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Cambodia

[when the war was over]

In December 2003, I traveled to the Kingdom of Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat, the largest sacred temple complex in the world, testimony to the ancient Khmer Empire built between the 10th and 14th centuries.

What I encountered was a country struggling to be reborn after 30 years of civil war and one fourth of its population slaughtered under the Khmer Rouge regime 1975-1979.

From the temples of Angkor, direction southwest, the journey continued by boat to Battambang, the second-largest city in Cambodia, with its (slightly tired) colonial architecture, new temples and a lovely river front.

Onward by bus to the capital, Phnom Penh, in the sixties the “Pearl of Southeast Asia,” under the Khmer Rouge a ghost town of delapidated villas and abandoned boulevards, now a bustling place where baguettes, cafĂ© au lait, NGOs (Non-government Organization workers) and begging mine victims are plentiful.

In Khmer, the word for Cambodia is Kampuchea: it tells of spirits, rice fields, (many) children in crisp blue school uniforms, and stories one cannot imagine. Distant past, recent present, and (almost) future: the time travel concluded in the southern province of Kampot, on the Gulf of Thailand, with a daily fishing boat, a solitary island, and a quiet glimpse at a new horizon.