Impressions of Cambodia
History of the 1970s has made that the word 'Khmer' is often exclusively associated with the atrocities and barbarism of the Khmer Rouge regime which terrorised its own population into a genocide between 1975 and 1978. In less than four years, nearly 2 million people, or a quarter of Cambodia's population did not survive Pol Pot's 'Agrarian Revolution'. A nightmare which scars the country now as in the past, as the traces are permanent.
But 'Khmer' stands for more. For two centuries, the 7th and 8th, the so-called Chenla civilisation lay the ground for the grandeur that was to come: six entire centuries, from the 9th to the 15th century a Khmer Empire at times dominated the entire region, from Malaya to Thailand, Laos and Vietnam and parts of China. What has remained is the majestic architecture of Angkor, in dozens of temples of high artistic value. The world renowned Angkor Wat is only one of those achievements. Only a basic visit to the most important Angkor temples requires three to four days, the site is as immense as it is fascinating. In the special heading on Angkor, the story of the Khmer Empire is told, chronologically, illustrated with the architectural treasures of temples at times for Shiva, then for Vishnu and later for Buddha, … and back.
The overwhelmingly flat landscapes of inland Cambodia may not be particularly appealing, but Cambodia is above all life of simple, good-hearted and courageous people on and around the Mekong River, the mighty stream which flows from China, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos to Cambodia's Lake Tonlé and further South to Vietnam's Mekong Delta, discharging into the South China Sea. The authenticity of this river-side Cambodia is unequalled, in its floating villages, its colourful pagodas on the banks, the tall wooden fishing net constructions hanging over the water surface, a child washing up on the edge of its floating house platform, a woman selling crops from her dug-out, …
This report is divided into 7 headings, a first one dedicated to Phnom Penh, the capital, a second one to the so-called 'Water Chenla' South of Phnom Penh, a third one to the Mekong basin upstream from Phnom Penh, a fourth one to Angkor and its contemporary city of Siem Reap and the next ones to the anti-clockwise circuit around Cambodia's great lake, Tonlé Sap.
And at the end, while gently floating downstream on heading 7's Mekong River towards the Vietnamese border, we will together contemplate that Cambodia is more than Angkor, Angkor is more than Angkor Wat and the word 'Khmer' is more than the horrendous atrocities committed against a friendly and courageous people by their own.
Before visiting the place of your choice:
The central structure is surrounded by a large courtyard between the outer walls and the staircases which lead up to the third, upper level. Intentionally made very steep, the stairs suggest how difficult it is to reach the Kingdom of the Gods.