Warren's Bill Abell returned from halfway around the world in March after a three-week visit as a tourist to Cambodia and Laos in Southeast Asia.
Cambodia is a democracy the size of Oklahoma with a population of nearly 15 million, and the site of the ancient ruins of the Angkor temples.
Laos is a peaceful, landlocked, communist country larger than Cambodia with only a third of its neighbor's population. It surrounds the site of the intriguing Plain of Jars.
Abell observes growing numbers of people from nearly every corner of the world are traveling year-round. The travelers go alone or on tours, cruise ships, buses and trains, cars and motorcycles, horseback and on foot.
People want to know more about how others live, learn about nature, enjoy luxury and relaxation, seek adventure on the edge of a glacial crevasse or knife edge ridge of a mountain, collect postal cards, photos, wood to make exotic paper and works of art, hunt and fish, pursue their genealogy and try to "learn more about the meaning of it all."
Areas of growing popularity are Cambodia and Laos, and especially the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Nearly every country wants tourists to come and spend money. Countries with little or no wealth-producing industrial capacity, especially no large mineral deposits (oil, coal, iron, copper, lithium) and that lack enough timber and agricultural assets for export, look to tourism. They are busy finding ways to create improved infrastructure - hotels, roads, electronic communications - and refurbishing their ancient relics. It's an investment in jobs now and into the future.
The tourist-seeking places are publicizing their celebrated sons and daughters, history, natural assets, architecture, poetry, philosophy, warmth and relaxing comfort.
Thinking of Cambodia and Laos, with Abell's observations, one's thoughts tend to start with French Indochina. The French became dominant in that area in the mid-1800s by colonizing the territory. They left after losing the Battle of Dien Bien Phu to local insurgents in 1954.
Then one thinks of the early 1940s brief Japanese occupation during World War II of the Malaysian Peninsula, excepting Thailand, followed by the 20-year Vietnam War involving the United States and Laos.
The primary French legacy to enrich world culture was finding the huge 900-year old Angkor Wat complex of ornate buildings and temples, overrun by a dense tropical jungle. French archaeologists began the restoration and modern cultural awareness of this site.
(Interestingly, it was the French conquest of the Nile delta in 1799 that allowed archaeologists to uncover the also neglected 2,000-year-old Rosetta Stone.)
The temples of Angkor were built when the Hindu Khmer civilization was at the height of its power. The most magnificent temple is Angkor Wat, said to be the world's largest single religious monument. Visitors number 2 million annually. The closest rival in size to Angkor is the Mayan city of Tikal in Guatemala.
The Plain of Jars is a vast archaeological site in north central Laos. The jars were fashioned from stone, vary in size and can each weigh hundreds of pounds.
UNESCO scientists state the jars date back to 500 BCE (before the current era). Their significance is not known, but the stone jars were probably associated with prehistoric burial practices.
Sadly, the Plain of Jars and other parts of Laos were heavily bombed between 1964 and 1973 during the Vietnam War. To this day. there are also thousands of undetonated land mines across the countryside.
Since visiting Southeast Asia, Abell has been to Australia for a visit with friends he became acquainted with while teaching there years ago. Bill tells a story on himself about the many world travelers he meets, who are on the go all the time. He said, "They make me feel like a couch potato."
Notwithstanding that observation, as we read the Tribune Chronicle today, he is on his way by air to visit the island of Spitzbergen, a former whaling center and source of coal, in the Arctic Ocean (northwest of Norway). He will travel by way of Reykjavik, Island; Oslo, Norway; and return home with stops on the eastern coast of Greenland (the largest island in the world).