The first landing I ever had into Cambodia was intimidating to say the least. It was not especially a safe place at that time. I spent some days in Phnom Penh, visiting the sites that were left there in memory of Pol Pot — such as the Killing Fields, the largest single mass crave area near Phnom Penh, and Tuol Sleng, an old high school converted to a prison as well as a hub of torture.
To describe these places as heartbreaking is an understatement like no other. I could sense the misery not only in the sights visible to me, but bearing heavily in the air around me, in the wind blowing softly on my face. It felt like the spirits and the injustice done were in the soil beneath my feet.
Added to this, the city was at the time not the safest place for a few blonde backpackers to be walking around, crime and armed robberies were still quite prevalent and the poverty overwhelming.
After leaving the city, we went to a small coastal town — which is nowadays a major tourist hub — where we found a different scenario altogether. Here, the beach was filled with kids, enthusiastically selling their fruit and bracelets to the few tourists that had dribbled that way. Here, lucky as I am, I ended up making friendships that have lasted until this day.
I could almost say that Cambodia has become my second home since then. And the spark, and the thrive in people is stronger than ever. Every time I return, I see a new road, a new school, less people in the gutters struggling, begging for their daily survival. Sure, it is still prevalent but much less than before. Sure, the country is still in the hands of a very corrupt leadership, who would rather pocket the aid money that forms a large part of the national budget — but there is progress and it is visible. And the progress has been created by these amazing people of Cambodia, who despite all, have a belief in a better future, which they truly deserve. No matter how jaded and distrusting one gets over time — this spark still shows to me there is hope.