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Posts Tagged ‘Cambodia Travel’

Day 11, January 10: Kampot to Phnom Penh

Early morning this morning, everyone had some free time for their own independent excursions to the market. We loaded the coach at 9 AM and cruised on into Phnom Penh, enjoying the tropical and rural scenery of palm trees, mountains, and rice paddies.

Rural scenery gives way to more urban images as we approach Phnom Penh.

Rural scenery gives way to more urban images as we approach Phnom Penh.

By noon we had arrived at Lotus Blanc Graduate Restaurant, where underprivileged youth have a chance to learn restaurant skills.

Students learn to prepare delicious meals at Lotus Blanc Training Restaurant.

Students learn to prepare delicious meals at Lotus Blanc Training Restaurant.

Their mothers learn job skills, too, that help their families rise from poverty. The program was founded by a French couple who began the organization by taking healthy meals to children recycling garbage. Now, with French and Swiss support, they have built an impressive facility, and thousands have learned important skills, as is evident by the quality of the meal and presentation we enjoyed. The meal was pleasantly nouveau Khmer cuisine, except for delicious chocolate éclairs.

Artisans at Tabitha makes beautiful handicrafts from silk.

Artisans at Tabitha makes beautiful handicrafts from silk.

We walked three blocks to Tabitha, another partner organization of FWC. We arrived earlier than expected, so we had plenty of time to examine the exquisite creations of this Australian NGO that uses the best local ikat silks and other local materials to creatively design and market some of the nicest items we had seen. The organization is fair trade, so the craft workers here make as much as $300 per month rather than the $80-90 per month made by the striking garment workers.

Tabitha also does a creative job of fundraising for humanitarian projects, such as digging wells and providing building materials to poor Cambodians. The administrative manager, Suos Heng, met with us and gave a presentation about Tabitha on his laptop, providing some very positive information. He also shared some of his experiences during the Pol Pot regime.

We arrived at the familiar Frangipani Palace Hotel at 4 PM and managed to squeeze in a group photo in front of the hotel, which I will share with the group. We said “Aw kun” to Mr.Tang, our excellent and very patient driver. We met in the lobby at 5:30 PM to complete the evaluations of the FWC Study Tour. Each person talked about what they had learned and how they planned to take this information back to their communities. We had more to talk about than we had time.

The tour group participants

The tour group participants

Dinner was several blocks away but we decided to walk to Friends Romdeng anyway. We had a wonderful dinner in a very pleasant environment. The students and their teachers at Friends are enthusiastic about their work and learning new skills. We were glad to be their test subjects. Friends have wonderful children’s art posters and clever cookbooks. This was our farewell dinner, as departures start tomorrow at 5 AM. This was also our last opportunity as a group to thank Bun for his considerable skills and good spirit, which made our trip so enjoyable.

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Day 10, January 9: Kep and Rabbit Island

Today was a new adventure for me and the FWC Study Tour program, and it was a treat. It was a balmy, though overcast, day. We drove past the salt worker’s monument and plant (where salt water is evaporated in shallow ponds).

Following an excellent and untraveled road along the coast towards Vietnam, we passed many Cham villages with their carefully tended mosques. Some women wore the full burka but most wore just the headscarf that designated their religion.

Fishing gear on dock in Kep

Fishing gear on dock in Kep

We turned off the main road to arrive in Kep. This had been a colonial era beach resort but was almost obliterated by the Khmer Rouge. It is now slowly coming back to life, with burnt villas being restored for the wealthy and well-connected of Cambodia.

We stopped at the crab market, where crabs are sold to the restaurants lining the shore. Prawns, shrimp, squid, and a few fish are sold, as well. A few more miles to the east, past some grand palatial estates, we photographed the giant crab, which is a symbol of Kep.

The giant crab welcomes visitors to Kep

The giant crab welcomes visitors to Kep

Then we secured the services of two fishing boats to take us to Rabbit Island, about 20 minutes out to sea.

On the boat to Rabbit Island

On the boat to Rabbit Island

We chose one of the half dozen beachfront facilities as our headquarters, where we could leave our belongings, change into swimsuits, and relax in chaise lounges and hammocks. The water of the Gulf of Thailand was very pleasant and relaxing. We each ordered lunch. Although the facilities were limited, they produced tasty meals, though the curries were a long time coming. It wasn’t a big problem, though, as we were there to relax.

Relaxing in a hammock on Rabbit Island

Relaxing in a hammock on Rabbit Island

Some of the group explored the island and visited a fishermen’s village, while others just vegged out, floating and reading. Simple fresh water showers were available. Too soon, it was 2pm, and our boatmen retuned for us. It was good timing, though, as a storm was approaching.

World famous Kampot pepper is carefully sorted and selected

World famous Kampot pepper is carefully sorted and selected

East of Kep, a ways into the hills, we visited Sothy’s Organic Pepper Plantation, established and run by a German agriculturalist and his Cambodian wife, who are hoping to reestablish the quality pepper industry in Cambodia. We learned that red, white, green, and black pepper all comes from the same plant, just at different stages of development. It seemed that Sothy could barely keep up with demand. We wished them well and were glad to be in our bus when the main storm hit—a real gully washer.

Back in Kampot, some members of the group elected to shop and explore. We walked two blocks over to Ta Ouv Seafood Restaurant overlooking the river. The squid with pepper sauce, steamed fish, and vegetables were all very good. The night was fine, and everyone enjoyed exploring this pleasant, small town that is slowly rebuilding itself.

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Day 9, January 8: Kampot Province

We headed out at 8 am this morning, after a haphazard, though tasty enough breakfast at the Diamond Hotel. We backtracked 40 km to the office of the Cambodian Organization for Children and Development (COCD). We met Bin Bora, the Project Coordinator, and Hem Sangva, the assistant to the Executive Director, who told us about the COCD’s work. Kosal and Sita, who work jointly for FWC and Holt International, were there, too, as they oversee the funding to COCD from FWC.

COCD Women's Self Help Group in village of Doun

COCD Women’s Self Help Group in village of Doun Yoy

We drove to nearby village of Doun Yoy, where 11 members of one of COCD’s Women’s Self Help Groups was prepared to meet with us. Bora and Kosal translated as we all asked questions of each other. The women each save about $1 per month and loan out the capital raised to each other for projects from buying piglets to purchasing materials for home improvements.

Doun Yoy village

In Doun Yoy village

COCD plans to begin offering some seed money to the different groups, too. Creating some sort of a business is every member’s goal but building self esteem is a big factor, as these are the poorest of the villagers. No one expects them to succeed. Yet, with COCD’s oversight and training, they do. In my opinion, this is what is so amazing about Cambodia, namely that providing women with access to even very modest capital and encouragement over time can build a better life.

Thatched roof houses in the village

Thatched roof houses in the village

We toured the village made up of small compounds, with thatch-roof houses perched five feet off the ground, and we chatted with the kids just getting out of school.

At the COCD office, we ate our lunches from Epic Arts, a small café in Kampot that hires and trains deaf youth to work in restaurant settings. The manager, from LA, is deaf herself. She told me that there are almost no facilities in Cambodia for training of the deaf and that they are just ignored and left to beg.

A short siesta on the cool floor of the office terrace restored us, and then we were off to another village to learn about daily life in rural Cambodia.

Palm leaves are cut in preparation for sewing,  to create a thatched roof.

Palm leaves are cut in preparation for sewing, to create a thatched roof.

Making palm thatch roofing shingles was the project of the day. Dad’s razor sharp machete prepared the palm leaves, and then Mom showed us how to fold them over and stitch them together with a length of palm fiber using a homemade needle. Cindy picked it up pretty quickly but the rest of us who tried were all thumbs.

Tour participants learn how to sew palm leaves to make a thatched roof.

Tour participants learn how to sew palm leaves to make a thatched roof.

We certainly provided some entertaining stories for the family to share that evening, but it was nice to slow down our tourist pace to sit with and learn from people for whom these were life or death skills.

That evening, after dinner at the funky little Moliden Guest House, we had a party to celebrate the birthdays of Ruthie and Carol. They had ordered a carrot cake from “Two Sisters” Bakery.

Happy Birthday to Carol and Ruthie!

Happy Birthday to Carol and Ruthie!

Carol had pastis, a French liqueur, and sherry from Duty Free, and I arranged with the hotel to provide the ice, plates, and the space for our gathering. Happy Birthday, Carol and Ruthie!

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Day 8, January 7: Phnom Penh to Kampot

This was another beautiful day along the Mekong. Our 8 AM departure was delayed while a misplaced passport was relocated. On our way out of Phnom Penh, we stopped at the trendy (and socially responsible) Java Café for box lunches.

Krouser Themy Shelter for street children supported by Friendship with Cambodia

Krouser Themy Shelter for street children supported by Friendship with Cambodia

Then we headed to Krousar Thmey (KT), where Phanna, the manager of the drop-in street children’s shelter, Chetra, Coordinator of KT’s Child Welfare Division, and Ari, an advisor from France, talked about the street kids’ situation. Friendship with Cambodia helps fund this shelter.

Tour participants learn about the street children's shelter

Tour participants learn about the street children’s shelter

It was a school holiday (celebrating liberation from the Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese), so we missed the usual classroom clamor, but we heard the firsthand reports by these three dedicated men. Krousar Themy is a French NGO that counsels street kids, provides resources, and resettles many with foster families, which KT employs and monitors.

We left Krousar Themy at 11 AM and battled the traffic for an hour to reach Choung Ek, Phnom Penh’s major killing field where prisoners from S-21 (Tuol Sleng) were executed and buried.

Memorial at the Killing Fields

Memorial at the Killing Fields

We picked up audio-phones and individually toured the site and the new museum. Much of the information was provided by personal stories.

The horror of genocide

The horror of genocide

Like at Tuol Sleng, it is hard to grasp the horror that occurred here. We ate our lunches in silence, each lost in thought as we drove towards Kampot, stopping just once for toilets and cold drinks at a new and modern gas station.

At 4 PM, we arrived at the Diamond Hotel in Kampot. At 6:30 PM, we had dinner at Moliden Guest House, where we were free to order from the menu.

Group dinner at Moliden Guest House

Group dinner at Moliden Guest House

Most of our meals prior to this had been pre-ordered, due to the size of our group. It was interesting to see what people ordered when freed from the set menus we had been having—fish amok or a cheeseburger. I enjoyed my green peppercorn steak and a large Angkor beer.

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Day 7, January 6: More Adventures in Phnom Penh

This was a very busy and interesting day. Panha, the Executive Director of Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center (CWCC), met us at the hotel. CWCC is another of FWC’s partner organizations. She delivered an informative PowerPoint presentation on CWCC and the problems of domestic abuse, violence, rape, and trafficking in Cambodia.

CWCC Director Panha gives an informative presentation to trip participants.

CWCC Executive Director Panha gives an informative presentation to trip participants.

A banner at CWCC thanks sponsoring agencies, including FWC

A banner at CWCC thanks sponsoring agencies, including Friendship with Cambodia

We all signed statements saying that we would not use any images made here in ways that might reveal the identity of the women taking refuge and receiving training or care here at CWCC. Two of the young women here were training to work in a coffee house and served us the best café lattes and cappuccinos we’d had since leaving the States. They had both run away from an abusive employer who had kept them as slaves since they were small children. We met the children in the nursery, and then we drove back down to the Russian Market.

The Market was the go-to place for the Russians, who were stationed here during the Socialist era in the 1980’s after the fall of Pol Pot.

Created by the Soviets in the 1980's, the Russian Market is a fun place to explore.

Created by the Soviets in the 1980’s, the Russian Market is a fun place to explore.

A delicious lunch at Cafe Yejj, where poor children learn how to work in upscale restaurants.

A delicious lunch at Cafe Yejj, where poor children learn how to work in upscale restaurants.

After exploring 30 minutes, we met for a delicious lunch at Café Yejj (Café Grandmother).

The Café hires poor, rural kids from remote areas and trains them to work at upscale cafes. Tapas and fruit drinks are the specialty.

After lunch we visited the new location of Rehab Crafts, which provides training and a sheltered workshop for landmine and polio victims. The director, Sophan, had been shot in the knee as a child and was unable to bend his leg. The bookkeeper lost his lower arms in a landmine explosion and writes holding a pencil in the stubs of his arms. It was inspiring to see how these and other workers had overcome their physical limitations.

The bookkeeper at Rehab Crafts has overcome the loss of his lower arms.

The bookkeeper at Rehab Crafts has overcome the loss of his lower arms.

In the evening, Joyce organized a group to attend the cultural performance at the nearby National Museum, and the Lorbers were flying to a business meeting in Bangkok that night. We said, “Goodbye, y’all!” to our good friends from Atlanta.

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Day 6, January 5: Around Phnom Penh

We headed out at 8:30am to walk to the Royal Palace, where our guide, Sarum, gave us an interesting and informative tour.

Royal Palace

Royal Palace

Toul Sleng Genocide Museum was once a high school

Toul Sleng Genocide Museum was once a high school

Then, Mr. Tang, our driver, drove us to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the former high schoolwhere Khmer Rouge imprisoned and tortured thousands, including fellow cadre members who had been accused of some disloyal act.

Photographs of the prisoners were displayed, and we could see that many were young children.

Photographs of young genocide victims

Photographs of young genocide victims

Interrogation room

Interrogation room

It is a very hard place to experience but so important as a space to honor and remember those who lost their lives during the genocide. Bun gave us an orientation, then let us proceed through the exhibits at our own pace from 10-11am.

One of the few people to survive Tuol Sleng was there selling his book. Chou En was his alias. I recommend reading “Voices from S-21” by David Chandler to learn more about Tuol Sleng and the atrocities committed there.

We had lunch at Sugar ‘N’ Spice, a very pleasant café and coffee house. It is operated by Daughters of Cambodia, an NGO that provides women who have been victims of human trafficking with shelter and training to learn a skill and make their living. The Cambodian manager told us a little about the project while we enjoyed an opulent and rich lunch with a wonderful meringue for dessert.

Picking up our gifts for FWC’s university students we drove to the FWC/Holt Office and student center where we met Kosal and Sita, who coordinate the Student Sponsorship program. FWC funds the program in partnership with Holt’s Cambodian NGO. FWC arranges scholarships for 54 students. Thirty-eight of these students are in university. We met with about 30 of the students who are sponsored by FWC donors.

Student Sponsorship Program Director Cheam Kosal and University Student Chea Both

Student Sponsorship Program Director Kosal and university student Both

We all introduced ourselves, and many of the students used this opportunity to practice conversing in English. Sita showed us on a map where each student was from. Then we broke into smaller groups so that each sponsor could meet their student(s). Carol, Daniel, and I met with several students for a very interesting discussion about how job applicants can best present themselves.

Tour participants enjoy an afternoon with FWC-sponsored university students

Tour participants enjoy an afternoon with FWC-sponsored university students

By 5:30pm, it was time for happy hour at the Rooftop Bar overlooking the Mekong River, which was very soothing after an emotionally charged day. We had dinner just around the corner at Friends Tapas, where we had a wonderful time with great food (the best yet, in my opinion). We also enjoyed an informative conversation with one of the teachers, as this is also a training restaurant. The Friends fair trade shop next door was an excellent stop for some post-dinner purchasing. We were back at the hotel by 10pm.

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Excerpted from Responsible Travel Guide: Cambodia (http://friendshipwithcambodia.org/programs-education.php)

Volunteering can be a wonderful way to get to know people in Cambodia and to offer kindness and goodwill. There are several ways to volunteer, as well as a few things to be aware of.

The most precious skill you may have, that no native Cambodian can duplicate, is speaking English without a foreign accent. If English is your native tongue, helping students practice their English is a valuable contribution you can make. You will see many signs for English schools in Cambodia and you can stop by and offer to practice English with students. If you are staying in Cambodia for an extended period, you may be able to arrange to teach a class. These opportunities are plentiful and usually need to be set up once you are in country. Many Cambodian boys from rural areas want an education but cannot afford to live in the city where the schools are, so they temporarily become Buddhist monks. They are able to live in the temple for free while they go to secondary school or university. This is the only way they can afford an education. Girls, unfortunately, do not have this option. Buddhist temples are open to visitors and it is highly probable that some of the monks would welcome the opportunity to practice speaking English with you.

If you would like a more structured volunteer opportunity and have 1-3 weeks to offer, you can join a group that has volunteer service trips, such as Habitat for Humanity and help build a house. If you are a health professional, there are agencies, such as Medical Teams International, that send teams of doctors, dentists, and EMS professionals to Cambodia for short-term volunteer opportunities.

A controversial topic related to volunteering is working with children. Most of the large international agencies helping children in Cambodia recommend that foreigners should not volunteer at orphanages and other agencies working with vulnerable children.

There are several reasons for this policy:

1) Due to the high rate of sexual exploitation of children in Cambodia and the complete lack of background screening of volunteers, they feel it is best to protect children by not allowing foreigners to volunteer.

2) Children who have lost their parents need long-term care providers who are consistently there for them. The agencies feel that when the child meets someone who plays with them for some days or weeks, bonds with the child and then disappears, it re-wounds the child and may breakdown their ability to bond in the future.

3) The number of corrupt orphanages is extremely high in Cambodia. The people running these facilities use the children for their personal gain and pocket donations intended to help the children. It is very difficult for you to tell which ones are corrupt and which ones are not when you do not speak the language, are not there for a long period of time, and do not have an impartial reference.

Do not be surprised if most non-profit organizations tell you that they do not want short-term volunteers. They have found that the amount of staff time required to orient, train, and supervise volunteers exceeds the benefit. Most agencies are only interested in volunteers who are willing to make a commitment of 6 – 12 months, cover their own expenses (airfare, room and board) and offer needed skills, such as grant writing, computer skills, etc.

Take time to think about your goal. If your goal is to have an experience abroad that makes a contribution while you are there, then volunteering is a good way to do that. If your main goal is to help people in Cambodia, then raising funds at home and donating the proceeds to a non-profit organization working in Cambodia might be a better choice, especially if the funds are used to empower Cambodians to help themselves and make long-term improvements in their lives.

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