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.

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