Cambodia really touched us.
There are a number of reasons for this, but the people we met and got to know were the highlight of the trip. Our guides lived through the Pol Pot years and shared stories and experiences, to be quite honest, that were gut wrenching and gruesome. But letting the past live in the past, while not forgetting its importance, left us in awe of the human spirit.
We spent our time in large cities and very small towns to get a feel for what it’s like in both urban and rural areas. We started in Siem Reap, traveled to Battambang, then on to Phnom Phen. From there we traveled to the forest region of Koh Kong and then headed back to Phnom Phen before flying home. Cambodians have been through, and continue to go through, so much political and economic strife. Yet, almost everyone we talked to had a positive outlook on the future and the direction of their lives.
The temples were another highlight. So unique and so accessible. We explored several each day for the first few days. Anything goes…we climbed, crawled, swung, jumped. It’s a real life Indian Jones (or Tomb Raider depending on your generation) and unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
The rain forests were so thick you couldn’t see 30 yards in any direction…yet our guides knew exactly where we were at all times. Like the back of their hand.
The food was unique and at times daunting…but always tasty. Yes, we tried some things we wouldn’t normally call food. But that’s part of the experience, right? I think in the near future I’ll do an entire blog post dedicated to the markets we walked through. There’s no way to do them justice without being there and seeing it for yourself, but not to describe all we saw, smelled and tasted would be an injustice to their frenzied beauty.
It’s a fascinating experience to travel around Cambodia and to get to know the people. We used the assistance of Journey’s Within, which is affiliated with an NGO called Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC), to book our travel plans. It worked well for us and alos keep in mind that there are hundreds of other NGO’s throughout Cambodia that help connect travelers with local people so you can learn about the culture and history through their eyes.
One of our guides, Sambath, told us that ‘tourism is the factory without smoke.’ Visitors help the economy at a micro level and Cambodians welcome the chance to show off their culture. I can’t recommend it enough for those wanting to get out of their comfort zones and see a truly unique part of the world that’s rapidly changing.
Here are a few images, a mixture of film and digital, from our time in the countryside and cities.