AsiaBill Carlson

On to Cambodia

AsiaBill Carlson
On to Cambodia

We begin our visit to Cambodia with a trip out to the killing fields near Phnom Penh. For most of us on this bus, the sole reason for taking this trip to Cambodia is to visit Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. However, it is impossible to come here without considering Cambodia's recent history. It was only 36 years ago that Pol Pot lost complete control of Cambodia, and even then, he still wielded power until his death in 1998. During his reign, estimates are that between 2-3 million Cambodian citizens were killed (which accounted for 25% of the entire population at that time), beginning with the most skilled and talented of the population. The educational system was dismantled and economic growth came to a stop. In the 40s and 50s, Cambodia looked like a sure bet to lead SE Asia into the future with a growing economy, rich agricultural base, and a relatively well-educated population. By the time his 4 year killing spree upon his own people was halted in the late 1970's, only 2 teachers and 4 doctors existed in the entire country! As a result of this genocide, the Cambodian population was dumbed down to the point where today the country still remains backward and undeveloped compared to its neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam.

Our tour leader is the face of the new Cambodia: optimistic about the future of Cambodia while realistic about its past and the challenges they face. Before we go to eat at a roadside restaurant, he coaches us about the staff. This restaurant, part of a developing resort complete with golf course, has only been open for 6 months and he wants to warn us that the service may not always be very professional. "They will want to talk to you to practice their English. They are trying to learn the hospitality business so don't be afraid to correct them if they do something wrong like serving from the wrong side. They will appreciate it." By the time we get back to Bangkok, it looks as sophisticated as Manhattan after a week in Cambodia.

Although there is so much similarity between the other emerging countries we have seen, our visit to the floating villages provides a more unique (Cambodian) experience. Everywhere, the air is permeated by the smell (stench) of fermenting fish sauce, an essential ingredient in a lot of dishes throughout these countries. With perhaps the exception that they now use rows of car batteries to power their TVs and cell phones, these river dwellers live pretty much as their ancestors did for a thousand years before them.

Although there is so much similarity between the other emerging countries we have seen, our visit to the floating villages provides a more unique (Cambodian) experience. Everywhere, the air is permeated by the smell (stench) of fermenting fish sauce, an essential ingredient in a lot of dishes throughout these countries. With perhaps the exception that they now use rows of car batteries to power their TVs and cell phones, these river dwellers live pretty much as their ancestors did for a thousand years before them.

Finally on to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat and the other surrounding temples. This is Banteay Srej, or the Citadel of Women, recognized as a tribute to the beauty of women. A big part of the "wow factor" of these sites isn't so much the temples themselves as it is their surroundings and the mood they convey. This was shot just after a tropical downpour and the light captures some of that feeling. Sometimes you have to mentally photoshop out the other tourists in order to get the full effect, but it's not too hard to do this.

Finally on to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat and the other surrounding temples. This is Banteay Srej, or the Citadel of Women, recognized as a tribute to the beauty of women. A big part of the "wow factor" of these sites isn't so much the temples themselves as it is their surroundings and the mood they convey. This was shot just after a tropical downpour and the light captures some of that feeling. Sometimes you have to mentally photoshop out the other tourists in order to get the full effect, but it's not too hard to do this.

Ta Prohm Temple, also known as the Jungle Temple.

Ta Prohm Temple, also known as the Jungle Temple.

The south gate of Angkor Thom, the capital city of the Khmer rulers, on our way to visit Bayon temple.

The south gate of Angkor Thom, the capital city of the Khmer rulers, on our way to visit Bayon temple.