Cambodia has been…interesting.
We’ve done all the typical touristy things here, gone to see Angkor Wat, saw the Killing Fields, went to a circus, took a boat cruise, went to Pub Street, etc., etc.
And even though I have done these types of touristy things in every country we have been to so far, here in Cambodia it feels…different. I feel more like I am exploiting this country rather than getting to experience it.
Here’s some background on Cambodia: during the 70’s a group rose to power in Cambodia called the Khmer Rouge. They wanted to basically set a restart button on the country and named the year 1975 as year zero. They evacuated the cities and basically worked people to death. Alongside this, they also exterminated anyone who was educated or had soft hands. They took them to the killing fields and massacred millions of people there. 1 in 4 people died during the three year ruling period of the Khmer Rouge.
Not many westerners know of this event, mostly because the United States was sort of directly responsible for it. They dropped countless bombs on Cambodia during the Vietnam war that paved the road for the Khmer Rouge to come to power.
The country is still recovering from this mass genocide. There aren’t many people who are over the age of 20 and there are countless beggars on the street who are victims of landmines or survivors from the killing fields.
Because of this tragic history, I feel very strange just coming into this country and seeing the sights and then leaving. I don’t feel like an agent of change but rather just another gawker.
Cambodia is truly beautiful. The people are constantly smiling and Angkor Wat at sunrise is a sight everyone should see.
I don’t regret coming here. The experience of being just a tourist has taught me that to simply come to a country to see the sights is not really experiencing a country at all. As we walked down Pub Street I could have easily have been back on 6th street in Austin or anywhere else in the U.S. And that’s not really Cambodia.