Archive for the Category ◊ Cambodia ◊

12 May 2009 Siem Reap, Cambodia
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If you like ruins and temples or ever wanted to be an archaeologist, then you would love Siem Reap!  There are so many ancient temples that it could take well over a week to see them all, but since we only had two full days we just went to some of the best ones.  All of the ruins were constructed from the late 9th century to the early 13th century.  We rented a tuk tuk for the day and explored the ruins of Baphuon, Bayon, Phnom Bakheng, Prasat Suor Prat, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King, Ta Keo, and Ta Prohm, which is where a scene from the movie “Tomb Raider” with Angelina Jolie was filmed.  Just before sundown we rode an elephant up the mountain to the Phnom Bakhengtemple.  From the top you could see for miles around and watch the sunset over a lake…it was beautiful!  We even got to take a picture with some monks, which was funny since they’re not allowed to touch women, so when we sat next to them they scooted and leaned away from us.  That night we had dinner at the Cambodia BBQ and I ate a well rounded meal of squid, beef, snake, chicken, and crocodile.  It was delicious and I got to cook it all myself in a hot pot on our table.

The next day we went to check out the famous Anchor Wat Temple, which was huge!  We also saw Angkor Thom and then had our driver take us to a lake to watch the sunset, but when we got there it was pouring rain, so we headed back into town and had dinner at the Temple Balcony restaurant where they had a free Apsara dancing performance while we ate.  The dancers costumes were beautiful!

We hit the hay early that night so that we could get up the next day before dawn to watch the sunrise over the Srah Srang lake by the Banteay Kdei temple.  Unfortunately, it was a cloudy morning so there wasn’t much of a sunrise, but it was still beautiful.  Then we headed back to town to get on the bus from hell to Bangkok.  It was supposed to be a VIP bus, which usually just meant that the seats recline, there’s AC and a movie, but it ended up being more like a school bus with bench seats, no AC, no movie, and the driver blared music from the radio, which mostly consisted of commercials.  We were not happy as it was supposed to be a 10 hour trip.  When we got to the Thai border it took us over an hour and a half to get across because we had to wait in line to depart Cambodia, carry all of our bags almost a mile to the health check point, where they take your temperature in your ear before they let you pass (which the guy tried to stick in Rana’s ear without a sanitary cover until I scolded him), and then we had to wait in the arrivals line on the Thai side.  We were afraid to see what kind of bus waited for us on the other side, but luckily (or so we thought) it was a nice AC van, but that’s where our luck ran out as they stuck us in the far back corner in a space big enough for one person and next to a tower of baggage that went to the ceiling of the van and constantly kept falling on us as our driver was flying down the road like a bat out of hell.  The only good part was that we did arrive a few hours early.  We were so happy to make it to Bangkok!

10 May 2009 A Day at the Dump
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We heard about a volunteer opportunity in Phnom Penh, Cambodia from our friend Trevor.  There are approximately 1,400 children who live at the dump and on each trip to the dump, volunteers feed about 450 children. 

We invited our new friend Julianna, who we had met on the night train from Hanoi to Da Nang, to join us.  She brought another girl from Vancouver, Leslie, who she had met while traveling.  We all met up in the morning and were briefed on what to expect and what the rules were….such as we had to make sure everyone waited in line to get food and we had to watch out to make sure that the older kids didn’t push the younger ones out of the way.  Then we all loaded up on the back of a big truck.  There was even a young baby girl on board who’s parents are missionaries from Lake Tahoe, California (which is near where I grew up in Grass Valley).  One of their friends who was with them that day was also from the Grass Valley area.  We got to talking and found out that we had a mutual friend who I’ve known since junior high.  It’s amazing what a small world it is!  Even while traveling we have met people and then bumped into them randomly weeks later in a different city or country.  In Phuket we met some girls from England who we ran into again on Kho Phangan Island.  In Nha Trang, Vietnam, we met a girl from Poland and bumped into her again at the killing fields in Cambodia.  In Phnom Penh at the orphanage where we taught English classes we met 2 girls from Sweden and then saw them again at the border crossing on our way from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Bangkok.  Traveling is so much fun!  It’s also an eye opening experience, especially when doing volunteer work. 

The experience at the dump was shocking!  When we drove into the dump hundreds of people came running from all directions, some little kids were running right behind the truck and were trying to jump in the back while it was still moving.  As we drove up the hill of waste the smell was so horrible that I had to cover my nose and mouth with my t-shirt and I soon gave up on swatting the flies away as they were all over my body.  When we stopped the truck at the top of the hill the people that had been running after us formed two huge lines.  Two of the volunteers were first aid trained and set up an area to the side to help anyone with injuries, since a lot of the children had cuts on their feet since they didn’t have any shoes.  We made the mistake of wearing flip flops and had to be very careful where we stepped.   One of the volunteers fell into waste deep dark dirty trash water up to her waste and lost her flip flops and cut the bottom of her foot in the process…scary!  We were amazed that all of these people actually lived in these horrible conditions, but a lot of them have never known anything else.  Several of the women in line were holding little babies in their arms, but the majority of people were young children, who surprisingly had big beautiful smiles on their dirty faces.  Some of them even gave me hugs and high fives…it was so heart warming!

After half of the line had been given food, rain started pouring down.  Rana and I had both brought our umbrella’s but it really only kept our heads dry and our legs were completely drenched since the rain was blowing sideways.  Several little ones squeezed in underneath our umbrellas with us.  Once all of the food was given away we handed out a few bags of clothes and shoes to some of the children who didn’t have any.  It was definitely a very rewarding experience and made us realize how fortunate we really are and how people who have hardly anything can still be happy and have big smiles on their faces…it will surely make us think twice before complaining about anything in the future.

09 May 2009 SCAO – Save Children in Asia
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Our second night in Phnom Penh we ate dinner at Happy Herbs Pizza (which became one of our favorite restaurants thanks to the great food and cheap drinks). In the back of the menus we saw a write up on an orphanage located in the nearby village of Boeng Chhouk. It said visitors and volunteers welcome so we decided to check it out the next day.

We found a tuk-tuk driver that knew where the village was (or at least claimed to) and headed that way. First stop was the outdoor market to buy some fruit to take to the orphanage. That was an interesting bargaining experience. No one at any of the stalls spoke English and everyone was trying to charge us outrageous prices. Finally I showed a man & his son the amount of money we were willing to pay while Sherri acted out a large bag of fruit (Sherri is an expert at charades after all the games of Guesstures we’ve played at home). We ended up with a large beautiful basket of fruit that they even decorated with tinsel for us…it was really cute! After a couple wrong turns down some dirt roads and stopping to ask for directions a few times we found the SCAO orphanage. It is run by a nice Cambodian couple, Mr. & Mrs. Samith. They showed us around the home and we got to see photos of all the kids and some of the projects previous volunteers had worked on. Currently the orphanage is home to 17 children. Another great thing about SCAO is they also offer free English classes to the community. About 90-100 children and young adults from the village attend 4 English teaching groups per day (taught mostly by volunteers) Monday through Saturday. Class was in session when we arrived, so we sat in. Two Swedish girls were teaching…they had been volunteering & living at SCAO for about a week. This class had 16 students, ages 6-12, of which about 1/2 lived at the orphanage. The kids were really cute & very bright! After class we spent some time talking with Mr. & Mrs. Samith and the Swedish girls. As it turned out the Swedish girls were leaving that afternoon and they had no volunteers to teach the 5:30pm and 6:30pm classes. Sherri & I happily volunteered.

SCAO is well organized…they have a lesson planning book that each teacher/volunteer makes notes in on what was last studied (workbook pages, topics, etc.)  This makes it easy for volunteers to pick up where the last person left off. If there are no volunteers, one of the older children that live at the orphanage will teach class.

Our 5:30pm class had about 20 younger kids, ages 6-12…some of them had been in the daytime class as well. We started the class off by introducing ourselves and telling them where we were from and a little bit about us. They had all sorts of questions…how old are you? What is your favorite color? And so on…after a bit of conversation we went over past & present tense, which they had started to review in their last class. We led the kids through the lesson in the workbook. They were quick learners and most of them spoke and understood English pretty well. The hour flew by and soon it was time for our 6:30 class. The evening class was packed!!! There were about 50-60 students, from teenagers to young adults. Instead of following along in a workbook we used the whole hour to practice conversation where students would take turns standing up and having a conversation with Sherri or me. The young adults class didn’t quite pick things up as quickly as the younger kids did, but it was also more difficult because there were a lot more students.

It was such a great experience!!! I only wish we had more time in Phnom Penh, as we would have loved to stay and volunteer for a week or two teaching English classes and getting to know the kids. SCAO is always looking for volunteers, short term and long term, so if you are planning on being in the Phnom Penh area definitely check it out. Mr. & Mrs. Samith are very sweet and space permitting they will often put the volunteers up at the orphanage. Either check out the website www.savechildreninasia.org or email them directly at samith33@gmail.com

08 May 2009 Phnom Penh, Cambodia
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We took a bus from HCMC, Vietnam to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which took about 7 hours. At our first bathroom/rest stop on the Cambodian side you could definitely see the difference between the two countries. There were tons of children outside the bus banging on the windows and begging, it was heartbreaking. Traveling through the Cambodian countryside there was lots of green lush vegetation…it was very tropical and beautiful.

We arrived late in the evening & jumped in a tuk-tuk (Cambodian-style consist of a motorcycle with a cabin for the passengers hitched to the back) for what should’ve been a short ride from the bus station into town. We stopped at an ATM along the way & I was so surprised when it dispensed cash in American dollars! Our tuk-tuk driver kept wanting to take us to hotels he recommended (he must get commission if we stay there) but after checking out a couple of the places we decided to go with one recommended by the guidebook. By this time it was near 9pm and we were starving after being stuck on a bus all day. We dropped our bags & set out along the riverfront to find something to eat…after a good meal (which you pay for in American dollars) we were exhausted & returned to the room. Just as we were getting ready for bed in the bathroom between the sink and the toilet was a huge spider! And I mean huge! Spiders do not get this big in California! This thing was way too big, we ran out of the bathroom freaking out, there was no way we could kill it. We went downstairs to wake up the guy sleeping/guarding the front door. He followed us up the stairs, went in the bathroom, shut the door and made a ton of noise (did he have to battle the thing?) before finally killing it & flushing it down the toilet. What is it with us & spiders? Luckily we have not had too many close encounters since the two huge ones in Australia. Needless to say neither of us got much sleep that night and to top it off the hotel started construction work bright & early the next morning in the room above us and two maids were talking outside our door at 7:00am. We decided we needed to switch guesthouses.

After we moved guesthouses we hired a tuk-tuk and set out to visit the Choeung Ek Killing Fields which is about a 20 minute ride out of town. We passed many villages and some beautiful scenery on the dusty road along the way. The Killing Fields is one of the places the Khmer Rouge executed many thousands of people during their four-year reign of terror from 1975-1979.  Mass graves containing almost 9,000 bodies were discovered at Choeung Ek. The glass stupa holds over 5,000 skulls that were excavated from these killing fields. In order to save ammunition, the executions were often carried out using hammers, axe handles, spades, sharpened  sticks or the back of a rifle. It was really sad walking around this actually very beautiful area. You could feel the heaviness in the air from the terror that happened there not that long ago. So many innocent men, women and children died. How can people be so cruel? The Khmer Rouge committed acts of genocide, killing about 1.5 million people, about 1/4-1/5 of Cambodia’s population.

Needing some cheering up after we had lunch at a nice restaurant overlooking the river…it started raining, but then the sun came out and there was a beautiful rainbow over the river.

Phnom Penh, is the capital of Cambodia and home to The Royal Palace where the Royal family lives today. We toured the palace grounds which have two magnificent pagodas, the Silver Pagoda and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which were built in the 19th century with French technology and Cambodian designs, and have survived the traumas of the 20th century amazingly intact.

While in Phnom Penh we also met back up with Julianna (who we met on the train from Hanoi to Hoi An) and Leslie (a girl Julianna had met while traveling) for a fun girl’s night out! We danced the night away at The Lounge and Pontoon, a club on a boat in the river. We had so much fun!