I’ve spent two weeks in Cambodia, so some quick thoughts with the context that I definitely haven’t seen everything.
Cambodia is a striking country, perhaps best known for the stunning temples around Angkor Wat. Indeed, Angkor Wat is just one of over 100 temples in the area, ruins easily among the world’s best, along with places like Machu Picchu and Petra. Its food is excellent (though interestingly – and to my mind disappointingly – not spicy: it predates the arrival of the chilli with the Portuguese), its people are friendly, and its beaches and countryside are beautiful. It’s also inexpensive! I’ve been paying around 5 dollars a night for accommodation.
Equally interesting, if more morbid, is its recent dark history. Forty years ago, a quarter of the Cambodian population – 2 out of 8 million – died under the Khmer Rouge. Anyone with an education, anyone who could speak a foreign language, even anyone who wore glasses was executed, as they pursued their quest to empty the cities and form a completely agrarian society.
That history provides an interesting (also horrible and depressing) contrast to its neighbours. Singapore has dedicated itself to the formation of human capital and the development of their population; for a time, Cambodia did the opposite. The effects of such a colossal loss in human potential are catastrophic. Today, Cambodia feels far poorer than its neighbours, and i suspect its loss of human capital in that generation and the difficulty in training the next play an important role in that.
Jared Diamond has advanced the point that studying early cultures allows us to consider other ways of organizing our society. In a different way, so does travel. Our home countries have adopted one set of laws, norms, and values, and travel can give us insight into alternatives, though globalization sometimes limits the diversity. To that end, Cambodia provides an interesting case study.
I’m not sure I’d live here: the total disregard for traffic lights and laws by individual drivers trying to speed up their trip ensures that everyone is inconvenienced and worse off, and in some ways that is emblematic of a larger failure to collaborate over public goods that is a bit frustrating. Definitely worth a trip, though!