After nearly being blown off the map after decades of war, Cambodia is fast becoming our number one travel destination.So what is all the fuss about?
Cambodia is like a child trapped in an elderly body. Built on a French colonial history the country is full of old, beautiful, grand buildings and historic temples like the iconic Angkor Wat. The people have survived decades of terrible war, including a genocide involving the murder of around a quarter of the population. The people who survived have lived through and witnessed horrific events, making them older than they appear. However, after decades of war, Cambodia is rebuilding its nation. It is a relatively new country, finding peace in 1999. All around there are new buildings being built, new towns being found and new ways of life being followed.
The people are also young with half of the population under 18 years of age. But if you are coming to Cambodia expecting to see a broken country full of despair, bitterness and loss then you are mistaken. Instead, the cobbled streets of Phnom Penh are full of smiles, the remote countryside is full of generosity and the majestic Siem Reap is full of hope.
Despite all that Cambodians have been through they remain strong like the temples of Angkor Wat. They do not look back - they look forward. Putting one foot in front of the other as they work together to create a better place in the world - 3things at a time.Even the temples of Angkor Wat weren't safe from the war, leaving behind many headless or bullet riddled statues.
As tourism is beginning to thrive Cambodians are turning away from the sleaziness of westernised Phuket. Instead they are embracing eco-tourism. Chambok is a remote village working together to preserve the forest that their village encloses. Instead of slashing the trees to make wooden carvings to be sold, they are becoming guides and taking tourists into untouched forests and stunning waterfalls.
Cambodia is also working with all areas of the community, creating many centres where people with disabilities are able to work. After decades of war, and hundreds of remaining unexploded land mines across the country, the rate of disability is exceptionally high in this part of the world. There are many centres where people with disabilities can go to learn a craft they can use to support themselves and make a contribution to society.
After going so long with nothing Cambodians are masters at surviving on nothing. After slowly rebuilding their nation, they now have much more than half a cup of rice to live on each day yet they still live by the philosophy of nothing wasted. Everything has a use and very little is discarded. Take for instance the simple coconut. The Cambodian people drink the water for hydration, use the milk and flesh for food, use the husk for bedding and use the shell for bowls. As simple as it may sound it makes a huge difference and is a brilliant philosophy to live by.
Have you ever thought about going to Cambodia? Then it's time to stop thinking and start doing. Volunteering is a great way to give back to a country while gaining a unique experience and great life skills. Here are a three organisations to get you started:
3. Open Mind Projects