Sunday, October 31, 2010


The first thing to say about Cambodia is that the visa on arrival is processed by about ten different officials who are very serious about their task. Arriving at Siem Reap airport, passengers are told the form given out by Air Asia is no longer used and a new form has to be filled in. While this is being done, applicants are overlooked by a row of uniformed men on a raised platform. Payment is then made, passport and photo handed over, and the checking process begins. Each man checks a different piece of information from the application form and gives it his stamp of approval. Eventually, the passport makes its way along to the end of the line and is returned to its holder, ready to be shown to an immigration official who then stamps visitors into Cambodia.

Siem Reap is a small city and the gateway to Angkor Wat and the other temples around it. A lot of the roads are in need of repair, with big puddles forming when it rains. The people are quietly spoken, somewhat shy but friendly. Around every temple there is someone persistently trying to sell postcards, books, scarves, drinks etc etc. A polite "no thankyou" often does the trick, but not always !

Cambodia is a country that has been through a lot. Hundreds of years ago the vast temple complexes were built and the territory of Cambodia stretched far beyond its current borders. Neighbouring countries have encroached, brutal wars have been fought, and the era of the Khmer Rouge reduced everything to year zero with the brutal atrocities that followed the overthrow of a corrupt regime.

Visiting the killing fields outside Phnom Penh and the S-21 prison complex in the city, where so many people were tortured, puts into context the fact that so many people alive today have lived through what happened. What ended only 12 years ago with the final demise of the Khmer Rouge. Surviving members of the leadership are now undergoing trial for the genocide. Pol Pot died, of course, and cheated justice.

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