Never having been to Cambodia before, a part of the adventure is getting to learn about the country. I’ve done some research, but until I’ve been there I’m hardly going to be an expert. Even after a year there, I’m still only going to be acquainted with the country. It would take decades for me to feel like I know the country well. So, I’m relying on Lonely Planet’s guide to help me out.
Before this, I knew very little about the country. I could tell you the name of the capital city, but couldn’t spell it (Phnom Penh, if you’re wondering). I would have been able to vaguely place it on a map, but not with absolute certainty. The only three things I could tell you that was in any way related to it was Angkor Wat, the Khmer Rouge and sex trafficking. So here are some things I’ve been learning.
Cambodia, or officially the Kingdom of Cambodia, borders Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. It is a ceremonial monarchy, which reflects its history as a country of powerful kingdoms up until the 14th century. Since then, the country’s history had been turbulent; it has been subjected to Thai, Vietnamese, French, Japanese and U.S. political aggression. Cambodia was greatly affected by the Vietnam War (1970-75), for this to be followed by the Khmer Rouge’s regime. During this time, the educated, wealthy or military Cambodians were slaughtered in their millions. The rest of the country was forced into labour. In 1979, the Vietnamese defeated the Khmer Rouge, but civil war continued until 1991. It is this recent history that perhaps provides a backdrop for how Cambodia fairs currently.
Cambodia is a poor country with a population of 15 million. Around 38% of these live below the poverty line. Political corruption is still a present issue and Cambodia is cursed by a horrendous sex trade that often involves children. There are areas of Cambodia that are still haunted by its past in the form of land mines; it may have as many as six million unexplored mines and ordnance left. This also means that it has some of the highest levels of amputees in the world.
This makes the country sound horrendous. It is not (as far as I can tell). Millions of tourists flock to the country to see its beauty. Angkor is a major tourist attraction. There are hundreds of temples that were built over hundreds of years during the Angkorian period, culminating in Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world. The nearest city, Siem Reap, is where I’ll be living. The city seems geared for tourists, with even on road named ‘Pub Street’ and what can only be an Irish bar: Molly Malone’s. It probably does mean that at least some areas of Siem Reap may not be the best reflection of true Cambodia.
It is perhaps this mix of beauty and tragedy that’s made Cambodia such an intriguing place to find out about. I’m really going to enjoy telling you all about what I discover whilst I’m there.