Cambodia Enrichment Week

Sorry for the lack of news this past month. As one could probably gather, this is because I have been extremely busy with immersive experiences as well as a major lack of internet or computers. So as succinct but also as detailed as possible I shall divulge the adventures we had in Cambodia.

On New Years we made our grand exit from Thailand. We flew into Phnom Penh Cambodia in the morning of Tuesday, January 2nd 2018! We checked into our hotel, The Queenwood, had lunch, and then had a walking tour of the nearby temples. We were given a free afternoon to explore our part of the city (as long as we stayed in groups of three of course). As the sun set we met up for dinner at the lovely Friends Cafe where the waitstaff were students training to work in the tourist business. After our long day we were all exhausted and so few turned up to view the intense, but long, Netflix movie First They Killed My Father. This is a movie that is based on a girl’s personal experience of growing up under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. I was among the few who made it but almost fell asleep and after an hour we decided to stop it and go to bed. I fell asleep right away, but even from my room, was awoken to the terrible screaming sobs of a female prostitute in the hallway. Too groggy to understand what was going on, I fell back to sleep after the noise died down and didn’t hear about all of the drama until the next day.

In the morning I learned that our hotel came alive at night with sex tourism. To the extent that made all of TBB uncomfortable. This, along with the fact that many of our rooms had been vandalized by past guests, led us to leave the infamous Queenwood early and find a better hotel. Luckily we found a significantly better hotel and all moral was restored.

After the whole hotel debacle that Wednesday morning, we were given the rest of the day (until 4pm) to ourselves with a per diem for lunch. A group of friends and I went to get amazingly tasty indian food! I ate like it was the last meal I could ever have. We indulged ourselves until it was time to head to our next activity. Bellies stuffed we made our way to the amazing Cambodia Living Arts. These hardworking dance students showed us traditional Cambodian dance styles and then taught us a few simple steps to do ourselves. They also showed us how to twist and then wear the traditional pants like bottoms that the dancers wear while performing. After this fun immersion into Cambodian artistic culture we made the small journey to the river front. There we boarded a lovely boat with a roof that was set up for us to eat dinner. We cruised through the Mekong River enjoying the views of the city and the beautiful sunset.

On Thursday, January 4th we had, as our new friend from Cambodian Living Arts put it, “A full day of sad.” Luckily it took only the morning and early afternoon. We visited the Killing Fields where Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge brutally murdered thousands, possibly millions, in the 1970s. It was terrible and extremely depressing to view the tower of human skulls placed in the Stupa in the center of the place. The stories I listened to during my solo journey through the headphone guided walking tour gave me shivers of fright and made my stomach upset with disgust. However horrifying the place might be I think it is important to know and learn about. This genocide was so recent that most Cambodian adults lived through this part of the nations history and experienced death and awful tyranny as children for so many years. We also visited the school, turned prison, called S-21 inside the city. We viewed the claustrophobic, haphazard “cells” each quickly constructed to fit many prisoners in each big classroom. I saw the blood stained floors and walls depicting pictures of what was found when the prison was liberated. Only seven prisoners survived this awful place.

After this morning of sad, we were given the afternoon to explore the city for a much more substantial amount of time then given on previous days. Gabi, Emma, Ben, Rhea and I decided to use this time to see the Royal Palace. It was beautiful, full of many intricately painted walls and multiple glamorous buddhist temples. We spent a couple of hours there hanging out and enjoying the beauty surrounding us before heading to the Russian Market where Emma, Rhea and I ended up doing a bunch of souvenir shopping. After this I ditched Emma and Rhea to meet up with my lovely mento group (Gabi, Ben, Matty, Jen, Meg, and PL Peter) to go eat dinner together at “Dine in the Dark”. It was an unreal experience. They ask you beforehand your diet preferences and to put all belongings with a light into a lockbox. Then you are led by a blind waiter (making a train of hands on the person in front of you’s shoulders until the front person has their hands on the waiter’s shoulders) up through a series of drapes that block out the light more and more until you are in a completely dark room. We were shown were to sit by feeling the chairs in front of us and then were served an appetizer, a main course, and then a dessert. There was spilling when trying to reach your drink and of I don’t doubt that we were all far messier than usual when eating. It was so dark that We all got louder in order to have our presence known. If someone got quiet for a while it felt as if they weren’t at dinner at all. It was so fun we giggled throughout the whole thing, doing crazy things like reaching out and scaring the others in the group or dining without a shirt (no one could see so why not?) and then putting it back on inside out just to prove that you took it off. When we were done with our meal we went downstairs to the light and were shown pictures of what we ate, which were not at all like what I was picturing when I was consuming it.

On Friday, January 5th we checked out of our Phnom Penh hotel and all boarded at bus to go to Siem Reap. Halfway through there was a stop where the vendors were all selling bugs. We purchased and then dared each other to eat silkworms, crickets, and tarantula. I tried the tarantula and the cricket. They were both very crunchy but the tarantula was way better (well the leg at least because that’s all I had) than the cricket. When we arrived at Siem Reap we were given some time to unpack and relax before we met up to walk to the night market where we were given per diems for dinner. I ate some pretty great Mexican food with Ben, Lucas, Morgan, and Matty. After that we got home and rallied each other to go out dancing. This was super fun. The majority of the TBB group went out and we all enjoyed ourselves by dancing and freaking out when they played any Spanish pop we recognized from Guatemala or the viral Thai hit of Panama.

On Saturday, January 6th we had a little time to sleep in before bussing off to Angkor Wat! We spent the whole day there with the lovely TBB acquaintance of Bun (pronounced: Boon) as our tour guide. It was hot and tiring to walk all around these vast ruins but the weathered, awe-inspiring architecture along with the bats and monkeys made it so worth it.

Main Angkor Wat City Entrance

We also visited the 100 Smiling Faces after eating lunch at Angkor Wat.

100 smiling faces

We were given the rest of the day free and so Ben, Gabi and I went to a great vegan restaurant for dinner and then went to bed early because we had a long day ahead of us.

On Sunday, January 7th we woke up at 5am to go and watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. We sat there in peaceful silence for an hour or so watching the colors around us change and the view in front of us be slowly revealed. It was absolutely gorgeous:

Gorgeous sunrise over Angkor Wat

After the shining sun showed itself we continued on to the “tomb raider” ruins. Where the trees and Cambodian wildlife envelops a part of the ancient city.

tomb raider vibes

Bun was our tour guide again for all of this and he was so great with his stories and jokes. We were given the rest of the day to rest and so most of us ate breakfast and then took naps. Our mento group met up for dinner and had the best Mediterranean food I’ve ever had. After this we got on our bus again and went to see the Cambodian Circus! It was purely acrobats, no animals, pulling brave stunts while also telling a story. A very fun watch and great way to end the day!

On Monday, January 8th we had a very chill day to ourselves. Gabi, Rhea, Ben, Emma, Caroline, Seb, and I went out together for lunch and treated ourselves to sushi. We all met up in the evening and drove to Bun’s house outside of Siem Reap. He was a gracious host and we were treated to the cutest performances from his students and kids. We ate traditional, yummy, home-cooked, Cambodian food for dinner and Bun also cooked a pancake for Andrew’s birthday! After this we went back to our hotel and I packed so that I could have the entirety of the next day free until we would have to leave in the afternoon.

On Tuesday, January 9th Rhea, Emma and I slept in and then took a Tuk Tuk to Angkor Wat (our passes that TBB bought us still valid). Free to explore at our own pace we hung out in the shade and relaxed, occasionally taking pictures. We stayed for about 3 hours.

A monk spotted walking around Angkor Wat the day Emma, Rhea, and I were hanging out there.

It was super fun and cool just to hang out amongst an old temple that is so intricately detailed and historically famous. A great way to spend our last day of Enrichment Week!

That evening we flew out of Cambodia and started the next chapter of our journey by flying to Ghana!

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