Kingdom of Cambodia

Trip Start Dec 22, 2011
Trip End Jul 04, 2012

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Siem Reap is the home of the ancient Khmer ruins of Angkor Wat. Lost for 400 years, it was discovered by the Colonial French in the 19th century. Whilst the French had a particulary bad habit of dying in Indochina at the hands of their inferior subjugated indigenous populations, they did have the ability to recognise Angkor as magnificent ancient ruins and reclaimed it from the lush surrounding jungle.

Whilst the crowds were particularly heavy, Jo and I (and probably the other 100 000 tourists) enjoyed walking and queuing around the grand expanses of this wonder of the world. It wasn't quite as free-range movement as I remember from last time with many of the steep staircases barricaded off. Those ancient Khmers certainly had strong and functioning knee joints.

A trip down to the capital Phnom Penh, brought with it sobering trips to the S-21 interrogation and torture jail as well as one of the 'killing fields'. Although it's impossible to know exact numbers, it's thought that between 2-3 million Cambodians were killed during the reign of the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979. What's clear is that the country is still suffering the deep scars of this period as many of the former Khmer Rouge officials occupy high governmental positions and many of the former soldiers will never be brought to justice due to a general amnesty. It's still hard to comprehend this period of history - sheer lunacy really. From what I can understand, Cambodia became a battleground for a proxy war fought out between China and the Soviet-backed Vietnamese - different factions of the Khmer Rouge. The people of Cambodia paid (and still are paying) a very high price.

After the sobering realisation of just how barbaric humans can be to one another (based on class this time as opposed to more popular 20th century themes of race and religion), we detoured into the country and a homestay in a local village. There wasn't much interaction with our host family unfortunately, and it appears the homestay concept has moved away from its original inspiration. However, spending the night in one room with seven fellow Western travelers can be interesting - particularly when a mouse/spider/owl is spotted at 1am and requires lights on and extended histrionics.

Our next journey took us to the coastal town of Sihanoukville - popular with the tourists and nice for us to have some relaxing downtime on the beach and lazing around the pool. Cheap massages and cocktails are a dangerous and addictive combination.

Today we fly out to KL and tomorrow we fly to Ankara, Turkey - transiting for 8 hours through Tehran. I'm looking forward to the albeit brief stop in Iran. Things seem to be ratcheting up in the Middle East but hopefully things don't boil over before we're safely out of Iranian airspace.

We're not necessarily looking forward to the temperature change from positive 30's to minus teens.

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