Cambodia has always been high on my travel list. So you can imagine how excited I was when the contract for my most recent expedition came through earlier this year. The training weekend for the trip fell on the same weekend as my tryouts for Team Australia Roller Derby. But as I've said many times before, divine timing is everything, things always turn out as they are meant too in the end.
Before this trip, I stepped into a transition phase. Life was throwing everything possible in my face. Most likely to test how bad I really wanted it, as life does. So I decided to go offline, well off social media at least. The good thing about that, in conjunction with my trip was that I was able to give my undivided attention to Cambodia.
During my two week trip to Cambodia we barely scratched the surface. I was leading twelve 17-18 year olds, or perhaps they were leading me! I didn't choose the places we visited, stayed or ate. Considering the above these were my highlights.
Kro Bie Real community
We were fortunate enough to visit this village just 30 minutes out of Siem Reap. Here, we participated in a project assisting with renovations to the local school. The best part was staying with the local families.
The local people were happy, friendly and hard working, always wanting to help us wherever we went. The children were inquisitive of us and everything that we were doing. Not afraid to come close to check out what was happening or engage in a game and practice their English.
We ate home cooked local foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rice was the foundation and served with every meal. Breakfast was normally some form of noodle soup with meat and vegetables. Chicken, pork, fish, tofu and eggs were the main sources of protein. Fresh vegetables were prevalent and spicy chili was often used. Local fresh fruit was also on offer.
Our accommodation was basic. We slept in one room on the wooden floor with woven mats, a thin blanket and some pillows. Mosquito nets and fans were set up for us and electricity wasn't turned on all day. The bathroom consisted of a toilet and a bucket shower. This was divine after a long day working in the heat and humidity.
We choose only to spend one day here, (I could have probably spent 3). First up was the Angkor Wat for sunrise. If you know me and my love of sunrise, you would have probably guessed it, yep it was epic. Hot pink and purple skies turning to orange and gold. The only problem was that my team were slow starters, so instead of seeing it rise behind Angkor Wat, were saw it from the parking lot after purchasing our tickets.
Despite out sluggish start the scene was divine, you really felt like you were walking in an ancient kingdom. Humidity was through the roof and we had to cover up for cultural sensitivity. We climbed to the top of the central tower where views were spectacular and many of the Buddhist structures were headless.
The second stop was Bayon otherwise known as the Smiling Buddha temple with countless serene smiling stone faces staring at you wherever you walk. You could sense the happiness of these ruins as it seemed there was always someone watching over your shoulder. Sneaking in and out of the 13th century structure.
Our last stop was Ta Prohm, or better known as the temples from Tomb raider. This spectacular temple has started to become overgrown by the strangulation trees. Originally seeds are dropped from birds that fly above and the trees grow wildly through this ancient place. Like nature meets kingdom, you could spend hours exploring. Nature is surely winning the epic battle as the crumbling structure is continually under restoration. One of my most favorites places in Cambodia.
whilst in Siem Reap we visited the Cambodian style Circ du soleil. Located on the outskirts of the city the quaint grounds lured us in offering popcorn, ice cream and fairy floss. Decorated with fairy lights we waited on the comfy couches as the sun went down and were then ushered into the signature red tent.
The spectacular performance is a mixture of high energy dance, theater, original live music and breathtaking circus arts telling unique Cambodian stories, both traditional and modern. The show was gripping, one which you could not look away from with exceptional human talent.
The circus is set up as a social enterprise, where all performers are are graduates of Phare Ponleu Selpak, an NGO school and professional arts training center in Battambang, Cambodia. These performers were all once living on the streets and are now paid to perform for the circus.
Prehaps my favorite place of my glimpse around Cambodia was the Mondulkiri. About a six hour drive east to neighbouring the border of Vietnam is the Mondulkiri province. Deep in the heart of the Cambodian Jungle. This vastly dense and overgrown place was so vibrant, thriving, green filled with bamboo, vines, waterfalls and rivers that stretch in for eternity.
On day one we hiked eight hours to get to hammock camp located by a waterfall and swimming hole. The next day, after some terentral morning rain, we hiked up and down the slippery slopes and passed through the back of a waterfall, thought corn fields and experiencing mountain top views. This was like nothing I have ever done before. At the end of the day we walked into another local homestay, on a farm overlooking the rolling hills.
I'd done some background reading about the recent war, a book hard to put down 'First they killed my father' by Loung Ung, so I knew a little bit about what we were in for. Our trip had been colourful with not so colourful stories of war history woven in and out. Whilst in Siem Reap we visited a war museum and spoke with veterans. I found this fascinating and horrific at the same time, perhaps because it was so recent. Whilst in Phnom Penh we visited the S21 genocide museum and the killing fields offering first hand graphic details of this horrible civil war.
I fell in love with Cambodia, from all angles. The people are divinely friendly, the food simply delicious and the sights utterly colourful. Id return in a heartbeat to explore this country in more detail. A place Id encourage you indulge in too.
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