A good place to visit; such a common expression said so flippantly about so many places but what do we really mean when we say that? Maybe it’s when places are all the things we want them to be, the exact environment we chase; maybe it’s when it’s the opposite, a new experience to give us the vacation not only from our home places but from our lives. Maybe it’s easy measurements like architecture, food, history, culture and lifestyle or maybe it’s the welcome invasion of intangible inspirations, the wisps of emotion that stir something inside that’s hard to fashion into words. Possibly edgy adventure to get your pulse racing or the welcome secure comfort of retreat to lower the blood pressure. A good place to visit can complicate your thoughts or make them simple, free you from the burden of pursuits or inspire you to search for more.It’s all these things to all different people; and more. Such a complicated soup this definition becomes upon such little pondering, for us though there has emerged a somewhat simple marker to divine the merits of this vague range of criteria. You’re looking at it now. For us the correlation is direct and tangible, some places are easy to write about and take photos of; they inspire. From any of the features I pose inspiration can come; the places that we love have all drawn from us an artistic torrent that we aren’t familiar with to turn two usually pragmatic worker bees into expressions of everything not pragmatic at all. I call it art, art forms; the result is debatable but the unrelenting desire to express it is not. Even if my writing sits appropriately as a third grade homework project and Charlie’s photos belong on a home made flyer for a garage sale the result is a moot point; any place that can shift you to feel, think, elevate and express is a place where dreams are made.
Tomorrow we leave one such place, Cambodia. On any measure Cambodia is a clear winner; for us we have been feverish in our endeavours to write and take photos, barely ever able to pour out enough of what we feel about this place to ease the log-jam of inspiration flooding to us relentlessly an unsought. Beyond our simple tell-tale measure though Cambodia has given us what we want in grand architecture, history, food and culture while shifting us to think and be inspired about home, social justice, humanity and more. It’s edgy but cleaner than we thought, punctual yet relaxed, people are cheeky and endearingly polite at the same time, full of adventure and discovery with ample vacuums of modernity.Such a complete picture this country is and atop it all for me lies a continuity of history like I’ve never seen alongside an honesty in self appraisal that can only be applauded. Cambodia has a history so long, from the pinnacle of the worlds power in ancient Angkor to the depths of human despair through the regime of the Khmer Rouge and none of it seems distant or disconnected, such an unbroken chain feels too long to be so intact. An ancient city built to laud a Hindu god has passed elegantly to a buddhist population without the need to destroy it before it was rebuilt; one of recent histories most horrific atrocities is embraced and taken on board, not shunned or denied.
So what’s the magic ingredient we wonder, Cambodia has pulled the trick that little known countries have done to us so far; Ecuador, Botswana and even neighbouring Laos have all shouted louder than we thought they could. Indeed these little gems that glimmer so brightly hold an intangible grace, an appeal, a charisma. Like a lover that stirs you to rash behaviour, a wise friend who always says the right thing or a poet who’s words set you on a path that persists long after you forgot the words, these countries leave with you a result that makes the reason seem so trivial. In slices so far, nearly all countries have given us some sprinkle of this magic dust but probably not a single country has spread it as comprehensively as Cambodia to cast a glamour over every possible criteria.It’s a big call, the first ever piece of writing I penned for this adventure contained the line ‘we’re on this trip of a lifetime, leaving behind a lifetime after having the time of our lives’, and the time of our lives we’ve had even though it is far from over yet. Few people know much of Cambodia other than it’s got that big temple and they had some really ‘bad shit’ in the 70’s or maybe 80’s but don’t let first impressions fool you. Of the 17 countries we’ve seen so far it’s a raging hot contender for the one that’s been most rewarding to visit, far more than a temple and some musing on recent history. Cambodia is the lover, the wise friend and the poet all in one; the impossible package who’s magic dust will affect us long after its intoxication has faded. The third grade homework and the garage sale flyer has never been so easy to create.