Harrowing history, claustrophobic crawling, manic markets, towering temples, rickety rickshaws, delightful dancing, amazing acrobatics, bustling boats, sunset swimming, delectable dinners, raging roads, caring Cambodians, spicy soups, family forever….
Over the course of 12 days, we travelled through Cambodia and Vietnam with 43 students and 4 other staff on an unforgetable school trip. We have experienced so much together as a group with so many lessons learnt. Here are my top 10 experiences from this trip:
1. Mud Hut Building
For me, this was the centre piece of our trip. For three days, we worked together in two separate teams to build houses for Pon Nan and Chhaya in Kep. Pon Nan is about to get married in a couple of months and is unable to afford a house of his own. Chhaya is a local pastor and currently lives in a small room under the church with his wife SreyMom and three kids.
We constructed the houses out of mud bricks using the affordable housing model that Roots has established. It involved a lot of heavy lifting, mixing mud and teamwork. At the conclusion of Pon’s house, out of gratitude, Pon asked Year 10 to write each of their names into his new walls.
It was so great to see how a small bit of effort on our behalf can make such a great difference for others. We look forward to hearing more from Pon and Chhaya and hopefully going back to visit some time soon.
On our way from Phnom Penh to Kep, we went on some speed boats to a small water bound village which has the oldest temple in Cambodia. Just as we were almost at the temple, we came across a young boy named Sina.
It broke our hearts to see that little 6 year old Sina was in pain, suffering from dengue fever. His family were unable to afford the cost of the taxi back to Phnom Penh for hospital care he so desperately needed.
Wanting to contribute and do something to help, our students opened their wallets to pay for the taxi and accommodation for the mum. We waved goodbye and prayed for Sina as he was rushed off to the hospital.
A couple of days later, Nip (our champion Cambodian guide) told us his wife had visited them in hospital and he is now doing much better back at home. Certainly a lesson learnt in God’s sovereignty and contentment in what we have!
3. Angkor Thom Temples
Incredible! We spent a day visiting three of over 500 temples in the Angkor Thom province. We visited Bayon Temple, Jungle Temple and Angkor Wat Temple. As we walked through, we soaked in the history of the 800+ year old temples.
My personal favourite was the Jungle Temple (or known to some as the Tomb Raider Temple). Left in it’s original state, with the sprawling trees ruling and running over the walls, it was magnificent to explore.
4. Rabbit Island
After a busy first week, this was our first real chance to relax. From Kep, we hopped on small wooden boats out to Rabbit Island (no rabbits inhabit this island funnily enough). We spent the afternoon on the island sipping from coconuts, relaxing with massages and swimming in the clear ocean. An afternoon well spent!
5. Asia Hope Orphanage
Seeing the joy on the faces of the children at the orphanage in Phnom Penh (run by Asia Hope International) as we played and interacted with them was something I will never forget. These children only have visits from people a couple of times a year and could not hold their excitement back!
We brought gifts with us to share with them and spent an hour or so playing games with them. This is the beginning of what is hopefully a long standing relationship with our school.
6. Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi tunnels in Saigon (or now known as Ho Chi Min City) was not an enjoyable experience, but certainly one which left us all with a greater understanding of the nature and tragic extent of the Vietnam war.
The morning was spent exploring the tunnels which the Cu Chi people dug beneath the ground to hide from the American forces and defend their town. We were lucky enough to actually crawl through close to 100m of these tiny tunnels (which extended for over 200km and up to 10,000 people lived in and used at one point in time). We also discovered and learnt a lot about the guerrilla tactics used by the Cu Chi people in defense.
Whilst in Siem Reap, we attended an acrobatics workshop run by Phare, The Cambodian Circus, before watching the circus performance in the evening. For me, this was a real highlight; with the unbelievable strength, coordination and humour certainly on show.
The yoyo diabolos performers (childhood memories) were incredibly impressive with their mesmerising speed and skills. What’s even more awesome about the circus is that the performers are young returnee Cambodians from refugee camps who have learned about using art as a means of coping with trauma.
Tarantulas, crickets, silk worms, cocroaches, crocodile, frogs…. Just some of the new animals I somehow convinced myself to eat during the trip. Although I can’t say all were entirely delectable, the food in Cambodia and Vietnam was incredible.
I’ve probably gone home a few kilos heavier after eating buffet breakfast after buffet breakfast and chowing through all sorts of local delicacies. My favourite would have to be the Taco Salad at Friends Restaurant or the many fish amoks.
9. Khmer Rouge Killing Fields
Another one of the chilling, eerie and unforgettable memories from the trip was our visit to the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh. Here we learnt of the horrible dark history to Cambodia that is often overlooked where millions of Cambodians were inexcusably killed by the Khmer Rouge.
We walked through the fields where thousands upon thousands of bodies were buried in pits and looked at the horrifying number of skulls in the shrine.
10. Night markets
The hustling, bustling night markets in Siem Reap was certainly a new experience for many. From ‘genuine’ rolex watches to nike shoes, ralph polos to cooling fans and flowing pants to a pair of aviators; many dollars were spent on “special price for you”.
All in all, an incredible 12 days which I won’t soon forget. Seeing the sheer joy in the children’s faces who have so little has reminded me to be content and thankful for what I have. Being in the right place at the right time for little Sina has reminded me of God’s provision for us. And seeing the difference we can make with just a few hours of work, has reminded me of the impact we all can have on those less fortunate than us.
I finish this trip with a heavy heart; knowing I won’t see many of these students again after our family year of travel; but leave confident, knowing that these students will keep the passion they have for the underprivileged and less fortunate than us.