After reading In the Shadow of the Banyan, I craved more information about the history of Cambodia and wanted to try to understand why Cambodia appears to be still struggling especially as compared with its neighbors – Thailand and Vietnam. Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s Prime Minister, visited Cambodia in 1960’s and was very impressed, declaring that he had ambitions to make Singapore like Cambodia. Yet, here it is 2015, and Cambodia still feels like it is recovering from its civil war. So I read Hun Sen’s Cambodia and would recommend this book to get a different perspective.
Cambodia is a country still haunted by its complex past. Hun Sen, the Prime Minister, has been in power for about 30 years since about 1985. He was a member of the Khmer Rouge, the organization behind the genocide. This is one of the many things we struggled to understand when we were in Cambodia. Members of the Khmer Rouge have been re-integrated back into regular life and only a few are still awaiting trial some 30 plus years after the fall of their reign. However, Hun Sen and the UN can be credited with restoring peace in the country and injecting large amounts of capital for building and growth. but the country still lacks some basic infrastructure- schools, roads, health care. Public land and building, such as schools, have been allegedly sold off to foreign interests. The drive from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh took our guide over 8 hours because it is a “bumpy road”. It is a mere 196 miles and should only take about 3 hours or less but lacks a proper highway (note: this is the connection between the countries’s capital and their largest tourist destination). Despite investment from China, Vietnam, the US, etc., the money remains in the hands of the few.
The next election is to be held in 2018. There are few real sources opposition. However, things may be changing. We had a chance to talk with some young Cambodian’s. Today, Cambodia’s population is growing. It is now about 15 million as compared with roughly 8 million during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Kids were constantly running up to us, no matter where we were in the Phnom Penh or in the countryside out in Pailin, saying hello. Sixty-five percent of the population is below 30 years of age. The younger generation may not be haunted by the past and may be willing to demand some change. Facebook is pervasive among the young and they feel empowered by it. We will be watching the next election in 2018 very closely.
At the end of the reading Hun Sen’s Cambodia, I am still wanting more information on the rich history and culture of Cambodia; however, the book provided an interesting perspective and some additional facts. That said, I will need to put a hold on some additional reads related to Cambodia. We are moving on to Vietnam, and my reading is moving on as well. Next up on the book list is a Perfect Spy.