Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cambodia won us over, no question about it. Like an underdog in your favorite movie, the country is making a comeback after the horrors of the Khmer Rouge years. We have met numerous people that recall with ease the pain of those years. Their children and grandchildren are working tirelessly to get Cambodia back on track. There is contrast to be found at every corner. Internet cafes are situated next to stalls of chickens and pigs. Giant cranes tower over bamboo shacks that date back to the great Angkor empire. Roads made for ox-cart travel are now overrun with scooters, semi trucks and buses carrying tourists and locals alike. The Cambodian's we have met are optimistic about their future, however, they are still stunted from the genocide of nearly 3 million people during the reign of Pol Pot.

Our best experience so far in this country has come from a surprising source. Many would vote that the great temples of Angkor Wat or the haunting grounds of the Killing Fields were their favorites. The Cambodian people top our list. We have been blessed to meet a number of smart, energetic and truly friendly residents along the way. Joe spent the better part of a 5 hour bus ride talking with a man whose father had been killed by the Khmer Rouge. The conversation ranged from his personal story to the history and future of the country. No where in our travels have we met people so willing to share their feelings about a tragic period in their countries history. Our lunch time conversation with young men working at our guesthouse shed light on the hopes and worries of the 20 something generation. Meeting with Joe's friend from Ireland who now works as a lawyer at an NGO in Phenom Penh allowed us to quiz another western about the development plans for Cambodia. It has been the conversations with people that have really brought Cambodia's past and present to life for us.

The temples of Angkor Wat were awesome. Rising out of the jungle and surrounded by incredible pools of water, the whole complex is overwhelming in its enormity. Lucky for us, we had 3 days to play Indiana Jones. The most amazing part of all the temples is ingenuity the ancient people had. Massive amounts of stone were carved from the surrounding hills and used to build magnificent temples that would be considered skyscrapers in many cities today. The intricate carvings on the walls that depict ancient life rival any photograph one could have taken. The temples might be abandoned, but they are far from dead.

Phenom Penh has seen the worst of the worst in rulers. Pol Pot's twisted vision of a socialist utopia resulted in the slaughter of millions. Less than 30 years ago that city was a ghost town. Today, the city is bursting at the seams with growth. Businesses, restaurants, schools, etc. are establishing themselves in the very places people once fled. Our tour of the S-21 prision complex brought to life the brutal tactics employed by the Khmer Rouge. A dinner at a local restaurant that employs at-risk youth showed us the that Cambodian's are unwilling to be pulled back to those terrible days. Their collective optimism is moving the city forward and making it easy for traveler's like us to say this our favorite place yet.

No comments:

Post a Comment