Monday, 24 May 2010

The contrasts of Cambodia...

I was slightly apprehensive about traveling through Cambodia, expecting a bruised country still reeling from its terrible history. Indeed, walking through the bare corridors of S21 - a school that became a torture prison - and visiting the Killing Fields - where the grassy meadow hides exhumed mass graves and features a tower of human skulls - a chill ran down my spine despite the scorching temperatures.

However, when exploring the cosmopolitan Phnom Penh, soaking up the beachside hedonism of Sihanoukville or sipping a drink on the bubbling streets of Siem Reap, such horrors seemed far away. In fact, the towering temple ruins surrounding Ankor Wat, now slowly being digested by the Cambodian jungle, herald another history entirely: a forgotten age of splendour and magnificence.

As much as I enjoyed bouncing through the tourist hotspots, I do feel that I only glimpsed slices of the real Cambodia: a solitary man with a chequered cloth wrapped about his waist laboriously ploughing the stiff, dry fields behind two cows; clustered lines of tin shacks and thatched huts; lethally persuasive child vendors; family homes used as factories to produce rice, mushrooms or noodles.

A nation full of friendly smiles, I'm only sorry not to have seen more of authentic Cambodia.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Seven weeks gone, six to go...

Despite having spent the last few days beach-bound and engulfed in the eloquence of a Charlotte Bronte novel, when pondering how to express my impressions of Vietnam I struggled to find the words, let alone fit them into comprehensible sentences. However, with only a few days left before entering country number four of this trip, I have tried to get something down before my before my brain becomes addled by more new sights, sounds and smells.

Occasionally disheartened by a hostile scam and at others blown away by seeing first-hand the scars of an incredible history, I was fascinated by the buzzing culture of the Vietnamese people. From a war-scarred Hue, where hills are pockmarked with countless unnamed cemeteries and American bullets still litter the surroundings of bomb-shattered ruins; to the Parisien charm of Hoi An, abound with talented tailors, handicrafts and fiercely shrew barterers; to the hoardes of motorbikes teaming along the cluttered streets of Hanoi; to the sleepy, unconcerned lethargy of the Mui Nee coastline, Vietnam is incredibly diverse.

In a country of such contrasts - fertile pine forests in the mountains, home to row upon row of carefully manicured vegetable patches, rolling hillocks of coffee plantations and death-defying ropewire bridges; watery fields of fresh-green rice paddies; sandy red plains near the coastline - the journey through 'Naam' was a rollercoaster ride in every sense of the word and I felt like I was in a different country at every turn!

On a different note, in my nervous anticipation of travelling for three months I expected that, however much I would enjoy exploring unknown cultures, cuisines, coastlines and countrysides, I would inevitably resent lugging around a backpack full of musty smelling, discoloured clothes. On the contrary I have found that, after seven weeks, I have come to love the scruffy simplicity enforced by living out of my pack: snatching any old pair of shorts and a mismatched top to wear for the day, having only two outfits to choose between each night and never feeling obliged to put on make up.

Sadly I expect that these remaining weeks will fly by, such that I'll be brought back to reality - a wardrobe full of choice and the commencement of the demoralising job hunt - with something of a bump!