From tuk tuks to huge chunks of ice drifting down the Spree: I'm finally back in Berlin (after another quick jaunt to the Baltic Sea) and Cambodia and Thailand already seem like a hazy, 30 degree dream. Mangos and papaya for breakfast, excessive hammock lounging and petting of stray dogs as well as finally being reunited with a large part of my family are blissful memories that I won't be forgetting any time soon. Here is the final part of my Angkor Wat pictures. Up next are my remaining snippets of Cambodia in all its melancholic beauty and of course I'll be squeezing myself into my usual attire that doesn't just consist of one pair of sandals and baggy cotton trousers.
Walking amongst these ruins, following the steps of the ancient Khmer civilisation that disappeared centuries ago but left behind an utterly majestic ruin of a city, was one of the most magical experiences of my life. The sounds of the jungle, enormous roots of trees that are hundreds of years old, which have broken down temple walls the width of two burly men: Angkor Wat is a surreal sight to behold. As a massive fan of Lara Croft, I felt like I was living my own version of Tomb Raider treading these grounds, except that that daydream quickly faded when a Korean tourist held a giant Nikon in my face to capture nature taking back temples and palaces that are still jawdropping now, centuries later. I have so many more photos to show you so don't get bored just yet!
Our journey began in Phnom Penh and immediately on arrival I felt the lighthearted ease that is present throughout the entire country mixed with a dose of lingering melancholy. I love the varying atmospheres that you can almost taste when you travel to different places. The people and their culture give each destination its unique feel. Cambodia may have many similarities with Thailand from the language basis to the architecture and the food, but at its core it is a much different experience just like India is radically different to Singapore. With no road surface markings or traffic lights, our tuk tuk driver honked and and wove his way through a sea of mopeds, tuk tuks and cars to our hotel that looked out right over the Mekong river.
Phnom Penh's face is weathered, leathery, dusty, and marked with the scars that Pol Pot left behind with his unspeakable, genocidal crimes against his own people. Although this residual melancholy is omnispresent, Cambodian's have left this black part of their history behind, at times even to the point where for them the lines of reality and nightmare become blurred. Their positive outlook and earnest friendliness which plays over their faces, crinkling with laughter, makes you want to hug each and every one of them.
In Phnom Penh two of the destinations were of course the Royal Palace with its beautiful gardens, glimmering, golden roofs and intricately carved stupas, as well as the Killing Fields memorial, which left my eyes bright red when I left. Listening to the stories, seeing the now tranquil lake and field that used to initially serve as a Chinese cemetary, later to be turned into a genocidal playground for Pol Pot, left a bottomless hole in my heart.
After three days in Phnom Penh we drove cross country to Siem Reap, stopping quickly in the city of Skuon where local delicacies are fried, hairy spiders, scorpions and snakes (I couldn't bring myself to try any of these!). I'll be whisking you away to beautiful Siem Reap and Angkor Wat in my next post! Sending you lots of love from Chiang Mai until then.
Multi-fasceted, beautiful, heart wrenching - Cambodia is one of the most fascinating countries I have ever visited. With less than 15 million inhabitants it's unbelievable what extremes you are faced with here starting with it's history including the heights of early civilisation to the unspeakable genocide under Pol Pot. You are faced with extreme poverty and destitution yet around the corner you suddenly see a stately house of a wealthy Cambodian. Stray dogs are obviously en masse as well as happy young children that you see in almost every doorway playing with their siblings, sugar canes or stray cats. Where Germany's population is predominantly older, Cambodia's life expectancy is only a meager 62 and although most people here live an unbelievably tough life comprised of 12 hour working days or longer, 7 days a week with no holidays, there is laughter and smiling faces everywhere. Family is at the epicentre and the wonderfully courteous general code of conduct and the helpfulness of the Cambodians has made me fall pretty hard for this small country. So these photos are a sort of love letter and I'm not finished writing it yet.
Where to start after such a long and very much needed silence on my part? The final part of 2013 was like a wave that crashed over me, pulling me under and it's taken me the past month to reach the surface again. I was feeling so immensely drained emotionally, physically and creatively that I had to give this beloved blog of mine a rest. Posting was feeling like a chore that I was frantically trying to do and this fact alone was causing far too much stress. This past year has been a rollercoaster and I hate Six Flags. With more ups and downs than I have ever been faced with I really needed the last month to shut off and completely focus on my wellbeing. 2014 could not have started off more perfectly though with a trip to Thailand and Cambodia. I landed in Bangkok a few days ago and spent the first five days by the beaches of Krabi and Koh Samui with my entire family with my journey continuing to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap tomorrow with my father and stepmother. My neglected camera has already been throwing angry glares my way but I'll be documenting my month long trip, which will hopefully help you disregard the commencing January's blues. Lots of love from Bangkok!