This isn't the type of post you think it is, another 'how to travel Cambodia on $25 a day' article.
This is a story about the people I came to know in Battambang, in western Cambodia. I was joined by an Aussie girl I'd met in Kampot and we dropped in on Battambang on a whim. The greatest joy of long term travel is going places just to see what's there.
We rolled into this nondescript city on an old bus with barely-there air conditioning (really, I'm not complaining, anything to keep us from melting in the heat) and we were immediately overwhelmed by tuk tuk drivers crowding us and offering rides to various hostels. Even after four months in Southeast Asia, being accosted by hustlers is still greatly overwhelming.
We hired a well-dressed young Cambodian man to take us to whichever accommodation he recommended and we bartered his fares down - we were on a budget after all. He took us to a pretty nice hotel for $10 a night and so we stuck with him for our remaining stay in the city. He asked us questions about the English language and painstakingly recorded everything down in a little notebook.
After a few days, I noticed he wore the same two shirts over and over. I (rudely) asked him how much he earned.
He said $25 a week.
It didn't sit well with me; did I capitalise on his poverty? I had bartered my way through Southeast Asia and benefited from those less fortunate than myself to get a bargain. We all love great value destinations - it's why Southeast Asia is one of the most well travelled locations on the planet. But by visiting these countries are we taking advantage of poorer nations for a discounted holiday, or are we bringing money from wealthy countries to people that need it more?
I hope my travels have helped many people in different ways from visiting local restaurants and family owned guesthouses to supporting the region's growing tourism industry.
The driver wouldn't have accepted the final price if he was unhappy with it but maybe he was in a position where he couldn't refuse the money. Perhaps he really needed the money to eat dinner that night.
This is why I never feel right about bartering. Here are people who have a fraction of what I have - they know it and I know it. Yet if I don't, I feel like I'm the one who has been taken advantage of, the price has just been inflated three times simply because I'm foreign and possibly don't know any better.
So on principle I barter, I make it a game, otherwise it's too difficult. It's only cents to me but possibly all the difference in the world for someone else.
What do you think?
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