When I was 12 my parents decided to take a break from life and travel around the world with 4 girls. Needless to say, it was an insane idea but proved to be an amazing experience we will never forget. Having visited 13 countries, 45 cities, and traveled by every form of transportation imaginable (including a raft), it is fair to say that having a favorite place is difficult, but not impossible. Surprisingly, Cambodia ended up on my top 5 list, and its beauty was a collective image of its dusty landscape, its rich history, and the genuine smiles given to you by its people.
Angkor Wat and Siem Reap: We arrived in the town of Siem Reap and immediately set out to stroll the ancient temples of Angkor Wat at dusk. The red light at sunset brushed the stones and intricate reliefs, creating a sense of timeless beauty. We walked aimlessly, relaxed and far away from the crowds, enjoying the beauty that we found in everything – the towering size, the small and funny reliefs, and in each other as we experienced this as a family. The next day we went for a tour, and between the scorching heat and tiring walk from temple to temple, it was less magical, but amazing nonetheless.
Phnom Penh: From Angkor Wat we ventured to the capitol Phnom Penh, risking our lives in the process. The bus ride was truly lethal. Conventional ideas such as driving on a side of the road and not in the middle, not swerving last minute around massive coach buses, and trying not to almost hit cows flew out the rattling window as we rocketed down the (thankfully) paved road.
We arrived in one piece and experienced the recent history of Cambodia: the Khmer Rouge and its brutality. It is one thing to read about a terrible genocide, but one can’t gain full appreciation of these events without visiting the places where they occurred. Walking through the Killing Fields and S-21 was both extremely moving and unbelievably rewarding. It was very tragic to be there and to reflect on the horrific things humans can inflict upon each other, but at the same time they were peaceful places, and one could see the grass growing back in its vibrant and lively shade of green. There was a sense of renewal, a new beginning for a country with nothing to give but a smile.
Written in Siem Reap, Cambodia
“If you had to travel for one thing, for the view or the history or the sites or the food and the smells or the fashion, I would travel for the smiles. Actually, it depends. On days where we climb to the top and I look over the vast landscape dotted with towns and the hills roll on for seemingly forever and the wind is wrapping you in its blankets, I would travel for the views. On days where I eat the best food I’ve ever tasted and the smell of fresh-baked baguette fills the crisp morning air, I would travel for the tastes. And in the moments where little kids covered in dirt look up from the shack they’re playing and scream, “Hello Mister!” or look at you in awe and giggle, I would travel for the smiles.”
Cambodia has everything I would ever travel for, and therein lays its beauty.