Eva Bradley: Travel can put life in perspective

By Eva Bradley

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The chaos in Syria shows we have not learned from mistakes of the past. Photo / AP
The chaos in Syria shows we have not learned from mistakes of the past. Photo / AP

There are lots of things you can do in about 11 hours: An extra long shift at work, one of those giant sleeps you owe your body every couple of months, or even fly to the other side of the world.

After too many of the first and not enough of the second, I decided to burn 11 hours on the third option, catching Air New Zealand's inaugural flight direct to Vietnam, that stately pleasure-dome where culture, history, humidity and sensory overload converge to create the perfect escape from real life.

Having been here twice before, the lure of leaving behind a New Zealand winter and dropping down direct into a part of the world where golden beaches vied for my spare days alongside tomorrow's most vibrant cities was irresistible.

But to mix it up, we have border-hopped across to Cambodia where I am currently sitting under the veranda of a rooftop bar drinking watermelon juice while a tropical downpour creates havoc on the streets below.

Last night we ate barbecued ribs and deep-fried tarantula from a street market, and tomorrow we go behind-the-scenes at a wildlife rescue centre to get the sort of experience you'll never get at Auckland Zoo.

Travel is an exciting privilege and a chance to live a life less ordinary, if only for a few fleeting weeks.

But, as I learned today in a very hard way, it is also a hugely important way to gain first-hand knowledge of the world beyond our own front door and truly appreciate how blessed we are to live in country where political stability is taken for granted.

We've all had a whine about John Key over the years and no one's frothing with excitement about the prospect of replacing him with Andrew Little, but it doesn't matter how low your opinion of our politicians - they ain't no Pol Pot.

The totalitarian dictator of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, his brutal 1970s campaign to send the country back in time to an agrarian utopia wiped out a quarter of the population in less than four years. His torture and execution methods made Hitler look like an amateur.

What the people of this country went through so recently definitely puts the Auckland housing "crisis" into sharp perspective. It might seem odd to add a visit to the Killing Fields to a holiday itinerary.

Certainly, I didn't really plan to travel all this way to sob uncontrollably while a survivor talked about watching his wife and four children systematically butchered.

But, as he explained so well to us, it is impossible to build a strong future if we don't learn lessons from the mistakes of the past, and the harder those lessons are to stomach the more powerful they are.

And yet, sadly, we don't learn.

Another Cambodia is currently playing out in Syria right now, and another set of international leaders are once again ineffectively hand-wringing while a madman destroys a nation and its people.

These are not the sort of thoughts one seeks out while on holiday, but if change is as good as a holiday, then a holiday in a place that changes you, and has itself been through so much change, must surely be the ultimate destination.

Thankfully, we are headed back to a golden beach in Vietnam shortly and will once again sit poolside with a cocktail in hand, but we'll do so knowing the struggles that country also went through recently to offer such luxuries to international travellers.

It's definitely a trip where one gets to experience the best - and worst - of both worlds and be better for it in more ways than just sporting a winter tan.

- Eva Bradley is a photographer and journalist.

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