The places I dream of visiting are many, but Cambodia was never one of them. The total of what I knew about this small Asian country was drawn from the harrowing film The Killing Fields and vague schoolgirl memories of the Cambodian-Vietnamese war. So upon arrival at Siem Reap airport, I had no expectations, nor did I ever envision losing my heart to this captivating kingdom.
Once considered a mere stopover, with travellers staying just long enough to see Angkor Wat, one of the world’s largest religious monuments, before moving onto the beaches of Thailand or jungles of Vietnam, Cambodia is now the destination rather than the sideshow. Forty years on from the end of the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror, this country is undergoing momentous change, driven by the vigour and energy of the younger generation – 65 per cent of the population is under 30. Cambodia’s greatest national treasure is not the temples of Angkor but its people, with their indomitable spirit and optimism.