Cambodia: After the Khmer Rouge Horror, the Beauty that Remains
The Khmer Rouge Horror
Cambodia is a country that has suffered quite a dramatic history and it is still recovering from the atrocity of war. Not only were they involved by pure geography in the Vietnam War, but they endured one of the worst genocides of recent history, perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge (17 April 1975 – 7 January 1979). The head of this cruel regime was Pol Pot, a young man who studied in France and, whilst living abroad, got acquainted with Marxist ideals, which he then developed into an arbitrary dictatorship to enslave the people. Pol Pot masterminded a reign of terror in which one fourth, ONE FOURTH! of Cambodia's population -7 million at the time- was murdered. The Khmer Rouge whipped out all intellectuals and anything that had to do with art, culture and religion, turning Cambodia into a massive agrarian labor camp in which people were starved and forced to work in terrible conditions. Furthermore, if Pol Pot's followers had any kind of suspicion -imagined or not- of anti-Khmer Rouge behavior in a given inhabitant, they would torture him, kill him and murder his entire family, including parents and brothers/sisters, as well as cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents, no questions asked. This horrific piece of history means that even today, there are plenty of Cambodians whose entire family was murdered and which live with the painful memory of these tragic events. As if this wasn’t enough, every month there are dozens of Cambodians injured by the bombs that the U.S.A. left behind after the Vietnam War; bombs that are buried in the country’s soil and are triggered by a stimulus of pressure or movement. As a result, today there are many mutilated Cambodians without an arm or leg, a pitiful consequence of the Vietnam War debris.
Phnom Phen Royal Palace
The Beauty that Remains
In spite of the dark moments Cambodians have recently endured, Cambodia is a very beautiful and interesting country where you will encounter a series of brutal contrasts between poverty and magnificence, destruction and prosperity, chaos and beauty, concrete and nature, war and spirituality…. It gives a good opportunity to soak deeply in and learn from the most disturbing outcomes of human madness, and develop a full understanding of Cambodians present circumstances. It also gives an invaluable chance to dive into the awe striking exquisiteness of human creation and the fantastic things our kind can achieve when inspired by love and other positive motivations.
Royal PalaceClick thumbnail to view full-size
Cambodians are capable of fitting in a motorcycle the whole family –dad, mom and 2 children−, a bulky sack filled with passion fruit, a big basket of pineapples and 2 sticks of about 5 meters long, plus handbags. So yes, you can perfectly well sit behind the driver with your suitcase, no matter how big or which shape it has. Be ready to jump behind a total stranger moto−taxi−driver for an unusual ride. Motorcycles are the fastest, more available and cheapest transport alternative.
The city of Phnom Phen is home to the glorious Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda that you ought to visit if you are travelling to Cambodia. This is the perfect example of prosperity, beauty, spirituality and nature combined together in a very pleasant artistic way.
Another great example of Cambodia's awesome patrimony, are the Temples of Angkor, located near the city of Siem Reap; this is an open air museum filled with archeological sites pertaining to the Khmer culture. The world's largest religious center belongs to this group of temples and they include some of the best Khmer architecture that has endured the passage of time. Plus, the nature surrounding the area adds a revitalizing and refreshing factor to this already very enjoyable experience.
Temples of Angkor / Siem Reap
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While visiting different sites in Cambodia, you'll encounter some beautiful thing or funny sight that will always make you laugh: a strange looking flower, an intriguing exotic fruit, a delicious local dish, a barefooted monk strolling around the big city amongst chaotic traffic, and some of the weirdest vehicles. In the end, you'll probably have photos of unusual sceneries and kind people that will also make part of some cherished memories.
Art and Every Day Beauty in CambodiaClick thumbnail to view full-size
Do NOT travel by boat from Siem Reap to Battambang during the dry season. It is way too long a journey (9.5 hours) in a packed half sinking boat, that feels like forever. The river is so low that the speed comes down to a minimum; many times you'll think you're going to get stuck in the middle of it forever. I would have traded Battambang -that has nothing special- for another destination within Cambodia, had I not been misguided by my travel guide. I don't recommend it.
Other Interesting Sights
- National Museum of Cambodia:beautiful building with a peaceful inner courtyard that displays a vast collection of Khmer art, particularly sculpture.
- Mekong River Theater: showcases documentary films on Cambodia's History and current problems such as "The Mines in Cambodia" and "Pol Pot: The History of Genocide".
- Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum: has a graphic in situ documentation of the torture, abuse and killing that occurred during the Khmer Rouge rule; the exhibition is located in a former school used as a prison during this period.
- Arts and Crafts Market for shopping.
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