‘It’s up to history to judge.’
Country number: 57
Territory number: 62
When? June 2001, coming from Bangkok, returning to Bangkok
How? Car, boat
Who? With Elaine, who meets me there.
- A last minute side trip to Siem Reap and the amazing twelfth century Angkor Wat. This Khmer temple complex is the largest religious monument in the world. It is colossal and incredibly fulfilling, one of the most rewarding archaeological sites that I have seen. It was discovered in the jungle and partially cleared. Garuda birds compete with elephants. The bas reliefs are fantastic. Huge tree root tentacles grasping onto the ruins only add to the atmosphere. I expect Lara Croft to appear at any moment. It’s reminiscent of the Maya pyramids, though grander. There are steps galore. We climb up the appointed monument for stupendous sunset views across the jungle.
- It’s very quiet in Siem Reap, but I can see that this situation will change very shortly. The whole tree lined approach from the airport, is a hotel construction site. It looks as if they are building hundreds of them. We’re staying in delightful bungalows with flower filled gardens. I can’t see any more of these being built.
- We have a day to be proper tourists. The souvenir shops around the site all look very similar, mainly packed with wooden carvings and friezes depicting aspects of Angkor Wat. There is more variety in the old market with beautiful (but expensive) baskets and a good selection of silver. Elaine buys up the whole mall. In the evening a cultural show at the Angkor Village. Japanese tourists leap about in front of the stage with their cameras, obscuring every one else’s view – and ruining opportunities for photographs.
- We also take to a boat. Tonle Sap is the largest salt water lake in Southeast Asia. It fluctuates in size over the year, expanding considerably during the monsoon. This area is hugely important for growing the staple food, rice. There’s a lot to see, the floating village, the dirt and squalor of the grinding poverty, the long boats as folk ply their wares, the fish farms with their tethered cormorants and pelicans, humming life on the lake shores and children waving from stilt jetties.
The name “Kampuchea” is more widely used in the East for “Cambodia.
Theravada Buddhism, practised by approximately 95 percent of the population, is the official religion of Cambodia.
Evidence from carbon dating suggests that Cambodia was inhabited as early as 4000 B.C.
In addition to Angkor Wat, airborne laser scanning technology suggests that, multiple huge cities between 900 and 1,400 years old lie beneath the tropical forest floor
Until 1953, Cambodia was a protectorate of France.
During the Vietnam War, the U.S.A bombed Cambodia from 1963 until 1973.
Genocide was carried out by the Khmer Rouge (KR) regime between 1975 and 1979, killing at least one and a half to three million people. The genocide came to an end when Vietnam invaded Cambodia. The bodies of the people that were killed in the genocide were buried in the “Killing Fields.”
Millions of land mines were planted during the war years and Cambodia has the largest population of amputees in the world caused by landmines. Almost half of the landmines are yet to be removed.
The country is a constitutional monarchy but has been ruled for over 25 years by Hun Sen, Cambodia’s present Prime Minister, who became the world’s youngest head of state when he was 32 years old.
Tourism is playing a vital role in helping the economic growth of the country. There were 5 million visitors during 2016, helping to make Cambodia one of the fastest-growing economies. Nonetheless, it is still one of the poorest countries in Asia and more than two and a half million people in the country live on less than $1.20 per day.
To see more of my photos of Cambodia, visit this page.