It's hard to think of a country that stretches the emotional repertoire like Cambodia. The temples of Angkor are exhilarating - unmatched in Asia for beauty, atmosphere and grandeur. It's easy to spend days marvelling at the architectural scale and the stunning detailed stone carvings of Cambodia's ancient civilisation.
Photo: Mark BowyerTuol Sleng prison, Phnom Penh
But you're never far away from reminders of another more recent chapter in Khmer history - the genocidal reign of the Khmer Rouge. Whether it's the amputee beggars on the streets or monuments like the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in the capital Phnom Penh, Cambodia wears its traumatic recent history on its sleeve.
Time is filling the void between these extremes of beauty and horror. In a sense there is no recovery from a loss as profound as that inflicted by the Khmer Rouge - loss of life, hope, innocence, culture and learning. But a renewal is under way. A new optimism with new opportunities is building in the slipstream of economic development. But endemic corruption, political repression and kleptocratic government temper the most optimistic forecasts for the country.
Extremes of beauty and tragedy are a theme of modern Cambodian history and a necessary and compelling feature of a visit.
Photo: Mark BowyerBayon Angkor
The temples of Angkor will rightly be at the centre of any visit and can easily occupy four or five days. The capital Phnom Penh has a distinctive buzz with plenty of history, colonial charm and things to see. The riverfront is coming to life with cool bars and restaurants.
Further afield the beaches, islands and quaint of towns of Kep and Kampot on the southern coast are scenic and chilled. Sihanoukville, the largest southern coastal town attracts a mixed bag of backpacking young fun seekers, middle aged sex tourists and travellers on a wider jaunt along the southern coast.
Photo: Mark BowyerReviving old carving skill in Siem Reap
And all the way through Cambodia, the people you meet along the way will share an openness and warmth that, especially in light of the country's tortured history, will confound, and be a highlight of your visit.
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