Cambodia has yo-yoed between Hinduism and Buddhism, was caught in the line of fire during wartime and finally fell to the Khmer Rouge. The cartwheeling of power from one hand to another, in the shadows of an empire toppled by belief & economy- ghosts of this past creep up around corners in modern day Siem Reap & Phnom Penh.
Situated north of Tonlé Sap, the great lake, the Angkor complex immediately takes you through the vortex to the time of Khmer Empire. The manmade moats, reliefs in stone and Khmer architecture gives a glimpse into of the foundation of the kingdom of Cambodia, and is a starting point to trace the timeline into modern-day Siem Reap.
Siem Reap, the anteroom to Angkor, has developed into a cross-bred tourist destination just like any other. The name literally means ‘Defeat of Siam’ to commemorate the victory of this region during the Siam invasion. A good mix of fine-dining restaurants and backpacker inns, vegan eateries and nouveau Khmer cuisine, street bars and themed cocktail bars, are all situated in the old town.
Born in the glaciers of the Tibetan plateau, the Mekong flows through China, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, brings its waters to the Tonlé Sap once a year before flowing into Vietnam, and so connecting cultures & economies. During this time, the periphery of the Tonlé Sap is dotted with floating fishing villages, the lake being full of fresh catch. These rice-farmers-turned-fisher-folk live in houses made on stilts, the interiors of which are decorated with high-hanging hammocks and family photos in saran-wrap frames. The outer-walls are lined with trash bags and drainpipes that dig into the bed below to manage waste. Needless to say, fishing boats are the chosen means of transportation. These floating villages are equipped with floating restaurants, floating shops, schools and floating medical care. And once the water starts to make its way back into the mountains, the people shed their avatar to take on the role of rice farmers once again, moulding themselves to the environment.
Creation, preservation, destruction – a recurring motif in Hinduism & Buddhism, the trinity that defines the inexplicable human predicament. Life is ceaseless, through pain and suffering, poverty or wealth. Good and evil is subjective, contingent upon human motivation and responses to fear. We can only move forward, and it’s refreshing to see bloom within these grey areas.
“..suffering and death, of the terrible collective fate endured by seven million people in this country. It reminds us that human beings, terrorised by ruthless despots, can act with unimaginable cruelty. It reminds us to be wary of people and regimes which ignore human dignity. No political goal or ideology, however promising, important or desirable it may appear, can ever justify a political system in which the dignity of the individual is not respected.' - H.E Joachim Baron von Marshall .