Kampuchea! Nik and I spent a little over a week in Cambodia, in the bustling capital city of Phnom Penh and the cheery town of Siem Reap, home of Angkor Wat. Although our time in Cambodia was short, we were able to get a wonderful glimpse at the personality and energy of the country and its people. It was a week that fell right in line with the splendor of the rest of our journey through the southeast thus far. And now for an unorganized smattering of commentary on aspects of that week...
Monkey on a street corner in Phnom Penh
The people of Cambodia are some of my favorite people of Southeast Asia. It's amazing because the tumultuous history of the Khmer people can still be felt and seen in the streets, the buildings, and the population, yet these people were some of the smiliest, friendliest, most genuine and gentle people I have ever encountered.
It was only about 30 years ago that the country endured the regime of the Khmer Rouge, a period of bloodshed, starvation, and genocide. Also, due to US efforts in the 1970's to flush out the Viet Cong, Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, and de-limbed mine victims are a common sight in the streets of the cities. Physical and sociological stuggles are undeniably present within the Khmer people, but they come with smiles and easy laughter that light them up as an incredibly resilient nation.
Some of the smiley children of Siem Reap
Hashing in Phnom Penh
During our few days in the capital city, we were able to catch the weekly gathering of Phnom Penh's Hash House Harriers for another fun run-and-drink-beer event. We met up with the impressively large P2H3 and went off for a run through the countryside at the edge of the city, along dirt trails, past run-down bungalows, and through rice fields, garbage dumps, and ankle-deep mud pits. We joined the crew for a few post-hashing beers, but retired home early due to the Death Muffin that had lodged itself, sponge-style, in Nik's stomach earlier in the day.
Angkor Wat and the Temples of Angkor
In a large area north of the town of Siem Reap lies the ruins of dozens of old temples, many over a thousand years old. These Buddhist and Hindu temples stretch across tens of kilometers and are at various stages of ruin. Reconstruction and preservation projects at many of the locations allow visitors to get a glimpse of the original splendor of the temples. Other temples lie in an eternal pile of rubble, consumed by the forest, giving them an excitingly Tomb Raider-esque feel.
Bayon at Angkor Thom
Nik and I explored the land of ruins by bicycle from sun-up to sun-down, trying to fathom what these places were like in their days of glory, and what it would've been like to re-discover these temples hundreds of years later, after they'd been swallowed up by the forest. The grand Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom are magnificant and well worthy of the mass tourist attention they garner. However, I found that I enjoyed the smaller, less trafficked temples more, as I got a better sense of what the place was like prior to 21st century tourism. Also, it was easier to pretend that I was Lara Croft, discovering an ancient hidden secret : )
Ta Prohm, my favorite of the temples we saw, consumed by the jungle!
So while our travels through Cambodia only lasted a bit over a week, we were able to get a wonderful glimpse of the country, it's people, the history, and the culture. Survey says: we like.