Floating on our backs in the hotel pool, staring up at the night sky to the sound of raucous crickets, a solitary firefly hovered above us and danced its way towards the bushes. It was a moment of peace and beauty in the middle of what was a fast paced, all-in, full frontal blast of the wonderful country that is Cambodia.
We travelled 1000 kilometres in 11 days from Phnom Penh, south to Kampot, then north to Siem Reap – every tourists destination, being the base, as it is, for a visit to Angkor Wat.
A country with a bloody history like no other perhaps, within living memory. For those of us old enough the name of the country conjures up images of the Vietnam War and US bombing. That’s how we knew the place existed then but we were never really clear where it was. Then came the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields and violence we can’t understand. Now, the average age of the population these days is 23. Is this the youngest population of any country in the world? Their young faces lit up by smart phones. The future, we hope, can only be bright.
The Government won all the seats in the Parliament in the General election this year. What a great success. You can find the full story here. What we did find was a people struggling with the extremes of poverty and wealth, from the countryside villages to the relative comfort of the cities. But perhaps we must allow that. Cambodians do have some catching up to do on the rest of us who haven’t suffered as they have.
Phnom Penh is a bustling neon city frequently suffering from gridlock. Watching the youngsters on their motorbikes and scooters was mesmerising. They slipped like mercury between the traffic with an almost supernatural awareness of their surroundings.
We wandered the streets, curious tourists, and even in darkness didn’t feel threatened. Is it a truism that where a society has not sought alcohol as its social crutch then the likelihood of “stranger danger” is decreased?
Kampot was amusing in a friendly way. A coastal town with a hippy vibe and “very happy pizza” parlour. This town seemed to display more French colonialism than any of the others we visited and whilst Cambodians might see the French as imperialists ( let’s face it, they were, as was the UK in its empire years) the faint European mark left behind gives the place a comfortable charm.
And so to Battambang ( pronounced Battam-bong) and the crazy Battambang Bamboo Train (if you go, you must try this), the home-made tarantula infused rice wine, and the night market. The tarantula infusion is given to pregnant women to ease their labour pains. I don’t know whether straight rice wine has been tried but I suspect the effect may be similar. Given that we are all having Labour pains in the UK maybe rice wine is the answer. As our guide said, “ Sometimes the rice wine tastes really good – sometimes it tastes…different.”
A metaphor for life.