Cambodia is Thailand’s neighbor to the East, but the two countries are strikingly different. Thailand has a well developed infrastructure and although it is not First World, there are areas far nicer than many places in the USA. We came to Cambodia for the temples, namely Angkor Wat. It did not disappoint.
When I look into Cambodia’s past, all I see is tragedy. Yet, during our very brief visit, I saw evidence of hard work and ingenuity everywhere. You would not believe how they use the humble motorbike! All manner of homemade racks turn them into pickup trucks. Side cars are added to make a mobile restaurant or to haul large amounts of goods. Whole families of 5 are seen riding on one motorbike. We saw some crazy things for sure on this brief visit.
The last 50 years or so has been bad for Cambodia, but hopefully it is improving here now. Khmers are very proud of Angkor Wat and Jayavarman VII, their greatest king who impacted it the most. Angkor is featured on their flag, but Angkor fell in 1431. The French colonized it in the 19th century and then the USA carpet bombed it during the Vietnam War.
They often speak with hatred of their former leader Pol Pot and his party the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge was in power for 3 yrs, 8 months, and 20 days, and was fortunately removed from power on Jan 7, 1979. However, they continued to impact the nation through civil war for 20 more years. In 1998 Pol Pot died before he was brought to justice. The Khmer Rouge was responsible for the deaths of 1-3 million. The UN sponsored elections in 1993 which helped them start to recover, but only recently in 2009, teachers were allowed to teach the truth about the Khmer Rouge and the cruelty of what they did to the nation. Much of Khmer art, music, film, and dance was lost or destroyed during the assault of the Khmer Rouge. Over 3000 Buddhist monks were killed and many of their wats defaced.
Landmines. So the USA dropped a lot of bombs during the Vietnam War and many of those were in Cambodia. Other factions also used landmines hidden in the ground including the Khmer Rouge. Landmines or unexploded ordinances continue to be a problem today, particularly in the rural areas. Cambodia has over 40,000 amputees–one of the highest rates in the world. Estimates say there may be 4-6 million more to be found! Organizations are working on this issue. Experts estimate 10-20 years more at the current pace to finish clearing the mines.
Tourists should be aware that walking off the road into fields is extremely dangerous. 20 people died in 2016 from landmines and unexploded ordinances. The main tourist areas are safe, however.
We really enjoyed Cambodia, but they clearly are struggling to move forward in the world. Decades of civil war, communist rule and genocide have left a toil. The people of the country appeared to be extremely hard working and are making the best of the difficult hand they were dealt.