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This post was originally written in, 2017 since c-vid lockdown in 2020 I have decided to rework old blog posts.
Whenever I get asked about travel, people always ask me what was your first real trip, the first time you got really out of your comfort zone. And my answer is always Cambodia. In the summer of 2017, I visited Cambodia with Camp Cambodia, this was my first time in Asia. I believe this trip solidified my love of travel.
My number one tip would be if you're thinking about going but are worried about travelling solo, don't be. Solo travel had always infatuated me, as my friends were never excessively interested in travel. I decided I wasn't going to spend my life waiting for someone to travel with, as I could be waiting forever. When I heard about Camps.co.uk, group organised tours, which allowed you to give back and work in the community, I was sold. Still to this day, I am so glad that I decided to do Camp as a solo traveller. Even now, three years later I am still in contact with some of the people from my trip, so thoroughly believe that Camp was the perfect start to experience solo travel.
After hearing about the Camps which the company offered I found myself feeling overwhelmed, as there were so many remarkable locations. The possibilities were endless. But I kept being drawn to Camp Thailand and Camp Cambodia, as the chance to work with elephants was a childhood dream of mine. Cambodia seemed much more authentic than Thailand, as Cambodia has only opened its borders for backpackers. Whilst Thailand I'd heard, was the backpacker's Mecca.
I was twenty when I visited Cambodia, filled with expectations of 'gap year trousers', Instagram perfect photos and memories to last a lifetime. Excitement didn't even cover how I was feeling, but as I got closer to the start date, nerves started to creep in. But thankfully Camp Cambodia creates a Facebook group, approximately three months before. Luckily, I found out that about six other people who were going to Camp were on my flight, which took away all my nerves about flying solo.
My Camp Experience:
With Camp, we visited Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. I had also pre-booked onto the island tour after Camp. On the island tour, we additionally visited Sihanoukville and Koh Rong which was an island paradise. But let's start back at the beginning.
Upon arriving in Phnom Penh, we were propelled into the chaotic and hectic streets of South East Asia. Our tour leaders, Zoe and Jenna made the madness feel like home. Zoe and Jenna took away any fears which we had, and they went above and beyond to help us in every way they could.
Starting in Phnom Penh allowed us to learn about Cambodia's recent history, as it is immensely dark. With a civil war and genocide happening in the last in fifty years with Phnom Pehn being the epicentre, we were able to visit sights of sheer tragedy. Included in the program was visiting the Killing fields (Choeung Ek), and the S21 Prison (Tuol Sleng Prison). These locations are extremely raw, and emotionally difficult, to visit but are vital to fully understand the history and the hardship of the country.
Whilst Phnom Penh, allowed us to explore Cambodia's recent history when we moved up north to Siem Reap, we got to study Cambodia's ancient history. As we traversed across Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. This was an awe-inspiring experience, and even though I am not religious being surrounded by so much history and faith was sensational. Witnessing Angkor Wat at sunrise was for me, a colossal bucket list activity and was probably the most magnificent landscape I have ever seen. As the sky radiated with warm tones of red and purple, over the monumental Angkor Wat.
One of the day trips we did was to the Phnom Kulen waterfalls, which was about an hour drive from Siem Reap. This was a breathtaking sight as I'd never seen a real waterfall before, and seeing one which was engulfed by jungle was remarkable.
Before arriving in Cambodia we had to partake in an eight week TEFL course, which we completed in Cambodia with 120 hours of practical teaching. Doing the course before arriving gave us an insight into the sort of teaching we would be doing whilst in Cambodia. Whilst in Cambodia we went to four schools to help teach children English. The schools which we taught at were my Grandfathers school, Agape, Feeding Dreams and the school at the elephant sanctuary.
For me, teaching was the most rewarding activity offered on the trip as, seeing the faces of the children light up when you walk in was spectacular! Also, the children want to learn and have this longing to absorb all the information that they can. As they are still feeling the effects of the genocide, due to the generation which is missing.
Seeing Elephants was probably the thing I was most excited about before visiting Cambodia. Wildlife has always been something which has interested me so the chance to see elephants, was so exciting. This was a childhood dream coming true, and they're truly the most exquisite animals. Staying at the elephant sanctuary was so far from anything I'd ever experienced, as we were staying in huts in the middle of the jungle. Other than seeing the elephants we also got to see gibbons, as they also had a monkey sanctuary.
On top of this, we also got to do a jungle walk, where we got to bless a tree. To try and stop deforestation, as the rainforest is being destroyed at alarming rates in Cambodia. Meaning that wildlife is being lost in the process, meaning that animals like tigers are declared functionally extinct in Cambodia.
Post Camp I had pre-booked onto the island tour, which was an additional four days taking us down to Sihanoukville and Koh Rong. We had one night in Sihanoukville, and it felt very touristy as it is the gateway to the Islands. It had a very different feeling to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh but, I wasn't overly keen on the city. But the Islands were paradise. White sand beaches and crystal clear waters you couldn't ask for more. Island life was remote, without the luxuries which we'd become accustomed to on the mainland. But the luxuries on the island are different, with the sand between your toes and the salt in your hair, you forget that the wifi doesn't work. Those little things aren't important compared to the experience of a lifetime.
Overall I loved my month in Cambodia. South-East Asia is the ideal location for your first solo trips overseas, with Camps also being offered in Vietnam and Thailand as well as worldwide. If you want an experience which is different to mine, Camp is the perfect introduction to travel. Meeting new friends with memories which will last a lifetime. I will never forget my experience in Cambodia.
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