The end of 2010 saw me spend four weeks in Cambodia, based in Siem Reap – by far the most western of Cambodia’s cities. The trip was shaped around providing assistance to a group of soldiers and their families who were being moved into a new centre for those injured in battle. Also, importantly, it was my first trip overseas on my own – in the sense that I knew no one who was going to be there – but it was still overseen by an organisation I had travelled with before (on month long school trip to Africa I had been on two years earlier).
Siem Reap is an amazing city, and a perfect example of Cambodia’s regrowth after the destruction of Pol Pot’s regime. During his short reign, and through a combination of forced labour, starvation, disease outbreaks and execution, more than 25% of Cambodia’s population was killed. This horrific regime set the country backs decades in development, and yet you will never meet a people that are more open, friendly, happy and welcoming than the Khmer people.
During the week, we got on a bus each morning that transported us to the centre, which consisted of soldiers housing, a hospital that was in the final stages of construction (it was being used but did not yet have power), and a school. I partook in a combination of running English classes with some of the lower grade levels (we put together the syllabus ourselves) and offering some basic medical lessons to the soldiers (on topics like oral health, hygiene, first aid etc).
On the weekends we organised our own travel within the region. We spent half a day in Angkor Wat, which is a completely amazing places, and a definite must see. It is immense, and the detail in both the construction and decoration of all the structures is phenomenal. I also visited Bayon (the temple faces) and the pink Women’s temple. We took a day trip out to a floating village – which is a another must see – it totally redefines your idea of community. The final places I have to mention is the land mine museum – started by a local who was involved in the removal of land mines after the war, it is a shocking but important educational experience.
So that,in brief summary, was my experience in Cambodia. My biggest regret was that I didn’t make to Phnom Penh – guess that gets added to my list of places to visit. I have included a few photos below.
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