Our last day in Siem Reap

We began with an hour’s drive to a wildlife conservation centre near Kbal Spean, a mountainous national park, where the temperature was noticeably lower. The two guides showed us endangered and near-endangered species of primates, birds and reptiles. We were lucky to see the only Cambodian ibis – the national emblem – in captivity, which was rather sad as this particular animal had been shot by boys with slingshots and was, they suspect, brain-damaged. A female gibbon also swung around for us – again, apparently a rare treat.

The afternoon saw us enjoy a talk by Ret, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient for his work against landmines, and a tour of the retreat with Sr Denise, who explained the significance of the artefacts and their reminder to us to act against injustice in the world.

To finish the day we ate at the Bopha Angkor restaurant to celebrate Emily’s birthday and our last night in Siem Reap. Tomorrow we rise early to load the cases onto the bus to depart by 7.30am for Phnom Penh airport. We may have time to post one final reflection in transit in Singapore; if not, we are all looking forward to seeing families and sharing what we have absorbed from our Immersion.

Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon

After a good night’s rest the girls were eager to venture to the world renowned Angkor Wat. Not only was the scenery spectacular, the views within the temple were most impressive. The amount of detail within the carvings on the walls captivated us all as every carving proved to have a story. Our tour guide, Chen, shared his personal viewpoints and knowledge of the intricate designs, as his father used to tell him stories about the 3 main Hindu gods, Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva. After a short break for lunch within the ancient city walls, we were off to Ta Prohm to immerse ourselves in the footsteps of Lara Croft. Not only were we fascinated by the buildings themselves, but also by the trees that seem to grow from within the temples themselves.

Soon after our little bus drove us to Bayon, one of the Mountain temples that appeared to rise higher the more you climbed. We were allowed to explore the top level on own; within our adventures we all turned a little ‘Indiana Jones’.

After a tiring day we all made our way home (spotting some monkeys on the roadside as we went) and finished the day with a reflection in the chapel. This allowed us to focus on how this immersion has and will have a great impact on us.

Emily S and Marnie

A visit to the floating villages of Tonle Sap

Sunday morning saw us on the bus at 7.30 en route to the boat terminal on Tonle Sap. St John’s parish maintains a number of churches and schools on the enormous lake that aim to provide assistance to the people of the floating villages. We were to visit one such church today and, after 2 hours on the boat (being occasionally accosted by children adorned with snakes or floating in large tin pots), we arrived to find the village children waiting quietly for us, seated in lines, facing the altar.

After a tentative start, the balloons were brought out and a modicum of mayhem ensued. Timid smiles turned to hearty grins as sign language led to hand-clapping games and aerial pingpong with the dozens of balloons.

We served lunch to the children, preceded by some disciplined, well-rehearsed singing. Once they had eaten, we were directed to the rooftop dining area and were in turn served freshly grilled fish, vegetables and rice followed by lashings of watermelon.

Enthusiastically waving goodbye, we reboarded our boat for the long return trip with another memory of the plight of the people of Cambodia to mull over in our evening reflection.

Our journey to Siem Reap

 

 

The bus journey was largely uneventful, with frequent snacking staving off the morning pangs. En route to Siam Reap we made three stops, the first being at a silversmith’s village where some canny purchases were made. Our second stop was at a village renowned for its crispy delights, such as cricket and tarantula. Several girls sampled a fried furry leg or two but shied away from the gooey bodies, while others allowed the pre-fried creatures to crawl on various body parts.

Our third stop was for lunch at a delightful riverside restaurant where hearty appetites were well-rewarded.

We arrived late afternoon at the Meditation Centre, where we farewelled our informative guide and amazingly skilled bus driver before being welcomed by Sr Denise. Shortly thereafter we made our way by tuk-tuk into town and to St John’s for Mass where Emily H and Emily S were asked to read.

We rounded out the evening with dinner at a local restaurant and with preparation for tomorrow’s visit to the floating village in mind.

 

 

 

Off to Siem Reap

This morning started early – 6am breakfast and 7am on the bus to Siem Reap. With the prospect of 6+ hours on the bus ahead of us, we’re all stocked up with water and snacks (and music!). Depending on our arrival time and the wireless amenities at our accommodation in Siem Reap, we may not post again until tomorrow.

Our last day in Phnom Penh: the water park and farewell to La Valla students

This morning a small group of girls, Mr Lobb and Ms Allen ventured into the food markets just around the corner from the hotel. We were shocked to see the beaheded ducks and smelly fish; however, the experience was interesting and worthwhile. After the markets, everyone gathered in the hotel restaurant for breakfast, then went upstairs to our hotel rooms to get ready for the day ahead.

We assembled in the lobby, ready to head out on the bus to go to the waterpark with all of the students from La Valla. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by the teachers from La Valla and then went straight into the waterpark, dropped our bags, greeted the children started to take them up the slides. Many of the children needed assistance with climbing to the top of the tower to go down the slide, and each of us carried a fair number of children. We threw our backs into the task and by the end of the day were exhausted.  The look of happiness on each of the children’s faces was amazing to see and we could all tell how much they enjoyed the day.

At the end of the day it was very emotional as this was the last day we would see the children of La Valla. The realisation that we would not see them for the rest of the trip, made many of us feel the need to return to visit them one day. We will never forget the charismatic children of La Valla and their smiling faces. They have had such a huge impact on our lives and we are sure that we will remember the time we spent with them for the rest of our lives.

Margo, Louise, Erina, Grace.