In Cambodia

Two young Cambodians stand at the south entrance to Angkor Thom. Angkor was the center of the ancient Khmer Empire that ruled Southeast Asia between the 9th and 13th centuries. Click to see full-size photo

Angkor Wat at dusk Click to see full-size photo

Click to see full-size photo Banteay Srei is an exquisite 10th century temple built of pink sandstone and dedicated to the god Shiva.

Click to see full-size photo Click to see full-size photo
Fishing families
Farming families

Click to see full-size photo Downtown
Phnom Penh

From April 17 1975 until January 1979 the Khmer Rouge led by the despot Pol Pot ruled Cambodia. Just two weeks before Saigon in South Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese Communists on April 30 1975, the city of Phnom Penh in Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge and the city's two million inhabitants were evacuated from Phnom Penh in just 48 hours leaving it a ghost town.  The Khmer Rouge tried to transform the country into a peasant-run agrarian cooperative.  They abolished family and money and instituted forced labour on the population.  Malcontents and intellectuals were eliminated.  During the four-year Khmer Rouge reign, an estimated 1,700,000 Cambodians died by murder and starvation.  I visited the Toul Sleng Genocide Museuem in Phnom Penh - it's a former high school which the Khmer Rouge used to detain and torture prisoners (it's still blood-stained).  I also visited the Choeung Ek 'Killing Fields' Memorial erected at the site of numerous mass graves.

In January 1979 the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and overthrew the Khmer Rouge.  Ironically today Cambodians seem to dislike the Vietnamese -- they see Vietnam encroaching on their eastern borders and profiting from their resources.  An old saying is 'Vietnam is the head of the fish (the brains), Cambodia is the body.'

I found the city of Phnom Penh incredible: thousands and thousands of motorbikes, narrow pot-holed streets, food stalls on all the sidewalks, heat, honking horns, no vehicle insurance, yet the people (97% Buddhist) are happy and friendly.

One day after buying a khaki-green hat at the Central Market in Phnom Penh, I innocently walked past a government building which was surrounded by military guards -- they stopped me and insisted I remove my hat because it was the same colour as their uniforms.  They had guns, I complied.  I sent nine postcards to family and friends in Canada from Phnom Penh but only one arrived.

Politically, Cambodia has one King, two prime ministers, loads of corrupt officials, and the Khmer Rouge still living in the mountains and jungles (Pol Pot died in 1998).  In Cambodia, no democracy means no taxes so there are no government pensions or social assistance programs.  An NGO worker there told me she thinks the Khmer Rouge are the only hope for the country because at least they are organized.

In his 1998 book 'Report from a Stricken Land', journalist Henry Kamm concludes "Today's Cambodia is a basketcase."

900-year old temple, 300-year old tree
Bayon in Angkor Thom
Angkor temples
Bayon in Angkor Thom
causeway at Angkor Wat
Royal swimming pool
intricate carvings at Banteay Srei
Siem Reap street
Toul Sleng Genocide Museuem
'Killing Fields' memorial monument

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