03.04.2009 90 °F
We made it safely to Cambodia yesterday, and after spending the rest of our day exploring the town of Siem Reap, we got up at 445 this morning to head to the temples of Angkor Wat to catch the sunrise. We then went on a whirlwind tour of the fascinating ancient temples with a guide that we hired.
Cambodia is quite different from Vietnam. The people are poorer, the terrain is quite arid, and there is a significantly different feel to it all. The people and the country are beautiful, but I just sensed this immense sadness throughout the day, starting before dawn when our guide told us that he is one of 11 children. 3 of his siblings and his mother were killed during the Khmer Rouge takeover and ensuing civil war. He was just 6 at the time. For those who know very little about Pol Pot and the atrocities he committed, need to google him or buy a book about it. I am reading a book about Lenin, Stalin and Hitler, all ruthless leaders with millions of people's blood on their hands. Pol Pot, I think, has outdone them all when he murdered nearly 2 million of his own people in about 4 years.
Vietnam has certainly seen its fair share of war and political unrest in the last 50+ years, but the Vietnamese, while fiercely remembering all the wounds of their past, are truly looking forward and don't seem to still be struggling with the issues. I have gotten the sense that this is not the case at all in Cambodia. While Vietnamese did fight each other, there was always another country also doing the fighting.
In Cambodia, it was one of their own who ruthlessly killed nearly one third of his fellow countrymen and I think this is one of the reason for the sadness I saw in the natives faces. Cambodia is a land with many natural resources and many years ago was quite wealthy. After the Khmer Rouge were overthrown the nation was in upheavel. THousand died of starvation and currently 85% of the country lives in poverty.
Cambodians, darker skinned than Vietnamese, are beautiful people. The children especially just melt your heart. The people have such kind eyes and are incredibly generous, shy and friendly. I could just see in their faces, however, an intense sorrow and incredible sadness borne of the terrors that are so fresh in their past.
Everywhere we went, the sweetest children would be selling trinkets for "one dollar, sir". Incessantly pleading with you to help them. It was so difficult for me to see that. On the way down the mountain from seeing the sunset, we passed a tiny girl of maybe 5, sitting in the dust, not making eye contact and just barely making a peep as we passed, begging. Not holding out her hands but just sitting there all alone on a jungle path. Really just broke my heart to see her.
We leave tomorrow for Thailand but this has been a memorable, yet haunting trip. Completely differen experience from Vietnam, but has made the trip even more memorable.