mardi 30 avril 2002

Cambodge - Avril 2002




Ancient temples, mighty rivers, remote forests ... and (outside Angkor) only a handful of tourists.
Cambodia has emerged from the decades of war and isolation that made it a byword for atrocities, refugees, poverty and political instability. Nowadays, Cambodia is well and truly back on the South-East Asian travel map.

The successor-state of the mighty Khmer Empire - which ruled much of what is now Vietnam, Laos and Thailand - Cambodia boasts a rich culture, French-era (albeit a little weathered) capital and impressive natural scenery. The peace is young but relatively stable, and the country is slowly attracting the tourism currently sweeping neighbouring Vietnam.

However, the proliferation of land mines and banditry in remote areas means the picture isn't all rosy, and for now the beaten path remains by far the one best travelled. Cambodia remains one of the world's most heavily landmined countries, with an estimated four to six million UXOs dotted around the countryside waiting to be detonated.

I have travelled there for 12 days between the Capital Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, the "city gate" to the Angkor Temples. Travelling by local boat, by bus on dirty/bumpy roads, by scooter (small motorbike) outside off the beaten tracks.

Full country name: Kingdom of Cambodia
Area: 181,035 sq km
Population: 12 million
Capital city: Phnom Penh (pop 1 million)
People: 94% ethnic Khmers, 4% Chinese, 1% Vietnamese
Language: Khmer, English and French
Religion: 95% Buddhist, Cham Muslim and Roman Catholic
Government: Constitutional Monarchy
Visas: A one-month tourist visa, on arrival at Knom Penh and Siem Reap airports, costs US$20.
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz (unstable supply)

The ideal months to be in Cambodia are December and January, when humidity is bearable, temperatures are cooler and it's unlikely to rain. From February onwards it starts getting pretty hot, and April is unbearably so (I totally agree). The wet season is from May to October.

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