It is perhaps no coincidence that Ho Vandy is today the managing director of World Express Tours & Travel, a travel agency.
After all, the 42-year-old has done quite a bit of “travelling” himself, having trudged through a troubled past to reach where he is today.
Born in 1971, he “never had the chance to stay with [his] father”, because his mother, being the second wife, was shunned by his father’s first wife.
When he was three, his mother wanted to search for his father, who had fled to Vietnam to avoid being recruited into the Khmer Rouge.
But she could only bring his younger sister along, so he was left in the care of relatives in Takeo province.
“My mother could not take care of two children at one time,” he said.
“That was the last I saw of them. I heard that they could have been killed by American bombings.”
In 1986, as a teenager, Vandy left for Thailand with a relative.
“We did not know what to expect. All we heard was that the [country next to Cambodia in the] west was very good.”
“I was scared, and prayed every night to my mom’s soul and to Buddha,” he added.
A Thai military commander stationed at the border took him in, and he eventually moved to Bangkok, helping the commander’s wife sell Chinese food.
It was also there that he picked up Thai boxing – which dealt a blow to his relationship with his foster father.
“I learnt Thai boxing for fun, but my foster father wanted me to start fighting for money.”
The then 17-year-old decided to part ways with his foster family, so he was passed on to their family friend, who lived in the Site Two refugee camp along the Thai-Cambodian border.
In 1989, while exchanging letters with his family from the camp, he was saddened when he learned that his birth father and an uncle had died that year.
A cousin later brought him to another refugee camp in Thailand called Khao-I-Dang. In 1993, the camp closed and he was repatriated to Cambodia.
Things picked up in Cambodia. He worked with various human rights organisations, then with a travel agency in 1995 as a tour operator, where he met a colleague, who would later become his wife in 1998. A year later, he opened World Express Tours & Travel.
“It was terrible the things that happened to me in the past. I wish that the next generation would not get to see the same things.”
Indeed, while Vandy is pensive about his past, he appears to prefer looking forward. This is perhaps what makes him embrace his co-chair position of the Government-Private Sector Working Group on Tourism in Cambodia.
“I hope to use the knowledge I’ve learnt from the past to help develop Cambodia’s tourism industry for the future,” he said.
The working group aims to enhance co-operation between private and public sector stakeholders in the tourism industry, and he has held the leadership role, representing the private sector, since 2005.
He divides his time today between this and his travel agency.
Things are not always easy. For example, he first requested the government to set up a tourist police force in 1996, and it only came to fruition in 2003, he said.
“It can be hard to push issues, but I do not give up. As long as there are results, I am happy,” he said.
Vandy has no plans right now to leave the tourism industry. A lot of business is coming into the country, he said, and his clients are also very supportive of him.
It appears that after experiencing a life rocked by changes, he has finally found a place to stay.
To contact the reporter on this story: Low Wei Xiang at [email protected]