Poverty is everywhere and a real shock to the system

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Happy new year everyone! Can you believe a whole new year has begun already? Whatever happened to 2012? It just flew by – but then I think the years do, particularly as you get older.

I’m away filming a new TV programme on vegetarian food and have just left Cambodia for Australia.

My experience in one of Asia’s poorest countries was a real eye-opener. I think Thailand and Malaysia gave me a false sense of security when it came to how I perceived Asia as a whole.

They are so geared up for tourists and used to creating a ‘shiny’ appearance that you almost forget where you are in the world.

This is not the case in Cambodia. The poverty there is everywhere and it really is a shock to the system.

But it’s a marvellous country. I’d definitely go back and I’m glad I got to experience it – warts and all.

On the one hand you have this amazing tourist feature, Angkor Wat – the reason people from all over the world travel there in the first place.

It’s the world’s largest temple and was built in the 12th century. The architecture is mind-blowing – not just because it’s so beautiful, but because it’s hard to get your head around how it could have been built back then.

It’s far grander than anything I’ve ever seen from modern architecture. Amazing. And then there’s the famous Pub Street in Siem Reap, where we spent New Year’s Eve.

It’s a huge tourist attraction and you can find anything you want here. But if you turn a corner or sit in a café longer than 10 minutes, you will start to see beyond the façade and witness for yourself the struggles this country has had during its turbulent history.

Children as young as two walk barefoot along the road, begging in what I’ve been told are organised rings.

Meanwhile adults who lost limbs in the country’s many wars also attempt to appeal to the generosity of tourists.

But it was the exploitation of children that I found the hardest to witness. It makes me feel immensely fortunate that I have never been in that position.

My heart goes out to them, I can tell you.