If you’ve read our previous dispatches from Cambodia, you might get the impression that we found it mostly a trying place, where the appreciation we found for the places we visited was skewed by sympathy for the events that took place there in the recent past. In some ways, that would be valid; the aftermath of the genocide in Cambodia is still at least peripheral, if not in plain sight, and we did sometimes find ourselves marveling at simple measures of positivity, things that would probably go unnoticed in another place or time.
But while other places piqued our minds and bowled us over with beauty, we were affected by Cambodia in ways for which solace alone can’t account. The country seemed to be at once starting fresh, while carefully resurrecting its shuttered traditions, and the pride exuded in customs distinctly theirs excited us to imitate, to almost cheer them on. It felt a little like we were observing a revolution, even if most people were on the same side, and it was easy to get swept with the current. I’ve never cared much for wearing scarves, and yet I’ve had this black and white checked Khmer Krama wrapped around my neck most days since we left.
In Cambodia, there’s this gut feeling that there are loads of wonder just beneath the dusty surfaces, physically of course, with the temples reclaimed by the jungle and demolished by the Khmer Rouge, but also more symbolically within the culture. There are barriers to exploring all of it, with land mines in the fields and regional dialects within an already-difficult language for an English speaker to discern, but the heuristics of the place seem to surpass all that – a little sincere effort with our hosts rewarded us almost every time.
We left Cambodia still wanting to see and learn more, which I suppose is an odd complaint when we had time on our visas to stay a few more days. I guess we both felt we could have kept peeling back the layers there for a long time; at some point, we’d need to move on. Perhaps though, we also took comfort in the idea that if we ever get the chance, Cambodia is definitely one place we will return.