After two weeks of volunteering on the Community Challenge in Cambodia, my group and I were off for the week-long Extension Trip. This week was packed full of activities and opportunities so that we could really experience all that Cambodia has to offer. By visiting so many places and participating in the great itinerary, I was able to further my understanding of Cambodia.
I really went with the flow, which lead to more laughs and memorable moments than if I had been my usual, worried self. At times I felt challenged during certain activities, but when I got home I couldn’t have been happier with my time volunteering overseas in Cambodia. And the Extension Trip was the cherry on top!
On our first day, we travelled from Battambang to Phnom Penh with our guide for the Extension Trip, Raya. During our time in Cambodia’s capital, we explored various landmarks, including the Royal Palace and the first Cambodian temple which is the city’s namesake. Then we attended the Scarf Festival which included a runway show and went on a cyclo tour to see the sights.
Before we saw the city, my group and I toured The Killing Fields and S21 Museum. I had a strange feeling as we walked through the Killing Fields. That I wasn’t meant to be there and that it was wrong of me to be in a place that holds such intense trauma. It affected me more than I thought it would. Especially after I had just spent two weeks in Cambodia meeting people, who had no doubt been affected by the Khmer Rouge.
However, upon reflection and listening to the tour guide speak about the events that transpired, it became clear that The Killing Fields and S21 Museum weren’t there for shock value or as an attraction. They commemorate the people who lost their lives and the families that suffered. And it’s acknowledging that what happened cannot resurface again for the good of the county’s future. These sites are there as pieces of history that help us understand what Cambodian people have gone through and still deal with today. After realising this, it became a special moment for me. I had a better understanding of Cambodia’s history and was hopeful that even after such hurt, a country can become peaceful again.
We left Phnom Penh and reached our next stop, which was a homestay at a Cambodian home in a traditional mud hut. Hong and his family welcomed us with a tour of the hut and a big dinner, including a bamboo soup (they had been visited by Gordon Ramsay to try it). I enjoyed our little slumber party in the mud hut, even though we were advised to make sure we locked the toilet door properly or else cows would wander in!
In the morning, we were taken on a hike to see some waterfalls. My group and I hiked through rice fields, the jungle and on a big log to get over a river. It was the most physically challenging part of the trip for me. I felt better when I got to hold a little bat (yes, an actual bat!) and cool off in a waterfall. After a big day scaling mountains and trekking through the jungle, we said goodbye to Hong and his family then made our way to a little resort.
The next day we got the chance to visit an elephant sanctuary. The two elephants have members of the community volunteer as their carers and a new trainer is introduced every week on rotation. This way, they aren't owned by anyone and are a part of the village. After feeding them bananas and banana tree stems, we got to swim with them at a scenic, rocky waterfall. One of them wrapped their trunk around my leg when she ducked under the water! It’s been a bucket list item of mine to meet an elephant and I was so happy the whole time we were there.
Between the bigger events I mentioned, there was lots of great food, travelling through the country and exploring whatever places we could. During the volunteering portion of the trip, I valued my group for the support and help we gave each other. Then as we went through the Extension Trip, I loved how much fun we had together. And although it got hard or intense at certain points, I really appreciated the people in my group.
I would highly recommend a volunteering trip with Challenges Abroad for anyone looking to gain experience in travelling or foreign aid. For me, I learned lots about myself and pushed through many of my struggles and worries. I have no doubt that I’ll be going back to Cambodia to do it all over again!