Cambodia: hot, humid, cheap, devastated by a very recent tragic history, phenomenally enriched with magnificent natural and cultural assets. A unique and unforgettable experience to say the least.
My short-term GO Program experience took me to Cambodia in April, 2014. Ten USC students and three staff partook in this field tour as part of the SUS201: Measuring Sustainability course. The purpose of our trip was to assess the current state of rural community-based tourism or CBT villages.
Our journey started with an overnight flight to Changi, Singapore where we enjoyed an eight-hour layover. This proved to be just enough time to experience all the fun and exciting things this massive airport has to offer. Arriving in Siem Reap, Cambodia’s 2nd largest city, 26 hours after departing Brisbane, we were instantly treated like kings and queens by everyone we encountered. Working alongside Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism definitely had its perks!
Four days of exploring tourist attractions surrounding the city such as the Angor Wat temple precinct gave us all the overwhelming sense of pride the Khmer people take in their cultural assets. One big night out on the town with the Ministry staff emphasised why not to drink two cocktail buckets to claim a free shirt, especially the night before being a guest to the ASEAN Annual meeting with representatives from Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Singapore and Vietnam. A very sore head and upset stomach was not fun.
A three hour drive on their main highway connecting Siem Reap to their capital city, Phnom Penh, was done so at around 120 km/hour in a convoy of four big, black, VIP government vans. If this road wasn’t scattered with crater-sized potholes, wandering cows and overloaded tuktuks this would not have been an issue. But it was. Bottoming out in their luxury vans definitely got our heart racing! We arrived for lunch with His Excellency, the Minister of Tourism, at his own house where students had the opportunity to listen to and learn from His own experiences.
Four days in Sambor allowed us to live with a local family in their homestay accommodation. A foam mattress a couple of inches thick, mosquito nets, ‘showering’ facilities, magnificent food and cold beer was appreciatively provided. What more could you want? Partaking in a bicycle tour of the village with a local tour guide showcased their developing tourism initiatives. Silk weaving, basket weaving, ox cart rides, fishing demonstrations and cooking classes kept us very busy when we weren’t directly working on our assessment. Oh and of course, soccer with the neighbourhood kids in the yard and braiding the local girls’ hair.
This short-term GO Program experience allowed me to see just one part of our wonderful planet where people are literally putting their life on the line to obtain an education. The courage and determination of these people is overwhelming and invigorating. Without the financial help from GO Program I would not have been able to fund this trip. I am so lucky and grateful that this opportunity arose.
I am now rigorously planning my semester-based GO Program experience: a semester abroad in Czech Republic. Having been invited back to Cambodia by one of the Ministry of Tourism ladies, I am having a ten-day detour to Cambodia’s Capital, Phnom Penh. Here I will be attending a six-day symposium attended by 1000 global university students hosted by Humanitarian Affairs UK. The unexpected doors that have been opened by my initial trip to Cambodia were a pleasant surprise which I expect to play a part in my future career path. From Cambodia I will enjoy five weeks of travelling around Europe before settling down in Czech Republic to begin my studies.
Wish me luck.