Two weeks before the fall of Saigon in 1975, the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia. Led by Pol Pot, they emptied out Phnom Penh, forcing the entire population of 7 million to the countryside into terrorized work camps. We can never understand the horror of what happened over the next 4 years, but almost 2 million Cambodians died. The Vietnamese invaded in 1979, occupying the country for almost 10 years. The Khmer Rouge was still active and until 1999 there was a civil war here.
Cambodia is very much alive now.
When we last cycled in Cambodia in 2004, it felt sleepy. Not much traffic at all, and not so many visitors. Today it is bustling, and the Cambodians have put the past behind them. Trucks, buses, motos, and bicycles all make our cycling a bit chaotic, as it seems there are no traffic rules. Motos come at us on our side of the road, and we are low on the totem pole. When cars turn in front of us we must stop to let them go. All of this is frustrating, but the gentle, honest people we meet each day more than make up for that.
All of our needs were met in Phnom Penh. We saw some films, ate interesting food, socialized some and even bought a few new pieces of clothes to wear. After 9 days we headed out to Siem Reap where we cycled around Angkor Wat for a couple of days before meeting Dan’s cousin Barb and husband Ned. It was great to see them again. We hired a tuk-tuk to take us to see as many temples as we could before the days got too hot. Angkor Wat is the largest religious structure in the world, and with the surrounding temples, the whole complex covers more than 60 square kilometers. It is phenomenal to see, and overwhelming to comprehend how it was built in the 12th century.
Southeast Asians live their lives in public. Their houses extend into the street, leaving little room for privacy. Cooking, grooming, socializing, eating and even napping are done on the sidewalks of Saigon, Hanoi, Phnom Penh and all the other cities we have seen. The doors to the houses open up wide, and it is common to see the beds just inside the doors, sometimes among goods for sale if it is a shop.
Cycling on from Siem Reap we got to Sisophon on a newly paved road with a nice shoulder. To Battambang there was no shoulder and we had to get off the road onto the dirt when a truck or bus came along blaring their horn, or a car coming at us was passing in our lane. This made for a long day in the hot sun with a stiff headwind. One more day cycling in Cambodia and we will be back in Thailand where we head south to the beach.