Sihanoukville is a coastal city in Cambodia. It's the third largest after Siem Reap and the capital Phnom Penh. Just like so many other cities in the country, it is full of small villages where people live in wooden shacks. Just beside the road, only a few meters from the beach, I found this group of houses.
Southeast Asia is known for its lengthy rainy seasons. And when it rains, it RAINS. During the monsoon season, water pours for about half an hour at a time, but the volume is enough to flood everything. Days usually start with a beautiful blue sky, the suddenly turns to an apocalyptic gray. You barely have time to find shelter and hell breaks loose.
Everyone is used to it. The tuk-tuk drivers sleeping on the seat just turn to the other side while the street vendors pull down a tarp that's been there for moments like these.
Despite the occasional heavy rain, Cambodia is going through it's worst drought in 80 years. Animals are dying and people are losing their crops. It's a very tough time for the country.
In Siem Reap, if it's not raining, the sun is shining bright. There is no in between. Temperatures can reach 40˚C and the humidity is very high. I easily drank 2 to 3 liters of water in one morning.
Nightlife in Siem Reap is very lively. There is a bar street full of nightclubs, restaurants, shops and massage places.
Siem Reap is probably the most touristic city in Cambodia. There are several markets with little trinkets and cheap t-shirts where foreigners flock to get souvenirs. This is not one of them. This is an authentic Cambodian market, off the tourist path, where no one speaks English and all you can get are groceries and a hair cut.
Cambodia is a poor country. A lot of what I saw in this Southeast-Asian country was very similar to what I'm used to back home in Brazil. The similarities are amazing, starting with the vegetation, the climate and the way people live. If I didn't know I was in Cambodia, just looking at the landscape, I'd say I'm somewhere in the Brazilian Mata Atlântica.
One thing impressed me the most: the exhaling happiness of the Cambodian people. We're talking about a country that spent decades under dictatorial rule, barely survived extermination in a war that only ended less than 20 years ago. Their wounds are still fresh. Our tuk-tuk driver said his father, a school teacher, had to pretend to be a farmer to escape execution.
The times of terror under Pol Pot devastated this country. Pot and his Khmer Rouge persecuted intellectuals and artists, practically causing the extinction of dances and oral traditions.
And still everywhere you look you see people laughing. You point a camera at virtually anyone and you get this big wide smile.
After spending three years in China I had almost forgotten what that was. Don't get me wrong, some people in China do appreciate having their picture taken, but more than any other place I've been to I was met with displeasure and sometimes anger.
Not in Cambodia.
In the center of Angkor Thom, capital of King Jayavaraman VII is the Bayon temple. It was the official state temple of the king and was built in the 12th or 13th century. The building's trademark are the hundreds of faces found on several towers. Nobody knows exactly how many there were originally. It is estimated that there were about 50 towers, added at various points in time, and today only 37 survive.Read More