By Maria Anderson, EDN
Cambodia is a country that is not without its problems. The brutal Khmer Rouge Regime, a China-backed Communist group, wiped out nearly a quarter of the population in the 1970’s. Today Cambodia struggles with many issues, many of which the people I spoke with attribute to the Khmer Rouge, the subsequent Vietnam occupation, and results of instability over the past forty years. Many people don’t have access to clean water or healthcare. At the same time, people smile a lot. Kids ask if you listen to Justin Bieber, and yell hello from their stilted homes as you float by on the Mekong River.
Before the nation of Cambodia existed, kings of the Khmer Empire built what would be the seat of their power for nearly six centuries. Today these temples attract almost one million people every year. The temples contain a mishmash of religious influences, including Hinduism, animalism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Theravada Buddhism. Reclining Vishnus, bas-reliefs detailing bloody wars, and Indra riding his white elephant appear appear in ancient halls. Lotus flowers are carved by the thousands into walls. The jungle is slowly reclaiming some temples. Strangler figs and other plants grow into the stonework. Tarantulas and other spiders roam the temple walls, as well as pea-sized frogs, millipedes, and snakes. At the end of the day you can see the tour guides and other people who make their living working in the temples biking or riding their motorcycles over the bridge home.