Our Expedition Co-Ordinator Tim, has been a bit of a busy bee recently. He headed off to Cambodia with a group of students from Sydney and had an awesome time. Have a read about his travels…
The past couple of weeks have seen me break out of my Sydney northern beaches bubble and join fellow beaches residents, Team In Dree on their 2018 Cambodia expedition. Now in its second year for the school, the expedition was once again hugely popular, with an eager group of 30 waiting for me when I arrived at International Departures at Sydney Airport.
After a silky-smooth transfer through Hong Kong it was straight into the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh, where we pitched up for our first night and headed out to explore the city. As we strolled along the banks of the Mekong river I got some great insights from the group about what they hoped to get out of the trip and what had brought them along in the first place. There was incredible knowledge in the group about Cambodia and what they wanted to achieve in their time here. It also helped that lead teacher Gerry had been on the previous years trip and was on hand straight away at dinner to recommend the local delicacy – chicken amok. One dish that I can definitely recommend!
Following an eventful day two journey that included hair raising tarantula encounters at ‘spider town’ and a first look at the local markets, we arrived at Camp Beng Mealea with all the elephant pants you could ever need. On arrival we were greeted by the man, the myth, the legend that is Han – our larger than life Camp Manager. In his time with Camps International, he has overseen a huge amount of crucial projects that have transformed lives; from school buildings to toilets and access to gravity fed clean drinking water. Although we were only in camp for a few days, you could get a clear sense of exactly where the work we were doing fitted into that picture. Brick by brick we watched the walls of the new library go up – each layer of cement getting the community closer to the goal of having a place to access a world of reading. The Team In Dree students were all quick to get stuck in and keen to learn new skills, meaning we were able to achieve a huge amount in our short time there.
Life in camp isn’t all just about the projects though, and one thing I learnt pretty quickly about Cambodia is there is always a football pretty close at hand. Han quickly assembled a team of locals at the first hint of us being keen for a kick around, and proved himself a pretty hand midfield maestro as a spirited student side earnt a hard earned 6-6 draw. Not bad for 15 a side on a cow infested pitch! In the evening it was time to gather round the camp fire and reflect on the days achievements and challenges, as well as learning a few traditional Cambodian dance moves from the locals.
The next day of the trip was the one that had the biggest impact on me personally. All throughout the trip there had been endless high fives, low fives and waving from the local kids every time we saw them, so going into their school to help with an English class created a rock star reception for the students of Team In Dree. Watching the interactions and the local kids faces light up as the Aussie students contributed to a pretty captivating lesson on the difference between ‘sh’ and ‘ch’ was something to behold. The lasting impact these moments have on both sets of students – Australian and Cambodian – really can’t be understated and was incredible to witness first hand.
Despite a few tired looking faces when we left camp on our final day, the draw of Angkor Wat and its towering temples proved enough to keep spirits high on the two-hour journey to Siem Riep. With some time to recharge the batteries and explore the markets, it was then onto the Cambodian Circus that night. This isn’t really an easy place to describe other that saying imaging cirque du soleil shrunk down to ¼ of the size but with four times the laughs. It is a pretty unforgettable experience with the opportunity to meet the wildly talented cast at the end a huge highlight.
The next morning it was up at 4am and ready to go for what we all hoped would be an unforgettable sunrise at Angkor Wat – and thankfully it didn’t disappoint. As the sun crept from behind the 800-year-old giant towers it was a time for reflection not only on the trip but also on the history and wonder of this place. Cambodia certainly isn’t a place I will ever forget and one that I would recommend without any reservation for anyone who is considering going – just don’t forget to pack your football boots.