In February, I was lucky enough to experience Camp Cambodia for the first time! I met my awesome team at the airport before we set off, everyone had different ideas of what to expect; from the food to camp life.
We were greeted in Phnom Penh by two very happy camps representatives who’s smiles reflected the welcome we were receiving from all locals as we made our way through the airport. We headed to the hotel to freshen up before heading out to explore this incredible capital; half of the city tour was completed on the bus before we jumped off to see more by foot. We delved into the nearest market to socialise with locals as well as browsing at the goodies on offer on all of their stalls. The evening was completed perfectly by a stroll along to the restaurant alongside the sunset over the Mekong river.
The following day we were given an emotional education of Cambodia’s history through the visit to the S21 museum and killing field, Cheung Ek. It was an eye-opening experience that was made even more raw as we were fortunate enough to meet the final two survivors of the S21 prison and hear their stories.
We ventured to camp Beng Pae the following day where we were able to see first-hand the effect of the great project work Camps International volunteers have completed. As we strolled around the village, we stopped and spoke with locals about how Camps International’s projects had helped them; this was the first point where things were really put in to prospective and the group realised how fortunate we are to have the simplest of life’s necessities that others in the world don’t.
Although at first, the idea of staying in semi-open longhouses seemed daunting to the group, already experiencing certain bugs and small geckos and lizards for the first time for some, everyone soon adjusted and embraced the wonderful feeling of staying in the great outdoors!
A cheery cockerel signalled each morning that the day had begun and more excitedly… the noodle and egg station was open for business! Scrambled, fried, eggy bread, omelettes… eggs of all descriptions were prepared by the group to provide a good amount of fuel from breakfast to see us through the project work that lay ahead.
We leaped straight in to the first day of project work; half of the group headed to get started on the construction of a toilet block, digging two 1.5m deep holes that would contain the concrete rings previous groups had made. The other half of the group arranged themselves in a conveyor belt system to remove buckets of water and silt from a well that had been started; it of course didn’t take long before it got messy, although the cooling from the splashes of the water was much appreciated in the Asian heat!
Breaks throughout the day consisted of delicious snacks; homemade vegetable crisps from the amazing camp kitchen and locally grown corn from the accommodating family who’s land we were building the toilet block on.
Evening activities consisted of some intense games of Uno as well as some conspiring as the game of human cluedo was well under way! The boys sat around making music with all sorts of homemade instruments, including some impressive pringles tubes drums! An early night was then had by all ahead of the next day of project work.
Our final evening in camp was host to a street party to end all street parties! As the camp fire was lit, local people began to slowly congregate, children began to practise their dance moves and the music started… It was such an enjoyable evening, with the Cambodians teaching our group their local dance moves and our group returning the favour with some westernized moves, of course the Cha Cha Slide even crept in!
Our final journey was to Siem Reap and was in no doubt done in style as a bright pink bus turned up at camp to pick us up! On the first evening, we were amazed by the Cambodian Circus show, acrobatics and tricks galore, the impressiveness was really shown as it was the first time all week everyone was utterly silent! It was incredible show with a inspiring meaning; the performers told an important story of ‘same, same but different’ through the power of movement as well as showing off some superb skills.
The final day in Cambodia did not disappoint as a jam-packed tour of the Angkor temples including the world-famous Angkor Wat. The truly astounding architecture of these buildings left the whole group in awe. We spent the day exploring around, finding new designs around each corner. Learning the history to the ancient architecture and comparing to our building works we’d completed in the week – they didn’t use quite as much concrete as us on the temples!
Cambodia was an immense experience that was made by the friendly locals, fascinating history and meaningful project work, I look forward to visiting again one day!