Laos & Cambodia travel update – homeward bound

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The Laos and Cambodia groups have arrived safely back at Melbourne Airport. The bus departed the airport at about 11:30am so they are expected to be a bit late back to the College. Depending on traffic, the estimated arrival time is 12:20pm.

Laos/Cambodia Pagodas Day 16

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Well, here we are at Phnom Penh airport waiting to board our flight to Singapore …. phew! What a fantastic time we’ve had.

This morning we experienced two contrasting extremes of the city. First we visited the King’s Palace which was spectacular. Rith gave us an informative tour and we were amazed to see the special house just for boarding elephants. The silver Temple was also great with over 3000 kilo’s worth of silver tiles in the floor. We also saw a statue of Buddha made from 90 kilograms of pure gold and heaps of diamonds. And of course the lovely gardens…

I'm a little tea pot...

We then jumped on our bus and drove 5 minutes down the road to visit a slum area. The contrast was stark. Hundreds of families were crammed into a very rundown apartment block. The people living in the apartments have been there since the end of the Pol Pot era when they returned to the city to find their homes destroyed. Unfortunately, the government does not have enough money to re-locate them.

The slum apartment

In the afternoon we had some time to kill before heading to the airport so everyone was spread around the hotel, some enjoying the pool, internet café, beauty salon and of course last minute packing.

Pedicures!

Everyone is sad that our fabulous trip is coming to an end, but we are also very much looking forward to returning home. Can’t wait to see you all!

Temples and Pagodas together at the airport.

Laos/Cambodia Pagodas Day 15

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Yesterday was by far the most confronting day of the trip yet. We learnt about the horrific events of 1975-79 and the Khmer Rouge. First, we visited the killing fields, a place where the Khmer Rouge took and brutally killed thousands of innocent people. We saw a monument that had around 9000 human skulls inside it that had been dug up from the mass graves. We saw the many mass graves that held thousands of corpses. The horrific sights of the killing field were terrifying and left the group in shock. What we learnt about Pol Pot’s regime was terrible and convinced us that it should never have happened and should never happen again. One of the most astonishing things about these events is that nobody realised what was really happening, both within Cambodia and around the world. This made us think about the importance of communication in the modern world.

A mass grave at the Killing Field

After the killing fields we headed over to the infamous Toul Sleng prison where over 16,000 people were tortured under the suspicion of being spys. Today the prison is a museum. Originally, the prison was a school but when the Khmer Rouge gained control of Cambodia they forced everyone out of the cities and so the school was left empty and converted into a prison. The classrooms became jail cells and torture chambers. As we walked around the prison we saw the various torture techniques they used and the terrible living conditions of the people that were sent there. The people in the prison were all educated ie. Teachers, engineers, doctors etc. As each prisoner arrived at the prison their photo was taken and there are meticulous details of all the people killed there. Now the museum has a big display of all the photos to acknowledge the terrible sacrifice made by those innocent people. Rith, our tour guide was 7 years old when the Pol Pot regime began and during the four years of the regime he lost 3 members of his immediate family and others from his extended family. Hearing his stories really helped us to understand what that period was like in Cambodia, he was very brave to share his life with us like that.

Rith talking to us about the photos

After the prison we had lunch and then visited the Russian market where there aren’t any Russians! This was the most comprehensive market we’ve been to, you can buy everything from musical instruments to motor bike parts to fresh food and of course the usual touristy stuff.

Today we are going to visit a slum area and then in contrast to that we are visiting the King’s Palace. We are due to leave for the airport at 3pm. Everyone is very excited about going home and telling everyone about this amazing Big Experience.

Alex and Matt

Laos/Cambodia Pagodas Day 14

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Today we checked out of our hotel and drove to a Lake for a boat tour of a floating fishing village. We were shocked to learn that the lake water is used for drinking, washing clothes and as a toilet. The people who live on the lake have been living there for generations and some of them rarely step foot on land. In the past the lake has been overfished and so now the variety and number of fish is dwindling which is a big problem for the villagers. We had a quick stop at a floating farm for fish, crocodiles and pigs as well.

After the boat cruise we hopped back on the bus and settled in for a 6 hours drive to Phnom Penh. We did stop twice including once at a place where they sold fried insects and tarantulas. According to those that were brave/crazy enough to try them… they taste like prawns.

We have now checked into our last hotel for the trip and it is rather spectacular!! It has everything you could possibly need including a hairdressers and massive pool. On arrival we felt a bit out of place in our dirty clothes after travelling all day, but once we had showered and changed it was much better. Dinner tonight was yum! Phnom Penh is the biggest city we have visited so far and so we were told to be extra careful with our belongings and money, luckily being such seasoned travellers this is now second nature to us. This evening Billy gave us an introductory talk about the history of Cambodia to prepare us for visiting the killing fields and Prison number 21 tomorrow.

Phoebe and Emily

p.s. sorry no time for pics, we’re heading out for the day in 5 minutes, will update this post when we get back this afternoon. Not long to go now!

Laos/Cambodia Pagodas Day 13

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With an early start we drove about half an hour to Angkor temple Complex from our Hotel, Cozyna Angkor. Upon arrival, our pictures were taken to be put on our day passes – the temple complex had more high tech equipment then the Laos/Thailand border crossing. After this we drove to the Ta Prohm temple which was featured in the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. This temple was covered in tree roots and was extremely fascinating.

Tomb Raider temple!

We then drove to an area where we had to change to small buses so that we could access Angkor Tom (which means big city of temple). Whilst in Angkor Tom we visited the Bayon temple which is famous for all it’s faces. There are 49 towers and on each tower there are 4 faces, each of the 196 faces are different. Cham Nan our guide explained what all the carvings around the base of the temple meant. Most were images depicting day to day life for example monkeys in trees and women washing and cooking as well as warriors fighting and people fishing.

Bayon Temple

For lunch we sat by the South gate of Angkor Tom and made delicious ham and salad baguettes. We drove to a market like area to get back on our big bus and were swarmed with people selling books, hats, postcards and bracelets, it was quite overwhelming. After enjoying some ice-cream we walked to Ankor Wat. Once in the temple we went to the second level and walked straight through. It was huge and we were impressed by how it was built it so long ago without modern tools – only elephants and wooden structures.

Wandering through Angkor Wat with our guide Cham Nan

In the afternoon we visited Kampuchea orphanage. We were shown around the facilities which were extremely basic. In the girls room they didn’t even have mattresses to sleep on. After looking around we played games with the kids which were really fun. One group played volleyball whilst the rest of us learnt their version of Duck Duck Goose, blindfolded Cat & Mouse and a strange partnered running game. Bu Walsh then decided it was our turn to teach a game and so we taught them a rather chaotic but very fun version of the Hokey Pokey… everyone was laughing and enjoying themselves! The orphanage visit was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for many of us.

For dinner we went to a nice restaurant with a mixture of Cambodian and Western food. After the meal we went o the night market… yes it was a very very very long (and hot) day! The night market in Siem Reap is quite new and much more well organised then others we had visited. There were a lot of handicrafts, fish food massages, textiles and souvenirs for sale.

Phoebe and Emily

p.s. will put up orphanage pics as soon as possible

Laos/Cambodia Pagodas Day 11/12

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We’ve arrived in Cambodia… and our hotel has a pool!!!! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…a few details about yesterday must be explained first.

Yesterday we were given free time in the morning for a couple of hours. Some people opted to stay at the hotel and hang out whilst others visited a morning food market which included toads, chicken heads, animal lungs and many more traditional delicacies of Luang Prabang. And others went on a trip to Henri Mahout’s grave to learn about French colonial history in this region. In the afternoon everyone went together by bus to a gorgeous waterfall, the bus trip itself was great with views of rice fields and villages all the way. Luckily we had an experienced driver because there were chickens, ducks and buffalo all vying for space on the roads as well as heaps of school children on bicycles going home from school. Once at the waterfall we firstly explored all four levels before choosing our swimming spot. The water was cold and refreshing, especially after walking around in the humidity.

day 11_waterfall

Waterfall

That night was our last in Laos and so we were treated to a special farewell ceremony at a restaurant near our hotel. The women who conducted the ceremony tied pieces of white cotton around everyone’s wrists to wish us good luck on our journey. We were told not to take them off, we must let them fall off on their own. We were also given small pieces of fruit and sweet treats and Mr Bolger was presented with a special flower arrangement. During dinner some girls and boys performed traditional dances for us from the highlands and lowlands of Laos, the Hmong and Kamu people. We really enjoyed our time in Laos and some people (not all) have commented that they have enjoyed Luang Prabang the best so far as it’s not as touristy as other places. The people are friendly and it has a relaxed and safe feel…. even though they drive on the wrong side of the road!!!

day 11_dance troupe

The dance troupe

day 11_last meal in Laos

Last meal in Laos

This morning some students woke up at 5.30am and stood outside the hotel to give offerings of food to the monks as they processed past. The rest of us slept in until 7am when we had to get up, pack our bags and be ready to go to the airport by 8am. Today we have spent our time filling out forms and sitting on planes (we had a short stop over somewhere random).

Once we arrived at the hotel at about 4pm we were very excited to discover the swimming pool… the pictures below explain how we spent the afternoon. Dinner was yum, Cambodian food is quite similar to food in Laos and Thailand. We took the scenic route home by tuk-tuk to have a look around town, the section down by the river reminded us of South bank because of all the fairy lights in the trees. Tomorrow we have a big day of sight seeing, including temples an orphanage and night market.

Sarah and Jess

day 12_boys in the pool

So refreshing!

day 12_relaxing by the pool

Relaxing by the pool

day 12_girls in the pool

Laos/Cambodia Pagodas Day 9/10

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On Wednesday we got back on the boat and continued our journey up the Mekong river. It was fantastic to have these two days on the boat to be able to sit back and relax after such a busy trip so far. Everyone spent time playing cards, listening to their ipods, writing in diaries, reading, chatting, snoozing and taking in the stunning views.

day 9_chill out time

day 9_enjoying the view

Enjoying the view

On both sides of the river there were mountains steeped with thick jungle and at the base of the mountains was massive rocks and now and then sections of white sandy beach. There aren’t any people who live on the edge of the Mekong in Laos, except Pan (our local guide) told us that further down in Vietnam there are thousands. Even though there weren’t any villages we still saw a few people washing in the river and a few houses. We stopped at a cave that had historical religious significance. In the past it was used to store statues of Buddha and precious things so that they were stolen during times of war. Today it is still a place of worship and a tourist destination. The steps leading to the upper cave were very steep so by the time we got back on the boat everyone was hot and happy to have another rest. We arrived at Luang Prabang in the late afternoon and checked into our hotel, Sanakeo. It was lovely to be in a hotel with air-conditioning and hot water, we all enjoyed a hot shower!

day 9_fun times

Fun times

Yesterday we had a chance to see Luang Prabang by tuk-tuk. The tuk-tuks here are different to the ones in Thailand, we can fit 8 of us instead of just 3. First, we visited a handicrafts village where they make silk fabrics and carved wooden buddahs. It was interesting to see the process in which silk is made. The worms produce the silk fibres which are then woven using old school looms.

P1010328

Tuk-tuks Laos style

We then visited a large temple from the 1600’s before heading to lunch… hamburgers… yum!!! After lunch we climbed what felt like a thousand steep steps to get to a viewing point where we could see the whole of Luang Prabang. Even though we were all dripping in sweat it was worth it! Next we were back in the tuk-tuks and off to visit the old palace of the last royal family of Laos which had been turned into a museum. It had many wonderful exhibits including the King’s sword collection and the gifts that the King had received from other nations. After a lovely Lao dinner with a bit of French salad on the side we visited the night market which specialises in textiles. The fabrics are very colourful and impressive, especially since we know how much effort goes into making them.

Nick Hellyer, Nick Martin and Kira

day 10_weaving

Old school weaving looms

Tomorrow we are heading to Cambodia to continue our adventures!

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