I thought it was about time to update on all the goings ons in Vietnam. What a place it has proven to be, when we finally made it out of Cambodia….. Let me just tell you that little tale first of all.
So Alice and I boarded the night bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City at midnight, having been told we would set off at 12.30am. The bus actually left at 1am. I, couped up like a hippo in a shopping trolley, endeavored to make myself a little comfy and ‘bed down’ for the night in anticipation of our 8 hour trip ahead. Having managed some intermittent dozing, I shuffled up in my seat around 6am and said to Alice “do you think we are in Vietnam yet”….completely forgetting we had the whole border crossing fiasco to contend with – well it was early!!!) We both looked out of the coach window as the sun had come up and found the place to look remarkably similar to Phnom Penh. After a few rumours traversed throughout the bus, we cordially deduced that we were in fact in Phnom Penh and pulling up at the exact same spot we had left five hours before. The fabulous thing about Cambodian bus companies is that nobody speaks English and when one has the audacity to ask “why are we not in Vietnam?” you are looked upon with utter disdain. Its obviously perfectly normal, appropriate and within the terms and agreements of our bus ticket travel to spend five hours circling and then return at exactly the same spot to set off on our ‘real’ bus journey to Ho Ch Minh ten minutes later. Yep, so needless to say our 8 hour journey morphed into a 14 hour epic. We never did find out where we went on our five hour magical mystery tour……………
So safe and sound we arrived in Ho Chi Minh, a little bleary eyed and ready for a shower and snooze at the hotel. No sooner we stepped foot off the bus, we were accosted by a seemingly friendly Vietnamese taxi driver who, upon perusing my accommodation booking invoice, happily agreed to take us to our hotel. I asked the fee and was advised that taxi’s run on meters here. No problem, we will only pay for what we travel so I assumed! We drove across town for a bout 20 minutes and finally arrived at our hotel to the demands of a $25 fare from our driver. I think he clocked the disgust in our face and settled for the $15 we finally gave him…still and exorbitant amount for the time spent in the car. Anyway, having ventured out of said hotel room a short while later, we walked less than two minutes up the road only to stumble across the place where our bus had dropped us off. Oh yes people, Alice and I got FLEECED big time!!!! Ha ha, we read about in the guide books but still managed to fall prey to the ‘nice Vietnamese taxi drivers’.
So Ho Ch Minh was a bustling metropolis to say the least. The place is crazy and you gamble with your life every time you cross the road. There is no such thing as a pedestrian crossing or traffic lights and basically, you just have to walk and hope that some of the 5 million mopeds in the city (yes there actually are 5 million of them) will swerve around you!!!Funnily enough they do.
Done quite a lot of culture in Hochers as I have affectionately named it…..Our visit to the war remnants museum was most sobering. Its very sad to know that people are still affected by the legacy of the Vietnam war even now, with babies born with severe disabilities and mutations as a result of the deadly ‘agent orange’ sprayed across vast areas of land by the US army…..very sad indeed. War, why do we have war???
On a lighter note the Mekong Delta cruise was fun and handmade coconut candy proved moreish…I was not tempted by the array of snake, squirrel or crocodile offered on the menu at our lunch stop though. I have felt very smug to be vegetarian since arriving in South East Asia despite not managing to avoid dodgy belly on more than one occasion!!!!
So, next stop was Nha Trang. The flight was 45 minutes and altogether a very pleasant journey, well done Vietnam Airlines - plenty of leg room, which is ironic since the general population are so ickle!!! Nha Trang is a beautiful beach resort mid way up the coast. The sand is white but sea very choppy. One has to make a calculated guess when venturing in, whether you will be able to leave it with bikini still in tact or lost at sea!. I managed to maintain modesty at all times, but was not impressed with waves crashing on my head leaving me resembling a drowned rat…albeit a brown one. How did Ursula Andres ever look sexy walking out of the water…..
One day, Alice and I had a smart idea to visit Vinpearl Island. A friend had told us about the place where you pay one fee ($20) and basically spend the whole day on fairground rides, playing computer games and frolicking in the water par. Sounded lovely, until I saw the cable car…….. To get to Vinpearl, you need to take either a ferry or cable car across the ocean. I say ocean and not sea to help you visualize the enormity of our journey. Basically, the cable cars are suspended about 100 mtrs above sea level, and span a distance of about a mile. Lovely idea for the wishing to take in the beautiful scenic views of Nha Trang bay on route to pleasuredom….not so great for people like me who appear to have developed a large dose of vertigo over the years! It was soooooooooooo scary, perhaps one of the most uncomfortable things I have done in a while! But hey, it would all be worth it when we got there and the pictures I did manage to take are pretty special. Vinpearl lived up to all its expectations and more….I basically spent the whole day in a state of frenzy and/or mild sickness from putting myself through all these thrill seeking exploits, water slides which propel you at about 50mph through darkened tubes and rides which leave you hanging upside down overlooking the sea with nothing but a cross brace holding you in. Oh yes, if there was a definition of going out of ‘one’s comfort zone’, I would say that I experienced it at Vinpearl. I was most gutted to miss the comparatively sedate monkey and dog show, but did catch the end of things when the monkeys and dogs were de-robing their brightly coloured custom made outfits…..I’m sure they love their three daily performances and ride in an open back lorry thereafter. Greenpeace would have a hernia!!!!!
So all in all Nha Trang was a fab place to be, hot, lively not to mention cheap. We ate most nights at a little place called ‘Same Same But Cheaper’ and it really was that. A full blown meal for just under two pounds cannot really be sneezed at! And the three pound manicure, pedicure and nail art combo was simply ludicrous. My nails do look lovely after two hours of steady hand painting by a very patient young Vietnamese girl.
And here we are in Hanoi. Arrived yesterday, did not get skanked by a taxi driver as have now taken to ‘calling ahead’ to our hotels for transport to be arranged. We are off on a three day junk boat cruise round Haling Bay tomorrow. One night is spent sleeping on the boat and the other in ‘bamboo huts’ on Castaway Bay. Needless to say I am a little nervous about bedding down with the frogs, gecko’s and mozzies, but there goes that ‘comfort zone’ thing again….Bring on Saturday for some Thai tranquility or a large dose of Veitnames rum!!!!
Hello, my name is Robert Parker, I am 33 years of age and come from Leicester in England; and am pleased to introduce myself as the new Assistant Manager at the Projects Abroad office in Cambodia, a job I began on 12 March 2012.
In the summer of 2010 I graduated from the University of Northampton in England with a 2:1 Honours Degree in Criminology with Creative Writing which I found very interesting. The main reason why I majored in Criminology was to enable me to work for the Probation Service in England, assisting offenders settle back into society, as I have a strong desire to work in a job whereby I help people, support them in achieving their goals and watch them develop as people.
Previously I have undertaken three teaching volunteering placements through Projects Abroad. From November 2010 until February 2011 I was working on a placement in Madurai, India. From November 2011 until January 2012 I was on a placement in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and lastly from February 2012 until March 2012 I was on a placement in Hanoi, Vietnam. I am confident that I will be able to draw upon my vast experiences of life as a volunteer to enable me to assist the volunteers when they arrive in Cambodia and to be able to deal with any queries which they may have while based here. This position will allow me to realise my ambition of working in a post whereby I help others, and am certain the experience of working here will allow me to further develop my knowledge and skills of work which involves supporting other people.
My main interest in life is football. For ten years, I had a season ticket at my beloved Leicester City Football Club and attended every home match along with regularly travelling around England to watch the team play away matches. Now I have to rely on the Internet to provide me with their latest results, details of forthcoming matches, and player arrivals and departures. I have undertaken some worldwide travel and, outside of Europe, I have spent periods of time travelling and living in Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America, India, Cambodia and Vietnam .
I am excited to be working as the Assistant Manager and look forward to the challenges ahead and playing my part in the Projects Abroad Cambodia team.
Robert Parker, Assistant Manager Projects Abroad Cambodia
This past week has been the nicest part of my trip so far I think. Since we had such a limited amount of time and so many places to visit, we decided that we would just pick a place that had everything we wanted to do and stay there for our entire week in the south. Thanks to some good tips from Kernick and people we met along the way we decided that Railay was the spot.. and it was :)
This area was pretty expensive, but we were very proactive at how to be good at being poor. We stayed in the cheapest place which was 500 Baht a night (in Chaing Mai we paid 200 a night). We had a nice little bungelow with a king sized mattress (cushion) on the floor and a power outlet and a sink with running water (This is a HUGE upgrade from my bungelow in Cambodia.. technology wise anyway). Both me and Elyse are very accustomed to this kind of accomodation so we knew all the tricks to keep bugs out of our stuff and food. And I must say... I think I have overcome my bug fear because I had no problem coexisting with the very large roaches and other strange bugs squatting in our new home. I could even use the washroom that we shared with a large spider... but I kept a close eye on him!
We have gotten in the habit of finding markets as soon as we get to a location and stock up on veggies, bananas and nuts or dried beans to sustain us throughout the day (this food is gennerally VERY cheap) and then only go out for meals at night time. Once again.. we're good at being poor. But the best thing we have done so far in that regard is hiring a local with a boat to take us out snorkelling. Commercially you could go for an afternoon for 850 Baht a person, we went with 2 other people we met and only paid 350/person and got a tour in the boat around all the surrounding islands and were taken to two reefs to snorkel.
This week was pretty active. We did "exercise" swims almost everyday where we would choose a large limestone rock/island to swim to and back.. we were almost too ambitious somedays, but it was a good challenge. We did a free climb hike to a lagoon (which was free) this was also challenging but the destination was very rewarding. We also rent sea kayaks twice and explored the surrounding rocks and caves. We even found a good cliff jumping spot which was pretty thrilling.. and kinda scary :p
Since we were in one spot for so long we got a chance to get to know some of the locals. The area is pretty small... there are no streets or cars.. just walking everywhere. This was also the first time that we really got to spend quality time with other travellers since the place was so small. I would say that if you are planning a trip to Mexico.. you might just want to look into a week in Thailand... the flight is more but I think the low accomodation and food prices will even it out. It was a beautiful place.
1. We are so lucky to have safe drinking water readily available to us (duh!) but the amount of waste created by always having to purchase your water is unbelievable! Esspecially because it is so hot so you are consuming a lot more water than usual. Think about if you couldn't brush your teeth, cook, wash your vegetables or fill up a glass of water from the tap...
2. Since Kananaskis was the first time I really fell in love with a natural landscape.. it allowed me to have so much more appreciation for the place I was just in. It's uniqueness, the animals it houses, the new species of trees and flowers and of coarse their giant limestone "mountains".
3. We saw so many monkeys! - They definitely have far too much human interaction to not be dependent on us.. but it was pretty awesome.
4. There was a lot of information about how Railay was keeping their tourism eco friendly and sustainable. Which was a pleasant surprise and made me feel good about investing my time and money their. In Railay they do not rent any kind of motorized sea equipment (seado's, boats), all the beaches are public and resorts aren't allowed to block off any sections. Resorts are also not allowed to set up loungers and umbrellas on the beach. They try their best to employ local Thai people and they have their own water purification system in the area so they do not constantly have to import it from other parts of the mainland.
5. Railay isn't an actual island.. but it feels like it is. You can only get their by boat because their are no roads running from other parts of the mainland to get there. - Kinda strange.
Me and Elyse are flying to Bali at 6am for 2 weeks in Indonesia! :)
It has been an eventful 10 days with many destinations. First I spent 3 days in Siem Reap, then 5 days in Chiang Mai, Thailand and now I am in Phuket and leaving for Railay tomorrow morning.
Siem Reap was a pretty magical place. Definitely the nicest place I visited in Cambodia (besides the island of course!) On the day that we explored the ancient temples of Angkor, we woke up at 5 and took a tuk tuk in the dark to see the sunrise. It was a pretty amazing sight, and I snaped some good shots. We hired a guide for the day, and I am so happy we did... as great as just seeing the temples are, understanding the history and the symbolism within them really added to the experience.
The next day we went to the Cambodia Landmine Museum, which was created by a ex child solider of the Khmer Rouge who planted thousands of landmines himself. He has dedicated his adult life to deactivating the still 6 million active landmines in Cambodia. He has created this museum which also houses 18 orphans who are victims of landmine accidents. In Cambodia today they still have about 300 Landmine injuries and fatalities a year. Akira (the creator of the organization and landmine museum) was named the the 2010 CNN Hero of the year and there is a documentary about his life called "The Perfect Solider". It won a bunch of film festival awards, so it would be worth checking out. We were toured through the museum by an American solider who has been involved with the organization for some time and he was very passionate about his work. It was a really great experience.. and some of you may be getting your souvenirs from there! :P
Next, Elyse and I took a 4 hour bus to the Thai boarder, then a 5 hour bus to Bangkok and then we took a 16 hour train to Chiang Mai... definitely the longest day of my trip so far.. but it was pretty cool to see all of Thailand's countryside via train.. and it was my first train ride!
We spent 5 days in Chiang Mai... our activities included a lot of walking to see all the temples, Muai Thai fights, a Thai Cooking class and a 3 day meditation retreat at a Buddhist Temple.
The meditation retreat was INTENSE! The monk who was our Sensei wasn't the most compassionate person and was very strict and kinda mean.. Not exactly what I was expecting but I found myself able to disregard his tone and learn from his words. I was expecting meditation that was more based on reflection, but it only focused on "awareness/mindfulness" which is thinking only in the present. So if I was walking and meditating I would only be aware that I was lifting, moving and steping with my foot. I would "label" walking and in my mind repeating to myself that I was "walking, walking, walking" or.. I am "sitting, sitting, sitting". It was...weird.. but enlightening. It's funny because you never really think about the exact present but rather are thinking about where you are going or where you just came from. At the monestary we could only dress in white, we ate breakfast and lunch and no supper. We meditated for 10 hours a day starting at 5am. We had our own rooms in the female quarters... my bed was the cement floor. It was an experience alright...
Today we flew from Chiang Mai to Phukket... which is a dirty little beach town in the south of Thailand.. it is really just a hub to get to all the surrounding islands. Tomorrow we are taking a boat to Railay where we will spend the next week on the beach. We plan to snorkel, rock climb and sea kayak. I can't wait!
1. I can't believe how ignorant tourists are. At Angkor Wat there are signs everywhere and in any lonely planet, trip advisor, info pamphlet you would read it would tell you that you have to be dressed with your shoulders and knees covered. And... I'm the last one that wanted to be out in the sun all day in 40 degrees with pants and a T-shirt on.. but I did. There were girls in daisy dukes and bikinis, guys with their shirts off.. it was ridiculous!
2. Tonight we got ripped off by a taxi driver.. we asked if there was a place we could go and eat and have a beer that was reasonable and he said he knew an area.. well he took us to this fancy seafood restaurant that was kind of secluded.. he let us know that he got to eat for free on the way there (hmmm)... It ended up being $20 which is REALLY expensive. The most we have spent on dinner together at a restaurant was $7 so far. We informed him that he tricked us.. and we didn't get an apology, but I think he felt bad because he didn't say a word to us after. :p
3. We have decided to skip Malaysia.. there is just too much to see and not enough time. We found a mountain in Indonesia that we can do the same sunrise summit hike. So after Railay the next stop is Bali (and around) for 2 weeks.
4. Right now I can see 3 cockroaches.
So I have now completed my time of volunteering in Cambodia. Time has flown by and the past two weeks have passed in the blink of an eye. Tonight, I will close my Cambodian chapter and head off onto the next page of Vietnam which I am sure will bring more excitement and challenge.
I must admit that the volunteering experience was not what I imagined. I thought I was destined for two months at an orphanage caring for children. I’m sure this would have been rewarding albeit tiring and most emotional. However I have been incredibly fortunate to encounter contact with a diverese range of Cambodian children, families and social workers. An experience which I am sure only few volunteers have enjoyed. To this end, I must say a big thank you to Riverkids for allowing me to join them as a social work volunteer.
During my time in Phnom Penh I have learnt so much more about Cambodian culture, the traditions, attitudes and expectations. It is country so different to England and I am sure that anyone who visits will find themselves in ongoing states of amazement (necessitating closure of the mouth on occasions…). In some ways, it feels that Cambodia is functioning about 100 year behind us . The place is a complex abyss of social problems, pressures and hardship yet tempered with a sense of determination and resolve amongst the Cambodian people. I must often remind myself that Cambodia is only 33 years in recovery from a civil war that took the lives of so many. Surely the country is still bound to be in some state of suffering and chaos?
Through my visits to the slum communities, I have been able to witness the problems that Cambodian people are facing on a daily basis and their struggles to live in such impoverished circumstances. The experience has made me feel blessed about my life in the UK and has served as a sobering reminder to never take even the smallest thing for granted! Some families eat just once a day and a bag of rice must go a long way……
Despite being an experienced social worker in the UK, nothing could have prepared me for the some of the things I have witnessed during my time at Riverkids. The standard of living amongst families, the lack of basic amenities, the poor health of some individuals and the tragedies which many have undergone is most saddening. However, I can also see that as a staff team Riverkids is really trying to bring about positive change and improve children’s lives.
The past two months have been a true éye opener’. I have not ceased to be amazed by the plight of families, the resilience of children and the commitment of Cambodian people to ‘keep going’ during incredibly tough times. There is real strength of character amongst the communities and Cambodia must work to preserve this. I realize that Riverkids is working in very difficult circumstances with a considerable lack of resources to meet growing needs . However, I have always felt reassured that staff are doing their very best with the limited provisions. I can see through shadowing the work of Mr Chea and Mr Theany, that they have established trust and respect amongst community members. Their input is not only accepted by parents but clearly embraced and valued by all. Social Workers are touching the lives of many people in need through the delivery of support, empathy and much needed resources. You can see that social workers really are ‘making a difference’which is a beautiful thing.
Next blog from Vietnam……………….
Serious stuff done..........On a completely unrelated note:
1) My day of solitude at the Himawari Pool was fab
2) Blue Pumpkin Ice Cream Sundae's really should be shared
3) I saw a load of live chickens today hangin off the side of motorbikes tethered bytheir ankles
4) My ruck sack is too small for all my belongings...........
5) I am actually going to miss cold showers
6) I am frustrated by the half glasses of wine served in ALL CAMBODIAN ESTABLISHMENTS
7) I look like a drag queen in Khmer photos.
8) Vietnam is supposed to be 39 degrees tomorrow
9) I spent 30 mins on my balcony yesterday watching a tied up puppy stare at a trunk of wood, who is more sad me or the puppy?
10) I am sooooooooooo over rice
In February, one of busiest month, in Projects Abroad - Cambodia have offered an opportunity for two local interns to work for three months with us. They started on 13-February-2012.
Both are nice and friendly, eager to learn from and to help the team. Here it the brief of their background information.
Mr. Chhem Sovando
My name is Chhem sovando , I am a graduate student from Pannasastra University of Cambodia , majoring International relations ,previously, I worked as intern at Call Me Translation Service , position as translator and general assistant , presently, I have been working as intern at Projects Abroad , In my point of view , working as intern at project abroad Cambodia gives me a lot of experience that I have never faced before, Anyways, I can have a chance to work with different people especially foreigners( volunteers ), this is the only ways to improve my knowledge especially my English skill , this internship is very meaningful to my career in the future and I want to work for Projects Abroad in Cambodia. On the other hand, I do like project abroad especially they always have monthly dinner party with foreigner which make our feeling relax able and having fun. Most importantly, project abroad also have monthly dirty weekend that we need to go to organization to draw the picture on the wall or gate with volunteers or do some other activities, it is really much interesting for me. Finally, Thanks Projects Abroad Cambodia for giving me a chance to work with the team.
Mr. Sam Phanith
My name is Sam Phanith. I am, nowadays, finished Bachelor Degree of Informatics Economic at Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE), also a Third year student at Pannasastra University of Cambodia (PUC), major in English for Business Communication. I used to work as Call Center Officer at Metfone. Moreover, I used to be a part time English teacher at ChhunHak School and volunteer teacher at People Improvement Organization (PIO). Working at NGO is my dream because I like doing social work which can help the communities or society. Projects Abroad plays a very vital role to assist Cambodia society due to many projects such as health care, teaching, human right… have been done by volunteers who come from different countries to improve educational system in Cambodia. It is a partly support to the government who wants to make our human resources better after Pol Pot regime. In addition, working at Projects Abroad gives me some experiences which are interest me like social work, communication, office work etc… due to now I am an internship staff and my role as a General Assistant; therefore I help all the senior staffs. That is why I knew and experienced each work.
The last 3 weeks on the island flew by and it was a bittersweet departure as I was sad to go but very excited to move on to many new destinations!
In the past three weeks I have learned a lot. A lot about the fish and the culture. Since I became an Advanced open water certified diver I was able to take part in a lot more of the project and have a deeper understanding of what its value was to this village, Cambodia and myself.
Last week the Chief of the village went to a meeting in Phnom Penh and was told that his village was the number one village in Cambodia! The reefs surrounding the islands are now partially protected (so only locals can fish there and no commercial fishing is allowed). All the data we collect that tracks the species, their populations and the coral/plant life is being submitted to the government to eventually turn this island and its surrounding waters into a completely protected national marine park! - This is in the very near future! Also, the project that I was a part of has already been recreated on a neighboring island in hopes for the same outcomes. Although I was only there for a short time, it is pretty rewarding to know that I was a small part of this giant success.
As far as finding value for myself.. far beyond putting this on my resume.. I tried something new that I would have never chosen for myself (I chose this project because my travel buddy was already doing it). I learned so much about the reef and it's pretty exciting to think that for the remainder of my trip when I snokel or dive in other places I am going to be able to identify fish and corals, know where to look for the exciting things (sting rays, octopus', big tropical fish) because they hide during the day and know what I can and can't touch.. for the most part ;) I pretty much just spent a month at "Socially Responsible Scuba Diving Camp" and gained a lot of appreciation for things that I really had no idea about until now. - I can't wait to watch Finding Nemo when I get home and show off all my new knowledge ;)
Here are some thoughts..
1. It was actually really strange not having a mirror for a month.. Think about how many times a day you use a mirror? I had no idea what I looked like, what my body looked like and what strange tan lines I was aquiring. It was kinda funny seeing myself once I reached Siem Reap.. as it was also hillarious for the other girls I am travelling with. - It was quite a luxury not knowing what I looked like.. because I didn't care about it and neither did anyone else. Part of my simple life experience.
2. I was assulted by mosquitos a couple times on the island.. extremely annoying. I discovered the hole in my bug net when I woke up one morning with litterally 20 bites on one leg. I am lucky my Mom packed me a drugstore so I could look after them but it was an unpleasant couple of days. It weird too, because even when I get bit during the day (because jungle mosquitos WILL find the one inch without bug spray) I have never seen or felt one bite me!
3. This month I discovered that I really like to read. Now this may seem like an unintelligent thing to say but outside of text books and journal articles, reading for pleasure hasn't really been a part of my life. I read 8 books this month! The highlight being a book titled "First they Killed my Father". It is a true story written by a girl who survived the Khmer Rouge and it was a horrific but amazing book. It taught me a lot about Cambodia and its history but gave me a deeper appreciation for its people and the countries progress (Yay for living in the number one village in Cambodia!) - The village has only existed for 15 years and was first inhabited by Khmer Rouge refugees/survivors.
4. Although the island is small.. they know how to have a good time. Often for days at a time drunken kareoke parties happened and could be heard from anywhere on the island. They love to Kareoke... waaaay more than the Japanese I think!
5. In the past I have been a part of many different experiences where I worked and lived with the same group of individuals and have always found that it was my nature to be a "social butterfly"(this is what my mother would call me when I would go out with my friends instead of doing my chores or spending money on outings that she didn't think were necessary. This "nickname" was strictly for discipline - Haha :p). Although this experience was a little different for me... I found myself spending a lot of time on my own reading books or about fish, snorkeling or napping in my hammock. It was a nice change to just relax on my own for a bit :)
6. Google image "porcupine fish" - Its my favorite :)
Right now I am in Siem Reap which is where the 7th wonder of the world; The Angkor Temples are. I took a 12 hour bus from the south of Cambodia to get here. It was a night bus and the seats were in the shape of loungers like you would find on a beach so you could sleep the whole way. Sounds great right? Well... the ride was 12 hours on pretty much a pothole filled gravol road and my seat was right at the back where the air conditioner was. The air conditioner was on full blast the entire ride and about an hour into in the condensation started to leak on me... I was soaked (FML!)
I am staying here for 2 more days and then off to Thailand for a couple weeks! :)
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