First Stop: Cambodia
Cambodia was never part of the plan. More an afterthought.
My original itinerary was to go from India to Thailand by land across North-East India & Myanmar. However, this meant having an unwanted travel companion for the better part of 3 months, the monsoon. While I enjoy the sight of the rain and the mood it creates, the prospect of having drenched clothes, mud-caked shoes and of not seeing the sun wasn't really the dream I envisioned. So I decided to do the trip in reverse and Cambodia seemed like a good first destination.
I didn't know anything about the country. I knew that there were the temples of Angkor (which I saw 5 years ago) and that the country had gone through a major trauma in the 2nd half of the 20th century but beyond that I had no idea what to expect.
Most of the people I met had also considered Cambodia as an afterthought; a stopover between more backpackers-friendly countries (Thailand, Vietnam). They usually had a set route: exploring the temples of Angkor, spending a few days in Phnom Penh to see the killing fields and having their fill of heart-wrenching history and if time permitted, a few days in Sihanoukville or one of the islands off the mainland for some relaxing beach time.
While these are must-do places, Cambodia rewarded me the most when I went beyond the touristic trails.
From the sunsets over the Mekong in Kratie to the jungle trek in Ratanakiri; from the conversations at cafes in Kampot to the calm day spent in contemplation at a floating village on the Tonle Sap; from the colonial architecture in Battambang to the vistas from the Preah Vihear temple, Cambodia offered me everlasting memories and breathtaking sights.
Beyond all that, what will really stay with me are the encounters with people and their smiles. Nothing seemed easier than making a Cambodian smile: just a look, a nod, a hello and you will be treated to some of the most genuine and beaming smiles you'll ever see.
I'll share some of the stories in my next few posts. In the meantime, you can enjoy the gallery of my travel pictures from my month in Cambodia, by either clicking on one of the pictures in this post or by clicking the link below: