Cambodia, the short version

Heaps of UXO at the Landmine Museum

The shadow of former wars haunts most of southeast Asia, but nowhere so much as the Khmer Rouge haunts Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge and their atrocities are memorialized across the country by heaps of bones and skulls, but most infamously at S.21 and the Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh. Cambodia has more UXO (UneXploded Ordinance) than any other country in the region, and a correspondingly higher number of people, usually beggars, who are missing limbs - it's very disturbing to see. The moto (motorcycle taxi) drivers are commoner than anywhere else in southeast Asia, and more irritating by dint of numbers. One of the commonest vehicles is the "remorque-moto," also called "tuk-tuk," a covered trailer that seats two to four pulled by a motorcycle. Approximately 20% of the cars on the road are Toyota Camrys, although it's a crapshoot which side the driver sits on (but driving is on the right side of the road). The country lives with the memory of former greatness, the Khmer empire that dominated the entire region for centuries and left behind the world's largest religious building, Angkor Wat. Most of the visitors to Angkor seem to be Japanese or Korean, and French. Political billboards are incredibly common for the three parties, even though there isn't a pending election: the Sam Rainsy Party, Funcinpec, and the reigning Cambodian People's Party. Hun Sen of CPP pretty much has the country wrapped up, despite (or because of) endemic corruption in the political system. Bootleg gasoline is available by the roadside in Johnny Walker bottles and large soda bottles for about 20% less than at the gas stations. The roads are horrible. Condom ads are remarkably common given that this is a country where most people bathe at the beaches fully clothed - only the barang (foreigners, literally "French") wear bikinis.

Looking back on what I've written, I make the whole country sound depressing. The Cambodians are generally very nice, and I had a good time in the country - although the ghosts of the Khmer Rouge and the landmines did make for some depressing visits. Cambodia is also renowned for its beaches: reportedly as beautiful as those in Thailand, but much less crowded. I went to Sihanoukville to see its beaches, but after about three hours in town I remembered that 1) I don't swim, 2) I don't tan, and 3) I don't sit still well (except possibly in front of a computer) so I left town the next day and can't tell you much about the beaches myself.