Right now, I have some friends who are travelling through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Seeing their pictures and status updates on facebook is not only making me incredibly jealous but bringing me back to the greatest experience of my life.For me to recap this experience I will have to take you back to 2009.
2009 – Me a 20-year-old girl, with minimal direction in life, a student. (very similar to me now actually, just add 2 and a bit years and change student to unemployed) I had recently gone through a break up, had my wisdom teeth removed and spent weeks in bed from reactions in surgery, had an old friend pass away and get a bit down in the dumps. After the friend passed away I decided life was too short to live like this. I had some money saved as I worked way to much, so it was time for adventure.
After much consideration (about 45 minutes) I deferred Uni, so I couldn’t change my mind. I now had the free time and the urge to experience something different. Being the charitable person I am, I decided volunteering somewhere would be a good way to gain perspective. My first thought was Mexico, however my parents first thought was no.
My next choice was Cambodia and in all honesty I am not sure why it wasn’t my first choice all along. Having studied the Khmer Rouge 3 separate times in high school (once in year 7 for English, in year 9 and 10 for Asian Studies and year 11 and 12 for Modern History) I had always been fascinated by this country and its sombre history. So in the next couple of weeks I organised to volunteer in Phnom Penh teaching kids English for 6 weeks and travel around independently for a few weeks on my own to Vietnam and Thailand.
5th of September 2009 came and I was at Sydney International Airport with my parents at 5am. Turns out when your flight is at 8am and they tell you to be there 3 hours before, they don’t really mean this, as the airport hadn’t even opened yet. I waited outside the airport for about 30 mins until the doors finally open and I jump in line to check in. (so turns out there probably wasn’t any need to run) After a scary few hours waiting nervously at the airport with my parents, whom constantly let me know that I didn’t have to go through with this, they would take me home, no questions asked. But it was something I had to do. I was scared, but in a good way.
I arrived in Phnom Penh and got to my guest house fine. Turns out 3 of the 6 people on the flight from Singapore (where I had a layover) where volunteering with me too. It was a relief to meet some people straight away.
Volunteering with these kids was one of, if not the most eye-opening experiences of my life. These children had been through terrible hardships, someone from my privileged upbringing could not even begin to comprehend. However these children were some of the most beautiful and happy people I have ever met. They had such a childlike innocence that I lost well before the age of 11-17 which they were when I had the pleasure of meeting them. They were smart, great dancers, unbelievably cheeky and had such a sense of community that at times, I found myself envious of. I know that may sound strange to some, but they had a great sense of community you just don’t find in the Western World. Phnom Penh and Cambodia has a completely different way of life to the Western World.
I can honestly say that I learnt a lot more from these kids about life then they ever could possibly learnt from me. They were great kids. It’s been over 2 years since I was there and I still miss them.
My trip to Cambodia also opened me up to other wonderful travel experiences. The other volunteers that were staying at the same guesthouse as me, were the best people that anyone could hope to meet when you travel. Over those 6 weeks, we became a family. A family with lots of sisters and only one brother.
My plans for travelling alone on the weekends when I wasn’t teaching these kids, didn’t really happen, instead a had a wonderful group of people to experience the journey with. Together with these people I explored Phnom Penh, including the Killing Fields, S 21, the king’s palace as well as many bars and restaurants, some cultural, some not so cultural.
I also travelling to Siem Reap with them, visiting all the temples as well as a trip to the Angkor What? bar. Oh it had to be done.
We also experienced the joys of the beaches of Sihanoukville (known to us as schnookumsville because of how someone pronounced it the first time they tried to read it) and the joys of the Mekong Buckets.
I guess for me, this trip really was a once in a lifetime adventure. Going alone, I learnt so much about what I am capable of, so much about Cambodia and the world around me. So much about life and how other people live as well as learnt a lot about a group of people I otherwise would have never had the pleasure of meeting. It really was the greatest all round experience with a great mix of culture, growth, learning, fun and adventure. I recommend Cambodia as a must see destination for anyone that is interested in travel. After being around Europe and the USA since, I think Cambodia will always still hold that special place in my heart.