A trip that changed my life forever and a country that gave me a new perspective to successful living – Cambodia, in many ways defines extreme suffering and ultimate triumphs of an entire human population. A country that until recently was on the brink of total destruction, now has significant stories to tell, beautiful sights and sounds to share. Many would argue that the influx of huge numbers of tourists every year is a major cause behind some of the grave social issues within the country. While that is true to a certain extent, Cambodia is one country I personally believe that actually deserves and needs more tourists. When I say tourists, I mean ethical and responsible travelers. Here are four reasons why.
A couple of these four reasons might not be the usual “oh it’s a fairy-tale/paradise” ones, but are definitely worth exploring for pure humanitarian reasons.
Marvel and learn at the majestic Angkor Wat
Touted as one of the most visited destinations in the world, the ruins of this ancient city is hugely popular owing to the magnanimous Angkor Wat and the mythical ruins of Ta Prohm temples. A paradise for architecture and history buffs, this huge ancient city complex is spread across the jungles in the outskirts of Siem Reap. Each and every stone of its structures signify the importance of these monuments to Cambodian society that relates back from the ancient bygone era of the Cambodian kingdom to the more recent turmoil of the Khmer Rouge. Mesmerizing at dawn and dusk, with the sheer audacity of the huge structures to its minutest intricate details, this place commands the awe and admiration like the Pyramids of Giza or Machu Picchu.
Soak in the beautiful landscapes
Amid the most revered attraction of Angkor Wat the amazingly beautiful landscape of Cambodia stays very much underrated till today. Once I ventured out of Siem Reap I was greeted with the lush green countryside with a backdrop of the cloud-covered mountain ranges. Not until recently, the beach town of Sihanoukville (although it has a seedy vibe after sundown), the beautiful island of Koh Rong and the sleepy riverside settlement of Kampot were being visited by travelers. Jungles, mountains, islands, rivers and beaches – Cambodia has it all. Truly, one just needs to look beyond Angkor Wat to experience the rustic and laid-back atmosphere this country has in store.
Support the campaign against child prostitution
Cambodia is still very much an underdeveloped country with a majority of the silent population suffering from the aftermath of a devastating civil war. Poverty in this country stares at you in one of the ugliest forms – child prostitution. Children as young as 5-6 years are being traded as commodities and pushed into the sex trade and yes, the rise in tourism has a lot to do with it. That is where the need for ethical tourism and responsible travel comes in. There are organizations like Childsafe Cambodia that have various initiatives towards safeguarding the present and future of vulnerable children. An influx of more responsible travelers who are willing to learn, understand and help the situation of these kids, can go a long way in giving the wonderful Cambodian society the helping had they need and deserve.
The Scars of Khmer Rouge
A bloody, destructive regime that took almost 3 million Cambodian lives through mass executions, famine and disease, yet it remains among one of the least talked about civil wars. Considering it was not so long ago for human memory, every Cambodian above the age of 40 has lived through those times. The disastrous affect it had on this country are still evident from almost every facet of the Cambodian society. The faces and eyes of these people tell a million stories – one of which I heard from a survivor – which need to be heard. More and more travelers who visit the “Killing Fields” at Phnom Penh now get a brief knowledge on the Khmer Rouge and its atrocities. Like many other travelers, I became aware of this reality only after I visited Cambodia and that made me realize the need for people all over the world to learn and know about the difficult past.
There are some journeys that stay with us for a very long time. Some destinations have such an impact on our psyche that completely changes the way we look at the world. Cambodia has been THAT place for me. The six days of my stay in Cambodia were influential enough to change the course of my own notion of life. It is an absolutely beautiful country with a lot to offer. The iconic structures of Angkor, the beautiful beaches, rivers and mountains are a testimony to that. However, for a nation that is still trying to stand on its feet, the stoic resilience of its people with hope in their hearts is what makes this place so endearing.
P.S. Here my every mention of being a traveler is meant to be for ethical and responsible travel only.