Sunday, May 30, 2004

In accordance with the fundamentally cyclical nature of travellers everywhere I travelled to the south coast of Cambodia last week and a town entitled Sihanoukville. I went there expecting sun, surf, white sandy beaches and interesting people.

What I saw was: MONSOON!

In a way it was a blessed relief. Phnom Penh has a kind of permanent cushion of humidity surrounding it. Every night I've spent in Cambodia's capital has featured a thunderstorm on the horizon but never above my head. So to travel to underneath the storms was nice in that I could sit, in one place, and not find myself drenched in my own sweat. In Sihanoukville I soaked up the weather like a person used to the cold might soak up the sun. I had gone to the coast and I was rain bathing. It was not what I had expected but that was just fine.

I do like Cambodia; the people here are so chilled out. As you might know if you have been following my travels, I have come here via Vietnam. In Vietnam, if a local approaches a tourist (us Westerners stick out somewhat) with goods or a service to sell and receives the answer "no", that salesperson would continue to follow you. I get the impression that "no" is seen as a bartering step, meaning "yes, but not at tht price". Here in Cambodia, "no" means "no" - which as a tourist is much more pleasant. While Vietnam could feel seedy and with a few dodgy characters, Cambodia has none of that. Even the chaps at the shooting range - where you might expect it to be a bit dodgy - were the salt of the Earth. I'll be sad to leave here as the pace of life is so relaxed and the people so happy, even despite the poverty here and the recent history of this country.

Seventy five per cent of the Cambodian population is under 25. The future of this country will rest almost entirly with this generation of kids; and it looks to my untrained eye like the future will be alright. There appears to be no adolescent revolution against the older generation, the teenagers are savvy, clever and friendly; and the society is increasingly liberal and content (although some parts of the culture is conservative, like attitudes towards couples kissing in public, or nudity - definitely both frowned upon, I know this due to books rather than any bad experiences).

Tomorrow I leave Phnom Penh (again) to travel north to Siem Reap and the site of the most furious period of temple construction anywhere. This includes Angkor Wat, the biggest religious building in the world. Angkor Beer meanwhile is the most cheap and delicious beer in the world. 28 pence per glass? Yes please...

No comments: