We spent most of today on the bus across to Cambodia, including passing through ‘no man’s land’ which was actually surprisingly large! We arrived in Siem Reap in the evening and went out for a walk in the rain which rapidly turned into a walk in the monsoon, with water up to my knees! It was all good fun though!
We were a little disappointed as due to the rains our local guide advised us that there was no point in getting up at 4am to see the sun rise at Angkor Wat so instead we were picked up at 8am after breakfast.
We had to cover our knees and shoulders as Angkor Wat is such a significant religious site, which is understandable, but it was a real struggle in the heat. I didn’t know I could feel so uncomfortable due to the weather. Nonetheless, the temples were jaw dropping.
The biggest surprise for me was how vast Angkor Wat is. It’s one of the wonders of the world and I had always wanted to see it, but I just thought that it was the iconic triangle topped temples that people went for. Angkor Wat is actually massive and spans kilometre upon kilometre. We had to drive between parts of the site as it is so massive. I was also surprised by how different the sections of the temple are.
The first one we visited was quite small and discrete but it was amazing to be able to walk around it and actually on the original stones. In fact, when I thought about it this really amazed me- Angkor Wat is dated to the 12th century, the oldest (and largest) religious site in Asia- but still we could trample around it! I wonder if in years to come this may not be allowed!
We also went to another temple where we climbed the steepest stairs I’ve ever seen to reach the top! They were almost vertical! When we got up there I was really impressed by all of the detail that has been kept with little erosion. I also was amazed when I thought about it at how the people who built the site managed to transport the massive stones and equipment up so high. Apparently it cost many lives and I’m not surprised.
The last section we went to was known as the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple as it is used in some of the movies. I did feel like I was in a movie set with the gargantuan trees that towered above me with intricate, exposed roots. The temples were also really mossy and looked like they were recreations of old stonework instead of the real thing as they were so weathered and worn!
After we had explored Angkor Wat we went to an amazing place called New Hope Cambodia. New Hope was set up to provide a small group of children with a free education but over the years it has dramatically expanded and over time and now over 300 children from local villages are educated and fed by New Hope. We had lunch at the training restaurant where they train older students in restaurant service to help them to get a job when they leave. The food was great and it was awesome to know our money was going to a good cause.
After lunch was my big highlight- spending time in the classroom with the children. It felt so good to be back in a classroom, it sounds cliche but it was like going home! I helped organise some games and tested children on what they’d learned. I helped some of the children with their writing and just loved talking to them and helping them to communicate in English. It was an absolute joy. I was completely in my element and had to be torn away when the children went out to play. I managed to sneak a little extra time chatting and playing on the playground and I remembered how much I love being a teacher and also how much of a passion I have for people being educated. I can’t wait to get back to school. I’m hoping I may be able to set up a pen pal club with the New Hope School, something which I think would really enrich young people’s lives.
I wish all of the children I teach know how lucky they are to be educated in some ways, but then in other ways I’m glad they don’t know because it seems to take poverty and pain for people to realise how fortunate they are.
In the evening we went with Miriam to the Phare circus, something that had been really highly recommended to us by our previous group. I didn’t know what to expect but I knew it was an NGO that taught poor young people theatre crafts, so it was already sold to me. We eagerly took our seats in the packed auditorium after a very rainy tuk tuk ride. It blew us away. It was so skillful and beautiful and wonderfully crafted- the company showed us a story of a young girl called Sokha who survived the brutal regime of Pol Pot and saw her family die around her. She was haunted by her past but managed to move on and help other people as a teacher. There were incredible circus performances, better than any I’ve seen, but also wonderful music which was composed and performed by students of Phare, an artist live painting images for the production and amazing physical theatre.
I’m really hoping the company will tour as I would love to see more of their work and support them again. We got to meet the performers at the end and one of them looked so much like our friend Clement we had to get a picture!
We headed out to get some snacks for the journey the next day and came accords a very poor lady carrying a sleeping toddler. We soon saw she had two other barefoot children behind her. She had no teeth and was trying to get milk from an empty bottle. Miriam and I decided to do something, so I bought a bag of food and water and hygiene supplies and Miriam took her to buy baby formula. We were all upset to see her suffering but I’m glad that we could help a little, even if only to keep her going for a few more days.
We learned an awful lot today and I would say it was one of my favourite days of the trip.