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Live, Laugh, Leap in Cambodia by Grace Castle

The week was spent at Kep beach, a sleepy beachside town known for it’s fresh fish and crab. The crab market had every kind of fish you could think of and every different kind of cooking technique possible. We took bikes everywhere from the hostel, cycling was a nice change from tuktuks. It was another adventure. We had a few mornings spent at the beach desperately trying to tan at the last minute. Burning was our strong point.

In the afternoons we helped the children at Kep Garden Association to read. The association is an extra school offering children the chance to learn English. The Class 6s were our age and it was so lovely to be able to talk to them as they were all very good at English. The majority of them were 16-18 and so to see them debating first world problems in English was astounding. They were all so clever and hard working. What stuck in our heads though was their answer to one question that we asked them. We asked them ‘If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go’. Many of them answered with Angkor Wat. Cambodians are incredibly proud of their heritage from the Angkor Era yet many never get the chance to even travel around their own country.

The last two nights were spent in Phnom Penh. As the capital city it was far more built up than anywhere we had been before. Everywhere you looked there was construction work of new shopping malls and fancy new apartment blocks, a world away from the poverty that we had witnessed. It was very cosmopolitan. The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda were beautiful. In particular the Emerald Buddha, covered in jewels and shining green. It was stunning. It was surrounded by a number of artefacts like headresses from traditional Apsara dancers, swords, jewellery and miniature buddhas from the Angkor era. It was a privilege to see these as the majority of pieces from the Angkor Era were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge on their quest for ‘Year Zero’.

Tuol Sleng prison was harrowing. There were only 12 survivors out of an estimated 20,000 prisoners. Innocent adults, children and babies were dehumanised, tortured and murdered. Prisoners would be tortured for simply moving in their sleep and so rattling their chains. Barbed wire was put on the balconies as prisoners had tried to commit suicide, anything was better than the torture they were forced to endure. The perpetrators were hardly more than children themselves as shown by the pictures covering the walls documenting the perpetrators and the victims.

What a trip it has been. The places we have seen and the people we have met. The difference we have made. I will forever be grateful.

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