Cambodia is often overlooked in the well-trodden and much lauded route taken by travellers around South East Asia. But this is beginning to change and rightly so! During my travels across Thailand, Vietnam and Laos I was overwhelmed with relief that I had chosen to include Cambodia on my trail around the world.
The history of Cambodia is one full of bloodshed, civil war and poverty. But the Cambodian people have the most infectious smiles and laughter that you may ever see or hear.
In Cambodia you can witness the battle that the people have been through: a battle between heaven and hell.
Heavenly – Upon visiting Cambodia via beautiful Siem Reap you are able to enter the kingdom of the gods: Angkor Wat (built in 1125). This is widely viewed as the ‘pride’ of Cambodia; a world full of temples (‘wats’) and the remains of a once glorious and rich empire. The scale and grandeur of the ruins are impossible to imagine until you have visited them for yourself.
Yet even here you can see where marks of evil have left their stain upon this once beautiful landscape. The magnificent walls are punctuated by bullet holes and large portions of the temples have been destroyed by looters and thieves.
Hellish – These bullet holes brought the heavenly realm of the Angkor gods back down to earth with a crash. It is humanity and the reign of the Khmer Rouge that have since left their imprints upon Cambodia.
The country has been through colonisation by the French in the 19th century, bombings by the US in the 70s, and then the reign of terror and civil war, sparking the rise of the Khmer Rouge in 1975.
This radical communist party and its leader Pol Pot killed an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians through torture and starvation.
Areas known as ‘The Killing Fields’ were set up to maim and execute people. Weapons such as guns, poison and bamboo sticks were used upon families who had been uprooted from the cities, such as Phnom Penh (the capital). These mass graves, which often had to be dug by the victims themselves, can still be visited today.
As a result of this fractured history, Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world and to this day most of the population still subsists on less than $1 a day. It is only now that the UN is bringing to justice those responsible for this mass genocide.
Travelling to Cambodia is something that is a worthwhile and culturally rich experience. Here you can meet local people and witness life in a way that still manages to preserve the native environment. Living alongside the communities, eating and drinking local delicacies, such as the delicious Amok dish, are real eye opening experiences. It is impossible not to notice the charm and warm-welcome that you will receive from both the city and village dwellers, despite all that they have been through.
Angkor Wat and the Cambodian people may have felt the sting of bullets in the past, but these bullets have always managed to narrowly avoid the heart of the Cambodian people. It may be said that the ‘pride’ of Cambodia is Angkor Wat, but I would beg to differ: the pride of Cambodia is its people!
Our rating: *****