Sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia is a fascinating country with one of the most harrowing histories of recent times.
The years of genocidal rule by the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese occupation took their toll on the country, and effectively isolated it from the rest of the world for a couple of decades. However, with the new millennium has come a new dawn for the country, Cambodians are determined to rebuild their nation, and part of that process is welcoming an ever-increasing number of tourists to witness the splendour of their nation, both old and new.
Oriented around the capital Phnom Penh and the famous temple site of Angkor the tourist trail in Cambodia is becoming increasingly well-trodden. But that has done nothing to diminish the wonder that visitors to the country experience. The Angkor t
emple quite literally takes your breath away. The entire site covers over one hundred square kilometres, and is packed with traditional Khmer structures that survived numerous invasions (by Thais and Vietnamese), bombings (by the US) and the destructive reign of the Khmer Rouge.
Back in the capital you’ll find a city that is rapidly changing. The influence of Western culture can be felt, there are thriving expat communities from all the European nations, but its effect isn’t as insidious as that over the border in Thailand. There are still dirt roads even in the city, and the focus remains on the capital’s magnificent Royal Palace.
In Phnom Penh you’ll also find the most moving testaments to those that died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. The Killing Fields are an incredible sight, where tens of thousands met their death and were buried in mass graves. The simplicity of the displays of human remains seems amazingly appropriate as a memorial to the war dead.
But history, recent or ancient, can’t take away the fact that Cambodia is an incredibly beautiful country. Over half of it is covered in lush forest, or tropical wetlands. The massive central Tonle Sap lake has whole communities living on its edge (the famous stilted villages) and even in the lake itself (the floating villages of the north). While the forests contain rare wildlife including large mammals elephants, tigers and rhino the waters of both coast and inland – including the mighty Mekong River – teem with fish life – including Kratie’s population of freshwater dolphins.
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