Enigmatic smiles of Buddha, weathered but exquisite bas-reliefs, bright eyes of kids, and freely strolling animals, Cambodia is an ancient, tranquil, and mysterious kingdom. Anyone who has heard of it or seen it in pictures would dream of a trip to Cambodia. Poverty, landmine, Angkor, Sihanoukville, and Khmer are the five keywords that define Cambodia. They are like a prism reflecting the glories and sorrows that the country has ever experienced and shape the country into what it is today.
Poverty is prevailing in the kingdom of Cambodia. Though rich in natural resources, the country is one of the world's poorest countries due to decades of wars and conflicts. 90 percent of the poor people are in rural areas. Two-thirds of the country's rural households are now facing food and drinking water shortages each year. Despite poverty, the countryside of Cambodia is the place to experience the rhythm of rural life and the timeless landscapes of rice paddies and palm trees with fresh air. As you may have read in one of our previous blogs, we've established an Odyssey Wells Project in the rural villages of Siem Reap to help local people have access to clean drinkable water.
It can be hard to imagine, over millions of unexploded landmines randomly lie throughout the countryside of Cambodia. Those land mines were sowed by the Khmer Rouge about 15 years ago and still pose a great menace to the livelihood of Cambodians in rural areas who rely on agriculture but landmines lead to low productivity. To know better about the brutal history of the Khmer Rouge, pay a visit to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in the capital city of Phnom Penh.
What is Angkor? Angkor is a history, a dynasty, a city, an architectural complex, and an art. The word "Angkor" comes from Nagara, meaning "city". From the 9th to the 15th century, Angkor was the capital of the powerful Ancient Khmer Empire. However, with the decline of the Ancient Khmer Empire, the capital was abandoned. The temples were deserted and engulfed by jungles until in 1858 a French explorer ventured into the jungle, discovered the sprawling Angkor City, and brought it to the world's attention. There are thousands of temples in the region. Angkor Wat is the most famous one. It is the soul of Cambodians. It is the world's largest religious monument, attracting an endless stream of experts, travelers, and worshipers.
Time stands still in the port city of Sihanoukville where every balcony of the waterfront restaurants is breathtaking enough to be a movie set. However, it is mentioned here not for the beautiful city but for a remarkable hero in Cambodia's history – King Norodom Sihanouk. Known as the Father of the Nation he won the independence of the country from France in 1953. To celebrate the liberation of Cambodians from France, the Independence Monument was built in Phnom Penh and a city was named Sihanoukville to honor the hero of the nation.
You might find Cambodia always comes along with the word "Khmer". Khmer is the pronoun of Cambodia. The Khmer people are the ethnic group to which the great majority of Cambodians belong. The Khmer Empire was the most powerful empire in Southeast Asia. In its heyday, the empire ruled over modern-day Laos, Thailand, and Southern Vietnam. Its greatest legacy is Angkor, which bears testimony to the Khmer empire's immense power and wealth, as well as the variety of belief systems that it patronized over time.
Landmines are still there, and poverty is still prevailing, but the ancient, mythical kingdom of Cambodia is still attracting legions of travelers from around the world for its unique, thought-provoking charm exuding from the Angkor temples, the smiling faces of people, the ancient culture…and perhaps poverty. Set foot on it, taste it and you're going to love it. Before you go and see for yourself, have a look at this 8-Day Best of Cambodia that covers the highlights of Cambodia.
A monk in a temple in Cambodia