Striving towards becoming borderless involves traveling the world. How else can one really experience a culture without visiting?
The motor scooter defines Cambodia. Gas is sold by the roadside in 1/2- and 1-liter recycled Coke and Pepsi bottles. Many drivers do not wear helmets and are under 16 years old, both of which are “illegal” but unenforced. Their passengers rarely wear them and, even more frightening, they are accompanied by small children, even infants, while cruising at anywhere from 15-25 MPH.
People pass left or right, get through intersections in any way they can because the gridlock in the cities rivals Los Angeles or the Long Island Expressway during rush hour. Though there are frequent close calls (6 inches or less with the constant weaving in and out of traffic) I am surprised I did not see any accidents. Attaching the scooter to a 2-wheel chariot (think Ben-Hur) and you have a “tuk tuk” with a 4-passenger capacity which is used instead of a taxi to move people short distances under 15 miles.
Happily, the heat and humidity (as compared to Japan) were very tolerable. The food is GREAT and the currency is the U.S. dollar. There is gold, silver and precious stone mining with the 2 most important palaces in the capital of Pnomh Penh boasting beautiful French style palatial architecture and plenty of religious statues encrusted with precious stones and solid gold and silver floors respectively.
I had not visited a ‘third world’ country since I spent 10 days in Bolivia 30 years ago. The poverty is striking. Our group was comprised of 4 Brits, 4 Aussies, 1 Kiwi — all within 5 years of my age — and myself. We were accompanied by an Aussie and a Cambodian guide who made this tour experience quite fulfilling. The umbrella organization is extremely strict about patronizing native children, and a small portion of their income goes toward funding schools and literally getting these kids often as young as 6 years old off the streets. We are not allowed to buy anything from these urchins who swarm, surround and inundate us with ‘merchandise’ to sell wherever one visits. In our eyes, it is shameful that many of these children are forced by their parents to earn money for the family in this manner. A visit to the slums is stomach turning, and the stench of raw sewage reinforces that feeling. At least everyone appears well-fed; I did not see any undernourished, emaciated children or adults.
Even more disturbing was the documentation of the genocide undertaken by the Khmer Rouge between 1975-79. We visited 1 prison which is now a ‘museum’ and 1 killing field. The cruelty and brutality that resulted in the elimination of between 15 and 20% of all Cambodians (there are no exact figures) in those 4 years was staggering. I have visited Dachau which is the only comparison I can make but others in the group likened the experience to their visits to Bosnia post Milosevic.
On a very pleasant note was the time spent at Angkor Wat; pictures do not convey how incredible it is in 3 dimensions:
Built between the 12th and 13th centuries as the supreme Hindu temple at the height of the Khmer empire, which was 3 times the size of present day Cambodia, it took 37 years and required the labor of 300,000 men to complete. The architecture, workmanship of its stone carvings and period details remain remarkably intact 800 years after construction. A true highlight! We also visited the temple where Lara Croft – Tomb Raider was filmed; it remains overgrown by the surrounding forests.
There’s so much more to see. So many places to visit.