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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.
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!!
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!!

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)

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!

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!
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.
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!
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!!
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)

Arrival in Siem Reap

all seasons in one day 30 °C

We successfully managed to get to the airport in Kuala Lumpur. The panic about what we had printed off from the night before was justifed, as technically we needed the other piece of paper, but the guy on the bus let us off with a typical "stupid westerners" tut! On arrival at the airport we spent our last Malaysian money on a early morning breakfast of chicken and chips (we were good though, we went to Marrybrown, a Malaysia fast food place, rather than McDonalds!) and a cookie! Checking in was all surprisingly easy and stress free, and the only slight confusion came as we went through the gate. There were 3 flights going out of the same place, and nobody really seemed to know which way it was to which flight! As nice as I'm sure Hong Kong or the place in China that the other flight was going to are, we thought we'd really rather get on the plane to Siem Reap! We managed eventually, and got settled on the plane for our flight. We were slightly confused to hear that it was 2 hours, since we'd thought it was only 1, but it turned out the time difference was to blame, and an uneventful flight later we landed at Siem Reap's surprisingly lovely airport.

For those of you who don't know, we are spending 6 weeks in Siem Reap, volunteering with a charity called Globalteer. They run projects all over the world, but we are teaching in a school called Grace House in a small village about 3km from Siem Reap. We got met from the airport by Rose, who is a local who works for Globalteer, in a tuk-tuk. A tuk-tuk is a rickshaw with a motorbike rather than a bike (it gets its name because that's apparently the sound they make!). She took us to the Globalteer House, where we will be staying whilst we're here. It's a little further out from town that we were expecting, but the house itself is lovely. We have our own room, which is en-suite and very nice indeed. The only bad thing about it is that it's on the 3rd floor, which means there's 64 steps (we counted) to go up and down everytime you want to get some water or want to go out. Luckily there's a little restaurant on the 4th floor, so we're not too far away from food anyway!
The view from our room

Rose left us to get settled in and to relax for a few hours, after we told her that we'd been up at 2am. We spent the time sleeping, watching TV (we're loving having a TV with 70odd channels after not having had a TV for 3 weeks!) and eating lunch upstairs, which was very tasty. After this, Rose took us into town and showed us things like the supermarket, the swimming pool, where the main restaurants and bars are, etc. It's a really nice town, and all the people seem really friendly so that bodes well for our time here! After that, we went back to the Globalteer House, where all the other volunteers were collecting. There were about 9 other volunteers here when we arrived, all female, mostly Australian, although there were two Brits and an American as well, and a mix of ages, from our age upwards. They all seem friendly and on the first night we went out for dinner with them all to a very tasty (if slightly more upmarket than we're used to) vegetarian restaurant. We had a nice chat with a British girl who is our age, who said that most of the rest of them are on slightly bigger budgets than us backpackers, seeing as most of them are here on holidays from their jobs at home, rather than as part of longer travels. We'll have to watch our money situation!

The following day, we were taken by Rose to visit Grace House, the school we are volunteering in. It is run by a British couple, and has been opened for nearly 2 years. We were shown round the school and introduced to the classes we'll be teaching. John is working with the teenage class, and Susie is helping with a class of 8-12 ish year olds. The kids all come to the school for 2 hours per day, and so there is one group in the morning and one in the afternoon. This is because they go to state school for the other half of the day. Grace House also provides help for its students for state school, by providing uniforms, exercise books and bikes for the children from the poorest families. They also provide community help by giving rice, repairing houses and taking people to hospitals/doctors when needed. They also have one room that is used by local women (mostly mothers of students at the school) to make handbags, which are then sold at shops in towns, and they are currently setting up a classroom that will be used to teach electricians, as the current training in Cambodia is apparently very insufficient, and quite a lot of people die from electric shocks due to dodgy wiring.
John's Class

The kids in both our classes seem lovely, and are very keen to learn. Each class has a Khmer teacher who runs the English program (to give it some continuity) and our job as volunteers is to run the other class of the day, which is a kind of general knowledge class, on the topic of the week. Neither of us have very much to do for this first week though, because Susie has another volunteer in the same class as her, who is leaving at the end of the week, and John's Khmer teacher is planning the other lessons on Pchum Ben, a festival that is next week, which unfortunately means there isn't any school next week.

After our first couple of days in Siem Reap, we felt fairly settled in, and that we knew a bit of what was going on! We'll blog again soon to let you know about the 2 weeks since we arrived!

Posted by Susiep539 21:24 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia siem_reap globalteer grace_house Comments (0)

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