11 Jun “It was an emotional and educational experience for all involved, including the tour operators”
Where to begin? Last time we touched base, the group had just emerged from the remote and relaxing Banteay Chhmar. Having spent the week getting a feel for rural life in Cambodia, we find ourselves now immersed in the organized chaos of Phnom Penh.
Time has flown by over the last week! We made our way to Battambang, Cambodia’s second largest city, to explore by bicycle through the countryside to Wat Ek. A century younger than Banteay Chhmar, Wat Ek is still very much part of Cambodian culture and festivals today. Located next to a moat of lotus flowers, it was nice to get out of the sun for a while before our scorching hot bicycle ride back into town.
We also made our way to the Killing Caves; our first major introduction to the tragic events of the Khmer Rouge. Located over the beautiful rice fields of Battambang, the group left with an eerie and deeper understanding of this resilient country.
Leaving on a positive note, the group gets a National Geographic perspective of the wonder of bats coming out for their nightly feast. Before making our way to Siem Reap, the group took a visit to the Battambang circus, Phare Ponleu Selpak. It’s an organization that caters to over 1500 students in the arts. They’re trying to revive the culture that was lost during the Khmer Rouge. Famed for their acrobatic stunts and dramatic flare, the group instantly fell in love with the charismatic performers.
Next stop: Siem Reap – the infamous tourist bubble of Cambodia. Despite being Cambodia’s poorest province, it is by far the wealthiest city attracting thousands of tourists every month. We regrouped with the Animal Conservation team for a beach bar BBQ and had a wild night playing beer pong and singing our national anthem. Canada was well represented! With an early morning start, we spent exploring Angkor Wat. A few of us took a tuk tuk for the day while a couple of us braved the weather and opted to bike to and around the world’s largest archeological site. The day wasn’t complete without a stop to the Landmine Museum which houses thousands of deactivated landmines that were planted during the Khmer Rouge.
We then made our way to Phnom Penh, our trip leader Amanda’s favorite city. Only its bizarre small town feel matches the hustle and bustle of Cambodia’s capital city. Our time spent there really immersed us into Cambodia’s tragic history of war and genocide during the Khmer Rouge period. Although depressing to learn about, it really helps everyone understand and appreciate the growth and strength of this remarkable country and its people.
We visited the infamous Killing Fields and S21 torture prison with an army of fourteen year olds from our partner Tiny Toones. It was the first time they visited these historical sites of their people’s history. Very few Cambodians ever discuss let alone visit these places. The tour operators were shocked by my requests for Cambodian tour guides. “Can I please pay for 7 foreigners and 14 Cambodians?” “What?” Repeat my initial question. “14 Cambodians?” they would repeat in an astonished tone. “Yes, please.” “14 Cambodians?” Yes, please.” “Hmmmmm, well ok…”. To say the least it was an emotional and educational experience for all involved, including the tour operators.
The rest of our time was spent having an epic time with Tiny Toones, our main partner in Phnom Penh. They are a drop in center for marginalized street youth. They aim to get kids off the streets and into the class rooms by luring them in with dance, art and music. We were all spoiled with a live performance by these amazing dancers, a boat cruise BBQ down the Mekong, a talent show and a Gangnam Style dance in the rain. The group is most certainly in love and we have not even left for the leadership retreat on the beach!!!
Having an amazing time and stoked for the reatreat!!
Until next time,
The SEA Discovery Crew