Southeast Asia

Written by Amanda Martin, 2014 Southeast Asia: Cities & Sanctuaries Program Leaders. We are on the road again! Headed eastward on Highway 5, we are all wishing the air-con was a little stronger, but are grateful our long legs fit into the seats this time. The honking bus is rolling through the flat and green countryside. Dotted with white cows and women planting the vibrant green rice fields, stilt houses with swinging hammocks and the occasional vibrant yellow roof of a temple catches our attention on one side, while to the left the Tonlé Sap Lake is creeping up higher and higher as the monsoon rains begin to fall. Next stop Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city! We just spent the last eight days in the province of Battambang, known as the rice bowl of Cambodia. Only recently has it begun to generate the attention of the more adventurous traveller who is looking to get off the main track of Bangkok to Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. Despite being Cambodia’s second largest city, it has a very mellow and relaxed flow. Strolling down the riverside, one is bound to encounter a karate class or two, a couple of dance classes or aerobics routines in the park. The side of the street is lined with food carts selling bottles of Fanta and Coke, sugar cane juice, steamed corn, and fried noodles. Mount Phnom Sampeau is only a few kilometers outside of the city and a must see. It offers a spectacular view of the surrounding rice fields and a harem of monkeys eager to take some bananas off your hands. The sacred mountain is also well-known on account of being a stronghold of the Khmer Rouge, during the country’s civil war. The Killing Caves, where the Khmer Rouge murdered hundreds of people, is a somber reminder of the recent and tragic history of Cambodia. As the Khmer Rouge continued to fight for Cambodia, they were pushed further and further north-west, until they were overthrown by the Vietnamese Army and Cambodian dissidents in 1979. Cambodia was largely isolated from the international community until 1991 and the prolonged conflict has left Cambodia as one of the poorest and least developed nations in Southeast Asia. The north-west region of Cambodia was very heavily land-mined by the Cambodians, the Thais and the Vietnamese; it continues to be one of the most heavily land-mined regions in the world. Many Cambodians’ who fled during the war to refugee camps in Thailand returned to this region of Cambodia. It had the highest rate of returnees. These displaced peoples were returning to a home turned upside down by war. Although the war ended over 30 years ago, many of the scars run deep in the psyche of Cambodians. Teuk Poh Permaculture Education FarmOckenden, our next major partner in Cambodia, focused their efforts here. From 1997-2007, the organization has helped over 23,537 beneficiary families rebuild their lives after the traumatic experience and has become a well trusted organization within the Cambodian community. The organization has been Cambodian-run since 2007 and operates through a network of community-based organizations (CBO). Teuk Poh Permaculture Education Farm is one of those CBOs. They work on reeducating the farmers about sustainable farming practices, promoting methods for combatting drought and flood, protecting the community forests from illegal logging, and creating awareness amongst the next generation. We had the privilege of spending several days working alongside this dedicated group of individuals. Much like camping, we spent several nights in our mosquito net tents under a giant grass roof hut. The bucket showers, a little on the short side for a few in the group, were constructed next to the banana trees for shade and opened up to the sky. The excess water from washing dishes and our showers all made its way to the grey water systems dug out around the farm. The two outhouses were connected to the bio-gas system, so we were able to contribute to the hard work of the cows that create the propane needed to cook our dinner. Nothing went to waste here!

Written by Amanda Martin and Samnang Pak, 2014 Southeast Asia: Cities & Sanctuaries Program Leaders. Tourism is a big money-making industry for the economies of Southeast Asia. Thailand's booming tourism economy plays a major role in their country and Cambodia's is on the rise. If done properly, this is a great opportunity for the people of Cambodia! Often big companies will build monopolies over the tourist market or the hotels and businesses will be primarily owned by foreigners. Locals or small businesses often get pushed to the side, but many job opportunities continue to be generated. This is largely the case in Siem Reap, home of the famed Angkor Wat. Siem Reap has a similar vibe to the mayhem of Khao San Road in Bangkok, although on a much smaller scale and is built around the must-see temples. At the height of the Khmer Empire, still a point of national pride for Cambodians today, these places of worship made from stone were masterpieces. No trip to Cambodia is complete without these sites.