Laos and Cambodia Travel update

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The Laos and Cambodia group have landed about 40 minutes early (12:44pm)! We’ll update this post as soon as we have an estimated time of arrival at South Road.

UPDATE: The Laos and Cambodia group are on the bus now (1:45pm)! They’ll arrive at South Road at approximately 2.20pm.

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Cambodia Day 15 – Pak Ou, a Plane and a Party

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Today, we packed our bags and left the hotel early for a lazy morning cruise down the Mekong River. We took a long boat for about 1.5hrs to see the Pak Ou caves. There are two caves, one at the foot of a steep cliff and the other at the top. Both caves were filled with hundreds of Buddha statues and were used as hiding places during the various wars in the region. Then we turned around and came back down the river! It was a beautiful day and many of the group took advantage of this fact, and had a snooze in the warm sun.

Chris and Josh on the boat

Lunch was riverside – a little cafe on the banks of the Mekong – and then we headed to the market for a mad 15 minute snack run. Hundreds of Oreos were purchased, and ice creams, Oreo shakes, cakes, and lamingtons! Everyone was stocking up for the plane ride, but ended up buying enough food for what seemed like a week.

George, Eloise and Alex outside the Pak Ou cave

Then we headed back to the hotel and worked on our Journey.docs for a while, before leaving for the airport. The flight to Vientiane only took about 45minutes but everyone was still exhausted by the time we made it onto the bus. Here we met our new guide – “King” Kong. He’s really funny and spent the bus ride to the restaurant trying to entertain the group with magic tricks, animal noises and funny stories.

The restaurant was a definitely the highlight of our day. We had to walk through a wedding reception to our private room – complete with its own karaoke machine! We all had dinner together on one big long table and then headed in to the karaoke room to sing and dance. Everyone had a lot of fun, especially when we worked out that we could bypass the karaoke music and put our iPods in.

Damo and Toby singing Eye of The Tiger

Toby and Damo did a great rendition of Eye of The Tiger and Leon and Alex were hysterical singing California Girls. The teachers then pretended it was someone’s bday in the group and bought us all a big cake. It even had “Sabadee St Leonard’s” written on it.

Our 'birthday' cake

We ended the night with a chat around the pool behind the restaurant. The teachers bought everyone a friendship bracelet to congratulate us on having been such a fantastic group and everyone had to pick a bracelet for the person next to them. It was a bit sad to realise that this is our last proper night on the Big Experience, as tomorrow night we will be on the plane home! But we still have a full day of site seeing and experiences tomorrow. We headed to our new hotel and had a pretty early night all things considered.

Cambodia Day 14 – Elephants!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Two days to go and we are busy as ever! Today was a very long but exciting day for the Laos and Cambodia group. We started our day off with a 328 step walk up a 100m tall mountain named Mount Phou Si, which turned out to be easier than what we all expected. The view at the top was definitely worth the climb, with absolutely stunning views of the beautiful city of Luang Prabang. Up here, we learnt about Luang Prabang’s history and why it is a world heritage city.

Eloise looking at the view from Mount Phou Si

After trekking our way back down the mountain and a quick change into longer clothes, we crossed the road into the Royal Palace Museum. This museum is located in the old palace, which is not occupied anymore as Laos no longer has a king. As it turns out, our tour guide’s grandfather was the king’s bodyguard. Although Bu Walsh wasn’t paying too much attention and began to believe that our tour guide was a prince and his grandfather was the king! This King had only one wife, unlike the Cambodian king who had 260. We hopped in our 3 vans and took a short drive to a nearby temple, where we had 10 or so minutes to look around. Before we did this, we learnt more about Joy, our tour guide, and saw a postcard with him on it when he was younger and a monk.

Meeting the elephants

We all got our own lunches and then got back in our vans to drive to the elephants. It was a long and windy road but after 30 or so minutes, we made it to the place we had all been waiting for. We hopped out of the vans with a lot of anticipation and had time to take pictures with and pat the elephants that would soon be taking us on our journey. We all got in pairs and climbed on top of an elephant. The elephants had names such as Kun Tong, Tong Kun and Pancake and they were absolutely gorgeous! Although a few of the elephants were quite rebellious and did not want to keep walking a lot of the time. We not only got to sit on the chairs and ride the elephants but we had the chance to sit on their necks, by ourselves or with our partners. This was a scary challenge for some but definitely worth it after you did it. We had an hour and a half on the elephants, walking through forest and water but eventually it was time to hop off and get back in our vans.

Damo and Toby ready to go

After about an hour stop at the hotel and a half hour at the night market, we took the short walk to our restaurant, where we would experience a traditional Baci ceremony. This started off with us all sitting on the ground with our hands together (as if praying), while one village elder sung. All the village elders then came around and tied bracelets around our wrists for good luck and to wish us well on our travels. The more you got, the more good fortune you would get. People got up to 7 on each wrist. We then all got handed a variety of sweets that were blessed as part of the ceremony and a banana and went back to our tables. We then had array of entertainment, all while eating a delicious dinner.  After the dances were finished, the girls who danced for us told us their names and ages, and to our surprise many were about our age or younger. After that, Bu asked if they had Facebook, and one of the dancers handed around a book for people to write their names and emails in so we could keep in contact. The whole ceremony was an amazing experience.

The Baci ceremony

We then had time for some more shopping with another hour and a half at the night market, where almost everyone returned with something. There’s two more days to go and we are planning to make the most of it.

By Alex and Krithika.

Cambodia Day 13 – Bok Choy Lai Lai

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The day kick started with a mediocre, but okay (compared to the last hotel) breakfast. We headed off quite early in separate minivans to the local market. The market was devoid of tourists and full of exotic fresh food. Here, we began our Laoation cooking class. Our chef (called Mr Phat) showed us around the market and introduced us to new ingredients such as spicy tree root and banana flower. Compared to Cambodia, this market was relatively quiet with no one trying to sell us any wares. After the market tour, we made our way to a nearby resort where we would take our cooking class. We were fitted with a chef’s hat and apron and began our culinary careers.

Lauren and Shona cooking sweet and sour fish

The first course was a water cress soup, easily prepared and made. This was a nice light dish and a prelude for what was to come. Our next dish was more adventures – a Green papaya salad with an array of local ingredients including local olive and tiny eggplant. Many of the chef’s instructions got lost in translation and the salads were far from perfect. Most of the group didn’t finish eating this dish.

By this time, we had noticed that many of the Laoation dishes had sugar in them and that most of the sauces were made up of a complicated assortment of ingredients. We made chicken curry next and it was an instant hit. Then we made sweet and sour fish, which was marvellous. To end our banquet, we had sticky rice with fresh mango. The rice was cooked in coconut milk and sugar, and topped with mango. It was very filling and deliciously sweet.

With full stomachs, we hobbled to the vans and headed for the Kouangxi Waterfall. This waterfall was situated on a tall mountain only reachable by a long, winding road. Although the trip was long, the benefits were well worth the wait. There was a bear resuce centre at the bottom of the trail and we were able to see a group of rescued Sun and Moon bears (also called Asiatic black bears). These bears were rescued from poachers, zoos and those looking to use their bile for traditional medicine. We then climbed leisurely up trail, enjoying the moderate temperature so different from the hot humidity of Cambodia.

Kouangxi Waterfall

The waterfall was large, majestic and powerful. Few words can be used to describe the intensity of it. We took some incredible photos and then headed back down the trail to have a swim. It was so refreshing and left us all happy and joyous – but the water was freezing!!!! Hopefully the pictures will speak a thousand words.

Swimming in the icy waters

Back at the hotel, we had a break before departing once again for a night market. We split up into smaller groups and had dinner. The market itself was bright and colourful, with a hundred delights and wonders. We finished off the night on a high note and can’t wait for tomorrow when we ride elephants and see the sights in Luang Prabang.

By Charlotte and George

(PS. The title of this blog post is a tribute to the girls in our group who have been saying “bok choy lai lai” to various people in Luang Prabang for the last two days, instead of “khawp jai lai lai” which means “thank you very much”!)

Cambodia Day 12 – Leaving for Luang Prabang

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Today we awoke at 8, which was our first sleep in for the whole trip. We all annoyed a big breakfast and then headed out for an hour ride in tuk tuks around the city of Siem Reap. The roads were bumpy and full of pot holes from the recent flooding, and it was very weird to see the night market in the morning! When we returned, we checked out of our rooms and then headed onto the bus.

We stopped at a silk farm on the way to the airport and took a tour around the work place where we could see how the silk farm works. After the worms have made their cocoon, the workers kill 80% of the worms in the cocoons with sun, and use the other 20% would go on to breed. After killing the worms, the workers boil the worms and remove the fine and raw silk and spin it into a thread. Then they dye it to whatever colour you want using natural dyes such as tree sap, wood and rusty nails. We finished the tour in the gift shop which was amazing but unfortunately incredibly expensive.

Then we hopped back onto the bus to go to the airport. Here we had to say goodbye to our much loved tour guide Yous Sa and our bus driver Po. It was really sad as both have become part of the St Leonards family, especially during our time in the village.

Then we made our way to Luang Prabang on a very little plane. When we arrived, we were greeted with a new language and a much cooler climate. Our new tour guide Joy met us at the airport and took us back to our hotel. Dinner was just across the road, which was great because everyone was really tired. We had a quick walk around the town to help digest our food and then we all went to bed.

By Iris and Harry.

Cambodia Day 11 – Mango trees and Market Madness

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It was our last day working on the house and we all had high hopes for getting it finished. However, we had two and a half walls to go and only half a day to finish! While some of the group were hammering away, others were sorting out the donations that were going to families in the village or making a painting to decorate the new house or making a painting to decorate the new house. We also needed to plant the two mature mango trees that we had purchased with our left over walkathon money. We also used this money to allow one of the injured village children to see a doctor and to repair a bicycle for the family so that their children could ride the 10km to the closest school. By lunch we had one wall to go, and we were all starting to feel the heat and exhaustion. Despite this, we all powered on.

Our painting

After lunch, the donations were all organised and ready to be handed out. Half the group went for a walk around the village to hand out some of the gift bags, while the other half were persevering with the remaining wall. The gift bags included clothing, toiletries, toys and stationery. The first two bags went to Bu (the grandfather that we wrote about in yesterday’s blog) and a second family (consisting of a set of grandparents, with their 7 sons and daughters and in laws, and their countless grandchildren). The two groups swapped and a second round of gift bags was given to another family with 11 people living in the one home.

Donations for Bu and his family

Once the donations had all been given out, some of the group stayed at the house to finish off the last wall, while most of the group jumped on the bus to see the house that last year’s group built. This house had to be moved during the year as it was too close to the temples so it was strange for Bu to see the house that she had helped complete moved to a completely different village!
Once we got back from seeing last year’s house, our house was well and truly finished. All that was left was to take some last minute pictures and be on our way. It was hard to say goodbyes to the people in the village, as many of us had made connections with the children in the area. But after 10 or so minutes, we were on our way, ready for whatever came around next.

The house

The garden, mango trees and completed house

The group with the house and the grateful family

Back at the hotel, everyone was eager to shower and jump straight in the pool. We had a few hours to finish off any washing or packing that needed to be done. We gathered down at the lobby at 6.30pm, to head off for dinner and late night shopping at the market. To summarise the evening for many: dinner, shopping, ice cream smoothie, shopping, fish massage and more shopping!!

Returning from the night market, we were ready to collapse and felt like sleeping for what seemed like years. Another busy day, full of action and excitement, has ended. A great last night in Cambodia!

By Shona and Lauren J

Cambodia Day 10 – Bob The Builder Pt2

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Being woken up at 6:30 wasn’t the top of our list to do but hey, we are changing someone’s life in the next few days. The breakfast buffet is heaven so it’s okay! Everything you could ever dream of: French toast, Pancakes, Doughnuts, Banana Bread, Noodles, every type of cereal including Milo (YUMMMMMM!), eggs, and also omelettes of your choice made in front of your very own eyes. AND MORE!

We then headed out to the village and began building immediately. The day always begins slowly as we are still half asleep and trying to wake up, but then we all get into the groove of constructing a house and work our bums off. Many jobs were given on offer today, including nailing the roof, sawing, smoothing the bamboo poles which will hold up the roof with a machete, and also gardening – which is actually hard work! The garden will be used for food for the family and will also give the family the opportunity to sell the vegetables (spinach) and earn money in the future. We hoed and sowed our way through the garden, and managed to finish it off before we left. For the building itself, we managed to finish one wall, the entire floor, and with the skilled tradesmen, the roof was completed as well. Some people spent alot of time and effort on seemingly small tasks like sawing through small posts, but had a real sense of satisfaction when it they were finished. All the work is hard, but in the long run it will be worth it. And we are so close to finishing!

Mike and Jack with their machetes

Our new wall

Sowing the seeds in the garden

Along with the hard work, we enjoyed interacting with the locals, and had a game of hackie sack with the kids we met yesterday. Their smiles were priceless, and to see how much fun they were having without all of the technology and luxuries we have was amazing. Some of the girls also helped the village women by carrying the young children so that the women could help cook dinner for the tradesmen and village elders. Another group went for a walk around the village and met some more of the locals – including a grandfather named Bu, who was looking after his daughter and three grandchildren after his son-in-law was made to leave the village for drinking too much and abusing his family. We couldn’t understand him at all, but the body language showed just how much he loved his family – he was rocking his baby granddaughter to sleep in a hammock the whole time we were talking to him. It was incredible to see that although he was living in severe poverty, he was still determined to ensure that his family were safe and well looked after.

We then headed back to our luxurious hotel to have a well earned swim, which was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Our dinner – pizza – was delivered to the hotel and we all ate out by the pool. Everyone is pretty exhausted from the day, and we have been given a few hours down time to relax and chill out – and get room service! During our downtime, we sorted out our gifts for the families in the village which we will be presenting to them tomorrow. It’s really nice to have a real sense of where these donations are going and who they will benefit. There are mountains of donations and they will all go to good use. For example, we saw some school children arriving back in the village this afternoon and they were riding bikes that Rev Lingard had purchased using the money donated at Chapel. They had St Leonard’s College logos on them! Just makes you realise what a bit of fundraising can do…

We now are heading off to bed and relaxing for the big final day tomorrow. Goodnight! Missing everyone at home!

by Josh & Leon

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