Traveling Cambodia is like traveling through history. Cambodia was once an important layover for Indian traders on their way to China. The Indian influence is still tangible in the religion and culture. The magical temples of Angkor show the remains of a once mighty Khmer empire. It’s rightly the pride of the Cambodians. The colonial buildings are left behind by the French in 1953. And various memorial places remind the world of the incredibly brutal horrors of Pol Pot’s regime 40 years ago. A dark stain in history which followed the terrible US carpet bombing when Cambodia was dragged into the Vietnam-American war.
A lasting impression is our visit to Choeng Ek killing fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide museum. The museum is a former school which was used as a prison (S21) by the Khmer Rouge. Prisoners were brutally tortured into confessing something and were then sent to the killing fields. Choeng Ek is one of those many killing fields, where millions of people were killed in a shocking and gruesome way. Words cannot express what you feel when you walk around, listen to the audio and let it sink in. Everyone should go.
The effects of the recent violent history are still commonplace. Poverty, lack of an educational base, trauma’s, you can read all about it online. As an outsider it’s the poverty in comparison to neighbor countries which is most notable. But, above all else, Cambodia is a very welcoming country. People are truly kind, helpful and cheerful. They must be particularly resilient.
On the streets there is a pleasant atmosphere. School kids smiling and saying hello, a seller at a local shop teaching us to say ‘good day’ in Khmer, road workers having a small chat with us. Sure, some call out to you. “Tuk tuk?”, “Want something?”, “Nice, t-shirt for you”. But it often comes with a smile and in the end, they just want to make some money for a living.
We enjoy the traveling in Cambodia. It is authentic and not so hectic as we so often encountered in Vietnam plus there are plenty of interesting places to visit. Too many. Even us, without a real time limit, need to make choices to avoid becoming tired of temples, beaches, jungle, and so on. I know, what a trouble a traveler can have! 😉 It’s all about balance. We’re doing all right, even though it still feels a bit strange to skip the Cambodian paradise islands and the adventures wilderness. But hey, that will come again somewhere else.
Of course, we do visit the largest religious monument in the world: Angkor Wat. A world wonder in our opinion. It’s a magical place. Less magical was our alarm clock at 3:45 but it was all worth it. Passing market vendors who are buying their goods before dawn, the fun with the tuk tuk “race” with other tourists to secure a good spot and especially the sunrise at the main complex. This complex is magnificent, and the best part is that some of the other temples are no less. You could spend days here and you’ve not seen it all.
Our tuk tuk trip through the country side gave us the biggest smile on our face. It is peaceful, rustic and beautiful out there. We got so many friendly smiles and hellos. Very nice day! We’ve finished the day with a beer with a couple of tuk tuk drivers, while waiting for the moment that a million bats fly out of a cave to catch some insects. I have not counted them, but I can confirm there are many. It takes between 30 to 60 minutes for all bats to fly out. Before sunrise they all fly back into the cave for some sleep. Nature can be so cool.
After almost two wonderful weeks in Cambodia we’ve arrived in Bangkok. Here, it’s time to prepare us for the next chapter of our world trip. Laundry, fill up the toiletries, tidy up our back packs, shop and replace clothes (jippie!), empty the memory cards and we’re ready to go on a new adventure! 🙂
So excited! More about that in the next blog!
Watch the Quick Story here for a snapshot of the tuk tuk trip with the bats.