Nothing can prepare you for Cambodia. When you cross that border you enter into a strange new world, where government is corrupt, the curry is sweet, and the people are welcoming.
Cambodia is still recovering from the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields, where in 1975 more than one million people were killed by the Khmer regime during it’s rule of the country. The mass killings are widely regarded as part of a broad state-sponsored genocide. Today, the Cambodians are under slow recovery, but not as quickly as their neighbors Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. In fact the Cambodian Riel is so poor that it isn’t accepted in most parts of the country, and instead American dollars are dispensed from ATM machines as are exchanges for hotels, food and souvenirs. Which ultimately leaves Cambodia more expensive than Thailand.
We primarily stayed in Siam Riep, but ventured to Beng Mealea for one day to see some lesser know temples outside of Angkor Wat. While Angkor’s history and architecture propelled us into another universe, we couldn’t escape the children trying to sell our trinkets. We bought what we could, even though we were warned that these children are forced to go to markets to make money for their families, and were supposed to be in school earning an education.
Cambodia changed my life. It was really the first time that I had witnessed poverty at that level. I developed a deep love and compassion for a country that was recovering from a horrible history. I left my heart in Cambodia.