Cambodia: The country of loving smiles and mystic temples

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With no expectations about Cambodia and exactly one month to see it all, we lumbered into the country on a 20-hour overnight bus ride from Thailand. In those 30 days, Cambodia took us by surprise and stole our hearts.

kampot cows in the streetThe split between pride of a distinguished ancient past and shame of a still very recent atrocity makes Cambodian culture a very complicated one to understand, which is why travel around Cambodia with an organized tour group makes sense.

school girls on bikes near battambangWe could have spent far longer than three days marveling at the roots of trees wrapping around the incredible temples and stone faces of the ancient city of Angkor Wat. The country’s crown jewel, Angkor Wat was the headquarters of one of the world’s great ancient civilizations.

angkor wat cambodiaTourists who also visit the capital, Phnom Penh, can also see the ways that, hundreds of years later, a country can fall into one of the most torturous and barbaric atrocities ever experienced by any society with a visit to the Killing Fields. Witnessing first hand accounts of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge are humbling and heart-breaking, yet incredibly important in understanding modern day Cambodia.

phnom penh flower & templeIn addition to these two main tourist hubs, however, it was in the countryside where we were really able to connect with the people of Cambodia. Because much of the less visited countryside is still unfortunately spotted with thousands of unexploded landmines from the Khmer Rouge regime, it is best to have guides whenever exploring this part of the country.

dani with kids in cambodiaHowever stark that reality may be, nothing warmed our hearts more than the smiling children waving enthusiastically at us as we passed by on tours along the red dirt roads or the little stolen moments when a grandmother would peek out of her wooden house on stilts as the afternoon sun bounced off the surrounding lush, green vegetation.

cambodian kidsWe wandered through charming villages where every house had fruits or nuts or rice paper drying in the front drying in the sun and cooled off inside ornate Buddhist temples.

cambodia rice paperCambodia beaches offer an inexpensive alternative to neighboring Thailand’s crowded coast as well. The beaches of Sihanoukville even made our own list of top five favorite beaches of 2012. A trip to this country is one of the most fulfilling, well-rounded holidays available in South East Asia. We couldn’t recommend a trip here more highly.

otres beach sunchairs

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