Home » Meet Channa, the Intrepid leader in Cambodia with an incredible story

Meet Channa, the Intrepid leader in Cambodia with an incredible story

written by Bex Shapiro June 8, 2017

When Channa Uy was little, she had just one dream.

This dream was to own a house for her family. Growing up in Siem Reap, she lived in one room with her mother and two sisters. “There was water leaking all the time,” she tells me on Skype. “After 20 minutes of rain we’d get so soaked we couldn’t sleep. It flooded every year.”

Her father, absent most of her childhood, passed away when she was 12. It was at this point that she made a vow: “I made a promise to myself to look after my family. My mum never had a house for herself and I always wanted her to have one, it really was my biggest dream.”

Channa’s mother was an orphan and was not educated. She sold fruit and vegetables at a local market to provide for her three daughters. “She worked so hard to send us to school,” recounts Channa, “It was tough for her”.

Growing up, my mum always told us that “education is not heavy”. When I was little I always asked, “What does this mean?” When I wasn’t at school I would help her sell fruit. We’d transport the fruit in a basket on our bicycles. It was super heavy, especially the watermelons! Then I understood what she meant. She couldn’t explain any better, but she knew that if we were educated we wouldn’t have to carry such heavy fruit. Well, I think that’s what she meant..!

Backtracking for just a moment, the first thing Channa says to me is an apology. A pre-emptive apology, in case I don’t understand her accent and close-to-perfect English. She’s sweet, softly spoken and has a ready laugh. She’s fun, too. Though animated when talking about her passions – her country’s history and cuisine – it’s her determination to look after her family which stands out most.

Cambodia

Channa showing off her country (quite literally)

After high school, Channa was offered a scholarship to study in Phnom Penh, the country’s capital. She had no relatives there to help with living costs, so had to turn it down (“It was hard,” she says – a likely understatement). But with that dream of a house for her mother still in the back of her mind, she got a job as a waitress in a restaurant instead. “I started to give money to my mum for my sisters to go to school. They were very clever but we just didn’t have the money. The tipping money I had left, I saved to go to university.”

Indeed, she did make it to university, where she studied banking and finance. But her family’s finances themselves remained problematic. She desperately needed more money. Money to ensure one sister could study as a midwife, money to ensure her other sister could become a teacher, and, of course, for her mum, for the house of her dreams.

Soon after, she encountered Intrepid, interviewed successfully, and became one of the company’s only female tour guides in Cambodia. The year was 2012, and she had stumbled upon a career she loved. One that would, eventually, change her life.

Cambodia

Channa, now one of Intrepid’s top leaders in Cambodia

In this career she’s been able to focus on Cambodia’s history and food, her two loves. “I feel so proud of Cambodian history,” she gushes. She loves explaining to visitors that there is so much more to it than the Khmer Rouge; most don’t realise that Cambodia was once a great empire in Southeast Asia. In order to fully show this off she loves leading 14-day trips that allows tourists to see the best of Cambodia.

She also loves leading the Cambodian trip that’s dedicated to Cambodian cuisine (“I LOVE that trip, because I love eating!”). That’s no exaggeration – she then takes me through her favourite dish, prohok ktis, in painstaking detail – listing all the ingredients and, later, Skype messaging me more delicious dishes to check out.

She’s happy that her job lets her show travellers her country in an authentic way. “I love taking people to homestays. It reminds me of when I was little because you can see the stars.” She tries to help fellow Cambodians through her actions. Whenever she can, she recommends visitors go to restaurants that support locals NGOs (‘Friend’ in Phnom Penh, ‘Marum’ in Siem Reap, in case you’re interested).

Angkor Wat

Channa with an Intrepid group at Angkor Wat

But perhaps the best consequence of Channa’s work with Intrepid? Well, you can probably guess. Yes, she was able to save up for that dream house. “The money I saved from working at Intrepid, plus the money my sisters saved from work meant we could afford to build a new house,” she says proudly. I see glimpses of it as we video chat. It’s modern, it’s clean, and importantly, it doesn’t leak when it rains. “It was just finished a few months ago,” Channa tells me. “It is amazing, I had dreamed of it for so long.”

It only stands to reason that when I ask Channa for memorable moments of being a tour guide that her house is involved:

I was leading a tour when my housewarming was happening. Housewarming is very important in Cambodia – it’s a big ceremony and you invite a monk to come and pray. You invite your family, your friends, your neighbors. It’s very important you do it right, so you meet with a fortune teller and they tell you what time to do the ceremony. I went into the office in Cambodia to ask for a guide to replace me for the day of the housewarming. Instead, they gave me permission to take my tour to my home for it. All the group loved it so much. It was a real cultural thing for them to see and it was an honour for me and my mum and my sisters. It was great. It was such an honour.

Anecdotes aside, it’d be unfair to say that being a female tour leader in Cambodia is without its challenges. Channa is now one of five female guides for Intrepid (there are 35 altogether). And out of all the tour guides in Siem Reap, where Angkor Wat means big business, just 15 per cent are female.

(She was also just one of three Cambodian female guides selected by UNESCO to spend a week in Macau on a teaching trip. She passed the exams from that, and her National Tour Guide license exams with flying colours. Of course.)

Cambodia

Channa lives in Siem Reap, which makes her the perfect local guide

Why so few woman? Traditional gender roles remain rigid in Cambodia. “In Cambodian culture, women are not supposed to talk loudly. They work in an office or stay at home.” Channa’s job is very different and has affected her ability to find a husband. “Men think I’m a threat because I talk to foreigners and earn money,” she says. “Getting married is very important here so some people think I’m a very bad person because I’m not. I just have to find a person who can accept me for who I am.”

She does want to have a family and children in the future, but also wants to be a tour leader as long as possible because she loves the job. “The people that come with Intrepid don’t come for big hotels, they come to see the country,” she reports happily.

“I hope the world starts to know more about Cambodia – just hearing about Angkor Wat and the Khmer Rouge is not quite enough. You have to come and see how people live, to try out the food, to meet the people.”

Cambodia

Channa showing Cambodia to travellers from all over

But her hopes and dreams are bigger than this. Before we say goodbye on Skype she says to me, “I hope some Cambodians will read what you write. I hope that Cambodian women will go out to work and won’t let their culture hold them down. I want Cambodian women to know that they can do more than the housework. I want Cambodian women to stand up for themselves.”

I do too. So should you, and so does Intrepid. The company is committed to gender-balancing its entire tour guide force.

Support them in this commitment by taking a trip to Cambodia. What will you get out of it? For starters, the knowledge that you’ll be supporting women like Channa work towards goals like getting a house. The knowledge that you’re supporting a wider initiative towards gender equality in the tourism industry. Oh, and the most experience-rich, memorable trip you could possibly hope for. But we think that goes without saying…

Want to join Channa on one of her incredible Intrepid tours? Check out our range of small group adventures in Cambodia.

(Image credits from top to bottom: Gabe Taviano, Channa Uy, Gabe Taviano, Channa Uy, Gabe Taviano, Channa Uy)

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21 comments

Robyn McNab May 12, 2019 - 11:21 pm

I have been on tours in many countries now and my time in Cambodia with Channa is the most memorable. Channa is amazing. Quite apart from the beautiful temple remains, the lively Pub St, and the beautiful people who through their poverty and trials still maintain an amazing spirit, Channa gives her tour people an amazing insight into the history of her country. My tour of Cambodia remains an amazing experience. My granddaughter would love to travel to Cambodia, I need to find a tour that would suit both me, in my 60s and my 18 year old granddaughter. I would love her to meet Channa and to learn about the Cambodian people as I did.

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Janice Crawford February 11, 2019 - 10:07 pm

I am just back from a trip to Cambodia and Vietnam Feb 2019. I was fortunate to have Channa as my tour guide for the Cambodia portion. I have been on many group tours with various companies and Channa was by far the best I have had. She has such bubbly, animated , passionate personality ! The trip was truly special due to Channa and I came away feeling I really got to know the culture of Cambodia. Her love of the food and culture there are infectious. I will be telling all my California friends to go to Cambodia , and if they are very lucky will get Channa as their tour guide.

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Katie Beacham July 14, 2018 - 3:52 pm

Channa is our amazing guide in Cambodia and Laos right now. We’re at our final stop, Luang Prabang, and I’ll be sad to say goodbye to her tomorrow. Honored to call her my new friend!

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Alison Casson May 13, 2018 - 5:54 am

Channa was on our Intrepid tour about 6 or 7 years ago with my husband and I but was still a trainee at that stage. I am so pleased she is now rising through the ranks and so great to see she is now able to provide a better life for her and her family the life they so rightly deserve.

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Jackie Meppelink October 12, 2017 - 1:32 pm

Channa is the best! Just a delightful guide! Congratulations and best wishes!

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John Andrews September 22, 2017 - 2:49 pm

My wife and I were on a tour led by Channa in April 2017. She is just one of the loveliest people you could ever wish to meet. Our tour was so much better as a result of her passion and sense of humour. We were so very blessed to have her lead our group. I am so pleased that her house is finally finished and she is living in it. Bless you Channa xx

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Rebecca Shapiro September 23, 2017 - 2:14 am

Hi John! So lovely to receive your message. I had the pleasure of interviewing Channa and completely agree with you that she is simply amazing. So wise and so kind! Really happy you enjoyed travelling Cambodia with her and thank you for choosing Intrepid for your trip. Please feel free to reach out if we can ever help you with anything again 🙂

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Michael Chipperfield July 13, 2017 - 1:29 pm

Channa is just a truly wonderful person. Loved having her as our guide. So pleased her dreams are coming true.

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Rebecca Shapiro July 13, 2017 - 11:37 pm

Hi Michael, thanks for that kind message. Completely agree – Channa is amazing! Really glad you enjoyed visiting Cambodia with her as your guide.

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Murray and Glo July 9, 2017 - 9:54 am

We had a wonderful time in Cambodia in May this year with Channa as our guide. A great mixed group of people with such a caring and bubbly guide. She was just such a special person and so much fun to be on tour with, it just made the whole experience so memorable. Channa was just like close family to us and we will never forget the fun times we shared together. Best wishes from Aotearoa New Zealand

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Rebecca Shapiro July 10, 2017 - 10:28 am

That is so great to hear! Channa truly is wonderful, I’m delighted you had such a good trip with her!

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Elaine and Ron June 14, 2017 - 4:02 am

We were lucky to attend the blessing of Channa’s beautiful new house and to meet her mother and sisters, the welcome was amazing. We had a wonderful time in Cambodia thanks to Channa, her knowledge of the country and command of English are amazing.

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Cassie Francisco June 13, 2017 - 8:31 am

One of my close friends and I were lucky enough to have Channa as our tour guide in February when we went through Cambodia. Having Channa on board with us really made the entire trip. Her knowledge and passion and enthusiasm was infectious and you couldn’t help but love Cambodia when seeing it through her eyes. She’s a remarkable and intelligent woman with a natural happiness and a ready smile. Cambodia and Cambodian women should be proud to have her as a role model and as the face of the culture for foreigners with Intrepid. Can only wish her all the best for her future.

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Murray & Rosalind aldred June 10, 2017 - 10:30 pm

my wife and I travelled with channa in may this year,
We would like to thank channa for all her hard work to make this one of the best holidays we have been on.

Her attention to detail together her ability to blend our small tour group into a family made our holiday truly memorable and we encourage other travellers to join one her tours

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Judith and Peter Warren June 10, 2017 - 10:28 pm

We were fortunate to be part of the group who were invited to Channa’s house-warming. It was a great honour for us and a very moving occasion to watch her pride and happiness at the ceremony. She is a wonderful guide and made our time in Cambodia especially memorable!

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Amanda June 9, 2017 - 7:31 pm

I too had the pleasure of touring Cambodia with the delightful Channa! I know I speak for our entire group when I say that whilst Cambodia is an absolutely amazing country, seeing and experiencing it with Channa made it infinitely more special. If you have ever wanted to travel Cambodia I highly recommend taking an Intrepid tour…and if you’re fortunate enough to have Channa you are in for an extra special treat and lots of laughs. Thanks Channa for the lasting impression you have left on all our lives:)

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Jason McLean June 9, 2017 - 6:19 pm

Channa by far has been the best tour leader I’ve ever travelled with. She is so passionate about her culture and country as a whole and really engages you with her depth of knowledge. Always bright, bubbly and enthusiastic, she never fails to make each day a joy.

When I think of Cambodia my first thoughts are always Channa.

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Mpho June 9, 2017 - 3:46 pm

She guided our group in 2012, seems like a long time in numbers but the memories are still fresh. She loves Cambodia. It was a great experience.

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Emmy June 9, 2017 - 1:05 pm

I was privileged to have Channa as a guide in 2012.
You could not ask for a more passionate, thorough, happy and knowledgeable guide. Her pride for her country and people was an inspiration and really made it a trip I will never forget.
I’m so happy to hear all of her hard work has helped her to achieve her dreams. Well done Channa!

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Maike June 9, 2017 - 4:49 am

Thanks so much for this article! A few years ago I went to Cambodia on an Intrepid trip and was lucky enough to have Channa as a guide. She was just fantastic – the best, really 🙂 Her love for her country really shies through everything she does and I can definitely confirm that food’s her passion: she was always buying snack things at the local stalls and urging us to try this and that and all the time she was always munching away on something or other ;-)))
Channa – I am so happy for you and your family that you finally got your dream house! Stay the way you are and one day a man will see the treasure you are and love you to bits for it – like we all do!
Maike – Germany

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Matt June 9, 2017 - 4:31 am

Had an awesome trip with channa!

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