From the first steps we took out of the plane, from London Heathrow to Siam Reap in Cambodia, we could tell that the next 28 days were going to be hot, hilarious and hard work. Our team consisted of three different school groups from all over the country, and over the 24 hours we had spent travelling, people had begun bonding over terrible plane food and uncomfortable seats. It was strange coming together as one team, but now we are looking back from the end of our trip, it’s hard to remember who came from where. We may be biased, but we think we’ve done a pretty good job of this expedition, so we want to share some of our experienes, and our top tips with you.
In the lead up to the trip we had all repeatedly heard that the Cambodian people would be one of the highlights of the expedition, and within minutes of being in our first camp (Camp Beng Mealea) we discovered that this was true. The camp leader/camp legend, Han, greeted us, displaying the positive Cambodian attitude that we had been told to expect, but didn’t yet quite realise the power of. Along with the most radiant smile on planet earth, Han stated that each morning when he wakes up, he consciously decides that today is going to be a good day; this is when our team knew that our time in Cambodia would be one to remember for the rest of our lives.
One of the first missions we had to overcome as a group was using the compost toilets, which although intimidating at first, became to feel like home for many of the team (largely due to the reoccurring effects of dehydration and heat exhaustion). Top tip number 1 – drink water, drink water, drink water… Your leader, like ours, will tell you this, repeatedly, and you’ll shrug and carry on with your day – perhaps by week 3 and poo 300 you’ll realise they’re speaking the truth. Just drink water.
Mission two was project work. Everything about project work feels daunting at first, but we promise as the 4 weeks pass it does become easier and actually really good fun never mind incredibly rewarding. Project clothes become smellier, digging holes becomes more and more enjoyable and you will become a pro, and perfectionist, at mixing cement. However you might find that all that jumping in and out of self dug holes leads to your work boots beginning to fall apart (as two of the boys in our team experienced in full force). Top tip number 2 – In preparation for the expedition aim to spend more than £30 on a pair of boots if you don’t want to spend a large duration of the trip attempting to stick your boots together with every type of tape you can lay your hands on. Also, always always always check inside your boots before putting them on. We’ll let your imagination work out why that might be a good idea…
The most anticipated element of the trip, and our third mission, was of course the trek, aka possibly the four best, and toughest, days of your life. The trek allows you to truly see and experience Cambodia’s beauty. You will have high points and low points, both as a team and as an individual. On day 2 of our jungle trek our Cambodian guides attempted to create a new route for Camps teams to follow in the future… resulting in us becoming completely, utterly and entirely lost. Although this consequently meant that we had to walk an extra 9km, the 29 of us involved all agree that cluelessly wandering through the jungle in the torrential rain singing various Oasis, Adele and Amy Winehouse songs was one of the highlights of our trip. Top tip number 3 – Singing cheesy, old songs, along with playing classic childhood games will lighten the mood at possibly any point at which it is necessary. We can also guarantee that seeing the waterfall on day three will be one of the most memorable moments of your whole expedition so hold onto that in the low moments – we won’t tell you any details about the waterfall because the big unveiling might just be the most magical part. Top tip number 4- When it comes to cooling off in the pool at the bottom, just get in. Forget about your cameras, forget about your phones and forget about the the fish that will nibble at your feet- just get in.
Mission 4 was a well deserved rest in a peaceful and tranquil hotel located in Siem Reap, allowing the team to recover before heading off to the final camp in Beng Pae. In Siem Reap we visited the night markets, where many of the team spent the majority of their money on presents for loved ones back home (and on more ‘elephant trousers’ than can be worn in one lifetime). Being in central Siem Reap also meant a night of pizza, burgers and chips. Top tip 5 – make the most of it as it will be back to rice, chicken and eggs soon! We also visited the enchanting temples that create the famous Angkor Wat, and attended a local circus show on our final evening, immersing us in the best cultural entertainment experience that Cambodia could offer.
Departing the hotel was both upsetting and exhilarating. Although going back to camp-style living was exciting, many of the team were apprehensive about leaving the normal toilets, shower heads and cosy duvets. However after being greeted by our new camp leader, Sunny – a joker and a wind up merchant at heart, and settling into our mosquito-netted beds, everyone began to once again lose all of their inhibitions and get back into the life of slumming it. Our team’s determination and motivation kicked in after finding out what our project work would entail over the final week. We would be building toilets for families to communally share in the village, working very closely with the locals and their children. Seeing the development of the project was truly inspiring, as it made us all remember how even though all of the fundraising we undertook to come on the trip was tough, the Camps expedition teams really do make a huge difference to the community. Our last day involved remarking out the local school’s football pitch and clearing it of spiky, painful weeds, and there was no better way to close the project than a mass football game of volunteers and locals. Top Tip 6 – get stuck into games with the locals whenever possible. Language barriers might make conversation tough, but playing-cards, volleyball and football are internationally loved and understandable and a great way to make friendships that you will never forget.
Our time at Camp Beng Pae is now coming to an end, and Phnom Penh awaits us. Although we have gradually gained more and more knowledge about the history and culture of Cambodia, we are aware visiting both the killing fields and S21 will be an extremely difficult and educational experience. The evidence of this atrocity is visible all around you in Cambodia if you look hard enough but so is the reminder that a positive attitude can help to overcome anything. Cambodia is slowly rebuilding itself and the people you will meet and the places you will see will show that nothing can hold you down forever. We are going to try and remember this as we spend the next few days learning more. For some of us our trip will end in finding out our A level results in the hotel but after 4 weeks in this incredible place we feel we are ready to respond positively to our results regardless of whether they are what we’re hoping for or not; as Han taught us on our first day, happiness is a choice.
The final mission of travelling home will soon be upon us. Over the last month our team have learned to love each other, to treat each other and to talk to each other like family (and yes that sometimes has meant we’ve had to learn to be patient!) We have shared the most uncomfortable, enjoyable and unforgettable experiences of our lives in Cambodia- an amazing country, filled with amazing people. So our final top tip for you is take the leap and come and find out more for yourself.
This country is phenomenal but there is only so much we can tell you without you experiencing it yourselves. It is a move that will be impossible to regret.
Blog written by Sophie from Team Udaya