Travel diary: the sights and personalities of Cambodia
land of the temples
To be perfectly honest, I left a piece of my heart in Cambodia. The people I met there are eternally kind and open. Despite everything their country has suffered, the Cambodians are an unbelievably happy people. Most Cambodians live in poverty, earning just a few dollars for their families a week. In Cambodia you start to realise that happiness isn't hidden in the amount of money you make but in the simple things that surround you. The only thing you need to do is start to see it.
We arrive in Cambodia on a dusty bus we took from Vietnam. After spending an hour in customs I am finally on my way to Siem Reap. First stop? The legendary ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat.
The temples are beyond impressive: dedicated to various Buddhist gods, you could easily spend days, if not weeks, examining them. Every fresco tells its own story and every temple is unique.
Visit early in the morning to beat the crowds and to see the sun rise over the temples - a truly breathtaking experience.
A highlight of the temple complex is Ta Prohm, its thousand year old walls crumbling under the pressure of equally ancient tree roots. Look familar? Angelina Jolie scaled its walls as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider.
Around the temple complex you'll see young monks on their way to the nearby school. For most of the boys this is their only opportunity for an education: in a Buddhist school they are taught science, reading and writing. In Cambodia children are free to drop out of school at any age, but it is rare for them to do so.
A man collects lotus, the sacred plant of the Buddhists, below. All important Buddhist ceremonies feature this flower.
While pickpockets of the human variety are rare in Cambodia, it's the monkeys you have to watch out for: they'll grab your iPhone, sunglasses and wallet with ease.
The monks' village, where they live and study full time, are Spartan yet clean.
This young man, below, who is slightly older than the others is a teacher - it's thanks to him that we were allowed to sit in on a class.
The next day we set off to Kompong Phuk, a remote part of Cambodia where the locals live on the water - literally. Entire floating villages fill the riverbanks. For ten dollars I rent a boat with a 14-year-old boy as my driver and guide.
This place totally changes your way of thinking about how people live. The locals spend almost all of their time on the water, travelling to and fro by boat and often going days without setting foot on dry land. I pass by floating schools, shops, markets and houses.
A glimpse inside a typical Cambodian floating house, below. The design is modest, with only one mattress. On the opposite side is a kitchen and beneath the rickety wooden floor, are the deep waters of the river. Living in these conditions forces children to start swimming before they can walk.
I was very warmly welcomed wherever I went: the people are always smiling, extending invitations and giving gifts.
My taste of Cambodia gave me a fresh perspective on life and I fell in love with the people there. We have so much to learn from them.
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