The differences between most countries we have visited have been apparent but hard to pin point. It isn’t so much major changes but a sense or a mood.
But from Cambodia to Vietnam was obvious. The country is clearly not as industrialized as it’s neighbors, but with good reason.
For those who don’t know (I didn’t until I started researching for this trip), Cambodia was experiencing a civil war from 1968 until 1975. The Khmer Rouge was the victorious side and post-war they declared Cambodia a farmer nation. For four years horrifying genocide over took the country and three million people were killed.
If you had an education, you were dead. If you could speak another language, worked for the prior government, had too pale of skin, lived in a city, or wore glasses you were considered a threat to the government and you were killed. Your whole family was killed.
If you weren’t already dead, you were sent to the countryside to work on rice fields because the Khmer wanted to dramatically increase the rice exports to impossible numbers. They worked civilians like slaves while starving them.
The genocide ended in 1979. Most people in the country either remember and experienced the horrors or are once removed from it.
In Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, Anna and I visited a killing field just outside of the city. This was one of 300 of mass graves where thousands of people were killed and placed in mass graves. This one was six acres with 20,000 people buried.
I’ve never been to a concentration camp, but people I spoke with it was more chilling than Auschwitz.
They have recovered and identified as many people as they can but each rainy season more bones and teeth are washed up. They are bone fragments scattered all over the area still. It was horrifying and incredibly moving.
During the Khmer Rouge they wanted to cleanse the country of culture that was deemed challenging so they destroyed most of the temples and historical sites around the country. Angkor Wat is one of the only temples standing today.
It is so hard to see a country that was literally stripped of their sense of self.