Cambodia - The Kingdom of Wonder

MPW Travel Scholarships - Cambodia

During the summer holiday, I went to Cambodia for six days: a cultural and historical expedition made possible by the MPW Travel Fund. Cambodia was my first choice because it produced the most remarkable civilization in Southeast Asia between the 8th and 13th centuries, known as the Khmer Empire.

I flew to Siem Reap, a small town close to the famous Angkor Wat ruins. The town was a mixture of different cultures, a sign of some of the cosmopolitan influences of visitors on local Cambodians: you could find pop-art graffiti and an image of the Buddah next to each other on a wall, or traditional houses ornamented with English letters. The people who were selling barbequed food could speak five languages, though not always accurately! The night life here was so different from the small villages nearby, few of which even had electricity. Here were two worlds, isolated from each other.

For the following three days, I spent most of my time in Angkor Wat, trekking into the jungles to visit ancient remains. The past Khmer kings created magnificent temples in stone, decorated by elaborate carvings, which told stories about the then-flourishing empire. Beside the culture and history, I think religion was the most remarkable feature of the remains. Khmer kings were either Hindu or Buddhist and it was easy to tell the religion of each temple. However, the Khmer Empire never had a stable religious belief but varied in its allegiance depending on the ruler. Jayavarman VII, the most glorious king of the Khmer empire, built nearly all the Buddhist temples in the city of Angkor in the 12th century.The famous ‘Smile of Khmer’ was an image of him.

Then I went to Tonlé Sap (the name means “Great Lake”), the second largest lake in the world. Here was a small floating village, whose people were mainly Vietnamese who had fled their country during the Vietnam War. They were not able to go back to Vietnam but were not recognized by the Cambodian government, so had no nationality. They scraped a living by fishing from the lake but suffered from poor conditions and a high risk of disease. I felt that I would like to help them after I finish my degree, when I could come back as a qualified volunteer.

Finally, I took a boat to the capital city, Phnom Phen, where my journey terminated. Cambodia was a kingdom of wonder, but its people had such a miserable life. Like the flowing river, life went on: one day, I hope, things will change.