Southeast Asia Part I: Thailand
Southeast Asia Part II: Thailand
Southeast Asia Part III: Laos
The Kingdom of Cambodia is a country with many deep, significant differences from both Laos and Thailand, and a feel all its own. Once the center of the ancient Khmer Empire, Cambodia spent much of the latter half of the twentieth century embroiled in bloody warfare, military coups, occupations, and so on, and some hints of these scars still show. Cambodia also still suffers from widespread poverty, higher crime rates, child labor, and governmental corruption. There’s a visibly unfair disparity between classes, a noticeably wide gulf between the “haves” and the “have-nots” of society, with many people visibly struggling just to get by.
It’s a very raw country, but also one filled with much beauty, wonderful people, and fascinating centuries of history that show in every ancient temple, wall, and tree. It’s unlike anywhere else, and you can see how much the culture and the people has fought to survive against numerous hardships, and how strong they are.
Cambodia is absolutely a place worth visiting, but it’s definitely one for the experienced traveler. It’s not as easy or simple as getting around Thailand, and things are certainly more rugged, but there are lots of experiences to have. The people here are strong, resilient, the centuries of history pervade every corner, and the land itself is something unique.
Admittedly, we were only in Cambodia for a short time, so outside of Siem Reap, there’s still much of the country we didn’t get the chance to see on this trip — areas which may have their own individual feel, tone, and so on. But in any case, we began our trip by exploring Siem Reap itself, and the surrounding area.
The next day, we took a tuk-tuk to see one of Cambodia’s floating villages. In the wet season, these villages are literally right on the water. In the dry season, which is when we were visiting, they are simply elevated, as you can see below:
Finally, we did the big thing that most visitors to Cambodia do: we went to see Angkor Wat. This ancient temple complex, famously depicted on the Cambodian national flag, is truly a wonder to behold.
Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built in the 12th century in dedication to the Hindu god Vishnu. The sheer size and scale of Angkor Wat is truly unbelievable. You can’t properly capture it in photos, though we tried the best we could.
Other than Angkor Wat, there are many other temples around Siem Reap, each one quite remarkable. One of our favorites turned out to be Ta Prohm, a temple that has been overtaken by trees. It’s quite a dazzling, otherworldly sight; the trees are like alien creatures that have proven their dominance over man, by crawling over and entrapping these ancient walls. Amazing stuff.
Cambodia was quite different from Laos and Thailand, but that difference certainly made it stand out. It’s a place where history meets the present day. For those of us who have been born and raised in the world’s more privileged and “developed” countries, it’s really important to go to places like Cambodia — places which have struggled and survived through numerous traumatic events, and where people today experience hardships, poverty, and economic inequality on a level that few of us could even imagine. Without question, I’ll remember Cambodia for the rest of my life.
After that, we then flew back to Thailand, where we began the final leg of our journey: southern Thailand, which is a totally different land than the north. Next time up, it’s Southeast Asia Part V: The Final Chapter!