Monthly Archives: November 2013

Day 101

Yesterday was our 100th day since leaving home. We’ve been in 6 countries (including Hong Kong, not including the disorganised stopover in Germany), spent not quite as much money as we thought, eaten a lot of rice, slept through a typhoon, met some brilliant people and seen some amazing things.

Our volunteer placements finish at the end of this week, and we will get back on the road again. There are still 6 weeks or so left in Southeast Asia, but it’s hard to imagine that we will be able to pack in more than we have done in our first 101 days. We’ve spent days on end aboard a train, hiked in rice paddies, ridden mopeds, paid a border bribe, watched sunrises and sunsets in spectacular scenery and eaten spiders. From here we head to Thailand, Laos, Malaysia and Singapore, before flying to Sydney for a long weekend and then onto New Zealand. The time has flown by, and this pause from travelling to be Phnom Penh ex-pats has us itching to get going again.

In no particular order, here are some highlights and thoughts so far:

1. We were so lucky with the group of people we did the Vodkatrain tour with; so many people have horror stories from tours and our group was great. Unless we were the annoying ones…
2. Mongolia, I think, is my favourite country so far. Beautiful, interesting and not too many people. We would love to go back there and would recommend it to anyone. Well worth spendings several days on a train for.
3. The rice terraces at Longji in China were amazing, and kick the ass of the ones at Sapa in Vietnam.
4. Karaoke in Ulaanbaatar, and tobogganing off the Great Wall of China – two things we didn’t know were on the bucket list until they were done.
5. I lost my pyjama trousers, that I bought in Peru years ago, somewhere in Russia or Mongolia. I’m not over it.
6. Hong Kong is way too expensive for tight backpackers, but the Star Ferry ride, for around 30p, is pretty cool.
7. Volunteering has been a rewarding and worthwhile experience; it has also been frustrating and draining at times too. I’ll miss my class, if not the lesson planning.
8. Eating Phnom Penh’s famous “happy herb pizza” on a school night was a bad choice. As was going to the very bizarre, expensive and freaky North Korean restaurant here – maybe being it’s not a bad thing that there aren’t many of them outside of North Korea.
9. Packing our bags is an art form.
10. After everything, we are still very happily married!

Still happy!

Experiencing everything so far, and having everything else to look forward to, whilst still being on honeymoon, is awesome. Everyone should do it.

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Life as a (short term) Phnom Penh resident

By signing up to volunteer for 5 weeks, we also committed ourselves to being temporary residents of somewhere new. After 2.5 months of travel and spending no more than 4 days in one place, it was a relief to actually unpack our rucksacks and know where we were going to be for a while.

image

Phnom Penh, home of 2.2 million people, is definitely different from life in Falmouth! And actually a really fun experience, even for Sam who has never lived in a city and struggles with the occasional crossing of the Tamar to the big city of Plymouth!

The traffic is pretty crazy, but a lot of the architecture and wide boulevards are beautiful and there are some great local and western style bars and restaurants.

Our volunteer company organised us somewhere to stay – the wonderfully quirky Tattoo Guesthouse – which is like home now. It’s pretty near the centre of the city and is full of volunteers from all over the world. We have made some really great friends, even if most of them are under the age of 22 and we are the old married ones!

Phnom penh

Being able to stop for longer than a few days has given us time to do things that we normally like to do, rather than just see the sights. At home we love watching films and haven’t really seen one since we left to travel. So a trip to the community movie house The Flicks, was such a treat, especially the bed like cushions they provide as seats. We even managed to see a film without superheroes and with Zac Efron!

The Flicks Cinema

We’ve also spent a day at an outdoor swimming pool, played five-a-side football (Sam, not me), tried to go walking when it’s not been too hot and spent quite a long time trying to find good cheesecake. We haven’t found it yet, but we still have two weeks to enjoy our time as temporary ex-pats, and now that I’ve managed to get used to the shock of getting up at 6am for work every day, we will be trying to fit in as much stuff as possible.

Football

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Back to work for a bit

In our last 2 1/2 months of travelling, Sam and I have barely spent 10 minutes apart, so it was a very strange feeling to head off separately on our first days at “work” in Phnom Penh.

We originally decided that we wanted to do some volunteering as part of our year long trip to challenge ourselves and try something different. When we first arrived, we suddenly realised that we hadn’t really given too much thought about how much of a culture shock it might be. But getting to know the other volunteers in our hostel has been great and we’re getting into the swing of things now!

My volunteer placement is with an NGO called Farmer Livelihood Development (FLD) who provide agriculture training to rural people to help them develop their skills and improve their standard of living. I will be helping them to develop a marketing strategy.

After a 30 minute tuktuk drive to the office, I met with the CEO and Project Manager and  realised how strangely familiar many of the issues were to my job at Cornwall College Business in the UK. Hopefully that means I can do something vaguely useful while I am here, although at the moment it still seems like quite a daunting task.

On my 3rd day in the office they asked if I would like to join them for a trip toMondulkiri, one of the remotest provinces in Cambodia, to join in with a series of management workshops. The trip was for 5 days and leaving the next day, so it was a bit of a shock, but I thought  I’d better just go for it!

It was strange to say goodbye to Sam, but I got in the minibus – me and 17 Cambodians – and we drove the 350km out into a far corner of the country, which borders with Vietnam. The countryside is beautiful, very green and forested, and it’s not as hot as the city which is nice.

Mondolkiri

It was a fascinating experience to be part of a different business culture. The meetings were run very collaboratively and democratically, and although I can’t imagine meetings running in the same way back home (two hour lunch breaks,no shoes, meeting outside, clapping at the beginning and the end of eachsession) it was clear that everyone was very passionate about what they do.

Work

NGOs in Cambodia work in English, although all the meetings were run in Khmer. Everyone was very helpful at translating for me though and I was made to feel very welcome, especially by the two girls who I was sharing a room with.

We managed to have time for some fun as well, and visited Sea Forest (so calledbecause the hills of trees look like a sea) and Bou Sra waterfall.

Waterfall

I did eat an awful lot of rice, including for breakfast, but on the last night the girls had a party for me and managed to buy lots of western food – chips, fried chicken and bread! It was really sweet.

Sea forrest

I now have just over three weeks left to put my plan together, but have gotten to know FLD and my temporary colleagues much better. And although it was very strange to be apart from Sam and be the only foreigner amongst so many locals, it was a great experience.

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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