10 Things I Learned from Moving to Cambodia

Rachel Riggio of The Red Road Foundation shares ten reflections from moving to Cambodia — and how the past ten years have reshaped her life. 

After a decade of calling Cambodia home, I’ve come to realize that life in this enchanting land is a continuous journey of discovery and growth. 

Beyond the ancient temples and bustling markets lies a profound tapestry of experiences that have been woven into my perspective on life, love and humanity. 

Lessons of acceptance, joy and gratitude have reshaped my emotional well-being since moving to Cambodia. And I’d love to share these reflections with you. 

Ten Lessons from Ten Years in the Kingdom of Wonder

Here are ten invaluable lessons gleaned from moving to Cambodia. This list is a testament to the resilience, beauty and wisdom of this remarkable country.

1. Resilience Amidst Adversity

Living within the echoes of Cambodia’s turbulent past, I’ve witnessed firsthand the remarkable resilience of the Khmer people. From the scars of history emerges a profound spirit of perseverance and hope — a reminder that even in the darkest of times, the human spirit endures.

2. Embracing Impermanence

In a culture steeped in Buddhist philosophy, I’ve learned to embrace the impermanence of life. So many times, in the Western world we catch ourselves thinking “why me?” There is none of that mindset here.

Recent history has proven that life is brutal at times and glorious at times. Both are experienced as inseparable. What is dark without light; what is light without dark? Cambodia has taught me to cherish each moment as it arises, knowing that nothing lasts forever and all experiences are necessary to fully be alive.

3. The Power of Connection

Surrounded by the chaos of daily life, Khmer people place a profound emphasis on human connection. One of my favorite parts of moving to Cambodia is the small interactions with passersby, clerks and mechanics. These are exchanges are almost always so pure and genuine. It’s a constant smile, little joke or compliment in the most mundane of experiences that leaves me with a grin and soul enrichment of the thriving community spirit.

Whether sharing a meal with strangers or offering a helping hand to those in need, I’ve learned that people’s soulful presence in day-to-day life brings vibrant color to tasks like getting a motor fixed or buying vegetables. These small interactions remind me of the connectedness of all of us humans who are just doing the best we can.

4. Finding Joy in Simplicity

In a world obsessed with acquiring more and rushing to get there, moving to Cambodia has taught me the joy of mindfulness as well as the little details. From the laughter of children playing in the streets to the joy of fresh coconut milk being prepared when I order it, true happiness is being present for the small things. I have been mindful of not rushing through the mundane moments of life and feeling my feet on the ground more often.

5. Cultivating Inner Peace

Surrounded by the infectious laughter and smiles of Cambodian people, I’ve learned the importance of cultivating inner peace. When I first moved to Cambodia, I spent what seems like forever trying to understand why the people I lived and worked with were so constantly joyful.

These people lived in shacks or with a whole family in one room. They worked long hours in the fields or in shop fronts. Yet they were always so ready to smile for no reason. I meditated and pondered the reason for their lightheartedness with mindfulness and curiosity. I’ve discovered that true peace comes from being present and not comparing yourself to others.

6. Honoring the Past, Embracing the Future

Cambodia’s rich history serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of honoring the past and moving forward. From the ancient temples of Angkor to the scars of the Khmer Rouge era, I’ve learned that the past shapes us into who we are.

The brutal destruction of society during the genocide has birthed an undeniable presence, acceptance and gratitude for life. The enormity and inconceivable genius of Angkor Wat brings a confidence in what us humans are capable of. These both bring us strength as we shape new communities that value local efforts, mindset and skill.

7. Living in Harmony with Nature

In a country blessed with breathtaking natural beauty, I’ve learned to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature. Like all of life, there are cycles and seasons. Learning to work with the cycles and seasons brings ease to life. Moving to Cambodia has taught me that rest is just as important as work.

It has taught me that there is a time for going inward, like we do in monsoon season and a time to be as outgoing as you can, like during tourist season when most people make enough money to allow for hibernation during the rainy season. There are times to put in long hours and times to enjoy the bounty of the harvest. That is life and both are necessary.

8. Practicing Gratitude

Along with the challenges of daily life, moving to Cambodia has taught me the importance of practicing gratitude. Not only am I grateful for the bounty that I have. I am grateful for the bounty that I am able to give.

It is the joy of giving and seeing my positive impact in the world that nourishes my soul more than any material thing ever has. I am so grateful to know that my influence can be felt by others and make the world a little better.

The more thanks that I have learned to give, the more that I have found to be grateful for. I’ve learned to appreciate the myriad of abundance that surrounds me each day.

9. Embracing Diversity

In a country known for its cultural diversity, I’ve learned to celebrate the beauty of differences. One of my favorite things about my move to Cambodia is the fact that I am always surrounded by people. I am constantly sitting with and having conversations with people from various backgrounds, countries, ages and perspectives.

I love getting to experience the things that set us apart and the things that make us one. It is refreshing to call diversity a strength and a reason for deeper understanding. There are so many expats who live in unison with the locals. This keeps things fun, fresh and interesting.

10. Living with Purpose

Above all, moving to Cambodia has taught me the importance of living with purpose and passion. It is true that fulfillment comes from serving others and making a positive impact in the world. In the search for happiness, most people are on the wrong track trying to find it by getting it for themselves.

I have learned that true happiness comes from giving it away. The more of my heart I have shared, the deeper satisfaction, purpose and fulfillment have created an unshakable strength of spirit that gets me through life’s ups and downs.

Reflections on Moving to Cambodia

Reflecting on the decade since my move to Cambodia, I’m reminded of the countless lessons learned, the unlikely friendships forged and the memories made.

From the ancient waterfalls that fall from ruins to the sweetness of village children, Cambodia will always hold a special place in my heart. My travels and explorations have deeply enriched my perspective and brought me deeper into alignment with our unified human spirit.

As I find solace in the serene landscapes of Kampot, nestled amongst verdant rice paddies and the gentle flow of the Kampot River, I’m reminded that home is not so much a place. It is a feeling of coming home to ourselves and the human experience. Somehow, it is a journey that took me halfway across the world that led my home to myself.

Rachel Riggio of The Red Road Foundation

About Rachel Riggio:

Rachel Riggio is the founder and director of Operations at The Red Road Foundation, an addiction counselor, wellness coach, writer, advocate and entrepreneur. She is also a guide for transformational wellness retreats (travel for change) experiences.

About The Red Road Foundation

The Red Road Foundation is a free education and sustainable development center in the rural countryside of Cambodia. For the past 10 years, they have been providing free education, creating environmental awareness campaigns/projects and connecting volunteers, interns and wellness travelers from all over the world to a community that is based on being mutually beneficial for all involved.

The Red Road Foundation builds sustainable and thriving communities that feed the needs of all beings involved and the surrounding environment. The organization’s wellness retreat programs have allowed them to become self-sustainable while introducing curious individuals to the wild and wonderful land and people of Cambodia. 

The foundation creates wellness retreats that incorporate culture and adventure outwardly with an introspective journey that connects mind, body and spirit. Through bodywork, breathwork, wellness coaching and giving back to the community, their programs allow you to leave a sustainable impact in a distant and foreign land as much as you do within your own heart.

The retreats are designed to have you return to your day-to-day life with a new sense of self, way of being and interacting with your environment that attracts a new set of experiences. Each retreat is led by a complementary group of local Khmer instructors, professional body and breath workers, and wellness/emotional support/spiritual coaches. 

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