Well joined the Cambodia tour in Thailand on Saturday, February 14 - yes Valentine's Day. I had visions that I would be surrounded by all these lovey-dovey couples coming away for a romantic break. Thankfully as with most other things I was wrong. The group that I'm in is great. There are 14 of us in total, 4 from OZ, 3 from Sweden, 2 from Denmark, 2 from the States, 2 from the UK (including a girl from Scotland) and me. Everyone is super nice and we are all getting all well. Our tour leader Savath is from Cambodia - he is brilliant! He knows so much about the country and he is also really funny. He can also cut some moves on the dance floor - stay tuned for pics....
The first day of the tour we travelled from Bangkok to Siem Reap. A monster 8 hour journey, half of which is over the dancing road - Cambodia speak for a white knuckle road. The traffic in Cambodia is crazy, you have to look right and then left and then right again because they don't a side of the road that they have to drive on, it's a free for all. A sick bag should come with your bus ticket but then again that might have something to do with the cocktails at the group dinner the night before....
By the time we arrived and checked in, it was time for dinner. We went to a local restaurant, with this tour they encourage you to eat at local places to support the local economy. Cambodian food is lovely, a bit like Thai but without all the spices.
The next day we went to Angkor Wat. The temples are amazing - it's hard to comprehend that they were built thousands of years ago and that communities used to live in them. The history of their legacy is fascinating, you could spend a full week just exploring the temples and nothing else.
The area the temples are in is huge, and as you walk around there are lots of local people trying to sell you things, including really young kids. School isn't compulsory here and most families are so poor so can't afford to send their children to school. This means you have kids as young as 2 and 3 working to try and sell you things. All you hear when you are walking around is a choirs of children singing 1 dollar, 1 dollar. It's really hard not to buy from them as they are really cute and so smart. The children ask where you are from and then list the capital city and the population of the country in perfect English. If you still don't buy them them they then challenge you to a game which 9 out of 10 times they win. However no matter how cute they are, you are encouraged not to buy them as it gives their parents no motivation to send them to school. It's really heart-breaking to see how much poverty they are living in but not buying from them is really the best thing you can do to help them.
After the temples some light relief was required... so from Angkor Wat we went to Angkor What???? Where drinks were only, yes you guessed it - 1 dollar! We then proceeded to get a tad tipsy. I had such a good night getting to know the group a little better. For the record Danish girls can drink just as much as Scottish girls. After several hours dancing on the tables it was back to the Victory Inn for not enough sleep.
Day two in Siem Reap and after a late night we had an early start. The first stop of the day was to visit a Cambodian orphanage. At first I didn't think I would be able to do it. Back home I can't be on the same bus or in the same restaurant as children without wanting to kill them. However the same me that laughs when a child gets told off was reduced to tears by the orphanage. I don't know if I can explain exactly how it felt but I'll give it a go...
As we got off the minibus the children ran into lines to greet us. They just stood their with such expectant faces as if by turning up we had given them the greatest gift in the world. There were around 112 kids and after exchanging hellos in Cambodian and English the kids then burst into song. Cue several verses of "If you are happy and you know it..." We all just stood in awe at how happy these children were. They have nothing, absolutely nothing. They are lost their parents, have no home and no belongings. All their clothes are second hand and some hardly fit. Some used to be street kids who were addicted to drugs and some have parents who have had to leave them at the orphanage because they can't afford to keep them. The orphanage is funded entirely by a NGO and by donations. It costs less then 10 thousand dollars a year to feed, house and educated over 100 children and they get no help at all from the government. If anyone is in the market for a good-cause or a charity to support, this should be it. The orphanage makes every penny count and is changing the lives and outlooks of these children. We got to play with them for around a hour and all they wanted was human contact and hugs. After many piggy-back races and helicopters it was time to say good-bye. The kids are used to people leaving them so it was easy for them but for it was heart-wrenching. It's an experience that I wasn't looking for but I'll never forget. I might even end up back one day.
In the afternoon we went to visit a silk farm and floating village. Both are great as you see another side to how Cambodian people live. The floating village was awesome, as you sail down the river, people are pulling their house along to move them. I suppose it beats packing. The village also has a school and a basketball court on the river. At the local river restaurant the speciality is ... (ANNETTE DON'T READ)... BBQ Snake.... as a veggie I couldn't possibly try it but I have it on good sources it tastes like bacon (OK ANNETTE YOU CAN READ AGAIN).
That night we went for dinner with the group and watched some traditional Cambodian dancing. However I was more interested in the 2-4-1 cocktails - to be honest I can't remember much after that!
Siem Reap was great, it's Cambodia's 2nd largest city but it has such a town feel off it. If you are thinking about going, don't think any longer just go - you won't regret it!