Running with the local littlies

"Children appeared as soon as we were settled into the ox carts and a group of three started running alongside us. They were aged from about six to 12 and they had ranked themselves from one to three.

"I asked the 'No. 1' child what the numbers meant and she didn't know, she didn't seem to have a clue, but another child told me that it determines the order in which you should deal with [them] - if you can't deal with No. 1, then you go to No. 2 and so on.

"It seems to be a system that has been developed for dealing with tourists and I found it fascinating, although it was pretty funny that my 'No. 1 child' had no idea what it was all about.

"It was very hot and the children were running at a fair pace alongside the carts, for several kilometres. At the end of the tour they take you to their little area where they are selling clothes and other items and try to push you to buy from them.

"Unfortunately for my No. 1 child, my husband had already done a deal with his No. 1 child, so mine was out of luck.

"The children really should be in school but they're not and when we were leaving we saw another side to the happy faces they present for tourists. They had the loveliest smiles for us but we witnessed some sort of tiff among them, presumably over something that had been sold to our group.

"They rely on tourists for a living and they were so angry, their faces had really changed.

"We also went to a rattan mat and slipper factory where the noise was amazing and there was no protection at all for the workers. We were only there for 10 minutes and I was quite deaf when we came out; that was quite scary.

"When Australians complain about their standard of living, they really need to go and spend some time overseas.

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"We found the Cambodian people to be very lovely - they smile and they really communicate."

Value for money?

Shore excursions were included in Jopie's cruise, which she "could not praise highly enough".

"It was extremely well organised and the staff were excellent, very genuine," she says. "The ox cart ride was a highlight; I found it very interesting and it gave us the most interaction with the local people."

WHO Jopie Peetoom, of Perth, on her third cruise; her first in Asia.

WHAT An ox cart tour in Cambodia.

WHERE Via a small village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.

THE SHIP Jopie cruised with her husband, Jake, on the Cruiseco Adventurer (cruising.com.au). They cruised for seven nights, from Saigon in Vietnam to Siem Reap in Cambodia, as part of an 11-night package including pre- and post-cruise city stays.

As told to Jane E. Fraser

Have you done an interesting shore excursion? Drop us a line at travelshd@fairfaxmedia.com.au.

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