Walking along Kampot’s riverfront promenade, one could easily get the feeling that it’s among the most beautiful locations in all of Southeast Asia – and when the afternoon breeze kicks in, so much the better. Hop up onto that little seawall pictured in the foreground here and peer down to water’s edge, however, and…
And these images are really quite tame examples of the situation throughout Cambodia – but I was too crestfallen looking at it all to want to get any more photos. It’s even worse along other stretches of the river, as well as around town; and it’s much worse in the countryside. A Cambodian inter-city bus trip, or a bicycle ride through the rural areas, is as depressing an experience as it’s possible for a living being to undergo. In addition to this unsightliness is the waft: The odor of burning plastic which, in the evening, becomes nearly inescapable.
If this all sounds like your idea of a good fun time, then, by all means, do pay a visit. There are lots of expats, lodging is shockingly inexpensive, the locals are friendly, the scenery (when viewed from carefully selected angles) is mouth-dropping gorgeous, the vibe is laid-back, and the city’s Coconuts — as well as its birds — are much too phenomenal.
Besides, all the foregoing having been said, Kampot’s ills still are not as shocking as are the situations in India and Indonesia. Moreover, truth be told Cambodia is, by various measures, quite close to the very bottom of the list of ecological scofflaws. (Though the residents do seem to take an especial glee in the act of littering. In Kampot, for example, I watched two teens walking down the path suddenly veer over to the river, throw in their plastic drinking cups, and then walk back over toward the street, right past a garbage bin, and purchase yet more liquid served inside yet more plastic containers.)
Which brings us to our driving point, here. I’ve written about the untold mountains of plastic before now – here, here, and here, for example – and I’m not sure I’ve anything to add to what I’d written before. I’m well aware that nobody wants to read about my fucking existential angst – and why on Earth should they? I’ve nothing worthwhile or insightful to say…unless you consider uber-morose hippie blubbering to be of interest.
Instead, go have a look at the greatest/most important blog post my eyes have ever seen, penned a few years ago now by the incomparable Dmitry Orlov. In it, he covers the effects of plastic in the environment, the fate of the species, and other topics worthy of our attentions.
And then? Please, please, pretty fuckin’ please with a cherry: Don’t buy anything that comes wrapped in plastic and/or styrofoam packaging. That shit is truly satanic.
By way of postscript, flipping through a copy of the ticket agency’s Cambodia guidebook while waiting for a bus in Kampot, I did chance to read the following, a desription of the scene here as it was some nine hundred years in the past. O, but the more they stay the same, ain’t it?
Angkor was the epicentre of an incredible empire that held sway over much of the Mekong region, but like all empires, the sun was to eventually set.
A number of scholars have argued that decline was already on the horizon at the time Angkor Wat was built, when the Angkorian empire was at the height of its remarkable productivity. There are indications that the irrigation network was overworked and slowly starting to silt up due to the massive deforestation that had taken place in the heavily populated areas to the north and east of Angkor. Massive construction projects such as Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom no doubt put an enormous strain on the royal coffers and on thousands of slaves and common people who subsidised them in hard labour and taxes. Following the reign of Jayavarman VII, temple construction effectively ground to a halt, in large part because Jayavarman VII’s public works quarried local sandstone into oblivion and had left the population exhausted.