For me, any stay in Siem Reap is far too short, and by the time I get to the airport I’m in a reflective mood just thinking about the things I have achieved or not achieved during my stay. I like this airport, and I always end up buying two or three books from Monument bookstore and find myself chatting to strangers and sharing stories. Stepping into the airport is like stepping into a privileged world. Unless you work here, or you are a business traveller, then as a Cambodian you may have zero experience of being in an airport.
I recall the first time that Savong flew from Siem Reap to the Phnom Penh. He had a business meeting and, I think, was quite excited by the prospect of experiencing air travel. When he arrived in the capital, I phoned him and asked what the experience was like. He was upbeat; excited. Behind him I could hear the clamour of taxis at Phnom Penh airport. I have the impression that he had just gone through a rite of passage; the step between being a 20th century Cambodian, and entering the 21st century world. But at that stage he was still quite naive about air travel, and when I asked him if he had a window seat, his answer was memorable. “Yes brother,” he said, ” but the window didn’t open.”
Since that day, now several years ago, sponsors have flown Savong to Singapore, to Austria, as well is to South Korea, and I am glad that he has had the opportunity to see his NGO from these foreign perspectives.
We love to complain about the travails of air travel, and moan about airports in general. But when I sit in the quiet of Siem Reap International, I think about the privilege and freedom that we enjoy.
A story about the cultural differences between Westerners and Cambodians click here.