My first stop in Cambodia is Siem Reap, the city known as the gateway to the world wonder of Angkor Wat. But before diving in the old capital of the Khmer, let me tell you something about the city of Siem Reap itself.
Cambodia has one of the fastest growing urban populations of South-East-Asia. Combined with the booming tourism, the city needs a kind of sustainable city development plan.
The urbanisation of Cambodia cannot be seen without understanding its recent past, the past of the Khmer Rouge. Nearly 30 years ago they dominated and dictated the country. After liberation of the Vietnamese and American soldiers, the Khmer Rouge took power and as part of the vision of Pol Pot, they emptied the cities.
All citizens were forced to return to the countryside, where they had to work as farmers. Everything which was related to westernised or consumption society was to be destroyed. Big cities as Siem Reap and Phnom Penh were no more than ghost towns by that time. The citizens were exiled, and the belongings were destroyed. Every reminder of the modernity had to be erased, and Cambodian people had to be purified, in order to establish Pol Pot’s imagined revolution.
The Revolution that never Came
The revolution never came, but instead starvation, illness and death ruled the country. Pol Pot went even further in his purification project. All people who were ‘educated’ or related to the intelligentsia of the previous society were to be killed. The Khmer Rouge imprisoned, tortured and killed many of their own country folks. By the end of the 4 years of governing, 3 million Cambodians had lost their lives, or a quarter of the population.
By the end of the governance of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, people could return out of the country to the city, picking up a life that was cut off abruptly and that will never be the same again. As many lost not only their properties, but relatives, friends, neighbours, colleagues, children, fathers and mothers, and maybe a part of their own identity.
Disclaimer: all of the picture of this post are taken in Angkor Watt, because the Khmer Rouge legitimized their ‘purification idea’ on the glorious past of the Ancient Khmer, the constructors of the Angkor Watt.