Readers' Submissions

A Cambodian Love Story Part 1



I believe that for those with a spouse / partner who is foreign-born that anxiety and uncertainty are our friends at all times, not just during this pandemic. We have the benefit of knowledge of our home countries and our partner’s home countries. Perhaps we are asking ourselves do we settle here or there. Right now it is better to be here, but maybe in a few years’ time we’d like to stay there – or vice versa. These feelings are constant for me. Anyway part one of this submission is a collection of stories reminiscing about some of the more bizarre girls I met in my life and it is related to neighbouring countries of Thailand.

Some background on me. I lived in Vietnam for 5 years. I met a Cambodian girl. I moved her to the U.K. We are now married in the U.K. and have a few kids.

I don’t want to make this look like I am writing a CV, but I guess everyone has different writing styles and I would not consider myself a man of words.

Having first travelled to Asia in 2008 I backpacked from Beijing to Bangkok. The land of frowns to the land of smiles – with many other facial expressions in between.

First relationship story. Having lived a life similar to a Buddhist monk for the entirety of my seven months traveling in China it wasn’t until the last few days that I got my leg over with a local. I was traveling from Hong Kong to Hanoi by train and was told this would take about 48 hours.

It was at Shenzhen train station that I was puzzling over how to buy a ticket to Nanjing when a student who spoke English came to my rescue. She even introduced me to a pretty young lady who was catching the same train as me. When I disembarked from the train the following morning she was waiting for me on the platform. She spoke no English. I spoke no Chinese other than a few phrases practiced.

The girl actioned for me to follow her. We sat down in an empty waiting area and through signalling, drawings in my notepad and body language we had a conversation.  I surmised that she worked at a call centre (no sniggering at the first word in that compound noun 😉 She was in her early twenties I guessed and she was visiting her parents in Nanjing – her home town. She refused my offer to buy her breakfast, although she accepted a Coke.

I had a few hours between trains and accepted her invitation to her house. I thought a meal with her parents was on the cards, but she led me by the hand to her bedroom where she turned on the CD player and we sat on the bed and made out.

I can’t be the only one who hides their real cash whilst traveling. I kept nominal currency in my front pocket and a hidden pocket in the inside leg of my cargo pants hid the rest of the cash along with my passport, cards and a solitary condom which after this dalliance became plural. I read that even such hidden pockets were not safe as some thieves would know by the hang and slash at the area with a knife to gain the contents.

This girl’s house was in the city centre and I returned in time for the train. Of course I wouldn’t have known beforehand how close it was to the train station and if I’d be back in time for the train, but that’s where being spontaneous can get you lucky.

I know what you’re thinking – this guy travelled for seven months in China and this is the best story he has? No, it isn’t the best. It is perhaps the most bizarre though as she initiated sex, uncommon to say the least in their culture. One night stands with girls who don’t ‘work’ for payment is uncommon in Asia, is it not? I may have flirted and laid ground work , but seldom is it reciprocal especially in cultures much different than my own.

The next relationship was a week later in Hanoi, Vietnam. I had a month visa for traveling in Vietnam and because I met a nice American woman in a Hanoi one week in and liked to stay in her company for another ten days that left me little over a week to see and enjoy the rest of Vietnam. Two days in Ninh Binh, two in Hue, three in Hoi An and two in Saigon resulted in one other dalliance. Another girl who didn’t speak a word of English.

I was sat at the bar looking towards the entrance. From the moment she walked through the door and made eye contact I knew we’d be horizontal that night. She sat at the bar beside me. I offered her a drink and it was whilst we were waiting for her bottle of water that she pulled out a medical note in French. I understood it to be a negative test for STD’s. Of course I wanted to know why so I tactfully elicited the following information. She’d just broken up with her Vietnamese boyfriend who’d cheated on her. She was sad and wanted to find a new boyfriend. Bizarre that her opening line was ‘I’m clear’!

She wore the traditional costume Ao Dai. She invited me to a hotel. I thought that it’d be local to the bar, but it wasn’t. The taxi fare to the hotel cost more than the hotel itself. When the moonlight coming in through the small window hit her naked frame I could see was very slim and with long hair, down to her knees – as to quote the Beatles. I saw her again the following afternoon and it appeared she was in fact interested in a long term relationship. I made my excuses as Cambodia beckoned.

Whilst in Cambodia I arranged by Yahoo chat to meet with the American girl in Bangkok. She was a teacher and had a few days off work for Christmas. I spent only hours in Phnom Penh and made my way to Siem Reap by bus. It was whilst parading the temples of Angkor at dawn that I had a premonition. I was admiring the bas reliefs on the walls of the temple when I had a feeling that a Cambodian beauty not unlike the one in the carving would be mine. I believed this to mean as wife rather than as a one night stand.

What can I say about when I arrived in Bangkok for the first time? I remember the smell of what I believed was delicious food being prepared. I often ate the street food and never had a bad meal in Thailand. I remember getting off the bus near Khao San and easily finding the hotel my friend had pre booked. I met her on Soi Rambuttri and ate papaya salad for the first time. Som tom Laos style is still a favourite of mine today. We went to McDonald’s and Starbucks a lot at her request – which is one reason we went our separate ways after this trip. After she returned to Vietnam I fulfilled my only pre trip quest – to have Christmas dinner on the beach. This was done on Ko Phan Ngan the next day.

I flew back home after a month or so in Thailand. It was whilst back home and reminiscing that I thought of teaching English and where to do it. I believed the place to do it was Saigon. It was two whole years before I returned to Asia though and I bought with me my new founded experience of teaching gym. I believed that I could teach rich Asians and expats gym and fitness alongside or instead of teaching English. As it was, the later worked out very well and I stayed in Saigon for five years. I met my future Cambodian wife after 3 years.

The author can be contacted at : [email protected]