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Cambodia - Past, Present and Future

Director Charlie Hopkinson finishes his tour to Vietnam and Cambodia with a visit to the Killing Fields.

"In my view, the visitor must not shirk their responsibility to the people of Cambodia. You must visit the Killing Fields, see the skulls, be shocked by the brutality, read the histories, listen to the statistics, understand the reasons why and spend a traumatic afternoon at the horrific S-21 Prison, now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.  You must do this, because you are visiting Cambodia and you therefore owe it to the people. Cambodia today is a reflection of its past 50 years of history and one needs to understand other countries’ responsibility in that history. This was not a history created just by Cambodians, it was a situation and political environment imposed by the outside world but the Cambodians were the ones that suffered; and did they suffer. There are few places on Earth where you will, as a visitor, see such trauma and such brutality as in Cambodia.  It is a history of my generation and I well remember the reports from an emaciated Jim Biddulph, BBC foreign correspondent in Cambodia in 1975 when these events were unfolding. 

The most lasting memories of my visit to Cambodia is sitting with Bou Meng and Chum Mey, both elderly gentlemen who are two of the very few survivors of S-21 torture, in the grounds of their former prison; buying their respective books and looking into the eyes of these brave, brave men. It is not something you will ever forget; their polite acceptance of what had happened was terrifying.

On returning home, I purposely watched the Killing Fields again. It is unnerving in its reflection of the historic background and chilling realities of this horrendous period.  To me it seems unclear where the country will be in 20 years time. But for today's visitor, it is a charming country, with a resilient and charismatic people who offer the visitor a great grassroots travel experience as well as one of the most spectacular world heritage sites, the massive temple complexes around Angkor Wat.  These temples already have over 2 million visitors a year and so it is hard to believe that this country will ever be forgotten by the world again…..

But when you visit, ensure you get away from the main sites and get that grassroots experience - like spending a day travelling by boat down the small waterways to Tonle Sap Lake, visiting the remote stilt and floating villages. It is moments like this that make the difference between a great travel experience and a holiday."

Read more about our Best of Cambodia & Vietnam tour

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