As part of my ‘Grown up Gap year’ in October I travelled to South East Asia to take part in a marine conservation volunteer programme on the island of Koh Sdach in Cambodia. I spent 6 weeks on the project and then a further 4 weeks travelling in Cambodia and Thailand. I’m finally getting around to write up all my notes from my journals and sort through my photographs.
Thursday, October 13, 2016: Heathrow Airport, London
In just over 12 hrs I will be arriving in Bangkok to start the first stage of my grown up gap year/career break/premature midlife crisis.
I’m not sure exactly where I wanted to be at this time in my life, and I’m not sure that being 36, technically homeless and (temporarily) unemployed was ever part of my plan. But at this moment I am very happy and optimistic! (yes, I’ve used the right word, Julia is being positive)
It’s strange to think I am about to spend time doing some of the things I’ve always wanted to do; Seeing the world, immersing myself in an alien culture, learning to dive, trying to be the person I always wanted to be….
Friday, October 14, 2016 Bangkok, Thailand
Stage one of my transit is complete, endured an 11hr flight on the slightly shabby and very full British Airways plane.
Just before boarding the plane BBC news showed the sad news that King Bhumibol Thailand’s current monarch had passed away. Bangkok was different quieter and less chaotic, there is a sombre, respectful atmosphere.
The government has said that there will be a year of mourning and for the next month there will be no celebrations or parties. The TV is showing the same government broadcasts on every channel images of the King and scenes of people crying.
The hotel is in a quiet area near the airport, about 15minutes drive from the airport and seems to have everything I need. Wifi, breakfast helpful staff, a huge bed and a stand alone bath!?!? Might be the last bit of luxury I get for quite some time. After quietly ‘acclimatising’ by the pool I feel a bit more human. It’s really hot and it feels drier in the pool than out of it it’s so humid!
Saturday, October 15, 2016 Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Initially I was a bit concerned that my flight to Cambodia left from a different airport bit actually it was quite straight forward.
I got the hotel airport shuttle to BKK and then the free shuttle bus between there and Don Muang, all for free and in less than an hour, I’m bloody good at this travelling lark!
Don Muang airport is a smaller airport but nearly as busy even with visa and border crossing admin it’s still a million times more efficient than the UK!
The flight took an hour and I landed in a very humid Phnom Penh. Visa: done, bags collected, off I go..
I was met by Sitha from Projects Abroad and got straight into a mini van, which we then seemed to park on the main highway not moving. It’s only 1.5 km from the airport to the house, it took about an hour and a half.
Phnom Penh is manic, everyone is in a rush, and its hot and damp and grubby.
The house is an old shop house, in fact my bedroom seems to be the shop, it has metal shutters instead of a wall/window.
It has a bed and over active air conditioning, a pile of old stuff in one corner and broken crutch under the bed.
And there is no one else here..
I sat around a bit wandered outside for a walk, within minutes I was sweating profusely, I had narrowly missed being run over 3 times and realised I have no clue where I actually am and I feel massively disorientated. I went and got some fried rice (with beef I think/hope) a can of something that tasted like carbonated sweet tea from a street side resturant, I went home and sat in my room looking at the stains on the walls thinking what the hell am I doing here !?!?
Sunday, October 16, 2016
After a rubbish nights sleep I ventured out into the city.
I got a tuk-tuk down to the river, as I had no idea where I was in the city. My first experience on a Khmer tuk-tuk was terrifying. The in the ciry traffic is unbelievable, most vehicles are motorbikes and scooters, they swarm about everywhere like ants, if the road is blocked they’ll use the pavements. There are no traffic signals and it seems like the right of way is determined by nothing more than confidence … but it works and its mesmerising.
I got dropped at the riverside and walked to the Mekong where everyone was floating little golden rafts and flower rafts off with incense on. I sat at the side of the river, where it meets the Tonle Sap river. The muddy water
I had a wander through the riverfront area where the Royal Palace and silver pagoda are, both were closed because of a state visit by the Chinese president, but the public parks were open and swarming with people.
I had lunch in a small Resturant which is run by a charity called Tree who help street kids by teaching them skills to find work in the catering industry, there is also a shop run by the same NGO where I bought a ‘Krama’ a traditional cambodian scarf. I could have eaten cheaper and easily could have purchased my Krama at a fraction of the price in one of the street markets, but I would rather pay a few more dollars knowing that the money is going to a good cause. I had an amazing calamari, pimento and chilli said and a beer of course! Friends Resturant
After a walk up he river I walked through Psar Chas, the ‘old market’ where they were selling grilled everything on sticks, literally everything from small lizards to what appeared to be the internal organs of a rat. I’m determined that during my trip I try as much food as possible, but right now my jet lag and anxiety combination does not want to be exasperated by the addition of any gastro-intestinal issues.
It started to rain so I found a tuk-tuk and made it back to the apartment for an early night I’ve got an 8 hour journey tomorrow…
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
My Journey to the island was a long trip in a small yellow mini-van which is the only transport to get to the island. The van is also used to transport things to the area so we ended up sharing the van with piles of fresh vegetables, herbs and spices three dead chickens including heads which were taken out of their plastic bag and thrown into an ice box full of ice crushed with a concrete block picked up off the road!
On route we stopped to pick up more bags of vegetables fruit and people and drip of parcels to children waiting at the end of long dirt tracks.
The last stop was a small village in the mainland where we were picked up by a wooden speed boat taxi and taken directly to the base, a wooden building on stilts above the sea in the middle of the village
It’s a bit of a culture shock but I’m sure I’ll settle in.
I met all the other volunteers and the staff, most of the volunteers are just out of high school, in fact I’m the oldest person here. I was also introduced to two other residents of the house, Lucky the dog who is the smartest dog on the island despite his crooked teeth and Corona the rat killer kitten.