June 1, 2021

COVID through a Cambodian lens

It has been over a year now since COVID-19 first spread in Cambodia, and the unexpected pandemic began changing the way we live from day one. People are facing a lot of challenges including physical and financial difficulties as they couldn’t go to work as they used to. 

In the beginning, while the number of cases in Europe and the U.S. were growing rapidly, Cambodia still had a very low number of cases. We were allowed to go out but needed to wear masks and wash our hands all the time - instructions that most people were happy to follow because we thought we were lucky that we didn’t have to stay in our houses like people in other countries. 

Personally, I spent a lot of my time exploring the temples in Siem Reap and trying to find the very best spots to witness the sunset inside the temple complex, now that there was all the time in the world to do so. The temples were empty just like in the early ‘90s.

It made me feel bad for people who used to make a living from the tourism industry because they couldn’t do so anymore. I have a lot of friends that used to work for hotels and travel agencies, while others are drivers and tour guides, and I’ve seen them changing their way of living into something completely different in order to survive and support their families. Some of them have started small chicken farms, while others grow vegetables for living. Some tour guides are now working as delivery people.

COVID-19 is teaching me lots of life lessons. It has been over a year since tourism in Cambodia was essentially put on hold, and at first it was hard to change my way of life from something I loved to new things I have never done. During the first few months after the COVID-19 outbreak closed the borders, I took some time off and spent a lot of time with my son, Seth, whom I used to only be able to see once a week before. We have been getting closer and closer since then. To keep myself busy I went out with my camera and my family to places that are now completely uncrowded to shoot portraits in these amazing landscapes and places. With all of this shooting and retouching work, I think my photography skills have gotten better.

My wife and I have also founded a new online jewelry shop called KORNG DAI, which means ‘bracelet’ in English. We’re selling jewelry that is made from freshwater pearl and sterling silver. While it’s hard to start a business during a pandemic, surprisingly it’s doing very well. We have received a lot of support from locals, and we’re able to ship the products directly to our customers’ homes after they’ve ordered.

Building up this new business has kept us both busy. I’ve been doing everything from creating content for social media posts, organizing photo shoots, retouching photos, replying to customers’ questions, packing orders and delivering them to the shipping company’s office. My wife also replies to customers and manages the live stream for the business. It’s been so much fun so far, and I’m very grateful that we found something we like doing in this difficult time.

After relatively few cases during the first year or so of the pandemic, the situation here in Cambodia took a turn for the worse around the beginning of the new year. We’ve seen some community outbreaks in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and some in other provinces that have increased the number of new cases repeatedly. This caused people to rush out to stores and markets to get food and supplies without thinking that they could also catch the virus while they were doing so.

I had left Siem Reap before the recent outbreaks, but now the city where I live is locked down too. It’s quite hard to handle because I love working with people, going out for meetings and making connections throughout the industry; or at least getting out to take some sunset photos.

We’ve all been asked to stay home as much as possible and not to go out unless it’s absolutely necessary. We’re hopeful that these new restrictions will help put an end to these outbreaks so that we can continue on the road to recovery. The government is definitely working very hard to stop the spread, and my hope for the next year is that things will continue to get better.

In the meantime, the government has been working on new infrastructure projects that will make a big difference in Siem Reap. Big paving projects will mean that all major roads will now be paved throughout the city. And there are other improvements designed to facilitate the return of tourism once the country is ready to open its borders again. So we’re all looking forward to that day when we can welcome travelers back to our country.


By Narla Phay
Co-Owner of Our Southeast Asia Journeys

Our Southeast Asia Journeys is the destination management company that Kaanect Travel uses when building guest itineraries in Cambodia.

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