way through the borough back and forth on foot.
Brixton, for those who don’t know, is what – to be politically correct – is referred to as a vibrant multi-cultural neighborhood. In other words, it’s considered to be a crime ridden area, a ghetto, however crime ridden in the UK is not the same as crime ridden in Thailand or the Philippines. The nearest I got to crime after 6 months of living in Brixton was being offered ecstasy in a club called Panic. Wicked music in that bar – all really heavy house with guest DJs the world over. Wonder if this club still exists. Since I do not do drugs, I just said I didn’t want anything and that was it.
I’m not trying to say that there is no crime in western cities. Crimes do most certainly occur – sometimes serious crimes – however, one must put things into a perspective before making an assumption. A chance of an encounter with a criminal on a mission in New York exists, but is negligent compared to chances of encountering millions upon millions of people going on about their lives, never engaging in criminal behavior. Most back alleys in New York do not have criminals lurking around at night. I wish I could say the same thing about back alleys in Indonesia or Cambodia.
As someone who’s well aware of dangers, I could not possibly consider any third world country for an extended stay in the wilderness. Being generally safe, my homeland of Canada was a solid bet. I would have liked to do it in other safe countries, such as Iceland, Switzerland, New Zealand, Norway, Japan or Ireland, but because of the 21st century world limitations, these options were either impractical or downright impossible.
Lots of Undisturbed Wilderness in Canada
As far as landmass is concerned, Canada is the second largest country in the world (after Russia) but our population is relatively low – only 34 million people, most of whom live within 200km from the border with the USA on the south of the country (which happens to be the longest land border between two countries in the world). With population density at mere 3.4 people per square kilometer, Canada is one of the least densely populated countries in the world.
To put it into a perspective, the population of the United Kingdom is almost twice that of Canada, but their land area is 41 times smaller than that of Canada, which using unrounded figures adds up to 75 times as many people per square kilometer in the UK than in Canada. And since vast majority of Canadians live near the border with the USA, much of the country remains very sparsely populated.
According to the 2001 census by Statistics Canada, 79.4% of Canadians live in urban centres. That means 27 Million Canadians live in the cities which account for less than 3% of total Canada’s landmass, leaving mere 7 Million to occupy the rest of the world’s second largest country.
According to the same census, only 0.3% of Canada’s total population lives in the polar territories (the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut), yet they account for 41% of Canada’s total landmass. In mathematical terms, there is on average one person per 50 square kilometers in these territories. With this type of population density, finding undisturbed wilderness should not be a problem.
To offer a better perspective on 1 person per 50 square kilometers population density, consider this: population of United Kingdom is just over 62 Million. If their population density was the same as that of northern Canada, there would be all together 4,872 people in the UK. If Lebanon had the same population density, the country would only have 200 people (population of Lebanon is currently 4.2 Million).
Canada is simply an ideal place for people seeking remote, undisturbed wilderness. What’s better yet – not only is there nature and solitude aplenty, the vast stretches of Canada’s north are still sure to have places where no human foot stepped before. How is that for an adventure?
Canadian Wilderness is Safe
I have considered wilderness recluse in other countries, but since I wanted this to be a positive experience without compromising my personal safety, much of the world was not an option. None of the countries in the tropical regions, for instance, were an option because their jungles are simply as dangerous as their cities (with dangerous wildlife being the least of your concern).
However even if safety could be ensured, unlike Canada, most tropical countries are heavily overpopulated (while people in the first world countries work hard to multiply their wealth, people in the third world countries just multiply) so finding true solitude is difficult with chances of someone walking across you increasingly high.
Canada is also nowhere near as corrupt as many third world countries so should my recluse get noticed, it wouldn’t result in extortion or worse.
Personal safety is a no issue in countries like Iceland, Switzerland or New Zealand as they are both safe (people don’t casually murder those they randomly stumble across) and not overpopulated, but life in a 21st century world makes extended stays in countries you are not a citizen of challenging (more on this in the next section).
I Don’t Need Visa for Canada
A stay in countries other than your own typically involves several restrictions. The length of your stay is usually limited to a couple of months at the most and so are activities in which you are allowed to engage. Self sustaining life in the wild is a perfect excuse for a corrupt police officer to abuse his power and extort money from you so sticking with facilities for tourists is recommended.
Being a citizen of Canada allows me to stay in my own country indefinitely and roam the Crown Land (that’s what we call public land in Canada) freely at my own leisure. I don’t need to apply for visa to stay in Canada for as long as I need nor to explain to anyone what I want to do while I’m here.
I would love to experience life as a recluse in Iceland, as countries don’t get any safer and friendlier than that, plus Iceland is incredibly beautiful, has some of the world’s cleanest and healthiest water and coastline abundant with fish never too far away, but as a non Icelanders I’d have a lot of explaining to do to get through the loopholes and roadblocks that would green-light me for my recluse and I wanted this to be my private, secret mission I could complete without anyone looking over my shoulder. I had to ditch this idea.
Life in the 21st century world is full of restrictions and bureaucracy. We don’t live in the hunter/gatherer society with people free to move anywhere they want and able to choose how they make their living. It makes all attempts to live the hunter gatherer style exceedingly challenging and difficult. I had to make work-arounds with these restrictions in mind which made my options few.
Survivalism in Canadian Wilderness Is Only for the Tough
I did take my shot at wilderness survivalism in tropical jungles and enjoyed it profusely. I was restricted by the above mentioned reasons, but chose a relatively safe area in Malaysian Borneo and made a deal with natives who call it their home so my presence was known and accepted, minimizing any potential of attacks.
I stayed with a community that makes their living collecting bird’s nests in a complex of caves in eastern Sarawak. To make long story short, while jungle survival had its challenges, I found the fact that coconut grows in jungles year round and takes less than a month to grow to full harvest a cheat that made survival there too easy.
With nourishment for your body taken care of, you’ll have a lot of energy left for everything else. Compared to that, survival in Canada is far more challenging and that makes it more interesting. Canada goes through all four seasons, including harsh winters during which survival becomes a real challenge and a test of manness. And I’m not a girl.
The technological revolution marked the transformation of the way of life for most of the Earth’s human inhabitants from agricultural to industrial. It finalized our migration away from the simple life and into a world of electrical devices and antidepressants. Instead of growing our own food, we slave our lives away in factories in order to earn money for which we buy food doped up with growth hormones and shelf life extending agents.
An introduction of technology into our lives came with a promise of easier living that would afford us “more free time”. And many modern technological devices truly delivered. Take washing machine for example – getting 5 kg of clothes properly washed by hand would take at least an hour of arduous labor. But now that we have washing machines and electricity, all one needs is a few short minutes to load the machine up, add laundry detergent and press a button or two. While your laundry is being washed, you are free to do whatever you want because washing machines take care of business automatically, without wearing your back and knuckles out.
However if you take a look at our technological advances as a whole, you’ll notice that while they do make our lives easier and buy us free time by turning otherwise arduous and lengthy chores into a stint of pressing a few buttons, they also seem to speed the time in which we live up, leaving us feeling pressured, like there never are enough hours in our days to catch up with our lives. We have all these devices that save us time by doing work for us, yet there’s constantly so much more to do we feel overloaded and stressed out. We have indeed become the tools of our tools.
The complexity of our lives as of late, despite all these gadgets that are supposed to make them easier, has become rather dizzying. So what gives? What went wrong that we have to work our lives toward simple now? Is way back – a rewind, so to speak – fathomable? Cause I already have an answer to whether it’s doable. I’m just unsure whether general, dumbed down public that’s so addicted to filtered reality still has the wits to understand that the path I’m undertaking, the path that takes me back to the basics, back to the time when human identity was defined by what one does, and not by what one owns (Jimmy Carter, anyone?), is a path that’ll free me from the life I’ve planned, so I can have the life I’m meant to live.
The beginning of every unwritten book starts today. As Socrates suggested, many are the thyrsus bearers, but few are the mystics. There will always be ill wishers, there will always be someone who’ll tell you that the path you are taking is wrong. The trick is in finding courage to not give in to the temptation to believe it. Walk with confidence towards the star that shines the brightest for you. Simple life simplifies the universal laws by which we live. Simplify your life and the universe will respond in kind. And as you return to the simple life, you’ll realize that the more things you live without, the richer you are.
Tell me which country you chose to live in and I’ll tell you who you are. This twist of the famous “Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are” quote has more merit to it than meets the eye. People who trade life in their home country for life in another country for reasons other than temporary job assignments usually do so because their country is not compatible with who they are. If for example they come from a country with strong rule of law, but deep inside they are lawless individuals, a visit to a lawless country will make them desire to live there and start making arrangements to relocate.
The Canadian Hippie
Not so long ago, while I was in Miri on Malaysian Borneo, I met with another Canadian guy who’s far more traveled than I was. I meet and talk with other backpackers every day but since not many that Canadians make it to South East Asia, this was a pretty cool opportunity to have a chatter with one who did.
This hippie from Vancouver was in his 40’s, but you would never tell. He looked young, his hair reached down to his shoulders which complemented his wrinkle-free complexion. By the looks of it, he should be the most amazing dude to speak with but the exact opposite was true.
You’d think that a hippie with a decade of round the world travel under his belt would demonstrate unrivalled level of sophistication and wisdom, but all one could find by interacting with him was arrogance and conceit. Every single thing he let out of his mouth was let out to make himself sound larger than life. His body language wasn’t any different either. Other than the appearance, this fellow Canuck was very unhippie.
Despite his open arrogance, I was curious to learn a thing or two from him. Unfortunately, all I really learned was that his poop smelled like roses and nobody else had poop that could possible match his. Whatever I or anybody else would ask him, he’d respond with this harsh scowl like we’re all unworthy of his time, the time of someone who’s been to more places than most of us combined.
I realized early on that this man was a joke so participation from my end stopped soon after, however he said something that really caught my attention. According to his own words, he came to Malaysia (where we met) after spending some time in Indonesia, but couldn’t wait to go back because in Indonesia it was much easier to get away with just about anything, including any form of unlawful behavior.
He also mentioned that he hated Canada and would never go back to his home country. He despised the fact that Canada was clean, that Canadian police didn’t readily accept bribes, that minor transgressions (as he put it), such as drunk driving or sexual advances were taken seriously and that there were many means for victims of crimes to get justice.
I looked at him and I saw the exact opposite of myself. He went to Indonesia and loved every bit of it. He loved how he could get totally wasted drunk and drive home scaling the road left and right. He loved that should there be a problem with it, he could easily bribe the police and have them wave him on his way to continue putting others in danger. He also loved how he could engage in any form of illegal activity and get away with it without any problem. He loved that being corrupt and inherently criminal, Indonesia would allow him to embrace his own criminal behavior and benefit from it at the expense of others.
In comparison – when I went to Indonesia, I hated every bit of it. I hated how impaired drivers oppressed all other traffic participants and there was nothing anyone could do about it. I hated how there was no way to stop them as should they get halted by the police, they could easily bribe their way out. I hated how people engaging in criminal activities openly operated in broad daylight and under the noses of the police who blatantly sheltered these operations. I hated how virtually everything was corrupt down to the bone, and how it made the country lawless and dangerous.
When Character and Environment Match
There are certain values I uphold and as such, I could only live in a country that upholds the same or similar values. In my case, these include order, respect, equality and law. That’s why I’m naturally drawn and feel the most comfortable in countries where order, respect, equality and law are inherent. Such countries include my home land of Canada, but also Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, New Zealand, and some others.
On the other hand, people who uphold chaos, corruption, discrimination, xenophobia and disorder are naturally drawn to countries with the same values, such as Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, Brazil and many others.
A person who upholds positive values is incompatible with countries that uphold negative values and would feel very uncomfortable living there. As a result, such person would want to leave and relocate to a country the values of which match those he/she upholds. I gave Cambodia, for example, my best shot and stayed for 5 months but it was an ongoing struggle because inherent corruption and lust for blood were strongly contradicting my character. I tried really hard, but could not do it. But I got a very good taste of what people who feel comfortable there are like. Holy eff!
When the arrogant Canadian hippie told me that he liked Indonesia better than Malaysia because Indonesia was a dirty and disorderly country, and then added the fact that he didn’t want to return to Canada because he didn’t like the strict rule of law – it all started to come together. I realized the power of the expat complex and with it came the understanding of why my extended stay in Cambodia was so painfully agonizing.
People like the Canadian hippie, instead of living according to the law, prefer lawless behaviour and knowledge that they can bribe their way out of any situation. For them, life in a lawless society is much more fulfilling because it matches their character – lawless and corrupt. Since lawlessness and corruption was all I encountered in Cambodia, in order to retain some level of sanity during my stay in the country, I had to lie to myself that there was some good to be found in this peculiar blend of lust for blood, general disrespect for another and absolute corruption. It was all in vain. Since my values are fundamentally different, it was only a question of time before I’d realized that I couldn’t exist in a society that’s so fundamentally evil and started making plans to leave, clearing the way for people whose traits match those of Cambodia to embrace what this country is all about.
The Expat Complex
My police record in Canada is sparkling clean. I have never had a speeding ticket, because I never speed. I had my breath checked many times but always had 0 alcohol in blood because I never drive after drinking. I do not fear living in a country with strict rule of law because I strictly obey the law. I live within it, not outside of it. And as a law abiding citizen, I appreciate countries where law is the law. I don’t break it, hence I don’t need the means to bribe my way out of being caught. Strong presence of the rule of law makes me feel comfortable, not worried.
The Expat Complex is a phenomenon that links personality traits to characteristics of countries people with matching characteristics feel attracted to and may eventually choose to relocate to. By taking the Expat Complex into consideration, you can easily identify personality characteristics of expatriates based on which country they choose to live in. If they feel more comfortable living in a country that’s inherently corrupt and lawless, you can count on it that they are as corrupt and lawless themselves.
Just to clarify – there is a difference between expats and freeloaders. They are not the same thing. People from third world countries who specialize in taking advantage of weak asylum policies and welcoming immigration laws of developed countries are not expats and are as such subject to different set of principles. The expat complex syndromes do not apply to them as they do not choose countries that match their character, but rather countries that are the easiest to exploit and provide the most freebies in exchange for their effort (and lies).
It used to be that if you wanted to enter Laos from Cambodia, you had to go to the Lao Embassy in Phnom Penh and apply for visa in advance. While Cambodia upgraded their Voeung Kam/Dong Kralor border crossing facility a few years ago to offer visa on arrival, it took Laos a few extra years to follow suit. When I first came to Cambodia, the Lao visa on arrival option was not available but by the time I was ready to leave and head to Laos, this became an option. At least so I’ve heard from a few reports on the internet.
Unfortunately, I have not personally met anyone who got their Lao visa on arrival when entering Laos from Cambodia nor have I gotten a definite YES from any of the bus operators running the bus service between the two countries. I didn’t want to spend extra two or more days in Phnom Penh just so I could secure myself with safe passage to Laos (not a place I would want to spend any more time than I have to), so I decided to take the risk and count on those unconfirmed reports that Laos visa on arrival is now available at the Voeung Kam/Dong Kralor border crossing.
When an Aussie couple who also didn’t have the visa boarded the bus headed for Laos I was on, it made me feel a whole lot better about the whole visa on arrival situation. Until they got on the bus at Stung Treng, I was the only passenger without Lao visa in his passport.
Luckily it definitely is possible and I can now confirm that Lao visa on arrival coming to Laos from Cambodia is now definitely available at the Voeung Kam/Dong Kralor border crossing as I have personally gotten myself one that way. It took less than 5 minutes to have the visa issued during which you wait at the first tiny window on the Lao side of the border. Second window has a different guy whose purpose is to stamp the visa the first guy issued for you. Both visa issuer and visa stamper will insist on a bribe.
Because it was Sunday, the visa stamper guy insisted on a mighty bribe of $2 per person. He was pretty pissed about the fact that he had to be there on the weekend which was reflected in the tone of voice he used when demanding the bribe. The visa issuer guy, on the other hand only bumped the price of visa by $1 compared to what is listed on the websites.
That’s where my biggest beef came from – I don’t know what exactly Laos has against Canada, but for some reason, if you’re a bearer of a Canadian passport, the cost for the visa is much higher than citizens of other countries have to pay. Even Americans have to pay significantly less than Canadians and unlike them, we (Canadians) didn’t even bomb the living beejesus out of Laos during the Indo-China War.
Whatever the reason, the cost of Lao visa for bearers of Canadian passports (whether applied for in advance or obtained on arrival at the border) is the highest of all. While Aussie guys only had to pay $31 each for their visa on arrival ($30 visa fee + $1 bribe), I was asked for $43 ($42 visa fee + $1 bribe). The man behind the small window wrote the amount on a small piece of scrap paper which he then handed to each of us after we handed him the passport.
Unlike most other visas (visas other countries issue), Lao visa on arrival I got had no mention of validity. I had to ask the people on the bus who believed it was 30 days. Either way, I didn’t want to overstay, so I marked the date in my calendar to make sure I leave the country before it’s too late and promised myself to make the most out of this trip as unless Lao officials get over themselves and start charging Canadians a reasonable amount, I’ll think twice before applying for Lao visa again. There’s no reason whatsoever to be so anal with us. We’ve never done anything to them, so why Canada?
One of the reasons why Cambodia has grown to become a popular tourist trap is because it’s cheap. At least that’s what most people who visited the country claim. But let’s take a closer look at some undisputed facts before we jump into conclusion and find a more reliable answer to how cheap Cambodia really is (or whether it is cheap at all).
Is Cambodia Cheap?
Let me get ahead of myself and say it right up without beating around the bush – Cambodia is NOT cheap. Just because most visitors are able to spend less money in Cambodia than they would have in, say Canada, the United States or Germany, it doesn’t mean that Cambodia is cheap. As a matter of fact, vast majority of articles for sale in Cambodia are more expensive than in any of the three mentioned countries (or elsewhere in the world). Since no serious manufacturer would open a plant in a country like Cambodia, where quality of workmanship is so low and work ethic nonexistent, very little is manufactured there. As a result, most items of everyday use must be imported from abroad. Personal hygiene products are a good example. Thinking you could buy a tub of Colgate tooth paste for cheap in Cambodia would set you up for a big surprise.
Similarly, good luck trying to buy a Snickers bar for a price similar to that in western countries. Yet don’t even get me started on electronics or motor vehicles. Check out the classified ads for prices of overused, 30 year old beaters. They sell for the price of brand new sedans in Canada. Electronics? Thinking of replacing that broken camera that was stolen while you were visiting Cambodia? Prepare to shell out on average 40% more than you would in your home country.
Genuine Products in Cambodia
But that’s only the beginning. If you buy a camera from a retailer in a western country, you can be pretty sure you are buying a genuine product and you will get a reasonable customer service (sometimes even a time-limited no questions asked money back guarantee) should the product not perform to your expectations. Not only are these unheard of in Cambodia where similar product would cost much more, you would have to consider yourself blessed if you lucked out enough to obtain a genuine product for your money. And if the casing is genuine, than at least some parts of what you buy will be stripped off and replaced with cheap, generic substitutes. That’s real Cambodia so really – it’s not cheap there. The perceived cheapness most people experience is just a skewed reality that camouflages itself as cheapness, but in reality it’s not.
$2 Burger in Cambodia vs $6 Burger in Canada
Since I’m from Canada, the best way for me to compare products available in Cambodia is with those available in Canada. The example below can be used for any other western country, just replace “Canada” with the name of your home country and you’ll get the desired result.
Let’s say (for illustration purposes) a burger in Canada costs $6. Then you come to Cambodia and find them selling burgers for $2. An average person who buys that $2 burger in Cambodia would end up writing a blog post, or telling their friends that Cambodia is cheap. But I’m not your average person. I like to disclose the whole truth to my friends and readers of my blog, not just the convenient part, so let me break the cost of each burger down a little:
Cost of Hygiene
In Canada, even though the burger is perceived as more expensive, you get certain guarantee of hygiene and freshness. If nothing else, at least before a license to handle food is granted, some form of inspection of premises is made (and can be done later on as well). You don’t have anything like that in Cambodia. Burgers can be sold out of a self made push-cart that’s parked with the swine overnight before it’s taken out to carry food. In conclusion:
guarantee of hygiene in Canada – some
guarantee of hygiene in Cambodia – none
Cost of Safe Ingredients
In countries like Canada, internationally recognized standards and principles are followed to ensure that the food safety requirements are met. The body that’s responsible for the enforcement of these rules is called the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Before any edibles can be offers for sale, they must first be approved for sale by the CFIA.
It’s important to acknowledge that it is a dog eat dog world out there and everything seems to be about profits nowadays, yet still at least there are some institutions that would remove suspicious lines from shelves of grocery stores if there was a reason to believe they posed a health hazard to the public. This has happened many times and will continue to happen even if it means that the removal of products will push the company that provided them to the retailers to the brink of bankruptcy. Producers know it very well so food safety controls are rather rigorous. In conclusion:
guarantee of freshness and safety of food in Canada – some
guarantee of freshness and safety of food in Cambodia – none
Cost of Decent Service
The burger itself is merely a part of your experience buying it. In order to have it freshly made so you can munch on it, you must first order it with the server. And here’s where the real difference of a burger in Canada vs a burger in Cambodia comes to place.
Ordering a burger in Cambodia (or anything else for that matter), will undoubtedly require you to have to deal with a Cambodian national and that won’t go without a need to put up with their laziness, attitude and rudeness.
Ordering a burger in Canada requires an interaction with a server who – whether genuinely or by pretense – will usually be nice and respectful to you. This is a western way of life where customer is seen as a person important to success of a business so staff know they need to treat them with respect and dignity or the business fails. There are mood swings and other variables that can make the experience questionable, but for the most part, dealing with business attendants usually results in fair and dignified treatment. You pay $$$ for it, but you get it.
In Cambodia, on the other hand, you can get your burger for $2, but you will be served by a rude local who takes you for a pest. You will have to deal with their slowness as they scrape their feet against the floor pissed off that they have to serve you, you will have to deal with them barking at you if anything is unclear and you request clarification, you will have to put up with them laughing at you and not hiding that they are talking about you while they’re having themselves a good time at your expense and you will have nothing on your side to prevent that from happening.
Cambodians are very rude in general and nothing makes them happier than misfortune of another. This is true of all of them, including the monks. Even a monk will laugh his ass off at you if you bought a bus ticket with a dedicated seat and the seat is taken by somebody else even though it should belong to you. But then again, just because someone shaves their head and puts on a saffron robe, it doesn’t mean they become any less of a Cambodian. Afterall, Cambodians don’t get ordained for monks out of sheer interest to become a better person and do good. That’s not why they do it. They become monks when there are benefits for them in doing so – for example if becoming a monk will save them from going to jail or if it provides them with free education. But as soon as it becomes clear than the benefits of being a monk are over and leaving monkhood would be of more benefit, you’ll see them gone and back being their usual selves.
Cost of Customer Service
Shopping in Canada comes with some customer service. If you have any form of post purchase issue or complaint, there usually is a dedicated customer service representative, a manager on site, or if all else fails, at least bodies like the Better Business Bureau. Once money is spent, you still can often get either a replacement or a refund should something be wrong with the product purchased.
In Cambodia, once money is spent, consider it final. There is no accountability whatsoever. You pay for a silver pendant and find out it’s just some cheap metal – tough luck. Not only will there be no one to take care of the issue for you, you will be laughed at, mocked, pointed fingers at and threatened if you try to stand up for yourself.
I learned all about Cambodian customer service after my cell phone was stolen. I called Metfone’s customer service in a bid to cancel the number that went with the stolen cell phone. Since thieves got my phone, I at least wanted to make sure they couldn’t take advantage of the credit I had on the SIM card. But dealing with Metfone’s customer support revealed the true face of Cambodia.
Not only is calling Metfone customer service from Metfone phone numbers a paid call, their representatives are typical Cambodians – rude, self righteous bastards with holier than thou attitudes. Basically, after hours of wasting money being put on hold and passed from one person to another, I was told that everything was my fault for not paying attention, that they’re not there to take care of such requests and was called names for bothering them with this bullsh1t.
Cost of Enjoyable Experience
Let me get back to those burgers. One of the most important differences is that even though you would have spent $6 for your burger in Canada, you could sit in a facility where you could enjoy your bite without someone blowing smoke in your face, chewing with their mouth open so the leaves fall off the trees it’s so loud and disgusting, or being bothered to no end by beggars ready and willing to tell you to “f%$k off” or call you “stingy” if you refuse to give them money while they’re turning your dining experience into a nightmare.
Which Burger Was Cheaper?
Yes, you did need less money to buy a burger in Cambodia than you would in Canada, but it was not cheap. If you look closely at what you’re getting and how much you sacrificed and put at risk (including your health which will catch up with you one day, whether you like it or not), you did in fact overpay by shelling out those two bucks.
Cambodia is NOT Cheap
Cambodia is by no stretch of imagination a cheap country. Considering what you receive for your money, it is in fact ridiculously expensive. If you were to sacrifice all the good things Canada protects you as a consumer with, you could live in Canada for less than in Cambodia. Go sleep in a ditch with rats in a really dangerous part of a ghetto, eat filthy leftovers dumped in the bins by spoiled kids and you’ll see that Canada is really cheaper than Cambodia.
Why Is Cambodia Perceived as Cheap?
It is only because some people lower their standards of acceptance and willingly put their personal safety and health at risk that they are able to stay in Cambodia and spend less money than they would in their home country. And then they go around telling everyone that Cambodia is cheap, while conveniently leaving out the details of why exactly it seemed cheap.
One more time – if you take into account what you get for your money, Cambodia is a bad, bad value for money and an overall expensive country. Unless of course you take personal abuse, health hazards and endangerment of life as acceptable standards. Then it is cheap but that way it can be cheap in any country, including Canada.
The best and the only way to avoid the mistreatment Cambodia greets visitors with is by not going to Cambodia. Khmer temples can be visited in other countries (such as Thailand or Laos) and outside of that, by giving Cambodia a pass, you won’t be missing out on much.
Scamming foreigners by selling them worthless counterfeit products is a very common and widely practised way to profit. While in most cases it would mean the loss of money, Cambodians push this a whole flight of steps further and won’t wink over potentially killing someone if it leads to easy income. For example, Cambodia is a global leader in sales of fake malaria pills, and that’s a serious threat to health that could easily lead to death. Imagine you’d buy the malaria pills in Cambodia and thinking you are protected, you’d go exploring Angkor Temples and get bitten… I can’t stress this strongly enough – stock up on everything you’ll need before coming to Cambodia and never leave purchases of anything that could affect your health or life for Cambodia. Ever!
Cambodians don’t believe in earning a living through hard work. They either want handouts or easy income through scam or theft. I said it many times before and will say it again – you can’t be 100% alert 100% of the time. Sooner or later, after a long tiring day you’ll let your guards down for a second and with dozens of con artists hanging around waiting for that opportune moment, one is bound to notice and take advantage. This will make your stay in an already expensive country even more costly and as it turns out, of all the people with whom I spoke (and who comment on my posts), virtually everybody had something stolen in Cambodia. A lifetime commitment to thievery makes them very skilled thieves. They also work in teams and know how to distract an unsuspecting tourist to make the pull successful. The only safe way to avoid it is by not going to Cambodia at all. By taking a risk and going you stand a very solid chance of becoming a victim. You have been warned!
Cambodia is an extremely racist country and a foreigners will encounter discrimination on every step of their stay. How you will be treated, how much you will pay will be determined by the color of your skin. This is racism in its purest form and it is so deeply rooted within Cambodian culture, anywhere you go you will be greeted with the “us versus them” treatment.
To better understand the premise of discrimination in Cambodia, one should look at it from an opposite angle. Imagine a Cambodian comes to Canada for a visit. From the moment they set their foot on Canadian soil, they will be treated equally to everybody else. They will have the same rights and the same obligations as everybody else, regardless of their ethnic background. They will enjoy the same respect when walking down the street as everybody else with no one having the right to yell at them from across the street just because they look different. And when they go to buy something, they will pay the same price as everybody else. Regardless of the color of their skin, the treatment in all walks of life will be the same. In Canada, you are one of us. You are no different. You are a human, you are the same and you have the same rights and privileges as everybody else.
It is not like that in Cambodia. Cambodia is a country where from the moment you set your foot on their soil, you will be treated differently. In Cambodia, there are Khmer people and then there are foreigners. As a foreigner, you are not one of them – you are different. You will be treated differently and different prices will apply to you.
If you find yourself within a crowd of locals walking down the street in Cambodia, you will be singled out and subjected to abuse while all of the locals surrounding you will be left alone. You will never feel integrated into the culture, because they will always single you out and always treat you differently and will be very open about you being different. Cambodians don’t try to hide their racist tendencies. You are not one of them, you are different and that’s that. Discrimination and racism in Cambodia and very much alive and as strong as ever. When one group of people gets preferential treatment from another group of people based on their ethnic background, you get a textbook perfect example of discrimination and that’s exactly what Cambodia is all about.
I have recently read an article on MSN Canada which contained the list of top 12 laziest countries in the world. It was a rather unfair article and contained so much crap I couldn’t believe it was published. First of all, the article only judged developed nations (except from Poland) as if laziness did not exist in the third world countries and secondly, it talked about what people do (or more precisely – not do) in their spare time, completely disregarding overall work ethic of people living in listed countries. You can see the top 12 list of laziest countries in the world published by MSN on the link below:
The list ranked following countries as the laziest in the world:
United States of America
So the list is telling me that my home country of Canada is the second laziest country in the world while the USA is THE laziest. I must ask the same thing again – if we’re talking about the laziest countries in the world, then how come such a limited, small group of countries was sampled? If only European and North American countries were involved, then do not call it “the laziest countries of the world” list. If you do, then make sure Asian, Middle Eastern and African countries are also taken into account.
Secondly – and this is a big one – the article basis their assumptions that the countries are lazy on the following criteria:
Calories per day
What does any of these have to do with laziness? How does per day intake of calories determine which country is lazy and which is not? What do television viewing, aversion to sports or internet usage have to do with being lazy? Yep – a big pile of nothing. What does that mean? It means that this list is a pile of crap and has nothing to do with laziness of any nation listed.
What people do in their spare time, after all the work has been done and they have some time left for themselves has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with laziness. True laziest countries in the world are those that don’t get anything done prior to their time off. True laziest countries of the world don’t see any multinational companies open factories in their countries because those companies know the people there are lazy and quality of workmanship is low. True laziest countries of the world have GDP disproportionate to their population because nobody can be bothered to roll up their sleeves and get anything done. True laziest countries of the world don’t have any real experts because kids are too lazy to study in schools.
Most of the countries listed in the MSN’s list of laziest countries in the world have come with some great inventions in the last two centuries. That’s an undisputed proof that people of these countries are not lazy. Inventor of the internet would not have come from the world’s laziest nation if the country was truly the laziest country in the world, now would he?
Let me say it one more time – how can you judge laziness of a nation based on what people of that country do in their spare time? How is a person who got all their duties taken care of and spends the rest of their day laying belly up lazy? When everything that needs attention is looked after and you’re left with time to spare, you can do anything you want with it and nobody has the right to tell you that you’re lazy. Just because you are a skilled and hard worker who gets everything done to everyone’s satisfaction so you are left with time for yourself, it doesn’t make you lazy. End of story!
Until a real study of world’s laziness is conducted, this list will remain nothing more than a wannabe. To truly judge the laziness of a nation, a study needs to look at people doing jobs and taking care of important tasks. Not at what they do after all those have been taken care of. Once a fair study on laziness is conducted, the USA will not be #1, instead there will be a clear, undisputed winner known to have been the laziest nation for centuries – Cambodia.
When speaking about whether Cambodia is a dangerous country or not, one should not miss out on valuable pointers provided by the travel advisory of each of the western governments. If you read through the Cambodia Travel Advisories, you will find repeated statements warning you about Cambodia, off the hook muggings and violent crime, including rape and murder against foreigners, but somehow this message gets lost in the translation. The following are extracts from the travel advisories posted on government websites of a few (English speaking) western countries:
Cambodia Travel Advisory by the Government of Canada
Violence in Phnom Penh and other cities occurs occasionally.
Street crime, targeting foreigners, has been occurring with increasing frequency in urban areas, including Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, even during daylight hours. There are reports of armed assaults along the riverfront in Phnom Penh and on isolated beaches in Sihanoukville. Canadians have been injured in the course of assaults and armed robberies. Thieves, sometimes on motorcycles, grab bags and other valuables from pedestrians, motorcycle drivers and their passengers. Banditry continues, largely at night, in rural areas and on routes between Snoul, Kratie and Stung Treng in the northeastern provinces. Sexual assaults have been reported. There have been reports that foreigners have encountered difficulties with ill-disciplined police or military personnel. Canadians are advised to exercise a high degree of caution at all times, avoid travelling alone, especially at night, and ensure personal belongings, passports, and other travel documents are secure at all times.
Cambodia Travel Advisory by the Government of the USA
Cambodia has a high crime rate, including street crime. Military weapons and explosives are readily available to criminals despite authorities’ efforts to collect and destroy such weapons. Armed robberies occur frequently in Phnom Penh. Foreign residents and visitors are among the victims. Victims of armed robberies are reminded not to resist their attackers and to surrender their valuables, since any perceived resistance may be met with physical violence, including lethal force.
Local police rarely investigate reports of crime against tourists, and travelers should not expect to recover stolen items.
The U.S. Embassy advises its personnel who travel to the provinces to exercise extreme caution outside the provincial towns at all times. Many rural parts of the country remain without effective policing. Individuals should avoid walking alone after dusk anywhere in Sihanoukville, especially along the waterfront. Some of the beaches are secluded, and the Embassy has received reports that women have been attacked along the Sihanoukville waterfront during the evening hours. Take security precautions when visiting the Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) area. Travelers should be particularly vigilant during annual festivals and at tourist sites in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville, where there have been marked increases in motorcycle “snatch and grab” thefts of bags and purses. In August 2008, the Embassy received reports of unaccompanied U.S. citizen females being robbed at knifepoint during daylight hours in Sihanoukville. Another U.S. citizen female was sexually assaulted in October 2009 while walking alone at night in Kompong Thom province.
Particular areas where crime levels have been relatively high in recent months have been the riverfront and BKK areas of Phnom Penh, and the beaches and tourist areas of Sihanoukville, although incidents are not confined to these areas. You should be particularly vigilant at night, and in deserted areas, although incidents have occurred at all times of day.
There have also been a small number of rapes and sexual assaults in various locations.
Cambodia Travel Advisory by the Government of Australia
Opportunistic crime is common in Cambodia and the frequency of incidents is increasing. Thieves frequently snatch foreigners’ bags and pick-pocketing is a problem in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap. Several foreigners have been injured in the course of these incidents, in particular when bags are pulled from passengers on moving motorbike taxis. Bag-snatching, other robberies and assaults often occur during daylight hours.
There have been reports of assaults and armed robberies against foreigners, especially in areas frequented by tourists and expatriate residents, including the Riverfront in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville (particularly at isolated beaches). You should exercise vigilance when travelling through these areas at all times, but especially after dark.
You should limit night time travel around Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap to well-lit public areas and travel in groups. At night, travel by car is safer than motorcycle, moto-scooter or cyclo (cycle-rickshaw).
Foreigners have been the target of sexual assault in Cambodia. Due to the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, victims of violent crime, especially rape, are strongly encouraged to seek immediate medical assistance.
Levels of firearm ownership in Cambodia are high and guns are sometimes used to resolve disputes. There have been reports of traffic disputes resulting in violence involving weapons. Bystanders can get caught up in these disputes. Foreigners have been threatened with handguns for perceived rudeness to local patrons in popular Phnom Penh nightclubs and elsewhere.
Banditry and extortion, including by military and police personnel, continue in some rural areas, particularly at night in areas between Snoul, Kratie and Stung Treng in the north-eastern provinces.
Cambodia Travel Advisory by the Government of New Zealand
There has been an increase in violent crime against foreign travellers, particularly in areas frequented by tourists and expatriates including the river front area of Phnom Penh, and at isolated beaches in Sihanoukville. New Zealanders are advised to be vigilant and maintain a high level of personal security awareness at all times.
So there you have it. It’s all between the lines of each travel advisory. Some of the most repeated statements include warnings that there have been an increasing number of violent attacks in Cambodia, including sexual attacks (rapes) against foreign nationals and they are urged to exercise an increased degree of caution. Don’t take these warnings lightly unless you intend to stick with visiting the tourist Cambodia, not the real one!