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Cambodia Service Learning Tour Blog 2019

Day 2 

After a delicious brekkie with a side of not so delicious Hydralyte, we caught a five minute tuk tuk ride to the S21 genocide museum. Many of us were not expecting the school to be in the middle of a bustling area. On entrance to the museum we received a headset and audio player which allowed us all to move at our own pace and learn of the inhumane and grim history of S21 and the role it played in the Khmer Rouge. To give a visual, S21 is split into four (previously) school buildings, each building four stories high with multiple cells. As the site is now a museum, the rooms are filled with gruesome and moving images and stories of the many people who suffered at the hand of Pol Pot’s rule. What these thousands of people endured was heartbreaking and absolutely inhumane. All of us will remember them and their lives, we will never forget them and their stories. We think that unless you visit the museum, it’s hard to understand the horrors these people endured.

After an our first eye opening experience in Cambodia we moved on to a more inspiring place, CHA, also known as Cambodian Handcraft Association where we got to experience and see for ourselves how Cambodia has improved for the better.  We started our time there by first meeting the leader of the organisation who talked to us about who they are, what they do and the outcomes of their work. CHA is an organisation that takes disabled women who are shy and in some cases suicidal and teaches them new skills such as sewing and languages like Japanese and English to prepare them to enter the work force. We were amazed by the success so far, with more the 80% of women who leave, going on the be employed and the other 20% able to take their new skills back to their family with new hope. To show our support we all then ventured into their shop and purchased some of the many handmade items that were for sale. These included items such as bags, cards and keyrings.

Fried rice, beef, pork, veggies and noodles were all up for grabs at lunch, and everyone definitely enjoyed the simple but delicious foods! 

Our main form of travel today was the tuk tuk. These small half motorbike half car like automobiles where definitely a new experience! Weaving through the crazy traffic with no traffic lights and lots of beeping allowed us to experience the more local sights of Cambodia. The tuk tuk also allowed us to experience the different smells and sights all at once and the things we saw will not be forgotten soon. Everyone overall loved riding in the tuk tuks and we have come to a group agreement that we are going to open up our own tuk tuk company when we get back home. 

In contrast to the confronting images at S21, the killing fields were actually quite peaceful. The place was beautiful with lush gardens, butterflies, wildlife and a temple. Yet the scenery could not cover the horrors of the killing fields, with more than 300 people being executed and buried each day. One of the more depressing stories, was the story of mothers and infants at the killing fields. They were beaten and killed in the most gruesome of ways. This represents that even the innocent were punished during the horrible time of the Khmer Rouge. We will remember their lives especially. 

The markets were everything we expected and more. These markets, normally more for the locals, where crazier and more crowded than ever expected. They sold everything from your three course dinner, to clothes and of course fake Rolex's. We all did some shopping, investing in many pairs of happy pants and most groups getting a token item to show they were all together such as some very fashionable bucket hats and bracelets. The smells and items being sold will definitely not be forgotten soon either. 

The river cruise was especially beautiful and a relaxing time with pretty sunsets and a view of the city and the Mekong River… until someone found a massive speaker and we requested Cambodian music, then our boat turned into a PARTYYYY BOATTT!! Everyone (well most people) got up to dance and we sang our hearts out to some Cambodian music and Ed Sheeran. It was a great way to wrap up the first day!

By the time dinner came around we were all very hungry and couldn’t wait to get to try some more of Cambodia’s secret treasures, however what we discovered was not what we were expecting. First item on the list were the very delicious and very protein packed TARANTULAS! Luckily for us these where optional and congratulations to the girls able to actually try them. If bugs weren’t for you however the restaurant had a vast menu with many Cambodian dishes which included items such as pork, chicken, rice, soup, spring rolls and much more that we all were able to select our own dinner from. 

Ali and Charlotte

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Day 3

With our daily dose of *delicious* Hydralyte and the repulsive scent of mozzie repellent keeping weariness at bay, we started off the day with a whopping 2 hour bus trip to a primary school in Basedth. At the school we were instantly overwhelmed with the sheer amount of Cambodian children that engulfed us. Despite the language barriers we engaged in an intense soccer game, got creative with some crafts and of course some ultimate Frisbee with the kids. Here we learned about how World Vision partnered with the school to create a safer and enriching environment for the students. A few of these included providing a nifty water facility to improve the sanitation of the school, educating the student’s parents of the importance of education and assisting teachers (on top of all this most of the kids at the school were a World Vision sponsor child!). 

With teary goodbyes we headed off for a quick stop at the Basedth Area Program headquarters where we met some of the staff and learned about the sponsor child system as well as the different projects set up at Basedth. A highlight was that the projects are community driven. World Vision asks the community what they are in need of (as opposed to deciding themselves). In this case a water project, proving to be efficient in helping the community in areas they need it the most.

After a delicious lunch consisting of noodles, egg, soup and a massive fish, we were on the road again towards our last stop; a very small and vulnerable rural community near Pheari Mean Chey in the Basedth province. This was an incredibly eye-opening experience. With an entourage of adorable children at our side, we first learned about the water project, hearing the extensive amount of positive effects of the underground sourced water from a Cambodian village leader himself. By providing the entire community with clean water it not only relieved the economic burden of purchasing water but also helped to reduce the prevalence of water borne disease throughout the community. Lastly we had the privilege of hearing the personal stories of two of the most vulnerable families in the community. I think all the girls can agree that this was such an exceptionally inspiring and gratifying experience, the pure strength and resilience that the members of these communities shown being completely astounding. Despite their grave situations they continue to retain hope and work hard to attain a better future, an unforgettable lesson for the girls of how perseverance, sustainable practices, future thinking and determination can change lives no matter the circumstances. This we will take back into our own lives, and we are forever grateful for them letting us into their community.

Sienna and Hana

Cambodia 10 rs

Day 4

Starting our final day in Phnom Penh with a splash, we woke up at 6am to go for a very cold morning swim. After swimming for less than 10 minutes (and waking the entire hotel up with our noise), we washed up and went down for breakfast. As usual we had a delicious breakfast that could be mistaken for dinner that ranged from omelettes, to pho, to pancakes. 

After packing our bags - ready for the exciting day ahead, we had another enjoyable time riding in the tuk tuk’s watching the streets of Phnom Penh come alive. We took photo’s in front of the Independence Monument which commemorates Cambodia’s independence from France. With a beautiful view of the Mekong River, we rode in the tuk tuk’s past more monuments until we arrived at the Royal Palace. The palace was an extreme opposite of the sights we saw yesterday. From the 24karat gold plated tiles, to the silver tiles weighing a tonne to the grand buildings, we were all in awe as we walked around the palace. As we went on a tour we learnt about the history of the Palace, being built in 1866 with French inspired architecture as well as being Hindu and Buddhist inspired designs. The opportunity to learn about the royal family and what happened to the monarchy when the Khmer Rouge came was both fascinating and upsetting. After visiting poorer communities that are deprived of various necessities, learning that millions of dollars are being spent on rebuilding parts of the palace was saddening as well as learning that they are still rebuilding and painting the palace as majority of the intellects and artisans were killed during Pol Pot’s regime. We took off our shoes and put away camera’s to walk inside one of the many rooms in the palace. Here, we saw a room full of gifts given to the royal family. The most eye-catching piece was a statue made entirely out of emerald as well as other Budda statues made of silver and gold with diamonds. The palace was an entirely different experience to yesterday at the area development programs, but nonetheless still a vital part into learning about the culture of Cambodia and a worthwhile experience. 

As we left the palace we stopped for a well needed ice cream as the temperature was noticeably hotter. We hopped in our tuk tuk’s once again and rode to a temple. We walked up the steep stairs of the temple where the smell of incense greeted us. We split off into our care-groups as we strolled around the grounds of the temple, watching people pray as well as looking at the various statues and examining the architecture. 

Burgers and chips were on the menu for lunch and as we left the temple we travelled in the tuk tuk’s to a food court where we filled up on some less traditional, but still very tasty food that would keep us energised for the final destination of the day… shopping!

It was a short walk to the central markets from our lunch location, where we spent two hours bargaining and buying clothes, souvenir’s and other exciting things at the markets. The markets were busy but it was a fun time learning how to get the best deals on all clothing and learning when to walk away. 

We rode home in the tuk tuk’s and had the rest of the afternoon to pack our bags, catch up and have a second swim. After the relaxing afternoon, we ended our final day in Phnom Penh by eating at an Italian restaurant across the street from the hotel. The pizza and pasta did not disappoint and the evening was spent wandering around the Russian markets at night looking at all the lights and different cuisine that is available in Cambodia. 

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Day 5

Chom Reap Sour (Hello), soon turned into Chom Reap Lear (Goodbye) as we prepared to leave the Frangipani Hotel in Phnom Penh. It was busy morning as we woke up and immediately packed our bags ready to leave. We enjoyed the delicious morning ‘pho’ for the last time before a long bus ride that was filled with much laughter and fun.  

Our first official stop was a lovely preschool set up by the surrounding community of Baribour, specifically Baribour 2. Working with WorldVision, the community were able to set up a preschool for children aged 3-5 whom were not yet old enough to begin school. After a quick presentation on the purpose of the preschool, we were extremely excited to meet the little children and show them what we had brought for them. It was a beautiful moment when we were able to exchange songs in our different languages, as well as go outside and play with the equipment outside.

The next stop was at a place called AC, this stood for agriculture cooperation. These people worked for the good of the community to provide clean water for everyone surrounding them. The cleaning process was incredible to witness first hand, there was a filtration system with 12 steps. After a quick tour of the area, we sat down in a shed to listen to a presentation from the workers. The majority of the workers were women, which was amazing to see. These women were willing to give a little speech about their story and the difficulties they faced when looking for work. To end the little trip to AC, we were provided with a delicious lunch of pork, eggs, pasta and some cucumber, by some of the local villagers. It was a beautiful experience.

When we arrived at the youth group program, we were warmly greeted by many smiling faces. We were brought into a small gathering in a shed where the youth group took turns introducing themselves. This was a lovely way to get to know everyone. It was entertaining and impressive to see that many of the youth were presenting themselves in English. After the introductions, a presentation was given detailing their history, challenges, what they do and their future goals. This presentation was among one of the most engaging as it was different and enjoyable to see children our age present information. After many inquisitive questions and informative answers, we said thank you and presented each of the students with a WorldVision and Tara wristband. We were then led outside to the fields to an area where the students were planting and growing crops. Many of the Tara girls quickly got involved in weeding and planting some seeds. 

The day was filled with much laughter, fun and memorable moments. All the Tara girls were able to create friendships that many do not have the opportunity to. The entire day was a blast and really opened our eyes to how much we should appreciate our circumstances. This day was truly a day that none of us could ever forget. 


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Day 6

This morning, we all started our morning bright and early. Once we had finished our breakfast, we gathered outside the hotel before loading ourselves into the buses to begin our two hour drive to a high school. After a slow start we eventually arrived at a high school in Rukh Kiri. When we got off the bus, we saw all the smiling faces of the girls and boys who were our age and older, some younger too. We were split back into care groups and each group of four went to a different classroom. 

In the English class our group went to we were able to sit with the local students. The teacher asked if we could go to the front and sing a song for them. We decided to sing the English alphabet to them. At the time, the students were learning about grammar and sentence structure. We got to really experience what it was like to learn in a new environment with different teaching methods than what we are used to. 

After a break we all headed outside to the field to play games and meet some of the students. One of the hardest things so far has been wanting to communicate to people but not being about to because of the language barrier. Some of us introduced ourselves to the boys, and they introduced themselves to us. They pulled us to the other side of the field to play a game, almost like duck-duck-goose but in partners. It was such an energetic game and was a great way to see what they do during break time. They wanted us to show them a game, so we taught them captain ball. 

Some of the girls from the class taught us the five greeting stages and two Tara girls showed them ours. We realised that in Australia, we’re a lot more laid back with our greetings as in Cambodia, and they’re very formal. One of the girls stood up and sang a traditional Cambodian song for us, and she did such an amazing job! One we had finished in the classroom, it was nearly time to say goodbye. We sang them the School Blessing, and I think it went really well. Along with saying our final goodbyes, we took lots of photos and we all gave out lots of hugs. 

We drove to the World Vision office near Rukh Kiri and we had a small presentation from one of the workers. After the presentation we had lunch accompanied by fresh coconuts, it was delicious! After lunch, we were split into groups with one group taken to a reading camp for young children and the other group taken to a model farm. At the model farm we sat around in a circle and heard about the family living on the farm. After the introduction, they took us on a tour of the farm. 

We said goodbye and boarded the buses again. Next stop, Battambang! 

We finally arrived at our hotel, were assigned our rooms and we all headed off to wash up before dinner. After dinner, we did a little bit of shopping in the little shop downstairs from the café. We assembled outside and began our journey back to the hotel. We walked about 15 minutes to our buses and caught them back to the hotel. 


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Day 7

Day 7 started with a sleep in until 7:15am followed by a 20 km bike tour of the sights Battambang had to offer. 

Our first stop was a street shop selling bamboo sticky rice which everyone enjoyed. We then stopped at a beautiful Buddhist temple, got some equally beautiful photos and even caught a glimpse of some monks! 

The fish market was definitely the “best smelling” stop of our tour but it also wasn’t long before we were off again. Our fourth stop showed us how rice paper is authentically made and we all got to try some deep fried rice paper rolls and the best sweet potato chips we’ve had for at least a while.

All too soon we were off again to our final stop, a crocodile farm! We all got to hold some baby crocs before we moved on to the real deal. The farm had hundreds of crocodiles and we all got some great videos of them snapping their jaws and floating along. 

We spent the rest of our afternoon lazing in hammocks and some of the girls were even game enough to climb the enormous stair case of Wat Banan temple and got views well worth the effort. The most gorgeous views of the temple and the surrounding area could all be seen from the top of the mountain and the walk back down the stairs led us to feeding the catfish and heading home for the night. 

Day 8

Day 8 had us waking up at 4:30am by a very loud Cambodian wedding across the street from the hotel. Once 6:45am rolled around, most people got up and were ready for breakfast and our 5 hour (!) drive from Batambang to Siem Reap. We passed the long bus ride with many games and of course some much needed napping. 

Once we arrived to our hotel we spent some time doing a final debrief and reflection of the service days and trip so far with our care groups and eventually the entire group. We all found the Cambodian values of pride, respect, and community inspiring for us to bring with us back to Australia and into our lives after the trip. 

We spent about an hour at the night markets and were back to our hotel on tuk tuks for a good night’s sleep and tomorrow, our last day (sadly). 

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Day 9

After over a week of being in Cambodia, it’s safe to say that all of us have grown accustomed to waking up at the crack of dawn. It was the same today, all of us waking up at 5am and dragging ourselves down to breakfast. The delicious foods and fruits woke us up, and immediately got us in the perfect mood to go an visit the famous temples in Angkor. 

Our first stop was the Angkor Wat temple, a Hindu temple complex, being the biggest in the entire world. We explored the crumbling ruins of the temple, stepping over stone and mounds of dirt. From there we moved onto the other temples in the district of Angkor, even visiting the famous temple where Angelina Jolie filmed her famous movie. With the towering trees and the ingrown roots, we were all amazed. We also learnt some amazing facts along the way that the reason the Buddhist faces and statues were covered up was because when the French discovered the temple, they didn’t want to see the Buddhist faces. We also had plenty of fun with the monkeys in the temple, feeding them bananas. Altogether, it was really enjoyable learning experience that everyone loved.

To conclude this trip and summarise it in just one word, I would say ‘phenomenal’. No words can describe how much we learnt, how much we saw, and how much we experienced. It was also quite phenomenal how much each of us grew from coming on this trip. We became more open-minded, experienced, kind and caring, teaching us valuable lessons that we could not learn in school. This trip was so amazing and I am so grateful to have experienced it.  


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