When we crossed into Cambodia, you could feel the energy in the air changing, the river became more quite, calm and desolate. The Khmer (the name for the Cambodian people) were farmers more than fisherman giving the river a relaxed feel, but the Khmer, just like the Vietnamese are anything but lazy.
Many people are aware of the brutal and violent genocide implemented by Pol Pok and his Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s killing more than 2.2 million innocent Khmer people, but many people don’t think about where Cambodia is today.
Cambodia is a country struggling to move forward. Many families still live day by day, finding just enough to feed their children and provide adequate shelter. Safe water is just one of many issues families confront each day.
The Aqua Mekong works with HUSK and non-profit organization who works directly with the local communities to help improve the lives of the Khmer families. HUSK’s “goals focus around the basics of providing access to safe water, livelihood opportunities, health, education and environment. ‘They’ work to assist families address some of their most basic needs, giving them the best opportunity to stay together and work for a better future. ‘They’ support families to support themselves, and together build a brighter future.”
Because of HUSK and the Aqua Mekong Expeditions, we were able to meet people in these river communities and bring books to the children at the local schools. Words cannot begin to express the overwhelming feeling you receive by the shrieks of pure joy and excitement the children exude when they were presented with the books, it is beyond description.
So many people’s lives were effected, stories of survival, stories of loss and stories of forgiveness. Everyone was always so warm and friendly. Their Buddhist upbringing teaching them to accept, forgive and move forward is not an easy thing to do.
Our final stop aboard the Aqua Mekong took us to Phnom Penh, the country’s capitol. In Phnom Penh you can shop for crafts at the Russian Market, visit the Royal Palace, or pay your respects at the infamous killing fields of Cambodia.
From Phenom Penh we flew to Siem Reap where we spent the next three night at la Residence d’Angkor Belmond hotel. Every room on this luxurious property is a suite with a local flare. We spent the next few days touring, by tuk tuk the ancient stone temples of Angkor Thom, with its massive stone Buddha heads and other surrounding temples like Ta Prohm, who’s state of disrepair is much the same as it was when it was found, yielding massive trees growing out of its ruins.
The grand finale was at dawn witnessing Angkor Wat temple at sunrise with hues of red and orange silhouetting the impressive stone structure.
Watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat temple was the perfect ending to my journey across Vietnam and Cambodia. Seeing the temple’s reflection in the water before me, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own fortune in life and the incredible spirt of the Khmer people. I am forever changed by this incredible country. Travel changes lives.