I never imagined I would have an opportunity to visit Cambodia. And because it was so far off my radar, I knew very little about it. Perhaps many of you might be just like me so here’s a very brief introduction to its history and culture.
Officially it’s called the Kingdom of Cambodia and was once known as the great Khmer Empire from 802AD until it’s fall to the Siamese Kingdom of Ayutthaya in the 15th century. It was during the Khmer Empire that the temples of Angkor were built as first Hinduism and then Buddhism flourished. Cambodia remains strongly Buddhist with 95% of the population practicing Theravada Buddhism. Quite possibly, the people’s strong faith has kept the morale of the people positive despite its chaotic and violent history. Cambodia has been under the “protection” or governance of a multitude of countries and entities since 1863. The French until 1953. The Khmer Rouge (a coup backed by the US) from 1970-79, during which time an estimated 25% of the population were killed. The Vietnamese backed government from 1979-1991. A UN mission briefly governed from 1992-1993 and withdrew after Cambodia’s “democratic” election. Finally in 1997, a coup took place that resulted in putting complete power in Prime Minister Hun Sen and Cambodian People’s Party who continues to rule the country today with a figurehead king.
Currently, Cambodia faces numerous challenges such as poverty, starvation and pervasive corruption. All of this is evident when you visit Cambodia. It’s also a country with an identity crisis. Its common currency is not its own; the American dollar is preferred, not the native currency of the Cambodian riel. Many of it’s infrastructure has been built by other countries. Examples include the Japanese built highway, the French built Siem Reap International Airport, and the Vietnamese administered Angkor Wat Archaeological Park. The Cambodian people do not benefit from the fees collected from the latter two. However, it seems the country is on the precipice of change as the people have become aware of the government corruption and the young people want to own their Cambodian identity.
We have fallen in love with the Cambodian people (you will not find bigger smiles than those of Cambodians); Cambodian food (I dare you to find another country that makes better curries); and of course the awe-inspiring beauty of Cambodia and its cultural riches. The combination of these will certainly bring us back.
Here are some images that represent our week in Cambodia. I will blog specifically about the temple ruins in my next few posts so stay tuned for those!
We spent hours by the pool.
And drank a lot of these
And ate a lot of this. We just couldn’t get enough of Khmer curry, especially Isabella who ate it daily, sometimes for lunch and dinner!
Krolan – Cambodian bamboo sticky rice. A mixture of glutinous rice is mixed with black beans and coconut milk then stuffed inside a bamboo tube and plugged with a cork of crumbled banana leaves and cooked over the grill. Once cooked the outer shell is chopped off leaving the softer inner bamboo shell. We found this street food on the highway during our trip to the lake. It didn’t seem to exist in the town. Our guide told us that the people in that region are known for cooking this food. Once cooked Krolan will keep for days. It’s delicious and the container is biodegradable. Excuse the poor picture. Our guide had already removed the banana plug and started peeling the bamboo before I could get a photo in the van. I would have taken a photo of the carts with buckets of these tubes and more on the grills except I had a sleeping child in my lap.
All Cambodians seem to have these huge smiles. This one belongs to our tuk tuk driver Mr. Sokha. Our hotel provided us with a tuk tuk during our whole stay.
We visited the Cambodian countryside. Here farmers are harvesting rice by hand.
And we visited the Siem Reap Old Market – where all manners of things can be found
The wet part of the old market. Many of the sellers sit on their table along with their goods.
Young monks offering blessings after the shopkeeper gave them a donation.
BBQ restaurant on wheels
We spent an evening at the Cambodian Circus. It really let you in on the Cambodian psyche. It was crazy and full of humour while exploring dark subjects. The show we watched explored the belief in the supernatural.
A brief walk through a village on stilts. During rainy season this road is under water.
Local boys at a pier on the lake
House on stilts on Tonle Sap Lake
This boy was maybe 5 or 6 years old. Many kids on the lake use these small wooden boats to get around.
We toured the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity which focusses on wildlife conservation and environmental education in the region. This leopard cat is one of the residents.
These two rascally residents should be on the other side of the fence but they were on our side as they are still small enough at 11 months old to squeeze through the chainlink. Apparently they bring all kinds of things back into the cages that the centre staff have to constantly clean out. Macaques are almost as common as squirrels or raccoons in Canada. They were one of the first things we saw when we entered Angkor Wat Archeological park, being fed by people.
A giant millipede. One of our finds during a temple walk.
A 3 km hike up to a waterfall where there are riverbed carvings.
Exposed riverbed carvings at Kbal Spean
We explored many temple ruins
And rested at many temple ruins
A rare photo of me. This one taken at the top of Angkor Wat. Children are not allowed on this part and shoulders and legs must be covered.
Swinging on vines in the temple ruins
A young child left in one of the temple ruins to sell trinkets. Before we arrived in Cambodia, I read many warnings against buying from the hoards of children selling things as this would encourage them to not go to school as the monetary incentive would be too great; however, during our week here we only encountered a handful of them. And this one certainly looked like she wished she was somewhere else doing something else.
Walking amongst 1000 year old ruins
Horse on the grounds of Angkor Wat
Another temple. Another rest.
It’s true. Monks still wander the temples.