July 15th, 2012; Siem Reap, Cambodia
So, after nearly a decade, I returned to Cambodia. I visited Phnom Pehn and Siem Reap and well…let’s just say: CAMBODIA IS A DIFFERENT COUNTRY SINCE I LAST VISITED!
–> Before: Cambodia was freshly defective from the war terror of just a few years before (war ended in 1998). Siem Reap was a dusty little town with desperate people everywhere, needing something… conversations were about the horrors of their family losses with the Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge regime, and people were processing the tragedies of that era.
I was there as a ‘happy tourist’ in a guestroom without air conditioning, but a mosquito net. I was bouncing around the temples by the back of a motorcycle. There were no stairs for the temples, if I wanted to get to the top of the temple; I had to climb the stairs—the same ones the people had climbed centuries ago.
Dengue fever was rampant near the temples, and Doctors without Borders ardently telling me to leave the area due to the high rates of infection. There was one restaurant for ‘tourists’ the Red Piano (the one where Angelina Jolie has visited just months before I got there). Basically, as a tourist I was scared shitless about the active situations from all sides.
–> Today: Siem Reap has paved roads, neon signs and “Pub Street”. About 1,000 different restaurants and guesthouses with A/C, pools and manicured gardens—hospitals and clinics, teeth whitening and laser hair removal. Banks & ATMs. COLD BEER. Night markets, and the internet…smiling, hard working and gracious people….talk about moving forward.
The people, still healing, more focused on the pride that is Siem Reap & their country, less on the tragedies of Pol Pot and the communism curtain…Angkor Wat an icon to share with the world. The temples have new staircases and signs marking which on they are, and areas now closed off so that tourists can no longer climb the walls and fragile staircases that people used centuries ago.
I traveled through the templed city by a motorcycle Tuk-Tuk (these are so cool!), and was able to even buy cold drinks and use flush toilets near the temples. Progress. Evolution is inevitable, and though ‘they’ say you can never ‘go back’ I am so glad I did…