A Contrast with Past and Present

Trip Start Apr 30, 2006
Trip End Mar 25, 2007

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Often times while traveling you'll hear the term "scratch the surface." Some places are difficult to scratch the surface... that is to say, it takes a little work to uncover anything behind the tourist poster board you see in travel magazines and brochures. Cambodia does not fall into that category. You can scratch the surface here with a soggy tomato.

From Angkor, Cambodia once ruled most of Southeast Asia. The temples left from the 11-14th century dynasty are jaw-dropping incredible. But recently history is much more bleak. Cambodia just got out of a Khmer Rouge-led holocaust-like genocidal movement followed by endless war. Consequently, 1/3 of the country's population was killed. We have yet to meet a Cambodian that this tragedy did not affect. In most cases we hear things like "only my brother and mother were killed." We think "Only?" Many people had greater losses. In one case we heard "my 5 siblings were killed, both my parents, my aunts and uncles and cousins... 15 people in all. I have no one from my past still with me." It's absolutely staggering and horribly emotional.

The Khmer Rouge officially ruled from 1974-1979 and because of its "policies" 3 million people perished. To put that in perspective, in 1972 Cambodia (half the size of Germany; 1/3 the size of Texas) had 7.1 million people making the Cambodian genocide one of the most devastating in history. Torture was the backbone to the super-paranoid communist regime where a smelly fart (in other words "anything") probably meant death.

We visited a few towns, saw a few killing fields and saw the infamous Angkor temples near Siem Reap. The county's ancient past left a magnificent thumbprint while recent history is simply the cause of nightmares and tears.

The country is extremely interesting to travel around. However, we are by no means the only camera carrying westerners in the small country. Our advise... don't let the tourists bother you. Although Cambodia is by no means a "hidden" gem, the people are incredible; the sites are eire, mystical and beautiful; and prices are low. Cambodia is a must S.E. Asia stop.
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