This past week Mike and I visited Cambodia. I will be writing a few entries on this, because the experience shook me to the core. First a bit about the country: Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy of 13 million people. It has an amazing history, and was the centre of the Khmer Empire, one of the most successful in the history of Asia. They had a complex and sophisticated society from approximately the 1st-14th centuries. As a tour guide explained to us, from the 14th century until the 1990s Cambodia experienced a dark and sad history.

Throughout this time, Cambodia was fought over between the Vietnamese and Thai Empires. Eventually, in the mid 1800s it was “colonized” by the French, who like any Imperialist force, exploited the country’s resources and people until 1953, when Cambodia gained independence. The country began to develop and prosper until the emergence of the Khmer Rouge, who sought to transform society back into its original “pure” agricultural state. The means to this end included emptying the cities and massacring the educated, the professionals, doctors, nurses, and even those who wore glasses. It is estimated that more than 2 million were killed from 1975-9.
Cambodia has only known peace since 1998, and even then the odd armed clash breaks out, most recently in 2000, when 60 people were killed in Phnom Penh. The landmines planted during these conflicts continue to wreak havoc, the resulting in Cambodia having the largest number of amputees per capita, with 1 in every 236 people having lost one or more limbs, not to mention those that didn’t survive. In a country where the government is corrupt and broke and social services are non-existent, NGO’s and donations from foreign countries are the only means in place to help the aged, disabled, and the orphaned in this country. It’s a pretty bleak picture, but it improves every day.
All of that being said, Cambodia is a fascinating, beautiful and wonderful place, with kind and fantastic people. And to repeat an old cliché, this trip was something we will never forget.
So that is the context. The next few blogs will hopefully provide some details of the experiences we had over 5 short days in this amazing place.
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