I recently returned from a trip through Vietnam and Cambodia. My journey left me with more than just a check off the travel list, but a lesson in the history of these two countries, their people and a new awareness of the power of moving forward and gratitude.
This month I plan to feature highlights from my journey every Friday-as part of 3 part travel series. But before I highlight the fabulous and exotic food, travel tips, and hot spots I wanted to share some of the more zenspirational parts of my trip that really moved me-the people and their stories.
This is the iconic view from Angkor Wat at sunrise, it’s the largest religious monument in the world and a major tourist attraction. When you see this beauty it’s hard to imagine that this country was ravaged by war and from 1975 to 1979, an estimated 1.7 to 2.2 million were killed out of a population of 8 million by the Khmer Rouge. I didn’t know much about Cambodia or the killing fields before I came. What struck me is the warmth and resilience of its people and behind the smiles, you would never know what they have seen and been through.
People like Aki Ra, a soft spoken father and founder of the Cambodian Land Mine Museum and School. When he was 5, his parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge and he became a child soldier. He planted up to 5,000 mines a day-now he dedicates his life to clearing those mines hoping to make his country safe again and runs a home for those affected by the mines. According to CNN 1 in every 290 Cambodians is an amputee. The Cambodian government says there are 3 million to 5 million mines still undiscovered. Aki Ra estimates that he and his group have cleared more than 50,000 land mines and unexploded war weapons such as bombs and grenades. Honored as a CNN Hero in 2010, here’s more info on him and the Cambodian Land Mine Museum.
Everyday I met people like Aki Ra who have a story to tell. From my college aged tour guide in Saigon who commutes 1 hour by motorbike to school everyday. She hopes to graduate with an accounting degree and get a good job for $400 a month. To a friend of a friend who left Vietnam for the US in his teens and was finally reunited with his dad after 10 years and has now returned to Saigon as a successful businessman.
When you walk through the streets of Saigon it is like any other busy big city. A lot has changed since the Vietnam War, people have moved forward, but it’s still important to remember their stories and history.
Motorbikes are everywhere..it’s not uncommon to see a family of 4 even 5 cruising around on one bike.
A mix of old and new in the streets of the Old Quarter in Hanoi.Traveling allows you to discover differences, but when you take a closer look you realize that we are more alike than we think. Yes, that’s an Iphone.The collective theme through all of these stories is that in the end we all just want to live our lives, be happy and do what is best for our families and if we can, make a difference in the world. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to travel far, what I learned that it’s important to step outside of ourselves and our daily reality to truly experience life and the world around us, even if it’s in your own neighborhood.