A Travellerspoint blog

The Life of Grace House children

sunny 30 °C

Since we've now been at school for 5 weeks, we thought it was about time that we told you a bit more about it, and about the children we're teaching.

All the children come from 2 villages around the school, called Kor Krahn and Trithick (they're probably not spelled right but you get the idea!). The villages are very poor generally, and the children come from a mix of income levels of home within the villages. Both of us have been on house visits this week, to two very different homes. John went first, to the home of a orphan teenager who the school are trying to enroll in their new electricians course, but isn't coming. His home was basically a bamboo box on stilts - it had holes in the walls and floor and very few posessions at all, other than a bamboo mat to sleep on, a table covered in rubbish (at present he's working as a rubbish collector) and very little else. The land isn't his, and the landlord lets him live their rent free, but in theory he could be turned out at any time. This is about as poor as families get in this area, but from all accounts there are quite a few who are at this sort of level. In a lot of cases, the problem is magnified by large families, and apparently alcoholism and gambling, which are supposedly rife among some of the poorer families. I guess when you're at home all day with nothing else to do, it's easy to fall into that kind of way of life. However, neither of us has personally seen any evidence of this, so we're only going on what we've been told by other people at Grace House.

Susie visited a very different home with one of the children the day after. All the families have their homes surveyed periodically, to see what they need, and to see how they feel about Grace House. They are asked questions about the children they have, their jobs, whether they are able to feed their families, debts they have, what they have available as a support network, and so on. All of these they answer surprisingly frankly, but I suppose when you have very little, you tell the truth in the hope you get help.

Anyway, Susie went on one of these surveys, and it turned out it was to one of the best off families in the school. Piseth, the Khmer member of staff who took her, said that there are only 2 or 3 families in the school, out of 100+ who have a house as good as she saw. This house was on a fairly large plot of land, maybe 100m ish square. The house itself was raised up maybe 70cm, had a stone foundations to about 1.5m, and then was built out of wood with a metal roof. When you went in, there was a sitting area, with a television, electric lighting, and a few plastic chairs and one folding deckchair. There were also 2 bedrooms, with raised beds, with thin futon like mattresses on, a kitchen, which included a fridge, and a small bathroom. There were photos of the family up on the walls, and books around, and although the house would have felt a very bare, small one by English standards, it would by no means be a complete shock compared to poorer areas of England (obviously the style was very different, but I mean the size and possessions). The family had borrowed $5000 from a friend in order to build the house, which they'd only built a few months previously, and were paying back $200 a month which by Cambodian standards is a lot. Mortgages don't exist here - most people rent, or inherit, or have to save until they can buy outright. The dad worked as a mechanic, so the family had a car and a motorbike, but it was when we had a walk round the garden that it became apparent how he makes his money. They have 24 chickens, which they breed for cock fighting. This is technically illegal in Cambodia, but according to him as long as you keep the gathering small, and pay the police a little bribe, you can get away with it! But if the gathering gets too big then the police will sometimes come, and try to take $300, or just somebodies moto if there isn't enough money there! It was very interesting to see what 'rich' in the terms of these villagers was.

Food wise, apparently none of the kids are starving in an actual sense - they all get (just about) enough rice (with the help of some hand outs from Grace House), but a lot of them, especially from the poorer families, get very little in the way of nutrients or protein, so their bodies definitely aren't getting all they need. Another issue is that they also think that a large percentage of children in Cambodia are abused - beating is still seem as an appropriate punishment for misbehaviour, neglect seems to be almost standard, and Grace House has in the past taken children to hospital, and been told that they have suffered some form of sexual abuse. Grace House finds this almost impossible to deal with; if they raise concerns then it's likely the parents will stop the child coming to school, and if the child was taken off the family there isn't anywhere safer for them to go anyway - as we're here there's someone from an orphanage somewhere in Siem Reap being accused of abusing the children in his care. Further, a lot of parents have to work so hard just to keep their heads above water, that the children are used a lot to help out, by doing the shopping, caring for younger siblings, helping with farming and so on. When they already attend Grace House 2 hours a day and state school for 4+ hours a day, that makes for a lot of work for kids.

So there are a lot of issues that affect the kids at home, and the way this affects them at school is really mixed. On one hand, they are tired and hungry a great amount of the time, which must make it hard to concentrate, especially when we're asking them to do it in a language they don't understand very well. However, on the other hand, the kids all know that they are lucky to have Grace House as a safe place to go, and that the stuff they're learning there is really useful to them. They are all so so keen and enthusiastic and lovely all of the time - they could give English kids a brilliant lesson in valuing what you have and making the most of things.

It's amazing the things that are so exciting to them that we in the west would just take as a matter of course. Things like me giving them a piggy back during break time, or letting them use my camera to take a photo, or seeing a photo of themselves, or being allowed to write the answer to a question on the board, or just answering a question correctly, or being told their work is good and getting a smiley face drawn on it, or playing a little game in class, or a hundred other little things just excite them so much, and really seem to make them so happy. It's really rewarding how much difference you can make by doing so little. Then there's slightly bigger things, like them spending a lesson using the computers. Only 3 kids out of my class of 30 had ever used a computer before last week, and even though they only have one old laptop between 4 of them, they love their computer lessons and work so hard at them. I've never seen a group of children more excited than when I taught my class how to change the colour and size of text in Microsoft Word. It really does melt your heart.
IMG_1584.jpg
Having fun in computer class

IMG_1530.jpg
Playing a shapes board game

We had an even bigger event for some of John's class last thursday night. A very posh hotel, called Hotel De La Paix, in Siem Reap regularly runs art exhibitions of Cambodian art. They're aimed at rich tourists, but thursday was the first night of a new event and since it was art done by children who are disabled (either from birth or as the result of accidents - mainly due to landmines), they invited some of the children from local NGO schools. Lots were drawn, and 20 of the students from John's class went (since they're the oldest). They got a rusty open topped truck, which drew up to this spectacularly posh hotel (a hilarious juxtaposition) and after a very patronising talk from the man in charge of the event, they were allowed in. They were all amazed at the building, the room (everything really), and they especially enjoyed the free food, free drinks, and the performance that a group of children from a local Orphanage gave of bokator, a traditional dance/martial art, a little like capoeira. All of them were a little overwhelmed, but it was such a lovely, lovely night, and obviously meant a huge amount to all of them. They were absolutely buzzing with it the next day, and I'm sure they all will be for a while to come. We both just hope that the hotel feels the night was a success, and invites them again.
IMG_1558gyu.jpg
Outside the hotel
IMG_1563gfre.jpg
John and his students

So that's some information about the kids at school, and means we've posted two blog posts in one day. Wow! We only have one more week left here now - we're both going to be so so sad to leave here. We've altered our plans slightly now though - we're off to Laos next for 4 weeks, then to Vietnam for 2, before heading back to Cambodia for Christmas. This has many advantages, but the main ones are that we can see more of Laos off the beaten track, which we both really want to do, and can do it fully so we don't need to go back or miss things out, travel round a bit more of Cambodia when we come back, go to the Grace House Christmas party, leave some things here so we don't have to lug all our stuff around with us the whole time, and be with some people we know, and in an area we know we like for Christmas. Maybe we'll actually stick to this plan, although those of you who know us best know that that's never a guaranteed thing!!

Posted by Susiep539 07:24 Archived in Cambodia Tagged globalteer grace_house hotel_de_la_paix Comments (0)

Siem Reap 5s!

sunny 33 °C

Top 5 things about Siem Reap

1. Angkor Famous - Our favourite little spot in Siem Reap. A small bar in the Alley - which is one of the two main touristy roads in Siem Reap centre - which we frequent far more often than is healthy! It's run by a group of women, the one who is in charge is far too pregnant to be spending all day on her feet, and they are all so so sweet and friendly. There is one lady who stands at the entrance all night, every night, and says on repeat in the most deadpan way, with no pauses or punctuation, "Cocktails buy one get one free beer 50 cents free popcorn free rice with every meal free fruit salad". It's funny but a little tragic! But her list tells you some of the other reasons Angkor Famous is our favourite place to chill! Even Susie has got into beer when it's only 50cents for 3/4 of a pint, and it's cheaper than any soft drinks! We also love the popcorn, which is both salted and sweet, really tasty, and you get a new plate every time you finish one. Yum yum yum!!! They even brought us free water after we had quite a few drinks there the other night. We really do love them!!

2. Cycling - We cycle to work everyday as I think I mentioned in a previous blog, and it's such a ridiculous experience that it just had to go into our top 5 things here! There are very few cars, and nearly everything is done by motorbike, including transporting livestock(we've see chickens and a pig in a little cart on the back), taking whole families to school (4 people is common, 5 people on one moto is a rare sight, much sought after by us volunteers!), carrying new purchases (we saw a guy today using one arm to steer and one to precariously hold his new TV on the back!), and taking children to the hospital (it's scary how many kids you see on motos, with their mum behind them holding up the drip they've just been prescribed!). The roads are manic, and there's always lots on them, but because it's Cambodia, and because it's all motorbikes and bikes, everything is quite slow paced. There's a lot of people biking down the wrong side of the road until they can cut across, and people going every direction, but it's surprisingly organised chaos, and once you get used to it, it's great fun! Cycling in England is going to be very dull after this!

3. People - We love Cambodians. Fact. Overall, they are the friendliest, nicest, happiest nation of people either of us has ever met. They are always happy for a chat, or a bit of a joke as you walk past or when you meet them. From the really cute little kids, who run out excitedly whenever you walk/bike past and shout hello, to the tuk-tuk drivers, who always have a good bit of banter for you, to the people who run everything, who are so appreciative and happy about everything you do that helps them. Especially when you think about everything that has happened to them as a nation within living memory (and not even that old living memory - 1970s), it's astonishing and humbling that they are as lovely as they are. nb - if you know as little about Cambodian history as Susie did before we came, just quickly google 'khmer rouge' and look at what happened - it's horrific. We're both going to be so so sad to leave Cambodia - we both feel really at home here, and a massive part of why that is is the people. Anyone who comes to Cambodia and doesn't make any effort with them is really missing out.
IMG_1379.jpg
Kids waving hello from the floating village

4. Khmer amok (and food in general really!) - Unlike some countries we're visiting, we weren't expecting a lot out of Cambodian food. Unlike Thailand or Malaysia, it's not really somewhere you think of when you think of tasty food. However, although the flavours are more sssubtle than other Asian food, they're just as tasty! The excessive use of coconut in everything makes Susie very happy, whilst John would be happy with any food that involves lots of steamed rice! Our favourite dish is Khmer Amok - it's like a tasty version of a korma curry, and at the end of cooking you cook two eggs into it. It gives the sauce a lovely texture, and it's so so yummy! We did a cookery course last weekend and learnt how to make it, so if you're all very nice to us we might make it for you when we get back! Our other favourite are these deep fried bananas that we get for 300riels (about 6p) from a market stall near school. They squash the banana till it's flat, dip it in a slightly coconuty rice batter, and deep fry it. A very tasty, but very unhealthy way to get one of your 5 a day!!
IMG_1567.jpg
Gorgeous amok made for us by the cook at school because we said we like it - thus illustrating points 3 and 4!

5. Phrases - The Cambodians do have some funny little phrases that really endears us to them. The most prevalent is 'Same same but different', which they all use all the time! Apparently it's a Thai phrase that means two things the same but of different quality, therefore explaining why one is more expensive, but here they just use it for EVERYTHING! The use is so excessive that the kids in my class don't understand if you say two things are the same, but the second you say 'same same', they get your meaning at once. and usually respond 'but different?', which is slightly annoying when you're trying to explain that no, they are actually the same!! There's also a song, that they're all obsessed with, sung partly in English and partly in Khmer, but the only bit we ever hear just goes "I am sorry, I am sorry" (but it sounds more like "I am soaring"). It's very waily and excessive, but everyone loves it, and sings it far too often. They also love Justin Bieber too, but the less said about that the better!

Worst 5 things about Siem Reap

1. Cycling - Whilst it went in our top 5 for the sheer experience of it, it has to go in the bottom five too! Whilst everyone (or almost everyone) on a moto, bike or tuk tuk is nice and considerate, there are too many people in cars/trucks/tourist buses who are complete arses to everyone else. There seems to be an unwritten rule that once you're encased within any form of metal box, you no longer care about anyone else on the road. Tourist buses are the worst - there's a horribly touristy floating village further on on the road from school so there are always loads of them going past, and there's no chance they're moving out of the way of anyone, or slowing down so they don't splash you, or in fact anything that involves consideration for others. Urgh!

2. Weather - Whilst those of you reading this in England, heading into dreary, cold, grey, miserable November will definitely be rolling your eyes at this, the weather has to go on our least favourite things. It is so hot and humid all the time, especially in the afternoon, and although our classrooms are semi open, they're still boiling. We have fans but it annoys the kids too much cos they blow their papers around, so they turn them off, and then we all die of heat! And the heat makes the roads so dusty, and then you get covered in grimy grit every time you go anywhere. Plus, the rain is really unpredictable (see next point!) and that causes it's whole host of own problems! Having just said all this though, we were discussing it today, when we were biking to school in beautiful sunshine, and we're both so so grateful we're not suffering English weather, so perhaps we shouldn't moan too much!!

3. Floods - Whilst most days have been hot hot hot, there has been some ridiculous rain, as you'll see if you look back at our previous posts. We had one night where it rained harder than I've ever seen rain before for 12 hours straight. All the flooding was a result of that one night. Completely ridiculous! Not only do we feel so sorry for all the kids and their families who have to put up with their houses being swimming pools, but it causes a lot of problems for everyone. Firstly there was all the issues with getting to school that we wrote about before, but even now when the floods have subsided the road is completely torn up because it wasn't very well made anyway, and it was wet for so long, so now it's full of pot holes, which make the journey to school rather interesting!

4. Tuk tuk sir, madam?...Obviously not, I'm on my bike - We do love the Cambodian people, and as mentioned above, we do love the tuk-tuk drivers (especially Mr Tomb Raider - thus named because his tuk-tuk says tomb raider on it - who is our favourite), but sometimes them, and the other people selling you things really do need to use their brains a little more! When you're unlocking/on a bike, chances are you don't want a tuk-tuk! John had someone the other day trying very hard, and when John said we were here for 6 weeks and it was too expensive to always get a tuk-tuk all the time, the response was "My tuk-tuk very fast, you can do it in 3 weeks". It did make us laugh, but I think he missed the point! Similarly, there are people everywhere who try to sell you fish massages, like we had in Kuala Lumpur, and they are very annoyingly persistent. If I've just walked past 2 minutes ago and said no, and then walk back past, without looking at the fish tank, it's highly unlikely that within those 2 minutes I've suddenly gone, "Actually you know what, I need a fish massage right now!". 6 weeks of it drives you a little mad!

5. Dogs - Our final worst thing, and quite possibly the worst of all, are the horrible dogs that wander around the streets. We got very scared of one that was following us down the road after dinner the other night and wouldn't go away, until a local noticed us being scared and threw a bottle at it which made it run away (see, we told you the locals were lovely!). There are lots of them, and they wander all over the place, and if they smell the littlest bit of meat on you (eg if you've eaten some finger food, or been in a restaurant that smells of meat at all) then they follow you a little too closely. There's loads at school too, which walk round, fight and mate outside your classroom. Lovely. However, someone did bring the cutest little puppy into school yesterday, that barely had its eyes open, and couldn't walk yet, and so that enamored us back to dogs a little!!
IMG_1570.jpg

Top 5 Siem Reap Eateries

1. Khmer House in the alley - Our favourite place for Khmer Amok (which as we said above is our favourite dish). It's only $2.50, which is much cheaper than the place a bit further down that claims to have the best amok in Siem Reap. We tried it, but we can verify that its sign is lying, save yourself $4 and eat at Khmer House instead! It's so coconutty and tasty and beautiful. Yum yum yum!! There's lots of Khmer House's in Siem Reap though, so make sure you head to the one in the Alley (which is parallel to Pub Street!)

2. Our little lunchtime place - This is our little bit of locals Cambodia! It's about a 10 minute walk away from school, and we've been going there for lunch a couple of days a week. They're so sweet and lovely, and always really friendly to us when we come in, and they sell grilled pork, warmed bread and amazingly tasty salad (that's made even John like cucumber!) for just 3000riel (75cents, 50p).

3. The Night Market stalls - From about 4pm, a lot of stalls spring up on the far side of pub street, which sell various dishes for $1. As you walk up to them, they all run out at you manically shaking menus at you, but it makes no difference where you eat, because the phrase 'same same but different has never been more true since they're all the same. We especially like the fried noodles - John is a yellow noodle fan, whereas Susie prefers the rice noodles. They are really good, and for 66p you can't really go wrong anyway! Then, if you fancy treating yourself afterwards, you can head across to a little pancake van that does banana, cocoa and condensed milk pancakes for 50 cents which are amazing bad for you, but so so tasty!

4. Angkor Famous - It just has to go on this list too! Although we mostly use it for beer and popcorn, we do really enjoy the food too, and have eaten there quite a few times. The coconut soup and burgers are very tasty, but never EVER try the Khmer sausages, which aren't sausages by any definition!

5. Various curry houses - We weren't expecting much when we first went out for curry in Cambodia, but both the Bengal Tiger in Pub Street, and the Maharajah in street 7 (parallel to pub street in the other direction to the alley) do very very tasty curry. We always go for the vegetarian thali, which is delicious, and the most ridiculously huge portions ever! Every time we've eaten at either of them, Susie's stomach has hurt excessively for the rest of the evening, as it's been far too full of food, and both of us have felt very happy at getting our good curry fix! At about $3.75 they're not the cheapest meals ever, but they are so worth it!!

Posted by Susiep539 02:34 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia siem_reap tuk_tuk cambodian angkor_famous khmer_house night_market pub_street the_alley bengal_tiger Comments (0)

Battambang!

rain 20 °C

Battambang is Cambodia's second city, and since we didn't want to spend our whole trip in touristland, and since we'd been given Friday off from school due to the floods, we decided to take the 5 hour bus journey to see what Cambodia really looks like. The journey to the bus was easy enough, after being picked up from Globalteer by minibus we arrived at the, rather chaotic bus station. With some tepidation we sought out the bus we needed and got on board, only to find people sitting in our seats. We figured it would be typically Cambodian for the seat allocations to mean very little so we moved to the back and hoped noone would turf us out of our seats.

Fortunately noone did and we had a rather picturesque journey through the countryside (which John mostly slept through) and soon enough arrived in Battambang. Almost immediately the bus was bombarded by Tuktuk drivers and street sellers. Some pressed at the windows with signs, while the others queued (mobbed) about at the front of the bus. We had been recommended "The Royal Hotel" by some other volunteers who had been a week previously, and fortunately enough the majority of the signs were indeed for "The Royal", and even better, for free! We got to the hotel on 'Mr Olas' tuktuk' quickly and were warmly welcomed by the staff inside. They took us to see the rooms, posh, with aircon for $20, or John and Susie budget with a fan for $8. We elected for the $8 which was actually really nice, got settled, then headed out to find some food.

We had a rather nice lunch at "the smoking pot", which was a little walk away down the river, but while we were eating the clouds drew in and the rain started. We managed a little walk to see some nice old French Colonial buildings, the old Governors house (with cannons!), a strange dilapidated fun fair reminiscent of the ferris wheel at Chernoble, and some bbq snake, cockroach and crickets! Unfortunately the rain got worse so we had to call it a day and find a tuktuk to take us back. It was a shame and a bad start to the weekend but we hoped tomorrow would be better!
IMG_1129.jpgIMG_1137.jpgIMG_1151.jpg

We had elected to take a tuktuk tour with Mr Olas over the weekend, which included a visit to some temples, a trip to the countryside, the killing caves and a ride to an ngo circus in the evening, all for only $5 each! So at 8 o'clock on Saturday morning we headed off out into the wilderness. First call was the "Bamboo Railway", an incredible example of Cambodian, "making do". The 'official' railway in Cambodia has been shut for the last 2 years, and even before that trains were infrequent. To make up for this the locals recovered some old tank wheels, a moto motor, some bamboo sheeting and connected them all together to make a bamboo train! Of course there's only one line so when another bamboo train comes from the other direction they just stop, take the train apart and put it by the side of the railway, let it go past and then put it back together again! Who has to get off is decided by which train has the most people (or cattle!) onboard.We had to do this 4 times on our half an hour trip but it was too fun to feel put out. Definitely a highlight of our trip so far!

IMG_1177.jpgIMG_1168.jpg

Next stop was Banon temple and 353 steps........

IMG_1215.jpg

(flanked by multiple "Beware Landmines" signs)

IMG_1212.jpg

later......we made it to the top. The views from the top were amazing and because Cambodia is such a flat country we could see for miles! Unfortunately it rained while we were at the top which made going down a little hairy, but the steps weren't nearly as ridiculously narrow or steep as the ones in Siem Reap.

IMG_1263.jpg

One the way from the temple the rain really started, and despite the Tuktuk having a roof and side flaps John got soaked, typically. After a while we arrived at the hills for the killing caves. At the bottom we were told it was 800 steps to the top or $3 moto ride. We opted for the moto and got duly soaked on the way up. At the top we took shelter in a pagoda which was used as a prison during the Khmer Rouge time. The pagoda itself just looked like any other pagoda we'd visited which made the fact that people had been severely abused there all the more sobering. After this we headed down into the killing caves. It was shaped more like a cavern with a large whole in the roof and a slope dropping down from it with a lower level below hidden in darkness. According to the guide (who had escaped to Thailand in the 70's by evading soldiers shooting at him) people were murdered at the top of the cave by the roof and thrown down into the cavern below. Later when this became full they were thrown into the lower cave. He also told us of how people were killed differently depending on their profession. Teachers were shot, anti-government protesters had their throats slit and government officers were beaten to death. According to him this was to allow the people to make a confession before they died, or to disclose information. Beating gave the longest time but was also the most painful. This was all pretty upsetting and it wasn't made any better by the skulls that had been recovered from the lower level and placed in a shrine. A real wake up call for all of us.

IMG_1258.jpg

After this we were supposed to go to see another pagoda on the top of the hill which would have had beautiful views. However by this point the rain was torrential and all we could see was grey. We opted to head back down the hill, whose road now resembled a waterfall. Fortunately we made it down without any dramas and took a tuk tuk home, soaked, a little disappointed about the fairly wasted $3 but with a memorable experience from the caves.

After drying ourselves off we headed to the circus!Phare Ponleu Selpak The story of the circus from their website is that "Eight returning refugee's from Battambang have taken what they learned in a cultural workshop during their time spent in a refugee camp on the thai border, and now help other refugees and other problems, overcome trauma through artistic expression. The group, based on the outskirts of Battambang in Cambodia, combine a circus with music, as well as providing school for over 400 students." So some at the centre do art, others crafts, while the really bendy ones are sent to the big top! We can't lie, we were a little dubious about parting with $8 for a show which could be two clowns and a unicycle short of a circus but the show was AMAZING! The kids were all incredibly talented and the script of their show, which was their interpretation or life in Cambodia for young people, was original, funny and very entertaining. There were acrobatics, interpretive dance, contortionists, juggling.....you name it. A really really great night and we'd recommend it to anyone. The group are also touring the world atm so you might see them in a town near you!

IMG_1291.jpg

Sunday was the 7 hours (yes 7) boat ride back up to Siem Reap. It was arranged by our hotel and was a little pricey at $15, but other volunteers had recommended it to us so we decided to give it a go! Things started with a bump when we had to go much further away from the landing point because the water was too high for the boat to fit under the bridges. Never mind we thought and got onboard without too much hesitation. The view along the river was pretty incredible because a lot of it is lined by floating villages or endless wetlands. For most of the journey we took a shortcut down some really narrow waterways which only just fit the boat! As we went down all manner of insetc were catapulted into the boat by the tree branches we were snapping along with us. We're pretty sure it was only due to the rain and flooding that we could fit at all. Also all the foliage kept getting caught around the propeller which they removed by putting the engine into reverse. This unfortunately made the engine sound like it was about to explode, fortunately it didn't. Incredibly, despite being seemingly in the middle of nowhere the boat managed to deliver some chickens, boxes, computer equipment and even a sim card to specific floating houses along the way. God knows how they knew where to stop, but they did! We also had to cross Tonle Sap lake (more like a small sea than a lake really as it swells from 2000km2 in the dry season, to 12000km2 in the wet!) the lake itself had full on waves on it and the boat really didn't appreciate them. Luckily it had the tenaciousness of Drommie and we cruised across in about 40 minutes....only to find that when we reached "the edge" the water continued in every direction, only this time dotted with trees. We guessed this area was completely dry at other times of the year but thanks for the flooding the wetlands just went on and on and on! Eventually they did come to an end, however, and we docked up at another floating village. Immediately the boat got swamped by tuktuk drivers offering us a trip to anywhere for just $1. Obligingly we took up one of their offers and headed back to Globalteer.

IMG_1376.jpgIMG_1372.jpg

A short but, very filled weekend! Photos to follow when the internet stops being crap.

Posted by John_713 02:11 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor

all seasons in one day 30 °C

Siem Reap itself has a nice small town feel to it. However since going to Battambang (which we'll blog about later) it does feel slightly excessively, but unsurprisingly, touristy. The town itself and surrounding temples area has had a hell of alot of, mostly Korean, money pumped into it. This is no bad thing because it obviously needed it but very little has found its way to the villages outside. That said everything here is orientated around tourists and its clearly providing alot of much needed work for the local people.

As a result life in Siem Reap is a little more sheltered than it would be in "real" cambodia. Most people speak a bit of English and there's always a TukTuk to hand to take you home in the rain. Also the variety of restaurants is impressive with mostly any cuisine you could want lacing the streets (no bbq snake and cockroach in Siem reap!).

Our evenings here mostly consist of a walk to town, a nice meal for $3 each or so in a restaurant and a Tuktuk home for $2. There are also loads of stalls where you can get dinner for a dollar, which we keep telling ourselves we need to visit more but the restaurants are just too tasty! We're yet to manage a big night out but hopefully we'll manage one this weekend, especially since beers are 50c for 3/4 pint! We're also hoping to finally find the swimming pool at some point and might try some Yoga (if John's decrepid limbs can cope). Apparently the Yoga at the Peace Cafe (near-by vege hippie cafe, scrambled tofu ftw!) is pretty relaxing so that might be a good starting point!

Outside town the obvious main event, and real reason people come to Siem Reap are the Angkor temples. Angkor Wat is the one you'll probably all of heard of, but there's lots and lots of others too. We didn't get to them all by any means but over 2 days cycling (a 26km round trip each day) and a third on a Tuktuk, we managed to the main groups. All of the temples are exceptionally impressive, even the ones slightly off the beaten track. The pure scale of the area is staggering. I don't know how many there are altogether - they're spread out all over Cambodia - but most, especially the biggest, are at Angkor. Angkor literally translates as Capital City, and it's where the Capital of Cambodia was between the 9th and the 12th Centuries. In an area of maybe 5 miles square, where this capital city was, there are loads of massive temples and other stone structures that they built, all within this 350 year period. There are about 10 temples that you was describe as ridiculously huge - I'm talking York Minster size or bigger (although not as high of course) - and probably about 15-20 that are bigger than a normal church. And that's not including all the magnificent walls, gates, etc that are around as well, and all the smaller temples. It really is amazing.

We slightly regretted our decision to do all the temples by bike at times, but in a lot of ways it was lovely, as it's quieter, you don't have to make any decisions ahead of time about where to go or anything and its much more satisfying, but it was very hard work!! The 45km we cycled over two days was far enough in any circumstances, but when its 30 degrees, very sunny, the roads are bumpy and you have no suspension or gears on your bike, it's a VERY long way!!

We took about 600 photos over the 3 days, which seems excessive, but the wow factor you get as you walk round just makes it irresistible. We've included a small selection here but there really is no way to get across just how amazing they all are.

On the first day, we went to all the most touristy temples. We had a more relaxed start, and set off at about 10am for the 6km bike ride to the temple area. We managed to pick a stupidly hot day for it, after we'd had 3 or 4 cooler, cloudy days (OK, so cooler only means 30 degrees, but thats a hell of a lot better than 35 and beating sunshine!). Once we got there, we started off at Angkor Thom. This is the largest religious complex in the world, and emcompasses several large temples lots of smaller temples/shrines, all surrounded by a wall and moat. It's 3km square. The main attraction inside Angkor Thom is Bayon, a large temple with 37 towers, most of which have 4 carved stone faces on them. There's also a lot of beautiful intricate carving, which nearly all the temples have. It's ridiculous how much effort was put into every little bit of all of these massive temples.
IMG_0741.jpg
Bayon

After that we wandered/biked around various other places in the Angkor Thom complex, including the Terrace of the Leper King, Terrace of the Elephants, Bauphon (which had a ridiculous huge carved stone Buddha on it) and Phimeanakas. Susie hadn't drunk enough water and felt a bit ill but after we'd sat in the coolest spot we could find for a while and she felt better, we biked out towards some of the other temples.

We next went to Ta Keo, where we climbed a LOT of very dodgy steps! A lot of the temples are what they call 'temple mountains', which basically means that it's just a massive square pyramid, often with various size towers on the top, and steps up each side. The steps are pretty lethal. Whoever built them must have had very small feet and very long legs, because they're only about 2-3 inches wide most of the time, and more than a foot high per step. Slightly hair-raising, especially now that 1000 years have gone by and they're rather weather beaten, and when you've got 200 of them to fall down if you slip at the top! Ta Keo is one of these temple mountains, built of sandstone, and we did get some nice views, and, more importantly, a lovely cool breeze at the top!

We then went to Ta Prohm, which is a lot of people's favourite temple, as it has a real 'jungley' feel, both in the compound around the area, and in the temple itself, which has trees growing up through it at various points (see photo below!). Lots of people complain that it feels to restricted, because they have put in a few walkways, but we didn't really find this at all. However, this may partly be because we accidentally found ourselves on the wrong side of a no entry sign, after a lovely quiet wander through some dilapidated bits of the temple!
IMG_0807.jpg
Tree at Ta Prohm

We then went and had an explore around Bantaey Kdei, a large monastic complex (so the guide book tells me - two weeks later, which it is as I'm writing now, I'm afraid I already can't remember all the temples individually, although plenty do stand out!). After that we went to Sras Srang, a reservoir opposite it, which was very beautiful and peaceful (despite the many people asking us to buy drinks/food/etc).

We then set off back, but as we got to the Angkor Wat moat, which you have to pass on the way back to town, the evening was so beautiful that we decided we just had to go and get our first look at it, which it's suggested you do in the late afternoon, so we biked round and joined the hoards going in. It's kinda sad that when there's so many beautiful temples so close, that a huge percentage of people who visit here, obviously just go into Angkor Wat and then leave again. It was so, SO much busier here than anywhere else we went. But anyway, we went in regardless and just looked at the temple from the front walkway - we were too exhausted by this time to explore properly. It was impressive and beautiful, especially with the sun just starting to set, but we were both a little disappointed with it - it gets built up so much but it's not that much better than any of the other temples around. However, the evening was beautiful and the bike ride round it was lovely. We then biked home, completely shattered, collapsed upstairs, only to come down later to find that everyone else had already ordered pizza. We were too exhausted to go into town, so it was boring rice and egg for us, before falling into bed to rest before our second day of temples.

Our second day started with a rather long 9km bike ride to our first temple of the day. However, it was worth it as this was Susie's favourite temple! It's called Pre Rup, and is one of the oldest ones in the Angkor area. It's another temple mountain built out of bricks rather than sandstone blocks, which was really interesting and the temple was beautiful, but it was the views that were the best bit about it. There were lovely views across the local countryside, which is just beautiful green paddy fields as far as you can see.

After another couple of kms through this lovely countryside, we arrived at East Mebon. This is really similar to Pre Rup but not quite as big. It used to be on an island in the middle of East Baray, which was a reservoir, but it's dried up now and is all paddy fields.

After that we biked on further and went to Ta Som, a fairly indescript temple in the Angkor scheme of things, and then to Neak Pean. This is one central tower in the middle of four large and four small pools, the waters of which were thought to have healing properties! However, the only property the water seems to have now is to breed mosquitos by the million, so after some quick photo taking we moved on!

Next we headed to a small temple called Bantaey Prei, which is about 100m off the tourist track, so naturally there was nobody there. Oh no, I lie, there were 2 small boys herding cattle, who had great fun calling at us and then hiding behind bits of temple! We played around a bit and took some photos of the "curiously small doors and windows", which was why we went, and then left, but not before being scared by a huge hornet!

We then went to Preah Khan, which is a stupidly massive, sprawling temple/monastery, with beautiful carvings all over the place and some ridiculous trees growing up through the temple. We then biked back through Angkor Thom, where we'd been the day before, to Angkor Wat.

Although we'd both been slightly disappointed by Angkor Wat the day before, we felt it redeemed itself somewhat when we explored it properly! The carvings all around the outside are just exquisite, and go on forever, and the towers are very impressive. Unfortunately the top section is having some work done on it at the moment, so we couldn't go right up but walking around under the towers is lovely.
IMG_0966.jpg

We then went out to bike home, only to find that Susie's bike had a completely flat tyre. Boo! A friendly policeman directed us down a little dirt track to a guy who charged us 300riel (7p) to put some air into it. Unfortunately, less than a km later it was totally flat again, and we had to walk the rest of the way home. Susie sent John off to bike into town to find a pizza company that would deliver us our tea - after the boring rice the night before and all the biking, we felt we deserved a treat! - while she walked home. We got back, collapsed for a while, got our lovely security guard to order us pizza, and then pigged out and ate a whole large pizza, a serving of chips and a garlic baguette between us. Yum!!

On our third and final day of temples, we treated ourselves and got a tuk-tuk. First we went into town and had a tasty omelet for breakfast, and then we headed 13km east out of town (this is why we got a tuk-tuk!) to the Roluous group of temples. These are the older temples that are where the capital was before it moved to Angkor. The tuk-tuk journey out there was lovely, through a section of Siem Reap that isn't nearly as touristy as the central section, and then further out through some beautiful countryside. As we went along, we saw lots of trucks that had the tailgates down so as to fit as many people on as possible - there must have been 50+ people on some of these little trucks!!!

When we got to the temples, we first went to Bakong, the largest of the group, which was another massive temple, with a moat around it. It was another brick built temple mountain with lots of steps to the top, but again with some lovely views. We then went to ____ and Lolei (John liked the name!), which were two smaller temples in the same area. They were all interesting, but I think by this third day we were both a bit temple-d out! We enjoyed looking at an active pagoda that was next to Lolei, and we did like looking around the temples, but after an hour or so, we headed back.
IMG_0990.jpg

We absolutely loved our three days of temples, and they are completely incredible, but I think we still both think it's sad that so many people come to Siem Reap and spend 3 days at the temples and then leave again. There's so much other stuff here, and the people are just so lovely, and you don't get any of that if you only come here for the temples. But I guess we're going to travelling like that everywhere else we go, and you can't spend a long time everywhere you go, but I'm just really glad that we're having the chance to really get to know somewhere we're travelling.

Anyway, this is a stupidly long post, so we'll write more about Siem Reap another time!

Posted by John_713 01:18 Archived in Cambodia Tagged siem_reap angkor_wat angkor_thom angkor bayon ta_prohm ta_keo pre_rup Comments (1)

Settling into School

all seasons in one day 33 °C

After our first two days of settling in, we got stuck into our volunteering. As we mentioned in our last post, we didn't have too much to do during our first week really because Susie had another volunteer in her classroom (an annoying German guy who wasn't able to teach anything which made it quite painful to sit through the lessons!), and John's Khmer teacher was teaching his classes about Pchum Ben, the Cambodian festival that took place the 2nd week we were here (more about that later!). So we had quite a chilled, but slightly frustrating first week. We both wanted to get stuck into things, but there wasn't much chance to really.

The school is very well resourced, but there doesn't seem to be much help for the Khmer teachers, and the English lessons are variable at best! There's a lot of parroting, and read and repeat, and the student's aren't encouraged to use their brains very much. Their knowledge of English vocabulary is therefore pretty good really, and they can translate all manner of English words, but they are pretty incapable of answering simple questions or making sentences themselves! At the start of every lesson, all the students stand up and say "Good morning teacher" in chorus. You then have to respond "Good morning, how are you today?", and they all reply "I'm fine thank you (well they actually say sank you!)and you?". But they reply like that no matter what question you ask before, so if you asked them what they did last night, they'd reply the same. It's really cute for the first couple of days, but soon you're willing them to tell you how they really are!

That said, they are all really really keen to learn, and they all want to give you the answer or read out the sentence that needs reading or whatever. They don't call you by your name - partly because it's more respectful in Cambodia not to use names, but also partly because they have a lot of volunteers and they probably can't remember them all - so they all call you "'char", which is their shortened version of teacher, and you have continual shouts of 'char, char' whenever the kids need help or attention. They all try their very hardest all the time and so they are great to teach. We're teaching them their 'topic' classes, which means two lessons on the topic of the month (while we're here we've got 'The World around Us', 'Religions and celebrations around the World' and 'Past and Future' as our topics), one arts and craft lesson, one maths and science lesson and one games session per week. Arts and Crafts and Games are fun but language is definitely an issue for the other lessons! Oh well, I'm sure some of it will go into their brains somewhere!
IMG_1078.jpg

Our trips to and from school are pretty manic too! We've been cycling it everyday. It's about 5km to school, and Cycling here is a real experience anyway - to start with they drive on the right, so that's confusion number one - I'm mostly dealing with it OK, but every now and again I get confused - especially on roundabouts! It also doesn't help when people drive on the wrong side of the road, if they can't cross the traffic to the correct side! Luckily it's mostly mopeds and bikes on the roads, rather than cars, so nothing moves too fast! I'm going to film my bike ride to school one morning though, because it's impossible to describe the mayhem!

Our first week went by pretty quickly, with settling in and getting to know our way round and about. Then the second week was a funny one because the school was closed all week because of Pchum Ben. We had to go in on Monday and Tuesday to do some cleaning/maintenance work, but that was all. John was feeling pretty ill on those two days (and the weekend before) so he didn't come into school, but left Susie to brave it alone! The work consisted of lots of scrubbing the classrooms clean, painting some benches (2 weeks later now Susie still has paint in her hair!) and entertaining the kids that came along to "help"! They weren't the most fun two days, but I suppose they were necessary for the school! Susie did have a fun hour or so though when one of the dinner ladies taught her how to make her a little bird model out of palm leaves!
IMG_0710.jpg
Susie's beautiful bird :)

Then this third week, we've actually got stuck into teaching. We're teaching religions. Susie's class spent 2 days learning about the religious buildings and symbols of 3 religions, 1 day learning about the water cycle (it's rained a lot here so she thought that'd be appropriate!) and 1 day making Buddhist wheels, in the same way you make snowflakes out of paper at Christmas! John's class spent two days learning about Buddhism and Hinduism (which confused them entirely since the religion here is really a combination of the two, plus some animism!), and then had it (supposedly) easy for two days while his class had some computer lessons. The school has gradually accumulated about 8-10 laptops which they are starting to use to teach the students basic computer skills. However John was helping on their first lesson, so he had quite a hard time trying to explain what a mouse was and how to use it!

All this week has had the extra added difficulty of the fact that we had some pretty torrential rain on tuesday night, and so a lot of Siem Reap is flooded.
IMG_1055.jpg
The view from our room of the road outside

We biked to work on tuesday morning, but it was through nearly knee depth water most of the way there and back!
IMG_1034.jpg
Which is the river, which is the road??

All the kids, and most of the teachers, have flooded houses. Some of them are apparently waist deep, and all the areas around their houses are really flooded too. This has meant that the kids are pretty exhausted, as none of them are really getting any sleep, and also that our numbers are pretty flexible, since some kids are coming morning and afternoon because their state schools are closed, and some aren't coming at all because they're having too much fun swimming in the swimming pools they've suddenly gained by their houses!!
IMG_1069.jpg
On a walk to see some of the kids homes

On wednesday and thursday we got a lift into school and back by landrover, because the floods are getting deeper - not because we've had more rain but because our journey to school is alongside the river, and the river has burst its banks, and more and more is flowing down! Then on friday school was cancelled because the guy who drives the landrover had to go away and so nobody could get there.

Anyway, that's a vague update on our lives in school. We've been up to a lot else outside of school, but that'll have to wait for another post!

Posted by Susiep539 02:57 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia siem_reap globalteer grace_house Comments (1)

(Entries 21 - 25 of 37) « Page 1 2 3 4 [5] 6 7 8 »