What a year! It is strange going through something that you could never have imagined.
The first time I heard about COVID-19 was late November 2019 when it was mentioned in the news here in Asia, in conjunction with the protests in Hong Kong. Like many people, I didn’t pay much attention to it as it was called a severe type of pneumonia. Little did I know that a year later I would still be trying to navigate the new reality we now live in.
Working in the travel industry on the ground in Southeast Asia, things became interesting very quickly. Even though my home base, Cambodia, only had one case by the end of January, it was getting harder and harder to move guests around the region as outbound flights were getting cancelled. We had our last guest depart the region on March 24, 2020, and shortly after, all countries in the region closed their borders.
Having worked full time as a regional manager, during which time I was on call for 24 hours a day, a whole new reality began for me. The first few weeks were filled with socializing and cocktails, which became boring very quickly. With some luck and a swift response to COVID, Cambodia had managed to contain the outbreak and the country was basically COVID free in May 2020. With this in mind, I decided to explore the country I have called home for the last seven years properly.
I have never doubted that tourism will come back, so this was a great opportunity to broaden my knowledge. In between short trips around Cambodia, most of my time was spent in Siem Reap and Angkor Park. With no tourism revenue in sight, the Apsara authority introduced yearly Angkor Park passes at an affordable cost for expats. The Angkor pass was one of the biggest blessings of the year. Being able to explore the entire Angkor Park without anyone around you for a whole year has been a truly magical experience. This once-in-a-lifetime experience was a lifesaver, and I will be forever grateful to have been able to experience it.
As we move into the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately Cambodia has not been able to stay COVID free. While much of the world is starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, Cambodia is experiencing its first big community outbreak. It is heartbreaking to see a country with inferior healthcare go through what not even the western world could control. However, the resilience of the Khmer people is strong and with the vaccination program in full swing the country will pull through stronger than ever.
Cambodia is currently looking at reopening to travelers in October or November of 2021, and there is a lot of hope for the future. Siem Reap, which is the gateway to Angkor Wat, has invested 150 million in infrastructure and every single road in the city is being upgraded. I am thankful to be a part of the Kaanect team and to be working with my mentors once again.
Personally, I am excited for the future of the country and the region and excited for the first travelers to experience what I have been experiencing in the last 12 months.
-By Naida Dizdarevic