Traveller Ian Wright ventures to the heart of south-east Asia, to Cambodia – a country which has endured a history of famine, civil war and mass genocide, but in recent years has become increasingly popular as a tourist destination.
Ian starts his journey with a trip through the mango swamps to the oldest temple in the country. In the sixth century Phnom Da was the capital of the Chenla dynasty. Nowadays it’s home to a community of monks and nuns who invite Ian to stay overnight so that he can witness the Buddah’s Day celebrations the next day.
From Phnom Da Ian travels to Kampot, at the foot of the Elephant Mountains. The mountain used to be a major Khmer Rouge stronghold but as Ian discovers from his Italian guide David, its now safe for trekkers and travellers to visit the extraordinary Bokor Hill Station, built by French colonisers in 1912.
Cambodia’s trains are notoriously slow and it takes a whole day for Ian to reach the seaside resort of Sinhanoukville. He meets up with a group of tourists who have hired a boat to take them to the nearby island of Koh Rong, where a local chef prepares a fantastic seafood dinner for his guests.
Next, Ian heads for the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. He hitches a ride with some members of the Mines Advisory Group who take him on a detour via one of the villages which the group is clearing of mines. It is estimated that there’s about 6 million unexploded mines in Cambodia, remnants of the fighting which has consumed the country for much of the last 50 years. Ian is dropped off at a killing field just outside the capital – one of the 450 sites where the Khmer Rouge carried out mass extermination of their countrymen by the most gruesome means. He meets Yuk Tang, a local historian who has been documenting the genocide for 20 years who tells him some poignant tales about the troubled times he has lived through.
Ian finally arrives in Phnom Penh, where traditional arts and culture are enjoying a revival and after exploring the thriving central market he joins in the weekly rehearsal of the National School of Dance. That evening he has experiences Cambodian stand-up comedy at the restaurant where he has dinner…but he doesn’t get any of the jokes.
Ian leaves Phnom Penh and flies northeast to Senmonorom, where he witnesses a hill tribe wedding. It’s a colourful affair which lasts the whole day and involves the slaughter of six different animals and consumption of copious amounts of alcohol.
The last leg of Ian’s journey takes him up to Lake Tonle Sap, Cambodia’s largest inland lake. He finds accommodation with a local family, then heads for the ancient site of Angkor, meaning ‘the city’. This huge complex of palaces and temples is 15 miles in length and 7 miles wide, and incorporates Lake Sra Srang, Ta Promh, The Bayon and Angkor Wat. It was built in the 9th and 13th centuries by the Cambodian kings and Angkor Wat itself is biggest religious site in the world, considered by some to be the eighth wonder, and for Ian it’s an awe inspiring end to his trip to Cambodia.
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