Forty years ago, over one quarter of Cambodia’s population was slaughtered in a mass genocide under the communist dictator, Pol Pot. Cambodians where shuffled out of the cities and into jails and labor camps where they would be tortured and ultimately killed. Are you educated? You get murdered. Do you have a physical or mental deformity? You get murdered. Do you disagree with the communist government? You get murdered. Between 1975-1979 over two million innocent people were slaughtered and many parts of Cambodia became known as killing fields.
This was during the midst of the Vietnam War, and even after the genocide ended, Pol Pot’s regime received financial support from the U.S., England, Australia and France and held a seat in the United Nations for many years after. It wasn’t until 1997 that Pol Pot was finally put under house arrest, and not until the ripe age of 82 did he finally die.
Today, the Cambodians are better than ever and have many reasons to smile. They are a vivacious culture, happily mingling in street markets, dancing in the streets and flaunting their surprisingly Westernized lifestyle. The countryside is sprinkled with temples and the cities have gorgeous parks and swanky eateries. The locals are very curious about tourists and will yell at you from the sidewalk to say hi or stop you in the street to talk. The always leave with a, “good luck to you.” Here are just a few reasons why I have fallen in love with these beautifully resilient people:
5. Hello Lady and good luck to you, two of Cambodia’s favorite phrases and oh so sweet. Wouldn’t you rather be bade farewell with a good luckthan a goodbye?
4. Cambodian New Year. We danced the night away at a local bar and cheered with the locals at midnight. I got to test my groove skills with a few of the locals’ favorite line dances!
3. Currency. Did you ever think you’d get handed a wad of U.S. Dollars from an ATM in one of the poorest Asian countries? That’s right! The currency is the dollar, with a mixture of Cambodia’s own Reel thrown in just for fun. Prices are in Dollars and change is an eclectic mixture of Reel and Dollars depending on the item price. Complicated, but all the while entertaining.
2. Temples, temples, temples galore! Cambodia is home to Angkor Wat, an ancient city containing over 1,000 temples. It is said to be the largest pre-industrial city in the world. Today, tourists hire a tuk-tuk for the day and visit the dilapidated structures wrapped in jungle foliage.
1. Locals outside line dancing in the streets. Think Slumdog Millionaire status…remember the dance at the end? That’s Cambodia! Every night the locals gather outside blasting Cambodian music and doing specifically crafted dance routines to each song. I personally can’t think of a better way to celebrate, exercise, or just spend a Saturday night. I definitely couldn’t take my eyes off the happy dancin’ locals!