'For Adventures of a lifetime'

Monday, 25 July 2016

24 hours in Phnom Penh…Revealing its true identity

Tonight I have a little sour taste in my mouth after experiencing a few surprising things about a city I thought I was falling in love with.  It all started when I decided to take a walk along the popular riverside tourist spot of Sisowath Quay, better know at the riverside walk.

It goes without saying that the more you travel the more you gain in confidence; dealing with people, overcoming language barriers, being streetwise and avoiding the ‘danger’ areas…especially in large cities. So as I strolled along in the early part of the evening, enjoying (now that I’m use to it) the heat and late sunshine, absorbing the colours, the sights and the smells of this beautiful part of the city I found myself thinking about travelling companions who, let me say, are not the most trusting souls in the world when it comes to city people or natives of the city to be more precise.  As I watched the people sitting in family groups eating, chatting and having fun together, children playing and even a few serious games of kick volleyball going on I thought to myself, are my travelling friends missing out on potential experiences, sharing the ‘real’ adventure of travel?  All felt good, all felt calm; I even had a family sit next to me as I watched the amazing skills of the kick volleyball players who are able to back kick the ball above the net and their heads!  The family (locals) engaged with me as their baby sat next to me and reached to play with the bracelets on my wrist and then looking at me in amazement at what I believe was the colour of my skin…Laughs and giggles ensued and finally as they were leaving asked if I minded having a photo taken with their son.  They left happy and I left thinking how nice they all were and how they had given me a ‘travelling experience’ without even realising it.  Something my cynical friends may miss out on.

I continued my journey along to my intended destination, the night markets, which I had already been to the previous week but felt a little bit of retail therapy was needed…this being the perfect spot as most things are cheap, especially if you haggle, as everything has a deal.  Before reaching the markets I was approached by a well dressed gentleman (smart shirt, trousers, shoes, clean shaven) who spoke in very good English.  “Can I just ask where you got your shoes?” he said.  Now immediately I should have questioned his intentions as I was wearing my three year old Croc flip flops.  “Are they comfortable to walk in? He said with real interest in them.  I told him how I had actually bought them from the Central Market in this city three years earlier and yes they were very comfortable.  Having the earlier experience with the family had given me a false sense of security as I happily chatted with this well spoken Asian gentleman, who I now think was Pilipino. We even sat down and chatted about English football and Sunderland AFC’s new manager signing.  He then mentioned his sister who was actually awaiting a visa to go and work as a nurse/carer with old people, ironically in the North East of England (where I’m from).  The conversation flitted from one thing to another until his phone rang…I did think his telephone conversation a little strange but threw any negative thoughts out of my mind.  We started chatting again and then he asked would I be willing to chat to his sister before her departure to England and let her know the state of play in England regarding the local area and immigration etc.  I of course being ‘the confident traveller’ graciously accepted his offer, thinking all the while how enriched my life will be.  I suggested meeting at my hotel for a coffee but he says “its Asian tradition to invite the person to their house for food”.  I was once invited for tea by an ex Buddha teacher in India and the memories of that day stay strong in my ‘travel experiences’…why would this experience be any different? He then suggested meeting at the new mal in town as that was easier for him.  We parted company shaking hands, agreeing a time and with a genuine smile on our faces…

Walking around the night markets little niggling doubts entered my mind and dissipated quickly…the confident traveller in me, like a druggy, wanting his fix of ‘travelling experiences’. The walk home back to the hotel allowed a little more contemplation time and I kept thinking I don’t want my doubting travelling companions niggling lack of trust in people generally to effect the outcome of my earlier rendezvous…Did I tell the guy too much? Yes! Did I give him answers that he didn’t ask for? Yes! Would he really pick me out from a crowd and ask about a pair of three year old flip flops? No! I know it is easy to reflect on it now and see how unbelievably naive I was…The whole thing looks to have been a scam…Fortunately this tale has a happy ending as nothing happened as a little bit of research revealed a far too similar scenario for some other travellers.  (See this article and read the comments below it: )  I didn’t meet the guy!

Today, I got my sensible head on again and thought right I’ll go to Central Markets (more retail therapy) pick up a few bargains and then possibly get a haircut too.  Arriving at a good time 0900 hours, I started my exploration around the tightly interwoven stalls, selling everything from scarves to statues, earphones to nail polishing…After the hundredth “Can I help you sir?” “Would you like to buy something sir? “ I was done and needed a coffee…”Tuk Tuk Sir?” was shouted by every male as I left…hassle hassle hassle! Arrrrrrggggggh! Just leave me alone!   I just needed to be left to myself so I could absorb…it wasn’t going to happen.  Eventually I made it to the freedom of the chaotic roads and almost stumbled on a hairdressers almost immediately…$4 for a cut….Bargain I thought and sat in the chair in a little oasis of freedom but still enjoying the hustle and bustle around me and watched with intrigue a man have his ears cleaned, the girl doing the cleaning looking proud when she brought out some waxy objects from the depths of his cochlear.   While in the middle of my haircut I was asked if, ok it was indicated that, I needed my fingernails done…I thought why not…the lady then wanted to do my toenails…in for a penny I thought… The total for the lot including the haircut  (a good job too) came to $8.  Only then did I realise something else was being offered…which apparently was upstairs…and with a choice of suitable assistants from young to old.  I was caught off guard but declined respectfully and made my way back onto the busy streets.  I was desperate for a coffee and stopped around the corner at a roadside coffee shop…within seconds a woman approached making light conversation, my ‘Traveller senses’ now alive, I  realised immediately this was hooker corner…I looked around the coffee bar and five smiling faces glared back at me.  I made short work of the coffee and high-tailed it out of there and back to the freedom of my hotel. 

As the day drew to a close I found myself at the local park, a great place just to people watch and let time go by. Located just at the bottom of the road from my hotel,  group dancers were doing their thing, lads were playing football and children were running around having fun. No hassle from anyone, not even from the street vendors selling amazing little hot snacks and every style imaginable of drink.  Phnom Penh was back and my love affair was starting all over again…

Monday, 18 July 2016

Final Blog from the RBAI Expedition to South East Asia

...A reflective look back on the expedition by Ed.....Also know as Cliff.

I have just returned into Phnom Penh city and my hotel for the night after leaving the Boys and the two staff at the international airport.  They were safely escorted through the check in and to the gates and I have just heard they are safely at Bangkok airport awaiting their 13 hour flight back to the UK.

Today's plans were a little thwarted to say the least...The plan was to go and visit the Royal Palace, which is located near to where we were staying.  However, none of us had guessed that there were actually only a couple of times in the day when entrance is allowed...Never the less we made the most of the time by wandering through the now almost familiar streets of the city.  Our journey took us through dirty streets filled with the smells the boys had become use to, some nice and some just down right rank, eventually making our way to the Independence Monument and surrounding park area. The heat while walking was unbearable today with everyone's tee-shirt  wringing wet with moisture, seemingly flowing freely from our bodies...the boys were even having a bet as to who was the sweatiest....Boys will be boys!

The rest of the day was spent relaxing and packing ready for the chaotic journey up to the airport.

Throughout this trip the boys have tried to engage where they could, the highlight for me being the day we laid the concrete at the project...I often say its not the common or most popular events which you although Halong Bay, Sappa trekking, Luang Prabang, Angkor Wat and Phnom Penh were all fantastic, they are very touristy and because of that some of the 'experience' is lost.  The boys will get home and remember, funny things from the trip such as Karl waving four fingers at the immigration officer...they will also remember one member of the group handing over $50 which we never thought we'd see again....These are the experiences that will stay with them for life...these are the things which they will hopefully learn from.  I have used a few of my 'philosophy's of life' along the way and I hope the boys remember that when faced with worry, unknown outcomes, fear and the likes that  'Tomorrow will always comes'.

Parents Please Note:

Flight Leaves London Heathrow at 11.15 and arrives at George Best City Airport at 12.45 (19th July) ...Please make sure you are there to meet your son...they would not be best pleased if you are late...Also I think they mentioned they would all like a rice dish of some sort for their welcome meal home...Or maybe even noodles ...  Your journey home may take you past one or two well known fast food outlets...

They have all been a pleasure to work with and you should all be proud of their achievements...This is Ed. (Cliff) saying Aw koon!

Over and Out!

The Great Depression - Emotionally Challenged

After an all you can eat buffet breakfast, the group and I believed that we had been well prepared for what Aaron and Jack Ross had planned for the day ahead. However, we were grossly unprepared for the horrors of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge.  The Choeung Ek Genocidal Center was a chilling echo of Nazi death camps, we witnessed the brutality that the Cambodian people had to endure for the four years of hell that was Cambodia from 1975-1979.

While the visit to S21 showed us more of Pot’s ‘‘agrarian utopia’’, the Security Prison also gave us example of extreme heroism and resilience in defiance of the totalitarian communist state, such as the Aussie Kerry Hamill and Brit John Dewhirst who convinced the Khmer Rouge that Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried chicken was their CIA commanding officer. This experience seeing firsthand the reality of Cambodia’s history is one I’m sure not the group or I will ever forget. (*Ed.  Difficult day for the boys…some of the photos show what they witnessed but goes nowhere near how they felt…IMHO an essential experience for a visit to PP Cambodia…Some may disagree!)

When we arrived back at the hotel around 15:00 many of us were shattered after a long day that had challenged us both mentally and physically, so we migrated to the pool to relax. Unfortunately there was a group of girls in there so we all had sit quietly in the opposite corner, until they left when Mr McMillan entered the ring. We emptied around half the pool with our antics and enjoyed the rest and relaxation. After a chat on how we as a group have grown in the last 3 weeks we pumped out 44 press ups with ease except cliff (who I think was starting to struggle in is old age).  (Ed. He’s not wrong!!!)

As this is our last night in Cambodia we congregated for dinner as a group and had a generous budget of $10 per person. A trip round the night market and being chased and beaten up by the little street children finished us off and we all went to have a well deserved sleep, barring me who stayed up to 1am to write this blog. (Ed. Dedication!) We all can’t wait to get home and see you all again. See you soon...

p.s. mum plz get some hay for the rabbit, I need to change him when I get back

p.p.s Robbie says to his family he hopes you remembered to re-cork his clarinet, bring money for a McDonalds on the way home and that he loves and misses you all and can’t wait to get back. Also did Megan get selected?! See you soon

Ethan Cheuk

Sunday, 17 July 2016

The Magnificent Angkor Wat

The sun rising like a beacon behind the soaring towers of Angkor Wat is not a sight to be missed. So it was not ideal that Mark and I overslept by more than half an hour this morning. From bed to tuk-tuk in less than three minutes, we were under way and racing the sunrise to one of the most breathtaking places on earth. An hour later, sitting on the steps of a minor temple at 5:30 am and battling exhaustion, we eventually caught sight of the sun behind the main Angkor Wat complex and all thoughts of breakfast were momentarily forgotten. The theme of our trip has undoubtedly been spectacular sights, from the dramatic views of the Sapa valley to the towering rock formations at Halong Bay, and none have been more magical than those we saw today. After spending an hour exploring the ruins of Angkor Wat, we moved on to Angkor Thom. Here, enormous stone faces frown down on the visitors below, the impressive detail and huge scale of the ancient carvings making this temple a favourite among the group. After Bailey and Ethan escaped from some over-friendly monkeys, we visited a third and final temple. Known as the Temple of Trees, this was my personal favourite, and it was easy to see why it had been used in the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider film series. Ancient trees burst through the ruined stone structure, making this place seem almost untouched and giving it a more mystical air than any of the other temples.

 While everyone enjoyed our exploration of the ancient ruins, by the end we were certainly hot, tired, and looking forward to a dip in the rooftop pool back at our hotel. Looking back on the experience, the one thing that saddens me is the commercialisation of such a beautiful historical site. The floods of tourists, many more concerned with taking selfies than experiencing the thrill of the temples for themselves, the endless trinkets and cans of coca cola, all seem to do the ruins an injustice. Nevertheless, when finding an empty corridor, crumbling with age and ordained with magnificent carvings, or standing alone at the top of the Bakan Inner Temple with the jungle stretching out before me, there were moments when the magic of the place really hit me. I know that everyone else had similar experiences, and I know that we all left with a full understanding of why Angkor Wat is known as one of the great wonders of the world.

 Later that evening in the pool, we met another Outlook Expeditions group from a girls’ school in Bromley, London. Needless to say, Robbie was in his element, pulling out killer conversation starters from nowhere and generally being on form with the flirty banter. This was to be expected from the seasoned ladykiller (Ed. While others just preened themselves J) . More surprising was the expertise of none other than Brian Glover, who insisted we refer to him as Brian Lover after his exploits in the pool. It was a nice way to finish our time in Siem Reap; believe me, the calibre of conversation can only hold up for so long among 16 teenage boys, and the reality check of maintaining a civilised and polite conversation was much needed.

 The atmosphere is strange as we near the end of our trip, with everyone looking forward to getting home but at the same time knowing that we will miss Southeast Asia greatly. For now, we’re looking forward to the four-star hotel in which we’ll be seeing out the last days of our trip.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Chilling by the Pool and Tonle Sap

The day began waking up to much more comfortable accommodation, after Mark and Brian (the power couple) did a good job of upgrading our rooms from the dodgy and cramped wing at the back of ‘Okay Guesthouse’ to something more worthy of R&R (Rest and Relaxation). Breakfast soon followed on the roof top after a short lie in, most of us went for the ‘Special Sandwich’ which certainly lived up to its name, going down well with everyone. We now enjoyed some free time spent at the pool, some took this as a chance to try tanning, including our new found hero Mark that later turned out a little crisp to say the least! (Ed. They were all warned !!!  )

Around noon the group set off in our Tuk-Tuks, involving an extremely bumpy ride but none-the-less we had made it to the destination of ‘TonlĂ© Sap’ (Ed. Large Fresh Water Lake) . We cruised down the river, which is home to a floating village with 6,000 people living on the water in homes which either float with the use of barrels or are held up by wooden stilts as 80% of the local employment is in fishing. During the ride we were treated to a back massage from a couple of young boyos looking to make a few bucks, Jack ‘Dirty Ankles’ Woods giving a notable donation of $5 *Clap Clap*. At the half way point there was a floating bar which held 2,000 Catfish and 24 Crocodiles with the option of feeding them, Cheuk was persistent in making sure they had full tummies. I conquered a fear of mine by having a large snake wrapped around me like a scarf by the resident 8 year old snake handler for a small charge, of course. (Ed. See photos)

It was time to return back to the hotel for a power nap before myself and others engaged in a tense volleyball match with the Tuk-Tuk drivers, the visitors claiming a tight victory, thanks the valiant efforts of George, Eakin, Patrick, Robbie, Aaron, Bailey, Captain Cliff and I (keeping the INST flag flying high). Instead of the deserved Champion’s welcome, we were greeted by the rest of the gang sleeping by pool. 

Now on to the bustling night market; in the city of Siem Reap. Spilt up into our groups of four, for tea and possibly some gifts for back home, I was accompanied by Isaac, Bailey and Cheuk.  Bailey and I had the mentality of ‘go big or go home’ and so threw ourselves at new experiences, each munching on fried scorpions, tarantulas and crickets, standard! Followed by a 5 minute fish pedicure for a $1 but became 20 minutes as we were engrossed in a convo with some tourists from Bangkok.  Finishing up in an Asian supermarket, where we picked up some needed Western snacks. Once again Tuk-Tuks came to the rescue to get us back for an early night, watching some cartoon network with a big day, with an early (Ed. 4.00 am get up....Well for some in the group)  start for Angkor Wat (sunrise).

*;Shoutout to my flygirl, hang in there only 3 days to go x

Karl Bell