I have always loved travelling, and as the end of my time at university drew to a close I knew that settling straight into a job, sat behind a desk, wasn’t for me. Fast forward a few months and here I am, just a few weeks away from moving to Beijing to spend a year teaching English, whilst experiencing and exploring the fascinating culture and history that China has to offer.
I can smell Kenting before I can see it. Our tyres have been rolling for about 5 hours and I’m hoping my hostel can shut out the smell. My plan was to go straight to sleep and get up at the crack of dawn before the crowds begin to swell, but Kenting is having a party and everyone’s invited (including the stray dogs — that’s right, our four-legged friends are everywhere in Taiwan).
For many, travel is an escape from day-to-day life, a chance to explore other countries, and whether it’s the freedom of the open road for months on end or a quick holiday, it’s a way to leave behind the troubles and responsibilities of home. For me, it has always been a taste of unparalleled independence and liberty. Most tourists will therefore dedicate their time to seeing the sights, relaxing on a beach, or finding adventure — but in order to understand a new country and culture, it’s not enough to explore their art or cuisine. The truth of a country lies in its history, and while it’s tempting to see only the glory and gloss over any uncomfortable episodes, it’s not enough.
A prime example of this is Cambodia, home to the magnificent Angkor Wat and paradise beaches — but also to the terrifying dictatorship of Pol Pot. During the 1970s, his regime saw approximately 25% of the Cambodian population drawn from society either for manual labour or into concentration camps before eventually meeting their death in a 4-year period commonly remembered as genocide. And yes, it’s heart-rending. It’s awful. But in order to truly appreciate the beauty of the country and the spirit of the people, it is necessary to see what they have suffered and survived — in truth, it makes the beautiful parts shine brighter.
I left Pakistan four years ago to pursue my bachelor’s degree in English from the UK. One thing led to another and now I am pursuing my master’s here too and, thus, haven’t lived in my home country for four years. The decision that I made in the beginning still stands, however living in the UK and only visiting Pakistan in the holidays has led me to discover new things about the UK, Pakistan and myself.
Easily the highlight of any visit to Cambodia — and perhaps even South East Asia — the temple complex of Angkor is an ancient sentinel deep in the forests of Siem Reap province. At one point it was almost entirely lost to the trees, but following extreme reparations in the 19th and 20th centuries, it has become more than just a tourists’ dream; it is a startling testimony to the advanced Khmer Empire. Along with such wonders as Machu Picchu or the Great Wall of China, the crumbling majesty of this 12th century temple is an unforgettable experience. Continue reading