I’M STILL ALIVEEEE! Just so you know and contrary to the fact I have completely neglected this poor poor blog and of course letting down all my avid readers by not updating you until now! You can all stop holding your breath and checking the page every day as I have decided to relieve you and post a wonderfully detailed essay of my most recent adventures into the unknown of Cambodia…
However I’ll just give you a brief update on things in Siem Reap as it’s been a while since I wrote about the project and my volunteering! Honour Village is running smoothly as usual and Sue is currently in Singapore buying all the Christmas presents for the children and local village children too. Huge amounts of money were donated by Australian primary school children to HVC so they could all open something amazing on Christmas Day. Me and Trish are crazily excited for Christmas here, even though it’ll be hard to miss the amazing roast turkey dinner my family make every year – oh and of course my actual family’s presence at the dinner table! But we’re dedicated to making this Christmas really special for HVC and we get some exciting responsibilities for it. First I get the chance to show my epic wrapping skills because there are about 50 different presents which will need Christmas paper to carefully disguise them in magical Christmas mystery. I have images of me and Trish the night before wrapped in sellotape and bleeding to death from paper cuts but I’m going to somehow track down Michael Buble’s Christmas album so we can at least suffer to his dulcet tones and get into the Christmas spirit. We also get to organise one or maybe even two Christmas parties the weekend before with loads of games and food and activities plus a crapload of decorations which I cannot wait to make. Being here has definitely made me realise how much I love Christmas and I’ve decided when I have my own house it’s going to be crazy at Christmas every year! But anyway all of that is still 3 and a half weeks or so away, though I cannot believe its December already.
Apart from getting excited for Christmas, we’re still very much into the swing of teaching English and I feel my classes are making progress which is so exciting to see. I’ve learnt so much already about how to teach and discipline the kids whilst being creative enough to make learning about spellbinding things like colours actually interesting and exciting (not sure if I managed it but there was some serious colouring that went on…) It’s crazy how much HVC feels like home, all the kids are our family as cheesy as that sounds. We missed them so much this holiday and when we got back they all ran up to us and gave us huge hugs saying how much they’d missed their ‘chas’ (teachers haha.) That’s why I’m not fussed at all about teaching Christmas day! I get to spend Christmas with this second family I have here, plus I’m going to Thailand for 2 weeks the day after so y’know life is pretty good. 😉 Currently I’m sat in bed typing away at 7:30am which is the time I wake up every day so a lie in is now impossible, pretty gutting but means I get more out of my Saturday I guess! I have images of me at university waking up at the crack of dawn and having to somehow fill my mornings as everyone else sleeps until 12 noon… maybe I’ll become one of those jogging types or a crazy Buddhist yoga child, who knows!
Anyway getting onto a huge tangent and there is still so much to tell you! Last week on Thursday night after a Christmas Carol practice with the kids we headed off on our first proper proper holiday. Beaches, sun, sea, cocktails, lying around reading and doing nothing – that was the purpose of this little trip and by god did we fulfil those dreams! Our ambitions to be as lazy as possible took us down to the South Coast of Cambodia to a place called Sihanoukville and then onto quite literally Paradise Island, more commonly known as Koh Rong. If I had enough money I would buy my own beach hut there, it is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen or had the amazing opportunity to be. I cannot wait to go back before the year ends! Sihanoukville however not so much, unfortunately it’s a town which has been ravaged by backpacker drinking tourism and to describe it as a little seedy would be an understatement, though we managed to have a couple of good nights out there.
Before I get into all that I need to describe our exciting travel tale of the sleeper bus! Our first and probably not our last experience of the transport I’m sure. The bus left Siem Reap at 8pm and arrived in Sihanoukville around 6am the next morning, so that’s roughly 10 hours trying to sleep on a Cambodian style coach. Not exactly a recipe for a successful nights rest but we were actually pleasantly surprised! The coach itself looked like something out of a Harry Potter film, think night bus style but more Asian in design due to the beds being in two storeys and so overlaid you were pretty much lying beneath the person in front! Plus they were in pairs so if you got placed next to a random there could be some awkward spooning occurring, luckily me and Trish know each other well enough by now not to mind! There was a tiny isle that I could barely walk down and a less than 5 star toilet but the beds were actually pretty cosy and once tucked into my blanket and after scoffing a packet of Oreos I managed to get a solid 6 hours.
However the lowlights of the trip were definitely trying to use the not so 5 star toilet whilst the coach navigated the treacherous pot-hole-filled roads of Cambodia, ending up with me being thrown against the side of the door into the aisle, a bit awkward for the guy who was unlucky enough to get the bed opposite the door and also painful for me. I’m also pretty sure I was airborne in my sleep several times due to the fact Cambodian drivers are also psychopaths and don’t understand a coach doesn’t have the suspension of a formula 1 car. Luckily as some of you know I sleep through literally anything so I managed to somehow adjust myself to the rickety journey and get some shuteye. The coach on the way back however was AWFUL, probably one of the worst travel experiences of my life. Why was it so different to first journey, surely the same bus company would mean a similar experience? Unfortunately the bus home was a lot less luxurious, busier, more cramped, had not just 3 but 4 young babies on board and the driver left late so drove at unbelievable speeds the whole night, making my moments of being airborne pretty much permanent and there was no toilet at all this time! Not so fun, but alas part of the Cambodian experience and in general a rite of passage I feel every traveller in S.E. Asia must overcome.
So once we arrived into a rather overcast Sihanoukville at 6am, we were feeling pretty bleak but still excited for the promise of the holiday ahead. Now it was time to find accommodation! Surely you booked that before you got there, right? A sensible thought you must all be having. HAHA. Apparently Sihanoukville backpacker places ‘don’t book’ so it’s pretty much turn up and get luck of the draw! We had our eye on a placed called Monkey Republic so bartered with a tuk to take us there. We arrived and of course everywhere was shut as it was 7am on a Friday morning. I asked about rooms at Monkey Rep. and was told there was only a room for 3, a slight problem as 5 of us would be staying the night in total. Despairing we asked our tuk tuk driver where to go and he confidently assured us of a top quality place around the corner which would have plenty of room for us. For some reason I felt like I was in the bloody Nativity being turned away from every Inn we asked at and had crazy thoughts of us sleeping Jesus style on a bed of hay on the beach somewhere, pretty sure that was from lack of sleep on a night bus though.
So we headed to this ‘great’ place the guy knew and sat and ate pancakes feeling a bit glum that Monkey Rep. had let us down, but I had a chocolate milkshake so definitely a silver lining to that cloud! We waited for about an hour to see the room this place had available. Needless to say it was one of the dingiest rooms I have ever seen in my life, pretty much looked like a place from a horror film and though assured it was clean and ‘had great t.v. with big big screen’ we could not have got out of that place faster. We didn’t die from the pancakes though so it could’ve gone a lot worse. SO THEN we headed back to Monkey Rep. where I was pretty much getting to the point of offering my soul for an extra room when we were saved and told, yes 2 rooms for 5 people were free for that night! I could’ve hugged the guy! We settled in for a nap and waited for Sally and Lucy to arrive from Phnom Penh. I forgot to mention me and Trish went on this holiday with our lovely friend Emily from Australia who is a volunteer currently at HVC. She leaves Cambodia next Thursday after spending 6 weeks here and we will miss her so so much, but another excuse to visit Oz in the future!
That night after being re-united with Sally and Lucy (we hadn’t seen them since our language course in September!) we all headed out into Sihanoukville to have some fun and get a few drinks. We’d heard legendary things about the nightlife and I was expecting a full kind of ‘strip’ filled with beach bars and clubs. Unfortunately Sihanoukville in general was a huge let down! Of course we all still had a great night as we were with each other and company is what matters most but after ending up at the only decent bar around called ‘The Dolphin Shack’ and a woman telling me that no she wouldn’t play the Black Keys as they were crap (BLASPHEMY I TELL YOU!!!) we were a little disappointed. It didn’t feel safe and the whole place was teeming with drugs and just in general really rundown and in parts very creepy! It didn’t ruin the holiday at all as we all had loads of fun dancing like idiots and walking across the beach at dawn but I think the hype was definitely overrated. This is why I’m so glad we spent the majority of our holiday on Koh Rong!!
We caught the boat over to the island the next morning, a little hungover and so after 2 hours of slow rocking motion we were all feeling pretty green. However the views from the boat were so amazing, I went to town with my camera (see facebook!) Our first sighting of the island was so exciting, it looked like something out of a film and just one of those places you know exists in the world but you’re not sure they’re actually real until you see it! We set foot upon the island and entered paradise. White sands, crystal blue seas, beachside bamboo bungalows, chilled out bars and beautiful lush green palm trees. I couldn’t actually believe my eyes as we walked down to Monkey Island to get checked into our bungalow. The accommodation was amazing and even better than I could have hoped for. We were put into the most recently built bungalow that was literally on the beach. I woke up and went to sleep to the sound of the crashing waves of the ocean every day. The bungalow had a little balcony with two hammocks and the most breath-taking views of the island’s stunning beach. Needless to say we wasted no time in getting out and tanning (for me that’s just trying not to burn basically) and as we lay on our towels a stone throw away from our stunning beach hut, I’m much sure all of us sighed in pure happiness.
Ben and Becky, the two Australian volunteers who we met when we first arrived at HVC, they actually live and work on this island currently and it was part of the reason we made the trip there so we could catch up with them since they left! Ben works as a diving instructor, the main attraction of the island (not Ben, the diving haha!) Becky works in the diving office and it was so nice to see them both again and hear about their lives on the island. We spent our days there chilling out on the beach, eating amazing food- for such a small place there was a seriously good choice of bbq- and pretty much letting any of the stresses of everyday volunteering fall from our shoulders. Quite literally as I even had a shoulder massage!
My favourite day was when we trekked over to the other side of the island which is uninhabited apart from a handful of remote bungalows. We were told it was an hour’s walk to the other side which seemed easy enough, so we donned our flip flops and towels and set off on a little adventure. 2 hours later and we quickly realised the ‘walk’ was in fact some kind of mountaineering hike involving sheer boulder drops involving sliding on your bum and holding onto tree roots for dear life. There was even some abseiling involved when a rope became the only method of making it down a sheer rock face. Needless to say we were all regretting the footwear choice and had some slightly despairing moments when the path seemed to be non-existent! It was actually so much fun and the island is incredible, it was like trekking through rainforest and being in tomb raider or something equally as cheesy! I’m actually really proud of us for making it to the other side alive and without all breaking our legs so that’s an achievement we’ve made this year for sure. Our reward was so worth it, miles of deserted beach even more beautiful than the one on the other side if that was even possible! We spent the day lying in the sun and swimming in the sea which is actually warm, a new concept I need to get used to after holidaying in Scotland! Rather than attempting the journey back on foot, as the sun set we clambered hilariously onto a small fishing boat and were all driven back instead. It was definitely a day I’ll never forget!
On our last day in Koh Rong and after 3 amazing nights by the sea, the girls all went diving! Unfortunately I couldn’t take part due to my failure of a set of lungs haha but I’m working on getting a doctor’s note for next time so my asthma won’t stand in the way! Instead I was the photographer/snorkeler of the day and still took part in all the training ready for the next opportunity. It was amazing to watch them all go under with all the breathing equipment and apparently they saw a barracuda! We also all jumped off the top deck of the boat into the water after they finished which was so fun, if a little terrifying (but then again I did bungee from a crane in London last year, so no biggie…)
Needless to say we were gutted to leave Ben and Becky and our little Paradise, back to Sihanoukville for one more night before heading home! It was a bit of a nightmare trying to get accommodation once back on the mainland as it was the Khmer holiday of The Water Festival so everywhere was booked out! By some crazy coincidence and sheer luck we ended up in an amazing room, paying 10 dollars each but it even had a BATH in the bathroom- a very very very rare thing. We had a great last night out even if it meant we ended up yet again at the glorious ‘Dolphin Shack’ and I already miss the girls so much. I don’t think we’ve ever felt so rough the next day but it was worth it – may I add we had pizza at 4am in the morning, the ultimate show of a good night I think.
That was our amazing holiday! Of course ending with the perilous journey home but I think we are relieved to be back in Siem Reap, it makes us realise how lucky we are to be in this part of Cambodia. It’s such a nice place to live day-to-day and we’re looking forward to spending a night back in our favourite guesthouse and watching some bad t.v. J
Thanks for reading these ramblings once again and I promise to be a much better and more dedicated blog writer this month. We’re currently planning our Thailand trip so it seems hardly any time before we’ll be setting off again, this time for another country!! I promise it’s not all holidays and we do actually work really hard day-to-day with the kids, even if it sounds like a tanning-spree at the moment! This holiday definitely made me realise how hard it will be to eventually leave them, as after 6 days we wanted to go back. Luckily I have another 8 months or so before I have to even think about that possibility, time is flying out here and 3 months in I couldn’t be happier. I miss everyone a lot of course and it’s a constant emotional rollercoaster but as with every blog post I write I’ll tell you again that it is so worth it to be here and be experiencing these amazing opportunities.
Until next time!
Much love to everyone, hope the Christmas songs in the shops don’t drive you too crazy and it’s not too cold… 😉 xxx