We departed Bangkok in the wee hours of the morning to drive to Siem Reap, Cambodia, the main purpose being to visit Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. After a four hour bus ride we arrived at the border, grabbed our luggage and made the hot and sticky walk across to have our passports checked and load up on a bus on the other side.
We checked in at the charming Banyan Leaf Hotel in the afternoon, and turned around to take a tuk tuk into the town for some shopping and wandering. Siem Reap has a huge market with a million street stands, selling T-shirts, souvenirs, traditional Cambodian spices, rice, teas, scarves, fresh foods, fair trade handicrafts and much more. We wandered and shopped, noticing that this is CLEARLY a place catering to tourists, with hipster cafes, gelato shops, and American-style eateries everywhere. We walked back to the hotel for a shower (forewarning: a trip to Cambodia in March will involve constant profuse sweating and as many showers per day as possible).
That evening, we had a guided tour of the “Mondul 3” village, one of the poorest slums in Cambodia, as well as the New Hope School, a project funded by G Adventures. Our tour guide had warned us to expect extremely poor conditions in Cambodia overall, but this day was a sad eye opener. The village is populated by displaced families and women, many working in the sex trade – one of the only options providing enough money to support a family (otherwise the average wage for housekeeping/manual labor is the equivalent of $ 2.50 per day, which in some cases must support a family of 10). We brought balloons to give to the children and say hello. The living conditions here are appalling- no clean water, dilapidated shacks as homes, minimal clothing and food supplies.
However, what was amazing was the joy in the children’s faces upon receiving something as simple as a balloon. I fell in love with this little boy – his mother helping him to tie the balloon, and then he becoming increasingly enamoured with it over time. It’s incredible to see such simple things give so much joy.
After the village, we went to the New Hope school. G Adventures and Planeterra started the New Hope school to try and provide a better education to children so they can go on to obtain better jobs.
In addition, the facility has a restaurant which teaches locals skills for working in the hospitality industry. We had dinner here, an amazing feast of vegetable wontons, shredded chicken and vegetable salad, crispy sweet and sour pork, coconut fish curry, and deep fried bananas with caramel. The food and staff were amazing, and with tourism up-and-coming in Cambodia, it is such a smart idea to provide training in the industry.
Oh yeah, and we started with bugs!
Check out the website here for more information on how you can contribute – many options are available; sponsoring a family, a child’s education, supporting the school, or contributing to the Crisis Care Center, which provides emergency health care to those in desperate need.
Afterwards we explored the famous “Pub Street”, which is exactly as advertised, lined with bars and pubs, all heaving with a combination of locals and tourists. The rooftop at Temple Bar has great live music, fans, and bean bag chairs, a fabulous reprieve from the busy streets below. One level below, live Cambodian dance performances were taking place.
After one drink we turned in, as we would be up the next day at 4:30 am to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat.