Holiday in Cambodia


When I wasn’t playing ping-pong and visiting Dunkin’ Donuts, I passed up the chance to visit Cambodia in 2002. After a few weeks in Bangkok, Jolie and I ended up in a small village a few miles from the Cambodian border. There wasn’t much happening there, and one day someone said, “Hey, why don’t we go to Cambodia?”

We looked into it and learned that the visa would cost $20 upon arrival. The transport to get there and back would have been another $10, and for some reason I decided that $30 was too much to spend for a short visit across the border.

Lesson learned: never pass up a good country when it comes your way.

Six and a half years later, I’m spending considerably more than $30 to visit Cambodia. My philosophy is that we can’t change the past, but we are in full control of our present – so after spending a couple of days in Bangkok settling into Southeast Asian life, off I go to Phnom Penh.

Looking for Sarya

The night of my arrival, I’m supposed to connect with my friend Sarya, but everything goes wrong. My random guesthouse has no internet access, and Sarya’s phone number is in my Gmail account. After I trek to an internet café, recover the number, and figure out how to use the pay phone, an old Cambodian guy answers on the other side. Obviously, he’s not Sarya, and naturally, he doesn’t speak English.

I go into another internet café to report to Sarya that her phone number is not working. She has no way to get online and I have no phone, so we’ll have to try again the next day. With no plans all of a sudden, I walk down the main street for 40 minutes, ending up at a combination Khmer + Pizza restaurant for dinner.

Because labor is cheap, restaurants in poor countries like Cambodia are often overstaffed. In Africa we used to go out to the foreigners’ restaurants on embassy row and there would be five different servers waiting on us. One would unfold the napkins, one would take our order, another would bring the drinks, and so on. We had fun trying to figure out the hierarchy to see if napkin-folding was a more senior responsibility than drink-pouring, or vice versa.

Here at the Khmer + Pizza restaurant in Phnom Penh, the same concept applies, except the system breaks down when everyone spends most of the night standing up against the wall. I need some more water, and I look around longingly at all five servers stationed in different areas. Several make eye contact and smile, but no one offers to bring me the water. I finally wave someone over, who takes the request, passes it to someone else, and then a third person brings the water. There’s not much kaizen happening at this restaurant, but the food is good.


One of the more subtle lessons you learn after traveling for a while has to do with the two kinds of hospitality: genuine and false. The genuine is the kind of hospitality you like to receive as a traveler – welcoming, helpful, curious, respectful – and of course I should mention that us travelers need to make sure we are as respectful as possible in return.

The false kind, on the other hand, is when someone helps you out of resentment or an obvious grab for money. I’ve seen this in various parts of the world – the guide in Vietnam who turned hostile on me when I refused to give him $40 for a one-hour tour, various taxi drivers who demand usurious rates, people who approach me on the street and become upset when I refuse to follow them, to name a few examples.

Thankfully, genuine hospitality is the most common kind. I can report far more examples of people going out of their way to help me wherever I go, and I’m happy to say that all of the hospitality I encounter in Cambodia is the genuine kind. While I’m eating my dinner and the restaurant staff are standing around in Phnom Penh tonight, we all watch Animal Planet on satellite TV together. They are fascinated with a documentary on dog-sledding in Alaska. If I was from Cambodia and had never seen snow, I’m pretty sure that I’d be intrigued with dog-sledding too.

Genocide Museum

The next day I’m still waiting to connect with Sarya. Whenever I call her number, the old guy answers and we have a mixed conversation where I speak English and he speaks Khmer – as you’d expect, it’s a short conversation – so I resume my walking tour of the city. This leads me to the saddest part of this two-week trip, where I spend two and a half hours paying my respects at Tuol Sleng, otherwise known as the genocide museum.

If you are interested in the background and history of Tuol Sleng, this wiki article is a good start. I read the article before taking a motorbike down to the site, but it’s hard to prepare yourself for visiting a place where innocent people were tortured and sent to be executed. The museum is located in the same former high school that was transformed into a detention center during the Khmer Rouge regime of 1975-1979. Roughly 17,000 people were taken to Tuol Sleng during those years, and very few survived.

What can I say about such a place while I’m gratefully chronicling my world travels? Not much, and I am well aware of the inadequacy of a few paragraphs from an outsider. But to avoid mention of it also seems disrespectful of all the people whose lives came to a premature end for no good reason.

Like the Nazis before them, the Khmer Rouge kept careful records of the people they killed. One of the rooms in Tuol Sleng consists of the admittance photographs of hundreds of inmates. All of them wear signs displaying their admission dates, and a large number are from May 1978. I was born a month earlier, and 30 years later here I am looking at the photos of people who were executed after I had just arrived in the world many thousands of miles away. I don’t know what to do with such information, but it seems significant to me in some way.

When I leave two hours later after walking through every room, I am as emotionally disturbed as I expected to be before I came. In a way, I’m glad that I feel so shaken. My theory is, God help me if I am ever not suitably disturbed after viewing such things. A sense of complacency over preventable tragedy is not something I would like to become accustomed to.

At least there is no Starbucks across from the genocide museum (yet). Instead, I go to a small restaurant to read and reflect for the rest of the afternoon.

Happy Hour, Obama, and Laos

To clear my head in the evening, I go for another 30-minute run, but running in Phnom Penh proves even more challenging than my attempt a couple of days earlier in Bangkok. Before I leave I check the map and head off towards the river, but I never manage to lose the traffic and it gets worse instead of better. Much of the time is spent dodging motorcycles and tuk-tuks, and I’m glad when it’s over. I return to the guesthouse, take a shower, and head back out for dinner.

I end up at Happy Hour at the Herb Café as President-elect Obama is preparing to be sworn in. I recall the words of Winston Churchill, about how Americans will always do the right thing after they have exhausted all other options. Over the past year I’ve talked with many people in dozens of countries about the U.S. election, and we’ve finally come to the day of the inauguration. The excitement about President Obama is truly genuine and truly worldwide.

At 9:30 p.m. on the eve of my last full day in Phnom Penh, I finally connect with Sarya. I know Sarya from Seattle, and we talk about how much fun it is to run into each other in Cambodia, where she is working with a local NGO for a year.

The next stop is Laos, where I don’t meet with anyone at all. Instead I camp out in the capital city of Vientiane. The conventional travelers’ view on Vientiane is that it isn’t that great, but I like it just fine. In fact, it’s my favorite spot in the sub-region thus far.

I spend most of my time in Laos writing and catching up on my life back at home, but before I leave I’m able to complete my subcontinent running tour with a 6-mile sunset run along the Mekong River. For once, I have a great run with no real traffic problems. The other travelers I run into in Vientiane complain about the pollution, but it’s much better than Bangkok or Phnom Penh. I’m happy, and I add Laos to the list of places I’d like to come back to at some point.

I make my way back to Thailand a couple of days later via tuk-tuk, border shuttle bus, minibus, and finally a $40 Air Asia flight from Udon Thani to Bangkok. I have a day off from travel before moving on, so I go to the movie theatre and watch Defiance . I’m not really a movie person – aside from the ones I see on long-haul flights, I probably watch two movies a year – but going to the theatre in Thailand is quite the experience. You get 30 minutes of previews and commercials, the obligation to stand for a tribute to the king before the featured presentation, and the chance to go for chocolate milk and toast with jam afterwards. Any exploration into modern Thai culture should definitely include a visit to the movie theatre.

The last morning I get up early, return to Suvarnabhumi airport (the taxi driver refrains from making any stops en route this time), and eventually head out on Cathay Pacific to Singapore for the connection to my final destination of this trip: Dhaka, Bangladesh.



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When I venture out in to the world by myself, as I am prone to do from time to time, people sometimes ask, “Don’t you get lonely?”

There are two answers to this question, both of which are true.

1. My Community Is Worldwide

The success of this writing project has caused me to redefine how I think about friendship. I used to take what I now realize is a highly conventional view of online relationships – I thought they were narrow or shallow by default.

I now believe exactly the opposite. On any given day I download at least 100 emails from friends old and new. I can sit in the Hong Kong airport lounge and connect with a wide network of cool people. I can log on to Twitter and see what’s happening with hundreds of people I care about.

If I want to, I can take the online friendships offline and meet up with people almost anywhere I go. Here in Thailand, where I’m writing these notes, I’ve met with six people in a few days. Even when I head out to real off-the-grid spots like Brunei or Bangladesh, there is almost always someone interested in meeting up.

At this point in my global adventures, I'm just as likely to have friends in Vienna as I do in Vancouver. The community, online or offline, is very real. I now stand corrected from my earlier views about relationships that form across streams of data.

2. Loneliness Is Part of the Job

The first answer is true – I know far more people than I ever did before, and they are conveniently scattered all over the world. I care about them and I know I am cared for in return. However, when I head out for two weeks on my own, often to remote places where I spend long periods of time alone, I do in fact get lonely – and that’s OK.

I learned a long time ago that if I didn’t become comfortable being alone for extended periods of time, independent travel would not be an enjoyable activity. Depending on where I am, there are times where I spend several days in a row not talking with anyone.

When I’m out in the world I sometimes walk around all day with a vague feeling of sadness. I can’t always pinpoint the problem, and after I run through the checklist (“Do I need to exercise? Should I eat something? Was four cups of coffee enough this morning?”), I realize I’m experiencing the onset of loneliness.

The goal at this point is to do one of two things: a) try to turn the situation into something productive, or b) accept things as they are.

Creativity vs. Acceptance

Either response is acceptable, and sometimes I may need a combination of the two. Here’s how each one plays out.


When it’s properly harnessed, loneliness can be good fodder for creativity. The creating of something meaningful (in my case, words) rarely comes naturally, but when you channel your energy into making it happen, loneliness fades into the background.

The times when we successfully harness loneliness into creativity are almost always highly rewarding. Last fall I stayed up all night in Colombo, Sri Lanka, writing the manuscript for the Working for Yourself guide. The next day I wandered around the town looking for a print shop or internet café that could print the next-to-last draft. I finally found one that charged $9 to print 60 pages. I couldn’t decide if that was incredibly cheap or outrageously expensive, but I gladly paid the money. At breakfast the following morning, I sat outside the Galle Face Hotel and edited the final draft while looking out at the ocean.

Having overcome the lure of procrastination and the fatigue of travel, I had a good feeling when I finished. I had been sad when I started working on the manuscript, but at the end the overall feeling was one of satisfaction. It doesn’t always work out that way, but it happens often enough that I know it’s worth trying for.


I can also choose to accept loneliness for what it is. Being lonely causes me to reflect on the many good things in my life. I can say to myself, “Here I am in [country] and I’m doing what I want. I feel good about how far I've come and I'm looking forward to the rest of the journey.”

I’m not a naturally observant person. I know that I miss out on a lot of things happening around me. Sometimes when I feel lonely, I can choose to embrace the loneliness and pay more attention to my surroundings. I start to notice things I’ve missed before. I sit on the park bench for half an hour without doing anything. I ride the subway as far it goes in any particular direction.

Later on, I’ll feel better – but for a time, I just have to take things as they are and appreciate where I am. Therefore, when loneliness arrives, sometimes the answer is, Let it be. I know the feeling will pass and I’ll be okay.


Loneliness is overrated, and I try not to worry too much about it. My thinking is, if I never experience it, I’m probably living a safe, comfortable life. If I do experience it from time to time, I can fight back by being productive or just let it come my way.

Either way, the night won’t last forever. Right?



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Lonely Train Station Image by Grandhi

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5 Million Frequent Flyer Challenge: Update #2

If you haven’t seen the Frequent Flyer Challenge before, read these posts first: The Original Post The First Update *** Here’s the Second Update Hi everyone – after traveling through Cambodia and Laos last week (trip report coming on Thursday), I’m transiting back through Bangkok before going on to Bangladesh, the final stop on this…

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Bangkok Adventures


One hour from landing in Narita Airport outside of Tokyo, the pre-arrival video comes on. “Soon we will be arriving in the United States of America. If you are a U.S. or Canadian citizen, please follow the signs for U.S. If you are a foreign visitor…”

The Japanese man sitting next to me looks back and forth between the video and me. Finally, he takes off his headphones and asks, “Wrong movie?”

Yes. Wrong movie.

The wrong movie plays for nearly three minutes before it is turned off by a flight attendant. She comes on the p.a. after another three minutes. “Ladies and gentlemen… sorry… we can’t find the arrival video for Japan. If you have any questions about Japan, let us know.”

Other than that, the 11-hour flight across the Pacific is uneventful. I arrive in Narita and quickly transfer to a Cathay Pacific flight for Hong Kong. Another five hours goes by as I fitfully sleep in the back of the plane.

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How to Be Awesome


The other day I was talking with my friend Phil, a doctoral student in philosophy. Phil is much smarter than me – of that there is no doubt – but he’s struggling with the process of working through a draining series of requirements to receive his terminal degree.

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5 Million Frequent Flyer Challenge: Update #1

Greetings, friends. Today I have an update on the Frequent Flyer Challenge, coming to you live from the Hong Kong airport: First, a good news / bad news personal update. The Bad News – After flying 19 hours, I slept on the airport floor for five more hours last night. It just didn’t make sense…

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The 2:00 a.m. “Stuck in Portland” Redesign Launch Story

I mentioned in the comments about the redesign that there was a back story to this week’s launch, and I thought I’d share the whole story here for those who are interested. According to the new publication schedule (Mondays and Thursdays for main content), you can also check back tomorrow for a more typical article.

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Site Redesign and New Posting Schedule

Hi everyone. First, if you’re reading by RSS or email, please come over to the site so you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

As you can see, our new site design is now online. It’s been a long time in the making, and I'm really excited that it's here. For the concept and execution of the project, I’m grateful to the amazing Reese Spykerman who works on location in Michigan and Malaysia. As I’ve said before, if you need a good web designer or ebook layout expert, send her a note.

There are a few more tweaks that are coming in the next few weeks, notably in how we display the categories, but this is the first public display of the AONC 2.0 that I’ve been hoping to have for a while.

Please note the following important information:

1. During my Annual Review I made the decision to continue my shift towards focusing even more on what I like to do. With that in mind, this year I am going to be a full-time writer. Wish me luck! (Actually, wish me hard work. That's much better.)

2. The site will continue to remain completely free with no advertising. 3. Instead of ads, I’ll have a few new products coming out this year to support the project – first, the upcoming Travel Ninja guide, and then an extended series of webinars later in the spring.

4. I’m restructuring how often I write here – see below.

New Schedule: Monday and Thursday, Short Updates Other Days

My goal for 2008 was to publish new content every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I achieved that goal and published 122,281 words – more than an average book.

I didn’t miss a single day in the schedule, although from time to time I published at 11:57 p.m. A note for your own world domination plans: consistency is appreciated by people who join your small army.

In 2009, I am branching out a bit and trying to focus on higher-level writing. My new publishing schedule for the year will be Mondays and Thursdays.

I’ll still write about Life, Work, and Travel. I’ll still publish trip reports from everywhere I go – some of you will love them and some of you will skip them. No problem.

The focus of much of the writing, however, will be on information and strategies to help you rule and change the world in your own way. I want to earn your continued readership and ensure that your time reading the Art of Nonconformity is well spent.

You can see some examples of this focus in a few of the recent posts I’ve published here:

Some of these posts will be fairly long, so I want to give them more breathing room instead of moving on to a new major topic right away. I’ll also have shorter updates from time to time – trip photos, product updates, and so on. But for all practical reasons, come back every Monday and Thursday for the new content designed to help with your own unconventional life. Cool?

These improvements are the result of your feedback. I am tremendously grateful to each of you who take the time to read and participate. Thanks so much. It’s going to be a great year.

Keep rocking the universe,

Chris Guillebeau

P.S. Of course, I’d like to know what you think about the new design and content structure. Feel free to share your comments below, on Twitter, or by email.

(Please note there are a few things that are still a bit wonky with the structure - we hope to have that fixed within the next day or two.)


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How to Get a Duplicate U.S. Passport

U.S. Passport by GravityWave

This post is relevant for readers with U.S. passports who travel frequently. If you don't fit in that group, feel free to skip this one – or just read it for the entertainment value.

I've mentioned a few times that I have two U.S. passports, and each time at least one person asks me how that works. Well, I'll you exactly how I got the second passport, and what you need to do if this would help you as well.

First, the need for a second passport. Why bother?

U.S. passports are good for a number of reasons: notably, they are valid for 10 years, and when you fill up the pages with lots of stamps and visas, the State Department in Washington, D.C. or any embassy abroad will issue more pages at no charge. I've had three passport page extensions so far, and without that option I would have needed at least four passports by this point. No other major country that I am aware of offers a passport that includes both of these important features.

As good as a U.S. passport can be, there are still two problems with having only one passport of any kind. First, when you visit politically sensitive countries (especially in the Middle East), the ensuing stamps can cause delays and other problems for you later.

When I recently came back to the states via Miami, for example, the immigration officer had a least a dozen questions for me as he flipped through the passport. Among other things, he asked me:

Why did you go to Pakistan?

How many days were you there?

Who did you meet with?

Who paid you to go to Karachi?

The irony here is that my trip to Pakistan was a while back, and when I returned to the U.S. at the time, I was waved through without any questions at all. This goes to show that when it comes to immigration, you never really know what’s going to happen until you approach the desk.

I should also mention that the questions are not always confrontational. Many immigration officers are impressed with so many passport pages and stamps, and several have even congratulated me. However, the occasional interrogation is enough to cause me concern, especially when I’m far away from home and relying on the mercies of an unfamiliar country.

Second, as I go further and further throughout the world, I frequently need to arrange some of my visas in advance by applying within the U.S. Some countries do not offer visas on arrival or allow travelers to apply from a third country, and if my passport is in the hands of a consular officer for weeks, then obviously I can’t go anywhere until I get it back.

Thus, the problem: to travel to fun places, you need visas, which require you to send off your passport for a variable length of time. While your passport is sitting somewhere, of course, you can’t go anywhere else. This makes travel hacking and advanced travel planning difficult.

How to Fix the Problem

The U.S. government allows independent travelers to obtain a duplicate (i.e., secondary) passport as long as you can demonstrate a need for it. Specially, you need to:

1. Fill out an application

This is easy. The application is here.

2. Decide if you want to use a service company

You can do this on your own and save at least $50. I used a service company (A Briggs) mostly because it looked easier to me. I’m not a journalist, so I wasn’t sure if the State Department would reject my application if I sent it in myself. The company was actually quite helpful, so in this case I’m glad I spent the extra money.

3. Write a letter explaining your need for a second passport

You need to write a one-paragraph letter explaining why you need two passports. It helps if you can include an upcoming itinerary to sensitive countries, or at least a record of frequent international travel in the past.

4. Submit the application and the fees

The cost is US $135 plus whatever fee is charged by the service provider if you use one. Also, note that the second passport is only valid for two years. Unfortunately, you can’t get a second 10-year passport.

Having the second passport has already helped me several times, by being able to send off the new one to random embassies (Russia, Eritrea, etc.) with no real worries since I have another one safely in my office.

In fact, while the increased travel freedom is good, the greatest benefit of having two passports is peace of mind. I don’t have a lot of “treasured possessions” – I value experiences much more than physical things -- but if forced to pick something, I’d reach for my 100-country passport. Have you seen all the stamps?


As mentioned in the beginning, most people need only one passport. But if you’re adventurous, this may be what you need. If not, at least you know how it works.



Unconventional Guides:

Working for Yourself: Creating Personal Freedom
Discount Airfare: Surviving Stress and Maximizing Fun

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