Recently reading an article on Cambodia in January’s National Geographic magazine got me reminiscing about my trip there last year. The article highlights just what a horrifically sad past, and in many ways present, the country has.

Nevertheless, my memories of Cambodia are quite the opposite. I found it to be an incredibly uplifting, light and beautiful place. Cambodians, more so than any other people I have encountered on my travels, were welcoming; full of life; open; warm and cheerful. Considering even a fraction of what they’ve experienced as individuals and as a nation, I found this surprising and inspirational to say the very least.

Before our trip, my boyfriend and I felt we should read up on Cambodia’s history as we’d been told by our tour organiser we would be visiting the most infamous prison related to the Pol Pot regime and other significant sites. None of Cambodia’s history is on the national curriculum in the UK so, as a young person, if you’ve not been told about it by your parents or been a particularly current-events seeking child you’re not going to know about it. And so we read all about the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot, the destruction of all industrialisation, human rights violations and about how it began and ended. I now feel it’s important to take the bad with the good and to learn the history of the people and their lives in order to fully appreciate the magic and spirit of this astounding country.

We were both shocked by how recent this was. How had we not heard about such a situation? The children of the Khmer regime, the real horror story, in my opinion, are now young middle-aged adults going about their lives. I prepared for my visit to Cambodia to be in part a sad, strange and harrowing experience, and for the people to be understandably scarred by their past – how wrong I was.

Cambodia is fun and alive and vibrant, and I feel this is solely down to the remarkable people. We genuinely felt they wanted us there- they wanted to tell their stories and hear ours, both joke around and converse with us. The kids wanted us to play with them and take photos, the women wanted to hear about our beauty secrets and boyfriends, the men wanted to know what work we did at home and how much we had travelled. Everyone wanted to talk and laugh and be part of what we were doing. They couldn’t do enough for us, and it wasn’t for want of money, they really wanted us to enjoy and experience and learn about their country.

And what a beautiful country it is. The colour of the rice paddies in late afternoon is something that I will never forget, and the silhouette of palm trees against a deep red sunset with pale blues, yellows and stars mixed in. The welcoming houses they’ve built with their hands and decorated so beautifully; the strong sense of community spirit that you just don’t feel in England anymore. The cities; such a mixture of poor and rich, with street sellers next to palaces, a wooden cart next to a Lamborghini Gallardo. It’s a country of such incredible depth and variety and somewhere I’ll have love for forever.

In my eyes Cambodia is the one of the world’s most fascinating and rewarding destinations; there are the beaches and snorkelling and boat trips and delicious food and lovely markets and beautiful little towns and villages and the temples, oh my word the temples! I could write another whole blog on the temples; simply out of this world! Really, the list of reasons to visit Cambodia goes on and on and the inspiring people are definitely its life and soul. I could talk about Cambodia for hours and am adamant I’ll return one day. I think that’s the mark of a successful and fulfilling trip.

Thanks for reading

Sally Walters

Author: Sally Walters