Cambodia, the country with the most secrets for me. I didn’t knew the language, people, currency or culture.
Cambodia, the country where they use riel and US dollar at the same time. Paying with dollars and getting change in riel.
Cambodia, with a darker side in their history then Darth Vaders‘. Or maybe as red as his lightsaber.
But passing the border from Vietnam to Cambodia by bus, is like a walk in the park.
Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia. When you think of a capital you would expect skyscrapers, business man, universities, big hotels and many taxies. This is not really the case in Phnom Penh. All the streets are named by number (street 29, street 301…). With Kevin, my bus-neighbour, I staid in DJ-Guesthouse, a lovely brand-new family hostel in the center of Phnom Penh.
In Phnom Penh, there is no such thing as public transport, Uber or even a big taxi company. Tuk-tuk’s, on the other hand, are on every corner of the street. I tried surviving South-East Asia without taking one single tuk-tuk… This week I failed.
As I mentioned, Cambodia has a dark history: The Cambodian Civil War (1967-1975). In addition to this, the US army bombed the east of Cambodia in 1969. After the Civil war, Pol Pot, followed by his Khmer Rouge took full power over Cambodia.
From 1975 to 1979, a terrible genocide followed. The Khmer Rouge forced the people out of Phnom Penh to their hometowns.
Everyone with a degree, who went to school or just wore glasses and looked smart, was killed…
The people that left, were forced to work long days in the rice fields. If you didn’t obey, you got killed.
During this period, between two and three million people were killed…
In Phnom Phen, you can visit the Killing Fields: one of many places where people were brought and executed.
In the centre you can also visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. These are two places you have to see when you visit Cambodia.
Take your time for a beer or two after visiting these places. You’ll need them to get trough your depression.
The owner from the bar in front of our hostel, was 15 years old when the Khmer Rouge was removed from Cambodia. He remembers this terrible period as if it was yesterday. Today there is peace in Cambodia, where the locals are really grateful for. They share their happiness with everyone!
Asean International English School
No better way to discover a country by living with locals. Thanks to workaway.net, a website for volunteers, I found Sophea’s English school where I would assist as an English teacher. My short career as teacher Matsu. (or ‘cher’ like the kids would call me). In total we were three volunteers: me, Jean-Marc, an English teacher from France and Malo from Belgium! We were assisting Sophea, Visa, Sochea and Ratana with their classes. Our daily schedule was like this:
- 11.00h – Lunch
- 12.30h – Sophea and Visa each drove a mini-bus to pick up the children at home.
- 13.30h – Start of the afternoon class with two small breaks.
- 16.30h – End of the afternoon class.
Visa and Sophea would bring the children back home and pick up the children of the evening class.
- 17.30h – Start of the evening class
- 19.30 – End of the evening class
Once again, Sophea and Visa drove the kids home, while we tidied up the classrooms.
- 20.30h – Dinner
For most of the time, we were assisting the teachers with the pronunciation of each word. The students had the most trouble with pronouncing the ‘s’ or ‘t’ at the end of words.
The word ‘fish’ was one of the most difficult words. It came out as ‘wisss’. Making exaggerated ‘f’ and ‘sh’ faces as a result.
I assisted two classes by myself. From time to time I had to ask a teacher from another class to translate something, but overall it went ok 🙂 Another point for my resume!
The school was located in Angkor Borei, a small town south of Phnom Penh near the Vietnamese border. For such a small town it had some really interesting points of interests to visit. The local ‘church‘ as you could call it, was a beautiful Buddhist pagoda. Trying not to loose my Shaolin teachings, I practiced Kung Fu next to the temple.
The village even had his own museum describing the history of Angkor Borei.
The people from Angkor Borei knew that every tourist they saw in Angkor Borei, was an English volunteer. Ambushes of ‘hello!’ everywhere in town.
Malo and I were also invited to a wedding in the village. An invitation we gladly accepted! Similar to Vietnamese habits, you toast for every sip you drink. We toasted many times… Traditional dancing and karaoke as a result!
Thank you Sophea, Sochea, Visa, Malo and the people from Angkor Borei for the lovely experience!