Cambodia (I)

After a week in Cambodia and a few days catching up in BKK, I’m back in Chiang Mai!

I’ve split up my travels into two blog posts as there’s too much content to put into one. This one documents my first 4 days in Cambodia in Siem Reap (Angor Wat,  visiting the markets, etc.) and the next will be of the second half of the trip (in the village).

Buffalo Tours graciously flew me to Siem Reap 2 days before the school group arrived so I was able to explore the city with staff from the Cambodian office who kindly acted as my personal tour guides. One of these wonderful people was Vet or ‘Rock’ to his closest friends. Vet was the first person to greet me the moment I touched down at Siem Reap International Airport and was by my side for the entirety of my stay. He took me to the best local eateries, invited me along on a biking trip with his friends and even laughed at my jokes – basically, he was the perfect host.
Huge thank you to Buffalo Tours and American Pacific International School – the students, teachers and tour guides!

Here are some snippets of my Siem Reap. Video to come soon!
– JM

COUNTDOWN TO EURO TRIP: ONE MONTH (just booked our first hostel eeekkkk!)

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Several hours after I touched down, Vet sped me off to the annual Giant Puppet Parade that snaked through the heart of Siem Reap. This annual local children’s community arts project works with a number of NGOs throughout Cambodia to provide a creative platform for disadvantaged children to foster and promote self expression and confidence through art. It was awesome seeing how excited all the kids (and the adults) were to have the chance to parade around the town with their artwork.
To read more about the project: http://www.giantpuppetproject.com/

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Interesting to taste the similarities between Thai and Khmer food – local eats omnomnom

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Also! If you’re looking to help out a unique organisation and also see an incredible showcase of talent, be sure to watch the Phare Circus the next time you visit Siem Reap. 100% worth your time and money. These amazing flame-torch-blowing athletes/actors/dancers  (yes, they do it all) not only transform the lives of young disadvantaged Cambodians but will also make you want to fulfil your childhood dream of hitching a runaway train and joining a circus ahem Water For Elephants.

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Bike ride to the ‘mountain’ with the gang.

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Also, selfies with DSLRs are a lot harder than I always expect.

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Angkor wat

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Cambodia (II)

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Just a hour’s drive outside the city of Siem Reap lies a region called Kien Sangker Commune. In this area, more than 80% of villagers live in poverty of which 40% in extreme poverty without proper access to adequate health care, housing, electricity and sanitation. For several years now, Education Travel Asia (Buffalo Tours) has worked with the local community to spurcommunity-based tourism that allow residents to earn supplemental income through providing services and products to visiting educational travel groups. Thus far, this initiative has successfully strengthened community ties and local traditions while providing families with a more sustainable means of income than previous methods.

Let me introduce you to the world’s cutest kids.
(no bias)

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Now, let me introduce you to the world’s cutest mother and daughter.

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One of the best ways I got to know Vet and the other staff/locals well was through the conversations that flowed once all the dinner dishes were cleared and the students sent off to their houses. Every night, we’d sit around a circle, often snacking on this and that, and chat late into the night. While our talks were typically lighthearted, I found that more often than not, they would inevitably turn a corner and onto the topic of the Khmer Rouge. This sudden turn in conversation shouldn’t have shocked me as much as it did for I’m about Cambodia’s war torn past, but it’s often easy to forget that the people who surrounded you can have such disparate memories and childhoods from your own when on the surface they act and seem like any other normal person. It was a heart breaking to realize that just about every Cambodian man and woman in their 30’s+  has a story of how the Khmer Rouge turned his/her life upside down, whether that mean that he grew up in refugee camp or her family was forced into a labor camp. Those small candle lit conversations peaked and flowed with loss and heartbreak, but their words ultimately left me inspired because of their ability to move on with a bright outlook on the future.
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It’s funny, it actually kind of looks like I know what I’m doing #lies
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Ox cart ride out to an ancient ruins site that was created as the prototype for Angkor Wat. Best part? No tourists.
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Might I mention that it was incredibly sunny
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During our time in the village, we were welcomed into the homes of several local families who took us under their wings for several days. The photo above shows the house that  I stayed in with 4 other students. On the last night, I slipped out to take photos of the night sky, but it seems as though my disappearance didn’t escape the elder mom’s watch as she quickly joined me out in the dark farmland where my camera was already set up on a tripod.
After showing her how the camera could capture the light of her waving flashlight and the distant stars, she excitedly led me around her land and gestured at what she thought I ought to take photos of, such as her cows and their hut. My favorite part about our entire exchange was seeing her reaction to the photos that we took. I assume that she became so giddy because she was viewing subjects that she was so familiar with, like her cows and fruit trees, in such a different way than she had ever seen before.
The power of photography my friends. It opens your eyes to a different world (Y)
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Thanks for reading! Have a fantastic day wherever you may be.

– JM

P.S – Will be joining Buffalo Tour’s Annual General Meeting at a resort in Phuket in two days to create their Responsible Tourism Travel Video – excited to take a break from Chiang Mai’s smog and into the naiiceee sun 🙂