The first time I visited Cambodia was in 2001 -I was 10 years old. As a youngster I had a lot on my mind -my fresh And1 kicks, and catching all of the 150 original Pokemon- least of which was deeply caring about what was happening in the around me. As I clambered up the ancient walls of Angkor Wat, and wandered through the abyss of locals hawking fake gucci bags and pirated DVDs, I ignored much of what was around me. Maybe I was blinded by the wonder of Angkor or deafened by the constant moan of tuk-tuks. I didn't take the time to see the unforgivable toll that years of war and subsequent decades of poverty had taken on the Khmer people.
I was blissfully ignorant of my surroundings.
Before I made my trip to South East Asia this year I made a conscious effort to pay close attention to how the locals lived - to take a detour from Pub Street, away from the $2.00 beer buckets, and the endless rows of masseuses.
And I did just that. What I saw, was not something that is emphasized in the standard edition of Lonely Planet.
I found middle aged men missing limbs, propping themselves up with rickety canes, while selling knick-knacks from a small basket. I wandered into a small Buddhist monastery which was built atop an unmarked mass grave filled with souls of innocent men, women, and children. I rode through the villages on the outskirts of Siem Reap where children played with nothing more than a deflated raggedy
After seeing these scenes firsthand, I came to realize how lucky I was. I realized how trivial my issues are. How, whatever issues I may face, they pail in comparison to what others have gone through.
Cambodia truly is one of the most awe-inspiring destinations I have had the pleasure of visiting. From the ruins of Angkor Wat, the mysterious Tonle Sap, and the carvings of the Kbal Spean river - Cambodia is one of the most awe-inspiring destinations I have had the pleasure of visiting. But beyond the beauty and wonder and there is a devastatingly dark history and extensive poverty.
As we travel, we can get distracted by bright neon lights, the wonder of ancient architecture, and the enthralling essence of being in a foreign land. While these things are integral parts of every travel experience, we should take the time to go beyond our bubble. We will soon realize how lucky we are, and realize that many of our problems are quite trivial compared to the issues that others face.