1 October 2019
A team of 15 Sixth Form students from Bolton School Girls’ Division travelled to Cambodia over the summer holidays on a World Challenge expedition. This ‘trip of a lifetime’ was designed to build the life skills young people need to live a life of courage, kindness and adventure and consisted of four phases: acclimatisation, two treks, community action and ending with some much-anticipated rest and relaxation. Students were accompanied by teachers Mrs Sophie Entwistle and Mrs Alison Furey. The students report on their experiences below.
After a year-long buildup of weekly meetings, practise expeditions and training weekends, we were finally departing to Cambodia! Although excited, we were a little apprehensive about the adventure ahead of us.
Following a gruelling journey of more than 30 hours, we finally reached our accommodation in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Struggling to stay awake from the jet lag and overwhelmed with the heat, we pushed on to organise the following few days for accommodation, tours and travel. However, not all ran smoothly as the next day when we arrived at the hostel we were told they had given our rooms away! We had to think on our feet in order to find a place to stay.
We attended a workshop to help us acclimatise to the culture of Cambodia, find out how to be responsible travellers and pick up some of the Cambodian language, Khmer. We explored the night markets trying exotic fruits, such as lychee, and seeing other foods like deep-fried scorpion, which none of us were brave enough to try. In the scorching sun, we visited the Grand Palace and the Silver Pagoda, home to the King of Cambodia. In a day of contrasting halves, we also had an eye opening experience at the killing fields and the S-21 museum the same afternoon where we learnt about the tragic history of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. The next day, we began the eight-hour coach journey to Banlung, where we would venture on our first trek!
The first trek was definitely the most challenging but we pulled through as a team and completed it.
An amazing boat ride to the jungle left us in awe of the scenery that Cambodia had to offer. The first day of the trek was then spent walking in very hot conditions, so spirits weren’t particularly high when we arrived at camp. However, the chance to swim in a waterfall soon lightened the mood. In the rainforest it goes dark very early so after eating our third round of egg fried rice of the day we thought we’d give our luxurious-looking hammocks a go. Unfortunately, they were not very comfy!
After a very difficult trek, we got back onto a bus for seven more hours of travel to reach Siem Reap. This was probably the low point of the trip, but we quickly turned it around and it has just become one of the many funny memories we all have from Cambodia.
The group’s community project was based in a small village two hours north of Siem Reap. It was here that we had the opportunity to be both teachers and builders for several days.
In pairs, we attempted to teach the children English, art, geography, music and games. We had a hard task ahead of us if we were to be as good as the local teachers – who were more interested in taking selfies, checking their social media accounts and feeding babies! The classrooms were very basic with no equipment other than a book and pencil. We therefore had to be very imaginative and creative in our teaching methods.
We also had the delightful task of moving 11,457 bricks, taking care to avoid the scorpions! Then we were asked to dig. Our aim was to help build new foundations for the library block, which were fantastic … until we were told we had dug them in the wrong place!
We slept in a homestay above a local family and were fed some interesting food. Portions were rather small, for example a four-egg omelette between 18 people, and snake was on the menu one night. However, we were made to feel very welcome by the community and invited to the temple to be blessed by a Buddhist monk. This part of our expedition was fantastic and it was at this stage we felt that our team really bonded and worked well together.
Very few of us were excited about the prospect of another trek in the jungle after our community project but we were all pleasantly surprised by the experience.
We started our first day by taking a tour of a temple ruin and then climbed the Kulen mountain. The view at the top was spectacular as much of the land in Cambodia is flat so you could see for miles. Equally exciting for us were the pack lunches, filled with chicken drumsticks, coconut sweets and spring rolls – so much better than more fried rice! That night we camped in tents which were definitely an upgrade from hammocks.
The next day we trekked through the jungle and cashew plantations, seeing giant animal statues and the occasional temple along the way, and at night we swam in a clear river and ate a barbecue of traditional Cambodian food. On the final day we travelled to a waterfall and visited a Buddhist temple on our way down from the mountain. We were all sad to wave goodbye to the mountain and our guide, but we were also ready to get back into the pool at the hotel!
This part of the trip – hailed ‘the R&R phase’ – had been a light at the end of the tunnel for most of the group. We spent the rest of the day lounging by the brown water of the hotel pool before heading out to the night markets in the evening.
The next day, we all decided what we wanted to do: some went back to the markets, others got £3 manicures, and two girls visited the silk farm on the outskirts of the city with Mrs Entwistle. They had the opportunity to see the silk worms in all stages of their life, from a tiny worm to a moth, and Mrs Entwistle was allowed to bring home some real silk cocoons. In the evening, the whole team travelled to the temple complex of Angkor Wat in order to watch the sunrise from the central structure. We missed the sunrise but at least we got some good photos! We spent the whole of the last day exploring the massive site. For our final meal we returned to the Sky Bar, which provided the poshest food we had eaten in Cambodia.
What We Learnt
The workshop at the start of the trip and the community project taught us all how lucky we are to have teachers who actually teach us, and the workshop also taught us how to be a responsible traveller. The most shocking thing in this talk was the fact that not all volunteer work is helpful and the fact that places such as orphanages are purposefully made to look uninhabitable so that we’ll donate more money which is then not put back into the community.
The whole trip gave us a real overview of the culture of Cambodia, which no one in the group had experienced before.