Cambodia

Caked in splendour, white sandy beaches, dense jungles and a history as depressing as it is inspiring Cambodia really does have it all for travellers wanting to experience something new and different. It is a nation still recovering from one of the worst genocides of our time, one that saw the murder of between 1.5 and 3 million Khemers, over 25% of the population, between 1975 and 1979. Intellectuals were the ones targeted the most with the vast majority of graduates executed in what came to be known as the killing fields, over 20 000 of these sites have been discovered with the largest just outside the capital Phnom Penh. . Now 30 years on the population remains young with very few elders, the capital may possess a few sky scrapers but it remains leap years away from Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok. The main roads are often nothing more than dirt tracks and it’s one place in the world where breaking your leg would really be unadvised. Yet despit all this there remains remarkable optimism and energy amongst it’s inhabitants, one that leaves you leaving Cambodia with nothing but admiration for it’s people and it’s amazing culture.

In 1860 Missionaries came across some substantial ruins in the dense Cambodian jungle. Now it has been unearthed as Angkor Wat the 7th Wonder of the World. Built nearly a thousand years ago, the ‘mother of all temples’ remains the largest religious building in the world. During the Angkorian period, the Khemer empire ruled much of Laos, Thailand and Vietnam and this was there prized possession, unrivalled in size or grandeur. Quite why these temples were allowed to be lost to the jungle is still unclear but a change in climate is thought to have led to years of droughts. For Angkor, built upon a complex hydrologic system built to take advantage of a monsoonal climate drought brought starvation and the mass evacuation of an entire civilization.

Now this was an exciting day for me… Slightly worried about lugging my gear around Asia I took only took half my kit with me. Without any form of telephoto lens I’d struggled to always capture natural pictures of some of the locals. But today was my lucky day as I’d become friends with a fellow photographer who just happened to be carrying my beloved 70-200 mm. We went to a minority village that lived among the floating villages…

So with the trip coming to an end and still a feeble tan in process it was time to head to the beaches. So with a brief stay in Sihanoukville we headed to the islands, Koh Rong and Koh Rong Solomon. These remain fairly untouched by the travelling masses, particularly Solomon, with many preferring to head to the party islands Thailand possesses. But there are signs that these islands will go down the same road. Koh Rong’s harbour and main tourist beach now has a number of bars and hostels with a steady flow of travellers coming and going on a daily basis. Plans for it’s largest beach to go down the same route begins this month with the erection of it’s first hotel. Times be changing for these paradise islands… Get there now before it’s too late!

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