A bit of a heavy post today, but please read to the end, it's worth it!
As soon as we crossed the border from Vietnam to Cambodia, it was clear that there was a big difference between the countries. The roads were much bumpier, and just generally poverty was more apparent. Pooky, our tour leader, handed everyone out a leaflet from ChildSafe International which provided tips as to the best way to behave to improve the way children are treated in these countries. If anyone is planning trips to countries like Cambodia, Laos or Thailand then I would highly advise giving these tips a read - some are common sense but some are things you might not have thought about.
As poverty is rife in Cambodia, many children are sent to work at a very young age, usually selling things on the streets, or are even more severely abused. This is partly due to the lasting effects of the Khymer Rouge regime, which controlled the country between 1975-1979 and caused millions of lives to be lost. If you don't know about this, as I didn't before I chose to go to Cambodia, have a read about it because I think it's important we all know what has happened in such recent history. We spent the morning at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Killing Fields, which as their names suggest, was a fairly harrowing experience but again one I think it's important to learn about.
|The only photo I took at the prison or Killing Fields: a memorial to the victims, which contains bones and clothes found in the mass graves|
That night, Pooky had asked if any of us would like to go to a charity dinner at a local family's house, which most of us chose to do. We rode there in tuk-tuks (the easiest way to travel in Cambodian cities) and even on the way there was children running after the tuk-tuks, in the middle of the busy roads, trying to sell us things which was difficult to watch.
But as soon as we arrived at our destination, the atmosphere was completely different. Children came running up to us as we got out of the tuk-tuks, but this time they just wanted to play with us. These were local children, who were being taught in a very small school which the family who were cooking us dinner runs, and that profits from our meal were going towards. We had such a lovely evening talking, laughing and dancing with the children and meeting the inspiring family who ran it all - not to mention eating a delicious home-cooked meal!
Don't worry - we joined in with the kids as well, to everyone's favourite Gangnam Style! Everyone was too busy having fun to get any photographic evidence of this.
I'm normally a bit dubious about going into schools etc. and spending time with children and then leaving, but I think you really need to assess these things on an individual basis: the children just wanted to have some fun with us and clearly knew we were only there for an hour or two, and the money our dinner would provide should hopefully benefit them directly.
We finished off our meal by having a shot of rice wine (don't let the name fool you, it's more like vodka) in which tarantulas had been fermenting. Yummy...
We also had a cyclo tour of Phnomh Penh and got to see some of the other sites, such as the Palace and the Independence Monument and the lovely river-front, but these two experiences were the most memorable parts for me. That evening was definitely one of my top two experiences of the whole trip.
Have you had any memorable moments like this on your travels?