Cambodia is a low-lying country the size of the state of Missouri bordered by Vietnam to the east, Laos to the north and Thailand to the west and north. It was the politial and religious center of the great Khmer empire which dominate the region for six centuries between 800 and 1400 AD. Its great capital at Angkor was the goal of our visit.
Like Vietnam Cambodia was part of the French Indochina colonial empire. During the Vietnam War, Vietnamese communists used eastern Cambodia as a staging post and created and used a segment of the Ho Chi Minh trail which ran along the border of Cambodia and Vietnam. The US responded with large scale bombing in which many thousands of Cambodians were killed. This gave rise to the Khmer Rouge Maoist movement under its leader Pol Pot. In the years immediately after the US withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975 this regime killed nearly 2 million Cambodians, one of the worst acts of genocide in history.
The Khmer Rouge expanded its influence and killing into the Mekong Delta of Vietnam which resulted in Vietnam;s invading Cambodia and overthrowing the Pol Pot Government in 1978. Because China was supporting Cambodia and Russia was supporting Vietnam, China in turn invaded northern Vietnam. They found the battle hardened North Vietnamese army to be no pushover and matters were settled with a withdrawal buy both countries from their neighbor’s territory. Vietnam continues its historical fear of Chinese dominance while Cambodia expresses concern over the progress and potential threat of Vietnam.
We were met at the airport as we began our extension from our Vietnam trip. Thai, our 32 year old Cambodia guide, fave us some factual information on his country while we drove into Siem Reap to our hotel. One0third of the people of Cambodia were killed during the Pol Pot regime. In 19809, Vietnam freed the Cambodia people from the Khmer Rouge regime and in 1989, Cambodia became a separate kingdom. Thai grew up in a floating village. In 1994 he became an English teacher and in 1997 a tour guide. There were 50 guides in 1997 and there are now 3,000 guides in the country. thai was one of only 3 children from his floating village who left the village to become further educated. 90%of children attend primary school but only 40% go on to middle school and 20% continue to high school,
Our hotel, Stung Siemreap, was located on a small side street. The lobby was bright and attractive with a strong lemon smell. This was a result of a lemon grass preparation used to discourage mosquitoes.