Reflections on the end of an adventure…

I’m not really the sentimental type but I think it would be remiss of me not to reflect just a little bit on the last 8 months. So here’s a quick end of trip report!

The top highlight:

  • The overarching highlight, the time I now look back on with most love and happy memories was the time spent with my parents driving round New Zealand in ‘crunchy’ the campervan.  What an amazing set of memories made, what fun times had and what a beautiful country. Thank you Mum and Dad for being truly wonderful people and great travel companions.
Milford Sound

Mum and Dad enjoying the amazing scenery and sunshine.

Selfies

Camper van selfies!

The rest in chronological order:

  • Dancing under the stars on New Year’s eve flashpacker style with my New York besties in Phuket.
  • Hanging out with the German yoginis in Koh Yoa Noi and mastering an unassisted headstand.

headstand4

  • Flying high above Franz Joseph.
  • Wandering in Wanaka with the best of friends.
Rachel & Ali

Me and Ali. Friends since we were 12. It was three years since we last saw each other but it felt like yesterday.

  • Conquering switchbacks and being saddle sore in Queenstown.
Downhill

Downhill at Skyline MTB Park in Queenstown.

  • Being far too sociable in Sydney catching up with many dear friends and hanging out with my adorable godson.
Waiting for Eves the Behaviour at Laneway and ignoring the rain.

Waiting for Eves the Behaviour at Laneway and ignoring the rain.

  • Watching the sunrise whilst swimming to Shelly beach with the ‘Bold and the Beautiful’ in Manly. http://www.boldandbeautifulmanly.com.au
  • Early morning wanderings around Banteay Kdei in Siem Reap.
Banteay Kdei

Inside Banteay Kdei.

  • Boating it to Battambang taking in all the Cambodian life along the way.
View from the rooftop

View from the top of the boat as we approach Battambang.

  • Meeting wonderful new friends, scaling rocks and clambering through caves in Kampot.
Team photo

Team photo at the end of the day with our great instructors from Climbodia.

  • Feasting on crab and sunsets in Kep.
  • New friends and future plans at the Foundation of Goodness.
FoG

Friends from the Foundation of Goodness.

Blagging being a blogger

I was a little unsure at first about blogging throughout my trip; would I keep the commitment over the 6 months and could I actually write anything interesting that people might want to read? Going into it I had no idea but was willing to give it a go.  Some thoughts:

  • One post a week was way too ambitious.
  • I ended up binge blogging, so not writing anything for a couple of weeks and then spend two or three days solidly writing and posting.
  • Sometimes it was a real slog….but made easier if by the beach!
  • Although some days it felt like a chore looking back at the 45+ posts I’m so happy I persevered.
  • Initially I thought bullet point summaries would be the way to go. This wasn’t the case and I found myself wanting and needing to write in full prose.
  • I had lots of ideas for posts that never got further than notes in my moleskin.
  • Blogging changes the way you think about a place or an experience and how you record it photographically.
  • For the geeky analyst types out there some stats:
    • Number of posts – 46
    • Total number of visitors – 827
    • Total number of views – 2,156
    • Best performing month – January with 617 views
    • Country stats – visitors from 34 countries including Iceland and Qatar
    • Best performing post – Flashpacking at Indigo Pearl https://iwander.co/2015/01/02/flash-packing-at-indigo-pearl/

Thank you to those of you that have taken the time to read my about my wanderings, follow me and comment. It was nice to know you were out there!

Bangkok blogger

Blogging in Bangkok at Shanti Lodge.

Food

I’m not a ‘foodie’ I don’t analyse my food, I just like to eat and drink it.  Often, for me, good ambience and company will easily compensate for average food. Here’s a list of some of my favourite eating and drinking experiences during my time away.

  • Thailand street food: These delicious things, I still don’t know what they’re called but basically its coconut milk roasted in a griddle pan served with spring onions.

IMG_0581

  • Garfish with Mum and Dad watching the world go by.
  • Australia Day BBQ by the pool, in the rain!
  • Wine and cheese at Rippon Vineyard and Winery.
Rippon Wines

Lunch at Rippon Wines overlooking Lake Wanaka.

  • Best cellar door – Hunters in Marlborough.
  • Home made roast dinner at Sammy and Mikes with lashings of gravy.
  • Sundowners at the Warf Bar in Manly.
  • Jann Bai, Battambang, Cambodia: French bread, with grilled pork, carrot, coriander and spices (the Khmer equivalent of Banh Mi).
  • Lunch in the garden at Rock Ferry Wines in Marlborough.
Rock Ferry Wines

Lunch at Rock Ferry Wines.

  • Lion larger on the beach in Hikkaduwa with friends.
  • Sri Lankan food!
    • Rice and curry, especially jack fruit, beetroot, and Maldive fish!
    • Egg hoppers dunked in thick, rich chicken curry.
    • Late night snacks of wade and kadala.

Well that’s it for now. Thanks again for the visits, follows and comments. I’m back off to Sri Lanka in 6 weeks to start my placement at the Foundation. Maybe I’ll write some more later in the year.

Rachel x

Art Gallery

Blogger selfie – Digital exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery.

Written at home for a weekend of family celebrations.

Family

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Future Plans – The Present Continuous

After my first two weeks of discovery and planning it became clear that there was a huge opportunity to develop the English language function within the foundation. What was missing however was someone to help define the opportunity and get things started.  I approached Mr Gunasekera with some of my ideas and suggested that perhaps I could return to continue to develop the function and capabilities further.  The response to my proposal was very positively received and with the help of key members of the foundation team I began to refine some of my ideas.

We agreed on a set of 9 objectives for a 12 month placement beginning in October. One of the most important objectives was to find local leadership to continue leading the program to ensure its sustainability after I left.

My placement would continue to be a volunteer position so I also began the process of putting together a proposal for personal sponsorship to cover my living expenses during the 12 months together with a list of potential sponsors.

Placement objectives:

  1. Create a unified English language function within the foundation.
  2. Establish new English language programmes to run concurrently with existing training:
    1. Diving Training
    2. Women’s Empowerment
    3. Technology
  1. Establish new English language programmes for staff of the foundation.
  2. Deliver an additional 30 hours of English language instruction per week; an increase of 90% on current levels.
  3. Introduce latest teaching methodologies through monthly teacher training.
  4. Create succession plan to enable future local leadership of English language function.
  5. Develop volunteer guidelines and requirements.
  6. Implement measurement and success metrics to monitor performance of function.
  7. Implement bi-monthly reporting to sponsors, founder, board and other key stakeholders.

So the adventure in teaching and travel continues. I return to London later in the summer where I have accepted a contract as an EFL teacher at St Giles International. In October I return to the Foundation of Goodness as ‘Head of English Language and English Programme Development’. If anyone would like to find out more about the foundation or are interested in potentially sponsoring my placement please do get in touch.

That’s it for today, it’s been a mammoth day on the blog and I’m now off for a swim! My next post ‘Reflections’ will be the final post on ‘I Wander’…well for this adventure anyway.

Seenigama beach

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Preparations and Past Participles – Teaching Begins

I began correspondence with the Foundation of Goodness about volunteer teaching opportunities back in October 2014. After completing an application with my credentials and motivations for volunteering I was accepted and we agreed on a 6 week placement starting on May 5th the following year.

As my travels in Cambodia drew to a close I began to get increasingly nervous and excited about the next stage in my adventure. It had, however, been over six months since I had last taught and I was a little concerned that I might be a little rusty!

I spent my first week in Sri Lanka hunting down English text books and learner dictionaries in various bookshops across Colombo. I spent a very happy week in Kandy revising my grammar, classroom management skills and phonology in an effort to get my head back into teaching.  I think I was probably the only backpacker in Sri Lanka lugging around 10 kilos worth of grammar books, dictionaries and student text books in my backpack. Another failure in packing light!

Backpack

How not to pack light! A pack full of books and whiteboard pens!

Initially I had very little information about the resources available at the foundation and had no idea what to expect. I was used to teaching at St Giles International in London where I had a significant amount of teaching resources at my disposal together with the latest in interactive whiteboard technology. I knew things were obviously going to be different and I’d just have to be resourceful and flexible. The foundation however put me in contact with a prior volunteer teacher from 2012 who was incredibly helpful in providing me with the relevant background information and answering all my questions.

My placement started on the 5th May and I spent the first two weeks observing lessons, talking to teachers, heads of the empowerment sectors and the management team. I wanted to ensure that my time was spent working in the areas that needed it most.  The foundation has three local English teachers who teach the empowerment classes and we agreed that I should spend my time creating syllabi and lessons for students and staff that currently weren’t part of the existing English programme. My focus would be on teaching the staff at the foundation as well as the students in the Diving and Training centre.

Teaching conditions were good. I had a whiteboard in each of the classrooms I was teaching in together with a projector in the main classroom.  Wifi was also available at the MCC and in the main classroom so connectivity wasn’t a concern unless there was a power cut. There weren’t any teacher or student text books so my purchases in Colombo were helpful, although most of my class materials and lesson ideas were either generated independently or from inspiration from some online teaching resources.

Volunteer office

The volunteer office where I spent many an evening working on my lesson plans and class materials.

EFL teaching methods of student elicitation, peer correction, phonology drilling and free practice sessions were new to the students. However after the first lesson with each class the students became more comfortable with these techniques. Over the time of my placement I was delighted to see the students grow in confidence and ability.

The highlight of my time teaching was the surprise leaving party that my dive students gave me on my last day teaching. I had come prepared with a lesson (and cake) but was ushered onto the beach where the students were all waiting for me. Our lesson was spent singing, playing the drums, eating and chatting. Many of the students gave me lovely presents including fruits, spices and a beautiful painting. At the end of the party we had the obligatory class photos and selfies! I was immensely touched by their generosity and kind words and can’t thank them enough for being such a wonderful group of students.

Lessons in progress

Lessons in progress. Eliciting grammatical form.

Mendis

Mendis working on the whiteboard.

Dive lessons

Lessons in progress surrounded by dive equipment.

Leaving party

My leaving party – lots of singing and drumming!

Lunch

The students provided a generous lunch of egg rolls, fruit and cake.

Class photo

Teacher and her dive students. Despite the fact that none of the guys are smiling in this photo there were a happy bunch!

Blue Steel!

Chanchala perfects Sri Lankan ‘Blue Steel’!

Selfies

Selfies!

Class photos

Salin, Mendis and a happy teacher!

Still blogging beachside at Budde’s guest house Hikkaduwa.

Buddes

Budde’s guest house Hikkaduwa beach, Sri Lanka.

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The Foundation of Goodness

A national NGO and US registered charity the Foundation of Goodness was established in 1999 by Kushil Gunasekera, a local entrepreneur and humanitarian. Gunasekera’s vision was to bridge the gap between rural and urban development through the provision of services and training for rural communities.

http://www.unconditionalcompassion.org

Following the devastation left in the wake of the tsunami the foundation focused on post-disaster recovery which was enabled by increases in international and national donations. As the country gradually recovered from the tsunami the foundation began to return to its founding goals of the provision of essential services, training and employment opportunities for rural communities.

The foundation has over 30 ‘empowerment sectors’ which include a medical clinic, physco-social support, English and Tamil lessons, a sports academy, technology training, pre-school childcare and a women’s empowerment programme. In May alone the foundation provided services to over 4,500 beneficiaries in 50 villages throughout the country. All services are provided free of charge to the beneficiaries funded by individual and corporate sponsors.

The foundation also has a number of sustainable income generating projects through the brand ‘Goodness Works Global’. Building these income streams are key to future sustainability for the foundation as it reduces reliance on donor contributions.

The sustainable income programs include

  1. Dive Tourism. At our dive shop Dive Seenigama, Dive Lanka which provides diving and water sports for tourists.
  2. Gourmet Goodness. A range of spice blends in partnership with UK supermarket Tesco
  3. Plates of Goodness that provides Sri Lankan cooking classes for tourists.
  4. Business Processing Outsourcing or BPO – which provides outsourcing services to business including data entry and back office processes.
Medical centre

The reception area at the medical and physco-social unit.

Shop goodness

Our ‘Shop Goodness’ where the foundation sells ethically produced local products.

MCC office

Some of the foundation’s management team working hard in the office.

Pre-school

The Lahiru pre-school which provides child care and education for over 30 children between the ages of 4 and 5.

Pre-school playgound

The playground at the pre-school

Technology room

The technology classroom. All computers donated by corporate sponsors.

English classes

English lessons with Mr. Thripal one of the foundation’s English teachers.

Students

Shy smiles after class.

Classroom

The main classroom at the MCC Centre of Excellence.

English

English class in progress.

Cricket Pavilion

The cricket pavilion at the Sports Academy.

Cricket ground

The cricket grounds at the Sports Academy.

Cricket

The finals of the foundation cricket match at the Sports Academy.

Volleyball tournament

A volleyball tournament for southern teams held at the Sports Academy.

The organisation is supported by an impressive board of business executives and cricketing legends including Muthiah Muralidaran, Mahela Jayawardena, Kumar Sangakkara and Russel Arnold.

Cricket

Some cricketing memorabilia at the MCC Centre of Excellence.

More cricket

Some more cricket memorabilia.

...and more cricket

…did I mention that there is a bit of a cricket theme around here!

It goes without saying that if you work it helps if you know a thing or two about cricket!

Seenigama beach

Bliss. Sunset at Seenigama beach just near our dive shop.

Sunset

Sunset at Seenigama beach.

Written at Budde’s guesthouse, Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka.

Buddes

Budde’s guest house Hikkaduwa beach, Sri Lanka.

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Serendipity

Serendipity means a fortunate happenstance or a pleasant surprise. This beautiful word stems from Serendip, the name for Sri Lanka prior to being called Ceylon.

Amaya Hills

The view from my balcony at Amaya Hills Resort – a treat for my birthday.

My love of this country began back in 1991 when I was fortunate to visit with a good school friend Alix whose father lived and worked here during the 1980s and 1990s. I returned with Alix and another friend Lis during our gap year in 1993. We spent three fabulous months exploring the island, getting to know the people, its culture and generally doing all the things you would expect three 18 year old backpackers on their gap year to do.  In 1998 after graduating from university I returned to spend another two weeks revisiting my favourite places and discovering new. My love of this country and its people was well and truly established.

Life however took hold and two overseas moves combined with a busy job and a lot of travel resulted in my time here being confined to a series of happy but distant memories. Sixteen years later however, as I considered leaving my job to teach and travel*, I could finally contemplate a return to the island.

Sri Lanka has endured many tragedies since I last visited; a bloody end to the 30 year civil war and a tsunami that devastated the lives and livelihoods of so many people. I knew that I wanted to spend as much time here as I could getting to know the country again after all this time. I also knew that, as clichéd as it sounds, I needed to give back, to do something in this country that had given me so much. The combination of volunteer teaching and traveling in Sri Lanka made perfect sense. Now all I had to do was to find an organisation that would be happy to have me.

Serendipity struck last summer on my final trip to the Getty Images office in New York when a work friend mentioned that one of our photographers had just finished a visual storytelling project in Sri Lanka with an organisation called the ‘Foundation of Goodness’. The connections were made and the adventure began to take shape.

*”Rachel’s having another gap year, she has one every 10 years” as my Dad likes to tell friends!

Vesak

Celebrating the religious holiday of Vesak in Colombo.

Panal

A Vesak panal in Colombo.

Vesak

Vesak lights around the lake in Colombo.

Vesak

Visiting the temple during the Vesak holiday.

Vesak

Offerings in the temple.

Colombo Fort

Colombo Fort train station on the way to Kandy.

Kandy

The view from the train on the way to Kandy.

Train

The best way to travel!

Kandy

The view towards Kandy across the lake.

Lakshimi

My accommodation in Kandy – Lakshimi guest house. Alix, Lis and I first stayed here in 1993!

Kandy market

Kandy market.

Kandy market

Rice and spices on sale at Kandy market.

Kandy market

Tasty but pungent dried fish on sale at Kandy market.

Tailors

At Ranjana’s in Kandy market. Meeting the tailor that Ali, Lis and I used back in 1993 – 22 years later!

Pandal

Another Vesak pandal, this time in Hikkaduwa.

Temple Hikkaduwa

Inside the main temple in Hikkaduwa.

Wall of death

The wall of death! Vesak celebrations in Hikkaduwa. Very loud!

Wall of death

Not sure all appropriate health and safety checks were conducted prior to this spectacle!

Written at Budde’s Guesthouse Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka.

Buddes

Budde’s guest house Hikkaduwa beach, Sri Lanka.

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Last Day in Phnom Penh and a Quick Stop in KL

I spent my last day in Cambodia pottering around Phnom Penh and exploring the back streets and markets. That evening I jumped on the back of a bike and headed to 308 street where, a well-travelled food blogger I met on Koh Tah Kiev told me, there were some great restaurants. Unfortunately, due to the fact that it was Khmer New Year everything was closed, it however did result in a rather fun ride through the city awash with lights to celebrate the New Year.

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh streets.

Cyclos

Cyclo stand in Phnom Penh.

Meat market

Local market in Phnom Penh.

Veggie market.

Local market in Phnom Penh.

Breakfast!

Breakfast!

Royal Palace

The Royal Palace, Phnom Penh.

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace, Phnom Penh.

Bird seller

Bird seller, Phnom Penh market.

Khmer NY lights

Khmer New Year celebrations in lights.

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh by bike.

Bike Selfie

Back of a bike selfie!

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh by bike.

I left Phnom Penh early the next morning for a night stop in KL where I stayed in an excellent hostel called Back Home. That night I took the subway to the Petronas Towers which was okay-la!

Petronas Towers

The Petronas Towers at night.

KL

KL at night.

Written at Budde’s Guesthouse Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka.

Buddes

Budde’s guest house Hikkaduwa beach, Sri Lanka.

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Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng Detention Centre – Phnom Penh

After a week on the beaches and islands I traveled back to Phnom Penh where I was to spend my last couple of days in Cambodia.

I decided that I would visit the Choeung Ek Genocide Centre and Tuol Sleng Detention Centre. I’d recently finished reading ‘First They Killed my Father’ by Loung Ung, a child survivor of the genocide and I felt that I wanted to understand more. I contemplated my motivations for this ‘grief or dark tourism’ however my desire was driven less by a morbid curiosity but a need to ground my experiences of this wonderful country and its people in its historical context.

Choeung Ek is located 11 miles south of Phnom Penh and is the best-known of the killing fields of which there are many across the country. During the Khmer regime over 2 million people were killed by state sponsored genocide between 1975 and 1979, nearly a quarter of the then population*. Victims included anyone remotely connected to the prior government, intellectuals and professionals (however erroneously defined) and various ethnic groups. It is thought that over 17,000 people were executed at Choeung Ek which is now the site of the national memorial for victims of the genocide.

The Buddist memorial stupa that houses the skulls and bones of victims from Choeung Ek.

The Buddhist memorial stupa that houses the skulls and bones of victims from Choeung Ek.

Stupa

Skulls from victims in the Buddhist memorial stupa at Choeung Ek.

I took the accompanying audio tour which provided details of how prisoners were processed and executed as well as first-hand accounts from prison guards and prisoners. It’s hard to describe the feeling of being in a place where so much horror and pain has been inflicted especially when there is so much physical evidence surrounding you. The main excavation of the site was conducted in the 1980s with memorials placed around key communal graves however the bones and clothes of victims continue to be unearthed over time.

Lake

View across the lake at Choeung Ek which was an orchard prior to being used as a killing field.

Communal grave

Communal grave site at Choeung Ek.

Memorials

Bracelets and other memorials placed on communal graves.

Tree

I don’t think this photo needs an accompanying caption.

Cloth and bone fragments

Fragments of the bones and clothes of victims unearthed on the pathways.

Tuol Sleng Detention Centre is a former high school that was used as a prison and interrogation centre known as ‘Security Prison 21’ or S-21. It is believed that between 1975 and 1979 over 17,000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng. Prisoners endured on-going torture to force them to name family members or other associates, who were then subsequently arrested and tortured. Following torture, if the prisoner survived, they would be transported to Choeung Ek for execution. Of the 17,000 prisoners at S-21 there were only 12 known survivors.

S-21

The notorious Tuol Sleng prison and interrogation centre known as S-21.

Code of conduct

Code of conduct at Tuol Sleng Prison.

Prison cell

A prison cell at Tuol Sleng prison.

Prisoners

Photographs of prisoners.

Tuol Sleng

Room where interrogation and torture was conducted at Tuol Sleng.

This wasn’t one of the easiest of posts to write. I questioned my motivations for visiting these sites, the subjects of the photos I took and how to then describe what I’d seen and how I felt. Can such atrocities be understood or processed in a few hours of one sunny morning or by reading an account by a survivor? Absolutely not, but it can go a way to providing some context to better appreciate and understand the country and these people and therefore I believe should be included on a traveler’s itinerary.

*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khmer_Rouge

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Beaches and Islands

The next day Ro and I headed down south to the beach village of Otres 1 whilst Sarah and Dan made their way separately to Kep. Ro and I were staying at the aptly named ‘Mushroom Point’ just over the road from the beach. It was a hectic couple of days relaxing on the beach, drinking iced-coffees, swimming and doing a few yoga classes.

Otres 1

Otres 1 beach.

Mushroom Point

The bungalows at Mushroom Point on Otres 1.

Mushroom Point Dorm

The dorm room at Mushroom Point.

Ro left the next afternoon for the island of Koh Rong whilst I stayed another night to wait for Sarah to arrive. We’d booked four nights on a nearby island called Koh Ta Kiev at a place called ‘Ten103 Treehouse Bay’.

http://www.ten103cambodia.com/

The island and Ten103 was a 45 min boat ride away and had no running water, limited electricity, no WiFi and a fair number of bugs. We couldn’t wait to get there! We were met off the boat by some of the team who ran the place, a very fun and friendly bunch of people. Our accommodation, ‘Crab Shack’, was a bamboo thatched bungalow on stilts located right on the edge of the beach and the jungle. The only drawback to this idyllic and isolated location was that it was about a 4 minute walk from the main bar area and the loos. We however quickly got used to the little trek back and forth along the jungle tracks and our fear of encountering any snakes eased with each trip.

Ten103

The way to Ten103 Treehouse Bay.

Crab Shack!

Crab Shack!

Crab Shack

Crab Shack nestled between the beach and the jungle.

Crab Shack

Crab Shack – Our beach side bungalow at Ten103.

Sunset

Sunset from the beach just outside our bungalow.

Track

The track from our bungalow to the main bar.

We spent the days lying on the beach, swimming, going for walks, getting lost on walks and snoozing on the deck. Evenings were spent chatting to other guests, eating great food and sinking a few beers. One night we went for a swim to see the phosphorous plankton – it was a magical experience, the water glowing and sparkling around me with every movement. On our final night we visited the local absinthe distillery on the island…our stumble through the jungle back to our bungalow was pretty amusing that night.

The deck

The view from the deck at Ten103.

The bar

The bar at Ten103.

Ten103 Bar

Well stocked at Ten103.

Long Beach

Long Beach at Koh Ta Kiev.

Fishing village

The local fishing village.

Fishing village

Kids from the local fishing village.

Fishing village

Kids from the local fishing village.

Absinthe

The absinthe distillery on Koh Ta Kiev.

Absinthe preparation

Preparing the absinthe.

Relax

…and relax.

After four nights however I have to say I was ready to head back to the mainland. I was a grimy mixture of insect repellent, sand and sun cream, all my clothes were damp and I didn’t have any clean knickers! Sarah had to get back to Phnom Penh to start her journey home while I had two further nights at the beach at Otres 2. We said our goodbyes and promised to meet up in London. Although we’d only known each other for a week, it seemed like we’d always known each other – we even once got mistaken for sisters. Although I’m a happy solo traveler, it’s wonderful to meet and spend time with others and I was thankful for the very fun times shared with Sarah, Ro, Dan and Amy.

Shanti Shanti

Shanti Shanti on Otres 2. 

Shanti Shanti View

The view from my bungalow at Shanit Shanti.

Shanti Shanti

The view from Shanti Shanti.

Written from: WYCA Colombo, back in town after a brief visit to Kandy for my birthday!

YWCA Colombo

Classic colonial style at the YWCA in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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Climbing and Clouds in Kampot

Next stop was Kampot a riverside town about a 30 minute drive west from Kep. After checking in at my hostel, Titch’s place, I got chatting to an English girl, Sarah and her friend Amy, who had also just arrived. We decided that we’d hire a motorbike (with driver for Sarah and I) and head up to explore the nearby Boker Hill Station in Preah Monivong National Park.

Kampot River

The view over the Kampot River from the top of Titch’s hostel.

Kampot

One of the main streets in Kampot.

Boker Hill Station was built but French colonial settlers who wanted to escape the heat and intensity of Phnom Penh. The French abandoned Boker in the 1940s, during the first Indochina War and then permanently in 1972 during the Rouge regime. The Khmer Rouge became firmly entrenched at Boker and it became one of their last strongholds up until the 1990s*.

The hill station is a gloriously atmospheric and eerie place primarily due to waves of mist that envelope the abandoned buildings and surrounding rainforest. We visited three main sites, the female Buddha, Boker Palace Hotel & Casino and the Roman Catholic Church. We also scrambled over and up some rocks for an amazing view across the park. The government have been developing the hill station and have built a massive and rather ugly casino together with a new hotel and golf course.

The female Buddha at Boker HIll Station.

The female Buddha at Boker HIll Station.

Modern 'development' with the new casino complex at Boker Hill Station.

Modern ‘development’ with the new casino complex at Boker Hill Station.

Catholic church at Boker Hill Station.

Catholic church at Boker Hill Station.

Catholic church at Boker Hill Station. Now you see it...

Catholic church at Boker Hill Station. Now you see it…

...now you don't.

…now you don’t.

Boker Palace Hotel

The abandoned Boker Palace Hotel and Casino.

Boker Palace

The Boker Palace Hotel and Casino.

Boker Hill Station

Mist rolls in across the rain forest at Boker Hill Station.

Bunny Ears

Amy proves that bunny ears are still funny!

Amy

Amy looking effortlessly glam on her motorbike riding back from Boker Hill Station.

Back of the bike selfie....sensible?!

Back of the bike selfie….sensible?!

The next day Sarah and I headed out with Kampot based Climbodia, a rock climbing and caving outfit run by a guy from Belgium called David. We were picked up by remorke at 8am and stopped on the way to pick up Dan, an English guy from Southampton. The final member of our climbing team, Ro from Dublin, joined us as the climb site.

http://www.climbodia.com/

Climbodia

Climbodia!

Kit

Getting the kit ready

Climbodia

Dan, Sarah and I, all kitted up and ready to go!

Our initial climb was an easy 40 meter scramble up the rock to our initial rest point. We then traversed via ferrata (steel cables fixed to the rock face) to our abseiling point down into the caves below. We then spent a good hour exploring and climbing between the different chambers of the caves. We ended our morning with three vertical climbs graded by our guides as ‘easy, medium and difficult’, however they were all pretty challenging in different ways!

Down into the caves

Heading down into the caves.

Cave

The cave that we abseiled down into.

Caving selfie

Caving selfie!

Stalactities

Checking out the stalactites and mites inside the cave.

Cave temple

Paintings inside the cave temple.

Cave temple

The cave temple.

Climbodia

Getting ready to start my second climb.

Climbodia

Midpoint through my second climb.

Climbodia

Nearly at the top of my second climb.

I decided to try for a fourth climb up one of the more difficult routes however I couldn’t even get up the first few meters! My arms were shot, shaking and weak. I couldn’t find or keep my grip let alone haul myself up and over the initial overhang. I asked one of the guides to demonstrate so I could try and mimic his handholds. He elegantly and effortlessly navigated the overhang with the oh-so-simple instructions of ‘just put your hand here, then here, then move your leg here’. Easy right! I tried again, failed again and admitted defeat. I was sweaty, dusty, bruised, a little bit bloody but very happy!

Climbodia

Sarah and Ro get started. The route on the right is the one that defeated me in the end. It looks pretty easy from afar!

That night, with new friends made, we celebrated with a few beers recounting stories of our victories and heroics on the rock face.

Team photo

Team photo at the end of the day with our great instructors from Climbodia.

*Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bokor_Hill_Station

Written from: WYCA Colombo, back in town after a brief visit to Kandy for my birthday!

YWCA

The dining room at the YWCA in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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Sunsets and Seafood – Quintessential Kep

I left Phnom Penh early for the seaside town of Kep a small town on the south coast of Cambodia with a pretty beach, fabulous sunsets and a famous crab market. I decided to treat myself and stayed in a wonderful guesthouse called Bacoma where the accommodation consists of cute little stone yurts with thatched roofs set among beautifully lush gardens. The owner, a Swiss chap, was a bit of a film buff and had built a very cool open air cinema in the gardens, he was also an Arsenal fan and we spent one very fun evening watching the mighty Arsenal thrash Liverpool 4-1!

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g608456-d3670792-Reviews-Bacoma-Kep_Kep_Province.html

Bacoma

Stone yurts at Bacoma guesthouse in Kep.

Bacoma

The bathrooms at Bacoma guesthouse in Kep.

The morning after I arrived I hired a remorke with driver and went to visit some local sights. We started at the salt fields, one of only three places in Cambodia where the combination of climate and geography result in optimum conditions for salt farming. It was early morning and the light and reflections off the fields made for some great photo opportunities, although not sure I realized any of them however! Through my remorke driver, Nik, I spent some time chatting to the workers about the process and the conditions working in the fields. It certainly sounded like hard back breaking work in very hot and humid conditions.

Remorke

Expert driving in the remorke.

Salt fields

Salt fields just outside of Kep.

Salt fields

Harvesting the salt at the salt fields.

Salt fields

The salt storage sheds at the salt fields.

After a quick stop at a local village where we saw fisherman carrying out their daily routines of net mending and boat repairs we drove on to the temple caves. I was joined initially by two, then three, local kids who for a few dollars act as guides to the tourists through the caves.

Fishing village

Fishing boats at the fishing village.

Vollyball

Locals playing volleyball at the fishing village.

Remorke

My wheels for the morning.

My guides

My expert guides at the temple caves.

Temple caves

Inside the temple caves.

Temple caves

Inside the temple caves.

Skinny Buddha

The ‘Skinny Buddha’ inside the temple caves.

Our final destination was at a local pepper farm where the famous organic Kampot Pepper is grown. The farm was owned and managed by a German gentleman who had been living in Cambodia for over 20 years. He described the harvesting process and the differences in the process, smell and taste of black, red and white peppercorns. Only farms that meet stringent regulations including origin of seedlings and organic farming process can receive the official certification and brand their products as Kampot Pepper.

Kampot Pepper

Learning all about Kampot Pepper.

Kampot Pepper

Green and red peppercorns.

Kampot Pepper

Learning all about Kampot Pepper.

One afternoon I took myself off for a walk in the national park and to watch the sunset over a famous local spot called ‘Sunset Rock’. Even at 3pm the day was still very hot and some parts of the track quite challenging, however it was a great way to experience the beautiful local flora and fauna.

National Park

Kep National Park.

National Park

Kep National Park.

On my way however I did have a rather unsettling experience involving a dog. There are lots of dogs in Cambodia, the majority look fairly well looked after and won’t bother you. I was passing a temple about 15 minutes away from my final destination when a dog came running out from the temple grounds towards me barking aggressively. I assumed he’d give me a few cautionary barks and then leave me alone, but no, he seemed pretty annoyed that I was on his turf. He continued to bark, growl and bare his teeth. I kept walking, looking straight ahead and trying to keep calm as he weaved backwards and forwards across the path at my feet. “Good dog, nice dog, please go away dog” I sang gently under my breath!   Finally after about 30 meters, which I tell you felt more like 100 meters, he stopped following me and trotted back into the temple. I thought for a Buddhist dog – my assumption as he had an orange scarf tied around his neck and came from the temple – he was pretty aggressive! With my heart still pounding I continued along the path to Sunset Rock. It was about 5:15pm now and the sun was getting low in the sky. My next dilemma; the path to Sunset Rock was becoming increasingly difficult and narrow. If I stayed to watch the full sunset I’d have to navigate my way back in the dark along the path, and the thought of meeting temple dog in the dark filled me with dread. So after spending two hours walking to the rock I spent less than two minutes there, took a couple of snaps and headed back. Temple dog greeted me again with the same amount of aggressive enthusiasm as before but again was all bark and fortunately no bite!

Sunset Rock

Approaching sunset from Sunset Rock in Kep.

Temple dog!

The Nun’s Temple where I had the ‘scary’ dog encounter….if you look very closely you’ll see temple dog trotting off to the left of the temple after scaring the living daylights out of me!

I have to say that fortunately this minor unsettling experience was the worst thing that happened to me during my time in Cambodia and compared to a number of other traveler’s tales of woe, sickness and injury it’s really isn’t even that great a story – Dog barked and didn’t bite!

The rest of my days were spent swimming, eating crab and cycling around the town checking out all the old colonial buildings that were abandoned by the French during the Rouge Regime. I have to say that a stay in the lovely town of Kep should be on every visitor’s itinerary.

Kep beach

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White Lady

The ‘White Lady’ at Kep beach.

Kep restuarants

Crab restaurants next to the market at Kep.

Crab market

At the crab market.

Kep

Early morning at Kep beach.

Ruins

Gates and ruins from French colonial houses abandoned during the Rouge regime.

A quick note on the crab. One night I had the Khmer stir fried crab with green peppercorns. The crab is partly pre-smashed*, comes in a beautiful rich green peppercorn sauce and is served with rice. I got very messy eating this and took delight in sucking every morsel of crab out of even the tiniest bits of shell I could find. I needed to be hosed down afterwards, but it was worth it! One other night I had the plain boiled crab which comes with a black pepper and lime dipping sauce. I ordered the small size but realized my mistake when I was presented with two rather small crabs. The meat was delicious, sweet and tender but wow did I have to work at it! My advice for next time would be go large on the crab as I’m pretty certain the ratio of crabmeat to effort will be much greater!

*Okay, so I know this isn’t the correct culinary term but hopefully you get my gist!

Kep crab

Kep crab.

Crab

Fried crab with green peppercorns. Messy but worth it!

Crab

Boiled crab with black pepper and lime dipping sauce.

Crab markets

Dinner with a view at the crab markets in Kep.

A

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