The Kingdom of Cambodia

The nine days I spent in Cambodia were amazing and unforgettable.  I have so many stories to tell and thoughts on the place that the blog post is far longer than I was hoping.  I have thus split it up into three parts: Siem Reap, Koh Rong, and Phnom Phen, one for each leg of my journey.

Missing everyone at home, hope everyone is doing well.  Do feel free to contact me if you wish at any point!  Would love to hear from friends back home as to how you are all doing, as I near two months (Jesus Christ!) since I left home.

PART I: SIEM REAP

My time in Cambodia was (I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot on this blog and it’s starting to lose it’s weight) unlike anything I had ever experienced before.  The magic of this exotic Kingdom captured me the moment I landed in Siem Reap and still commands awe in my memory.  I landed at 4:55 PM on a Sunday and left at 4:55 PM the following Tuesday, so I was in the country for exactly 216 hours – and not a second of the trip was like anything I could’ve imagined.

Cambodia is a small nation, just under 70,000 square miles (about the same size as Missouri) with a population of 15,000,000.  The largest city and capital Phnom Phen is home to almost 1.5 million people.  Not a single other Cambodian city exceeds 200,000 inhabitants, so the population is largely dispersed across the nation.  Cambodia is, like the Indochina peninsula as a whole, a poor but developing economy based largely on tourism and exporting cheap goods.  The people, known as Khmer’s, are an exotic population with a fierce passion for life, family, and country.  As I learned more about the country, it’s history and it’s inhabitants, my appreciation for all I saw and experienced grew and deepened.

I began my trip in Siem Reap, the fourth largest “city” in the country, if you could even call it a city.  It was a sprawling maze of thrown together huts with only a handful of paved roads.  I stayed, by recommendation of my friend Quentin who had been there only a month prior, at a hostel right downtown called the Funky Flashpacker, and it was quite funky indeed.  Drinks were cheaper than a Hanoi Happy Hour, and explorers from all across the world exchanged wisdoms from their homelands and their travels while the most popular tunes from 2007 set the mood.  The first night, I found myself playing cards with Canadians, South Africans, Koreans (South), Dutch, and many other nationalities I can’t even recall. 

My first morning in Siem Reap, I boarded a bus, groggy eyed and dragging my flip flops at around 7:30AM and headed an hour and a half north, to the mountains where the ancient kingdom of the ancient Khmer began.  To call Kulen a mountain does the same disservice to the word as calling Siem Reap a city.  It was much more a glorified hill, but glorified indeed.  Our first stop was  “The River of 1000 Lingas”.  The ancient Khmer people got their water from springs bubbling up out of the ground, which feed into a river which runs down the mountain.  Into the rocky riverbed, King Suryavarman I and his people in the 11th century carved Lingas, chiseled directly in the river and depicting the phallic symbol of the Hindu god Shiva.  Though not as grand in scale as monuments I’d seen in Vietnam or was yet to see in Cambodia, I still marveled at the ability of the ancient Khmer people to create a religious monument literally in the middle of a river.  It is said that the water that flows over the Lingas is blessed.

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Lingas, Phallic symbols of the Hindu God Vishnu, carved into the riverbed on Kulen Mountain.  These carvings span the entire width, and length, of the river.

Next, we visited the massive “Reclining Buddha” deep in the Kulen Jungle.  Carved around the same time as the Lingas, I again found myself awed not by the size of the structure (though it was indeed grand), but more by the impossible effort it must’ve taken to erect such a monument centuries ago, deep in the Cambodian jungle. 

Our final stop of the day was certainly my favorite.  After trekking through what felt like several kilometers in the intense Cambodian humidity, the jungle opened up in front of us and the omnipresent buzz of insects gave way to the roaring crash of the magnificent Kulen Waterfall.  Standing about 12 meters tall and pouring over its cliff in three distinctly separate streams, the waters welcomed me as I quickly exchanged my dirty, sweaty shorts for my “Life is Good” bathing suit (sorry Rekucki if you’re reading this, I still have those and will get them back to you eventually) in the private changing room of “behind that big tree over there”.  The rivers that fed to this roaring falls were the same I had visited earlier with the carved Lingas, so I was baptized by the refreshing water and discovered salvation chest deep in an Edenesque Cambodian oasis.  The hour spent floating in this sacred stream was not enough, but the sun was beginning to set on my first full day in Cambodia, and there was still much to do.IMG_8841.JPG

Kulen Waterfall, deep in the Cambodian jungle.

I returned to the hostel and signed up for the next morning’s trip to the temples.  Though I was weary of the 4:30AM pickup time, when is the next chance I was going to have to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat?  Later that evening I visited the Siem Reap night market, a bustling chaotic mass of shops and spas, restaurants and pubs spilling over one another and out into the street.  It was unlike anything I’d ever seen, a thrift shop on steroids.  Everything was for sale, and every price was negotiable.  I was in heaven.  Though I spent “too much”, at least according to the nagging voice in my head that sounds vaguely of my mother, I considered the fact that I hadn’t spent my every last dime a small victory.  I retired back to my hostel with the spoils of my night in hand, eager to see what the next morning had in store.

Waking up at 4am after going to bed at 2am is a disjointing experience in life.  You are unsure of if you slept at all, or perhaps you are still asleep?  Are you deprived of rest, hungover from the night before, or perhaps still impaired from the previous evenings activities?  4am is a time of questions, but it’s too early for anyone who has the answers to be awake.

Myself and seven others boarded a beat up old Cambodian sprinter van.  I was unsure if the other occupants were half asleep or half dead, perhaps a bit of both.  45 minutes later, at around half past five, we pulled up in the pitch blackness to what we were told was Angkor Wat.  We could’ve been anywhere in the world, we wouldn’t have a clue until the sun revealed itself.  But as light slowly began to creep over the horizon and the darkness of night began to retreat, in the distance I saw it.  Three giant, beautiful, intricate and jagged pillars of the most pleasing geometrical perfection slowly emerged from the pitch black.  I had seen pictures of Angkor Wat before, but as with the beauty of the New York skyline or the feeling of a New Orleans Jazz pub, pictures and videos don’t do it justice: you have to be there to understand.  Sunrises are not marked by the jetting, vivid colors as a sunset, but rather a more muted emergence of light from every direction, though certainly strongest over the east, where Angkor Wat stood.IMG_8877.JPG

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

We marched into the actual temple at around 6:15 in the morning.  I was fully awake by now, any lingering longing for my bed throughly defeated by the awing magnificence of my location.  Angkor Wat is the largest religious complex in the world at 402 acres, over two-thirds of a square mile, almost four times larger than the Vatican.  The central temple is an astounding testament to the advanced architectural and engineering capabilities of the Temple’s builders, the twelfth century Khmer people.  Eight pillars create a perfect square courtyard, already some ten or fifteen meters above the surrounding land, and the central tower, a massive structure which reminds me of a lotus flower stacked on itself again and again, trailing off into infinity.  This central tower stands 41 meters taller than the courtyard where it’s foundation lies, 65 meters (213 feet) above the ground in total.  I dare say that Angkor Wat may be the most impressive structure humanity has ever erected.  While I save my title for most impressive thing humanity has ever done to the realm of space exploration, perhaps the most impressive thing we have created on this earth lies deep in the Cambodian jungle, carved out of limestone eight hundred years ago.

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Standing in the Central Courtyard of the Interior, behind me is the Central Spire.

While the scale the temple is stunning, equal grandeur could be found in the smallest details.  Not a doorway, wall, pillar, or handrail in the entire complex seemed to be undecorated.  Into every inch of stone was chiseled a bas-relief scene from Khmer history, either depicting religious lore or Cambodian history.  Above every doorway were faces and stories of stone, preserved the same as they had been carved.  Every inch of the complex was patterned, or depicting some epic religious story.  It was beautiful.  My mind meditated on the planning, designing, and execution that must’ve gone into creating this magnificent yet unified structure.  Even with modern technology to design and build such a structure would be a massive undertaking, so I was in absolute awe that ancient Khmer people had been able to create something so massive and beautiful, almost 1000 years ago in the middle of the jungle.  Cambodian mythology tells the temple was constructed in a single day by Vishnu, but I didn’t believe it.  Even a God would require more than 24 hours to construct something this grand.

By 7:30, the morning stupor had completely worn off and my fellow trekkers and I were all playfully exchanging laughs.  It didn’t feel like 7:30 in the morning, nor had it felt like I had just met these people three hours ago.  We ate a nice American breakfast outside Angkor Wat while trading stories of previous travels before hopping back on our mechanical chariot and headed several kilometers north to Angkor Thom, the center of a large ancient Khmer city and home to Bayon Temple, the temple of a thousand faces.  A quick sidenote: I was able to go on this trip at the time that I did because Vietnam had all but shut down for the Lunar New Year Holiday.  This was extremely apparent in Cambodia, specifically at Bayon Temple, where every step I took I had to wade through a sea of small Chinese tourists.  I stood head and shoulders above the crowd, but movement throughout the temple was difficult.  That said, it still struck me as remarkably beautiful and different from Angkor Wat.  Monkeys were far more present at this temple, and it was in far greater ruin than the previous.  Massive faces, taller than my entirety were carved into every spire or tower.  As with Angkor Wat, every facade of this temple was intricately carved.  Had it not been for the thousands of tiny tourists or the quickly escalating Cambodian heat, I  might’ve found this temple more inspiring than the first.  But at the intersection of impassable crowds and oppressive heat, I was only able to be moderately blown away by this temple.

One of the Dozens, if not Hundreds of Faces carved into Bayon Temple.  I am in the front.

Our final stop was the temple of Ta Prohm, known better in America as the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed.  Instantly recognizable, I stayed alert the entire time there, ready to bolt in the event of a giant stone come chasing after me or arrows began spraying from the wall.  Cinematic references aside, this temple was truly magnificent.  Deeper in the jungle than Angkor Wat or Bayon Temple, nature had begun to reclaim these ruins.  Trees five centuries old merged so seamlessly with ruins just a couple centuries their senior in an unbelievable confluence of ancient architecture with mother nature.  The trees seemed to be standing on their tippy toes to reach higher than their towering man-made counterparts.  I couldn’t find the hidden gold anywhere. 

The Jungle struggling to reclaim the temple of Ta Prohm.

With new friends made and three temples conquered, we boarded our bus and returned back to Siem Reap.  Though there are dozens more temples around the Angkor site, they will have to wait until the next time I visit Cambodia.

I arrived back at the Hostel around 1:30 in the afternoon, with six hours to kill before boarding a night bus down to the Cambodian coast.  What is one to do with so much time?  Visit a shooting range?  Too expensive.  See a floating village? Not enough time.  Ride an ATV across Cambodian rice fields at sunset? Perfect.

PART II: KOH RONG

I boarded the night bus at 7:30PM.  After one of the worst nights of sleep on the least comfortable bed I could imagine, I woke up the next morning in Sinhoukville on the Gulf of Thailand.  It was time for vacation, in the Western sense of the word, to begin.  I took a ferry from the mainland to an island called Koh Rong. Though a small island, it was the largest of the Cambodian Isles, about 78 square kilometers, just over 30 square miles.  I don’t know if it was due to the fact that I had been living in grey, foggy, ever-overcast Hanoi for a month, but the beaches and waters on Koh Rong damn near brought tears to my eyes.  I have been blessed to frequent the Caribbean and other tropical destinations on occasion (thanks mom and dad), but Koh Rong might’ve surpassed them all.  The sand was pure white and so fine it made a squeaking sound as you walked.  The water was a perfect teal blue, as ideal in temperature as in appearance.  I decided to forgo the water taxi and instead trekked the two kilometers from the ferry port to my accommodations.  Though the journey was arduous and exhausting, a delightful swim and a $2 Pina Calata were fitting spoils of my labors.

4K Beach, Koh Rong

I was staying on the East side of the island, on a beach called 4K.  I had heard Long Beach, on the west side of the Island, was a magnificent place to watch the sunset.  I had also heard it was only an easy 45 minute walk away.  One of those things was true, the other was decidedly #FakeNews.  The sun was to set at 6:15, so I left my hotel around 4:45 so I could spend ample time lounging on Long Beach, enjoying a picturesque sunset.  After making the 25 minute walk back into town, sure my journey was nearly complete, I was informed otherwise.  I learned I would have to hike over the top of the ridge (about 250 meters up, and then back down the other side).  I was also told the route usually takes an hour, so I was immediately in a race against the clock to reach the other side before the sun set and I was lost in darkness in the Cambodian jungle.  With several Pina Colata’s already in my system and another firmly in my hand, I began making the ascent as quickly as possible.  Never in my life had I sweated so profusely.  By looking at me, you would think I had just come from a swim at the beach, not laboring towards one.  Just as I began to give up hope that I would ever traverse the ridge, the steep path got flatter and flatter until I reached the top.  I could see the sun in the distance, beginning to shine a burnt orange, but where was the beach?  Oh right, I remembered.  250 meters below me.  If the path up to the top of the ridge was steep, the path down felt like a straight drop.  I grabbed onto hanging vines and branches and rocks as I slid down the hillside.  More than once I was sure I was going to pitch forward, or that a vine would snap, and that I would perish trekking through a Cambodian jungle.  Not a bad way to go out, I suppose, but I had a date with the setting sun, and the appointment time was quickly approaching.  At points I could see the sun peak over the tops of the trees, but I had no time to marvel in it, lest I be late for sunset.  By the grace of Vishnu, perhaps still protected by the sacred waters from Kulen, I emerged from the jungle at 6:05PM, fully intact save a few scratches and cuts as souvenirs from my hike.  If I had been baptized by the waterfall at Kulen, I felt completely reborn as I fell into the Gulf of Thailand, my body gaining no additional moisture but infinite refreshment from the soothing waters.  I was lucky enough to find a boat going back around to the other side, so that I didn’t have to make the trek back across the ridge in pitch black.  Thank God I did, or perhaps I would still be there instead of writing this post.

I returned back to my hotel likely around 8:30.  It would’ve been earlier if I hadn’t looked up and been enamored by the night sky.  Very few times in my life could I say I’d seen a night sky so vivid and full.  I felt almost as though I could hear Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster that he launched on Falcon Heavy, millions of miles away by now, blaring “Starman” by David Bowie directly into my ears.  But then I recalled I was playing the song from the portable speaker in my pocket.

Upon returning to my hotel, I again made friends through the international language of card games.  A particular favorite of mine that I’ve picked up in Southeast Asia is a game called Shithead.  After several games with fellow travelers, I was ready for bed.  But not yet, one of them beckoned.  Had I seen the plankton yet?  I had recalled the plankton of Koh Rong mentioned in passing to me by several friends in Hanoi when I told them I was going there for holiday.  But seen them with my own eyes?  We waded out into the pitch black water, my neck still fully cringed straight back, still bewildered by the night sky, when I was told to look down.  I was blown away.  With each movement, kick of the foot, flick of the wrist, clenching of a fist, an entire night sky was illuminated just beneath the water.  Millions of plankton lit up at the slightest flinch.  We had one pair of goggles between the five of us, and when it was finally my turn I plunged beneath the water and began kicking and flailing with all my might that, under any other circumstance, you’d be sure I’d gone mad.  I wondered to myself if this is what God felt like when he created the heavens stars, before remembering I’m not that big into that sort of thing. 

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Setting Sun from 4K Beach

The next morning, I awoke with a profound excitement.  The first thing on the docket for the day was to check off a bucket list item: Scuba dive in the Gulf of Thailand.  We boarded our boat around 10::30, and I was back in a familiar setting (a dive boat), just on the opposite side of the world.  The diving was great.  Though I will say the visibility was marginal at best (4-5 meters at most), the abundance and diversity of sea life was remarkable.  Macro organisms were typical, you had your French Angels, parrotfish, Squirrel fish, snappers, puffers, and others, the true magic was in the micro life.  The visibility was so poor due to the abundance of plankton in the water.  Nudebranches and colorful corals swayed gently to the gentle push and pull of the ocean.  We did not dive very deep, deepest I reached was 9 meters, but it was amazing nonetheless.  I have often wondered why I enjoy scuba diving so much.  I think I figured it out on this trip.  Previously, I thought it was the fish or the mystery of the ocean.  While those are certainly factors, my true love of the activity derives from the tranquility.  Under the water, all you hear are the cathartic sounds of the ocean, the cool Darth Vader sounding breathing from the regulator, and the soothing tune of bubbles.  Your only concern is your air supply, bouyancy control, and not harming the marine life.  To be good at diving, all you have to do is be calm.  An activity where the main goal is tranquility, and I get to look at cool shit underwater? Sign me up.

After coming in off the dive boat, much to my surprise and delight, two of my friends from Hanoi, Jesse from Milwaukee and Cherer from Durban, South Africa, were waiting at my hotel.  I had messaged them telling them where I was staying, but had no expectations of finding them until later that day, if at all.  We ventured into the main town to buy some rum, and returned to 4K to delight in the night sky, build a fire on the beach, and it was my turn to show someone of the plankton.  Tunes were played and laughs were shared well into the night.

The next day, I did it all over again.  Tranquil scuba diving in the morning, exploring with friends in the afternoon.  That night, we took part in the “Richie Rich Pub Crawl”, which is exactly what it sounds like.  About 200 drunk 20-somethings parading around a Cambodian Isle, jumping from pub to pub, not a sober fool amongst the lot.  I totally have a lot of very vivid memories from this night and didn’t forget anything about it at all.  My most vivid memories are how strong and how cheap the drinks are on Koh Rong.  Everything else is very vivid too, I swear.  I’m like, really smart and very mentally stable.  Never forget anything.

The next day, my last full day on Koh Rong, I wasn’t scuba diving.  I had the entire day open.  I awoke around 10am, after a full 5 hours of sleep, and started off down the beach in search of Jesse and Cherer.  I found them in their tents, as mentally wounded from the previous night as I was.  Unsure what to do, I suggested we rent a Hobie Cat (little sailboat) I had seen just up the way.  They agreed, and for an hour and a half we skated across the little bay off of 4K beach as though we were true pirates.  Except about an hour of that time, we were stuck in severe doldrums and forced to paddle.  No matter, it was paradise found.  The sun was baking, the water was refreshing, and, for the most part, my body had forgiven me for the night before.

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Cambodian Locals fishing at Dusk

That evening, we chartered a local Cambodian woman and her husband to take us out on their boat to fish.  Sunset has always been my favorite time of the day.  When watching a beautiful dusk sky, all is right with the world, I get a feeling of intense peace and satisfaction.  Never has that feeling been stronger than while hand fishing off a rustic boat in the Gulf of Thailand.  I caught one fish, Jesse caught one as well, and Cherer caught three. Our Cambodian counterparts caught near a dozen.  After the sun was long set and any remnants of it’s light had faded, we headed back towards shore where we quickly made a fire and roasted the small snappers.  The meaning of “fresh fish” was revolutionized to me, eating breaded snapper that just an hour and a half prior had been swimming about, was delicious.  With the stars above me, a fire in front of me, new friends around me, and great tunes enchanting me, I felt a strong sense of peace I had not felt since leaving the States.  A new, exotic comfort zone had been established, if only for a moment.

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Fish caught not two hours prior after being grilled on an open flame on the beach.  It was more than five star dining, on that rating system you would need the entire night sky, which we had just by tilting our heads back.

PART III: PHNOM PHEN

The next day was spent largely in transit.  I awoke, treated myself to an authentic Khmer massage on the beach (it was $8 for an hour massage, expensive I know, but what the hell, I was on vacation!), packed up my stuff, and headed back towards the dock and the ferry.  A goodbye was said to Jesse, who was headed back to the States after finishing his time on Koh Rong, and a “see ya later” was said to Cherer who would be returning to Hanoi just a couple days after me. The 45 minute bumpy boat ride back to the mainland was followed by an 8 hour bus ride from hell to Phnom Phen.  At his point in my journey, I had not showered in a week, was covered in sand, deprived of sleep for nearing a week, and longing for nothing but a wash and a proper sleeping space.  What I believed would take only 4 or 5 hours tops ended up being an 8 hour journey, the last hour and a half of which I could’ve completed faster on foot, the traffic in Phnom Phen rivaling that of an LA rush hour.

Upon arrival and checking into my hotel, I ascended the four flights of stairs and collapsed onto a proper, queen-sized, no-sand-in-it bed.  I quickly galavanted to the bathroom and was reborn in a stream of fresh water, shampoo, and soap.  Though I was probably still dirty, I never felt so clean, or slept so well in my life.

Before going to Cambodia, I had asked friends about the Killing Fields and whether they were worth a visit.  Many of them said to skip it, as it would sour my trip, while others warned of the depression it caused but lauded the way the memorial was constructed.  I arrived to Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, about 30 minutes outside Phnom Phen, around 9:30 in the morning. What I learned there, and following at the S-21 Prison back in Phnom Phen shook me to my core and moved me in my heart of hearts.

For those unfamiliar with Cambodian history, the country endured a terrible genocidal episode but 40 years ago.  The country was used as a major supply route for the northern Vietnamese during the American War, and as a result, the United States led a “secret” bombing campaign on a large part of Cambodia.  The war was no secret to the farmers and rural villagers, who’s country was pelted with more bombs than were dropped by the US throughout the entirety of World War II.  Cambodians sought shelter in the cities in droves, but arrived without the necessary skills to find gainful employment.  The national government was weakened, destabilized by the constant American bombing.  The Khmer Rouge, an ultra-nationalistic, ultra-communist party was gaining power, and on April 17th, 1975 they invaded the capital Phnom Phen and established a new government.  The idea was an agrarian utopia where everyone worked the land and received the fruits of their labor.  It was based on an extremely Maoist reading of Communism.  The Leader, Pol Pot, and his high council were paranoid and ruthless.  Anyone who was seen as not fully devotional to “Angkar”, or “The Organization” was brought to prison, tortured until they confessed to crimes they did not commit, and then executed as punishment for their confessions.  Over the three years and eight months that Cambodia was under Khmer Rouge control, approximately 2.2 people were killed, over 25% of the population.

What I saw at Choeung Ek was unlike anything I could imagine.  Upon arrival, I was given an audio tour, which was fantastic.  I walked from station to station, I could take as long as I wanted at each place, and the audio guide was a Cambodian man who had survived the Khmer Rouge occupation, spoke from experience and told an incredible story of one of the worst tragedies in human history.   Across the entire grounds were craters, each of which had been exhumed during the 1980s.  I was told that during the rainy season, the soil gets churned up and new fabric from victims clothes, or even occasionally teeth and bones bubble to the surface.  The most shocking part to me at the Killing Fields was a mass grave where 150 babies and mothers were discovered next to a tree.  The final stop is a 19-level pagoda in which all the bones of the victims are displayed.  I was so overwhelmed by the sheer number of skulls, along with the condition some of them were visibly in, visibly violently bashed through just several decades ago.  The Khmer Rouge philosophy was “in order to kill grass, you must pull out the roots”.  When they killed one member of a family, they killed all, so no one would be around years later to exact revenge.

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Victims of the Killing Fields.  One facade of one level of the 19 level pagoda housing remains of more than 12,000 who lost their lives.

After Choeung Ek, I went to the main prison of the Khmer Rouge, S-21 located in the heart of Phnom Phen.  It was another exquisitely moving memorial, with pictures of victims, instruments of torture, and audio tour.  The audio tours made the entire place stoic, for when you removed your headphones you heard nothing, adding to the eeriness of the place.  Of the approximately 15,000 Cambodians brought to S-21 during the Khmer Rouge reign, only 12 were known to have survived. I was fortunate enough to meet one such survivor while at the place.  An old man by the name of Bou Meng had returned to the place where he was imprisoned, tortured, and forced to confess to crimes he did not commit, all to tell his story.  After learning all day of the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, to meet one of the few people who survived was unbelievable.  I was near speechless, able only to listen. Though he spoke of just broken English, Bou told me of his strong desire to tell the world of what happened in Cambodia and attempt to make sure it does not happen again, anywhere else in the world.IMG_9061.JPG

Bou Meng, one of a dozen survivors of the approximately 15,000 innocent Cambodians brought to S-21 Prison in Phnom Phen during Khmer Rouge rule.  He survived because he knew how to fix a typewriter, along with being a great painter.  He was commissioned first to create art depicting Brother #1, Pol Pot.  He later was told to paint scenes of torture and death from the prison.

Thoroughly moved and mentally exhausted, I wandered the streets of Phnom Phen for the rest of the afternoon, attempting to make sense of it all.  How could such atrocities occur in such a beautiful place, and how could an entire nation manage to be on the road to recovery not even 40 years after the fall of the regime?  I am in awe of the ability of Cambodians to not only endure a national tragedy the likes of which few nations have ever known, but continue to endure poverty on a scale I had not seen before, and through all that remain a beautiful and vibrant and exotic country and a Kingdom of Magic.  A boat ride across the Mekong River to watch the sun set over the Phnom Phen skyline was a perfect end to the day, and to my trip.

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Stunning Sunset over Phnom Phen from the Mekong River

Cambodia showed me both wonders I could’ve never dreamed of and horrors of which I could’ve never imagined.  It blew my mind with the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat, calmed my every fiber with the paradise of it’s isles, and deepened my understanding of humanity with the stories of horror, but also stories of the enduring human spirit and will to live and fight for a better day.  I thank Cambodia for all of this.  My nine days spent there were nine of the most jam packed, impactful days of my life.  I will never forget them, nor am I done extracting the lessons I learned there.  I will carry Cambodia with me the remainder of my journey in Southeast Asia, and the remainder of my life.  And, God willing, someday I will return to the Kingdom of Cambodia and do it all over again.

 

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