Cambodia, forming the triptych of Indochina with Laos and Vietnam, has dressed its wounds without denying its past. Its inhabitants, Hinayana Buddhists, do however keep a smile on their round, amber-colored faces while their almost monotone language is part of the warmth of their expressions, which someone who is not aware of it might take for indifference. However, no-one is less indifferent, less sensitive, than a Cambodian. From the banks of the Mekong, the river which sustains them, to the beaches of the Gulf of Thailand, their lives unfold to a rhythm imposed by the paddy fields where lazy buffalo wallow in the mud.
Upstream of the Mekong delta, the capital Phnom Penh is in full swing around the Royal Palace and its museum. Thousands of motorbikes force their music on the ear without covering the gliding of the river covered in water hyacinths directly below the banks where the small traders compete with the lovers. Phnom Penh is worth a stopover for its covered market, its restored colonial buildings, its museums recounting its history, from royal treasures to war crimes. You can take a boat stopping at Siem Reap and Battambang, further to the west. The latter, the country’s second city on the Sangkae River, preserves remarkable architectural landmarks dating from the French presence and with superb pre-Angkor temples nearby. Before leaving, so as to capture all the subtleties of the Khmer soul, all you need do is read or watch Rice People, a masterpiece by Rithy Panh, a talented Cambodian writer and film director.