Cambodia is the place that has reconnected Angelina Jolie with herself time and time again. The Southeast Asian nation was where her eldest son Maddox was born, and where she first met him as a baby before she adopted him as her first child. She also chose Cambodia as the setting for her directing debut. Stemming from the star’s desire to show the country’s complex history, it’s the subject of her Netflix film First They Killed My Father, which tells the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime.
On another personal note, Cambodia was also the place she chose to stay months before announcing her divorce with Brad Pitt, with whom she has six children – Maddox, Shiloh, Pax, Zahara and twins Knox and Vivienne – after a 12-year relationship.
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Cambodia’s complex history – its beauty as well as its horrors – and its people’s dignity, culture, and energy brought about an inner transformation in Angelina, redefining her perspective on life. The Girl, Interrupted star was so enamored by the country that she bought a traditional Cambodian house with 60,000 hectares, a protected area where she has worked for 18 years—through her family foundation, the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation—to support local communities and protect the environment.
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In fact, the filmmaker chose to showed a personal facet of herself at her home there in a 2019 commercial—directed by three-time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki—for the Mon Guerlain fragrance. “He [Emmanuel Lubeski] is one of those artists that finds beauty around them. He senses it, and adjusts to it,” she told Bazaar.com. “I like the idea that you represent something that is truly like how you live in real life. I think people know that: when there’s truth or when there’s a fairy tale. I think they prefer the truth.”
Angelina landed in this idyllic location in 2000, when she starred in the film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider that launched her into the world’s spotlight. There, she explored the 12th century temple of Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world, originally a Hindu temple which was soon transformed into a Buddhist complex.
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She also discovered the the Khmer temple of Ta Prohm, in Siem Reap, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the trees grow out of the ruins in a rare, extraordinary way, making it one of the country’s most spectacular locations.
Twelfth-century Angkor Thom, established by King Jayavarman VII, is about half a mile from Ta Prohm, and was also featured in the 2001 movie and is considered one of Cambodia’s most iconic temples.
If you decide to visit this magical country in Asia with its incredible landscapes, join the thousands of visitors who every year explore the 9th-century Angkor Archaeological Park. Also essential for learning is a visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh. The onetime secondary school was used as an internment camp by the brutal Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 until its fall four years later, and is now dedicated to teaching about one of the most horrific eras in the country’s history.
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It is also imperative make time to explore the natural beauty of Cambodia, which is home to the Otres, Sokha, Independence, Victoria, and Serendipity beaches, and the unspoiled desert island of Koh Rong, with its jungles, waterfalls, coconut trees and 23 beaches, accessible by a small local ferry.
A note on the weather: Although Cambodia is a tropical country with warm weather year-round, it has two seasons: one dry and one wet. The best months to visit if you want to avoid the downpours are from November to May.