Mistreated and Misunderstood
April 4, 2018
To this day I am still amazed by Cambodia’s rich cultural history and saddened by its more recent dark past. Although Cambodia is now on the map for more tourists, it still remains one of the lesser visited of the South East Asian Countries, drawing in just 5.6 million visitors in 2017 compared to 35 million visitors to Thailand. I find myself questioning the reasons for this, is it due to people’s perception, lack of infrastructure or perhaps tourists just not realising what it has to offer?
My visit to Cambodia was eye opening, brining me almost to tears at the same time as filling my heart with warmth. I really have nothing bad to say about this country or its people. I felt welcomed by everyone I met, it is easy to get around, the food is amazing and the country is full of history. I think for one to really understand the country, you must first look at it’s more recent, gruesome history. I am of course referring to the Pol Pot regime and the Khmer Rouge. This is all in the past and you must realise, despite how recent it was, there is no longer any violence caused by this group. I can only compare them to the Nazi’s, with deluded idea’s, massacring innocent people.
The Khmer Rouge we’re a communist party founded by Pol Pot in the 1970’s. Pol Pot was recognised around the world as the leader of Cambodia, despite what he was doing to its people. The Khmer Rouge spread across the country and began to kill educated professionals and their families, wiping out around a third of the country’s population. Bullets were expensive and so instead farm tools were used as weapons.
At the same time as the Khmer Rouge massacring the population, the American’s were fighting a secret war against the Vietcong hiding in Cambodia and Laos. This lead to a further loss of life and destruction of the country. Agent orange was also used along, especially along the Ho Chi Minh trail. All of the above has resulted in many orphans and disable people living in Cambodia today. However, instead of being bitter about the horrors they face, the Cambodian people have such an appreciation for life and a positive outlook. The people who lost their lives will always be remember, with several museums in place to show people what happened, allowing us to learn from the past and prevent this from ever happening again. The museums are located in the original killing field and prisons based in Phnom Penh, there are a few others scattered across the country. I believe understanding all of this, allows you to really understand the people and the country whilst you are there.
Moving on to the modern day and the stunning country the Cambodia is now. I will start with the infamous Angkor Wat temples in Siem Reap, these ancient temples form the largest religious site in the world. With influence from both Hindu and Buddhist religions. My favourite way to see the temples is to grab a local tuk tuk and ask him to take you around the temples for a whole day. There is a lot to see so start early and finish at sunset. The usual cost is $20 for your driver and $37 for a day pass to the temples, your driver will take you to purchase your ticket in the morning. In the evening check out pub street in central Siem Reap, this bustling street has a lot to offer. Amazing food, massages, bars and more.
Siem Reap is also home to one side of Tonle Sap, the largest lake in Asia and also Phnom Kulen National Park. Both are worth a visit if you have time. For those more adventurous you can head out on motocross tours around the outskirts of Siem Reap, or take a tour over several days across the country. After finishing up in Siem Reap, you have many options. I won’t discuss them all in this post but feel free to reach out if you would like more information.
Another amazing spot in Cambodia is Sihanoukville, this seaside town has such an amazing feel. The people are incredibly friendly and welcoming, with amazing beaches and food, what more could you ask for? The government will not let hotels be built along the beach and so the lay of the land is virtually unspoilt. Wildlife is everywhere, if you’re lucky enough you can even have the whole beach to yourself. My favourite things to do here are the take a day trip out to the islands, snorkelling, fishing and just generally enjoying the amazing scenery. Another is to visit the national park, you can go by land and check out the waterfalls or take a boat through the mangroves. We also ended up teaching English to underprivileged children. This is not publicly advertised but our driver (now a good friend of mine) organises and runs the classes.
If you are a wildlife nut like me, head to Kratie, this area is located on the Mekong, just south of the border with Laos. The area is incredibly special as it is one of the very few areas to see the illusive and critically endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins. There are only around 200 of these fresh water wonders left in the world and it really is spectacular to see them. Obviously in a precious ecosystem like this there are all kinds of rare and wonderful animals to be seen, but the dolphins are a real highlight. Other locations I recommend to visit are Battambang and Kampot, these areas have some great things to offer.
So in summary, despite a dark past, Cambodia really is an amazing country. We felt safe and welcome at all times, the food is amazing and most things are very cheap. I fell it may be like Thailand before it became developed, you can still see and feel what life is really like there. It is alive with culture and buzzing with life.
If you would like to know more feel free to get in touch Sam@honestabouttravel.com