Summing it all up

Well I’ve been back on UK soil for a few days & almost getting used to flushing paper down the toilet again ๐Ÿ˜„ & have been reflecting on the whole experience, is it what I expected, did I get out of it what I wanted? So thought it would be a good way to round it all off with a final blog update…

I’m sitting here (in a coffee shop, where else!) feeling unbelievably thankful for the opportunity to have experienced what I just have over the past few months & to have been able to make just a small difference to people’s lives who really need it. I’ve asked myself why did I do this in the first place & what did I want from the experience & I can summarise it into these 6 things:

1. Adventure!
2. Live the Asian culture
3. Help people worse off
4. Work with children
5. Test of personal strength
6. Meet new people

I’ve got more than I could ever have hoped for from the past few months & I’ve come back feeling refreshed, knowing myself a little bit better & knowing what’s truly important in life. When you see people with so few material things in their life yet are some of the happiest, grateful people you’ll ever meet it really makes you step back and think about things differently, that’s one of the things I’ve learnt from the Cambodian culture & I hope I can bring just a little bit back to the UK & stop buying so much ‘stuff’! I might just need reminded of this now & then ๐Ÿ˜‰. I’ll definitely continue to support the school however I can, when you see how far your donation money went & the difference it can make over there you can’t help but want to continue to support them, something as little as the price of a coffee would fund sending 2 kids to the school for a month, imagine the difference that could make to their lives & future, that’s a few less coffees for me!


Some of the things I’ll miss…
1. Browns breakfast & coffee, I actually have to cook my own breakfasts again ๐Ÿ˜ฉ
2. Banana chips, I pretty much survived off these by the bulk load, bloody lovely they come in all sorts of flavours, sweet, chill, basil, pepper ๐Ÿ˜‹
3. Street food smells, nothing better than the smells of cooked meat on a stick everywhere you go, suppose I’ll have to make do with next door’s BBQ
4. And obviously goes without saying I’ll miss all of the kids & their smiling faces everyday, ‘goodbye teacher, good luck for you, good dreams for tonight’, who’s going to chant that to me at the end of everyday??

And some of the things I’ll not miss…
1. Toilets, thank god for actual toilets I can sit on & flush ๐Ÿ™
2. The human oven & sweating like I didn’t think was possible, although on the plus side I got a free sauna every day
3. Mosquito bites & having to deet up before you leave the hotel every day,thank god for tiger balm
4. Leaving the house & not having 5 or 6 guys shouting ‘tuktuk lady?’ at me

Well its definitely been a pretty special couple of months, signing off now & back to normality next week, until the next time…

Summing it all up

Signing off as ‘teacher Nicola’

Well that’s the final week as ‘teacher Nicola’ done! It’s hard to believe how quickly a month has passed, I’ve actually started to feel quite at home in this place, doesn’t feel like I’m living in a hotel room & volunteering, it feels more like home & a job!
I knew the last day was going to be mixed emotions, I’ve really got to know & love the kids despite the language barrier, but my god I was pretty speechless when I left yesterday, I couldn’t have asked for a better last day! Here it is… (pic overload again)

Last class with the nursery kids in the morning, couple of final renditions of head, shoulders, knees & toes & the alphabet song, followed by a mix up of pass the parcel but with a ball, alphabet & counting, & of course stickers for prizes, my god I’m actually surprising myself what I can come up with to entertain kids for a couple of hour! And in the usual style we finish up with colouring in. Im going to miss these gorgeous kids, they put a smile on your face every morning, now who’s going to sing nursery rhymes & cling off every limb when I get back to the office next week?? ๐Ÿค”

Couple of random pics from back at the school this week…

Down to the school after the nursery & I was just blown away by all of the handmade gifts from everyone, garlands, jewellery, pictures & please look at the bouquet of flowers one of the girls Sophan made, I mean how creative are these kids at this age, they must have spent hours doing all of this, seriously touched by all of it. And teacher Salun gave me a lovely hand stitched flower wall art ๐Ÿ˜,(as I said in my Facebook update, please excuse my tropical rain & humidity birds nest!)


I mentioned the farming project plans Bunak has got for the school in a previous post, still a long way to go to get it off the ground but it will be such a great project if he pulls it off, to be able to grow & sell their own fruit, veg, fish, chickens & teach the kids agriculture lessons at the same time will be fantastic. So on Friday it was a privilege to be able to put some more of your donation money to good use – the first fruit tree is now planted in the plot of land they’ve bought (this treck out to the field / swamp is what caused my earlier birds nest!), it’ll be great to follow the progress here.

And in usual style a food update for you, now this one might not be everyone’s cup of tea & I still can’t decide if it’s mine?!? Yes that’s a chicken ant soup you’re looking at, not just 1 or 2 ants but a couple of hundred, the staff cooked this up for my final meal, it actually tasted very good, but those ants take some chewing ๐Ÿ˜ฒ.

Rounded off the day with a couple of games of bingo with ‘special’ stickers for prizes, I honestly wish you could have seen their faces when I got them out, you would have thought I had just given them all an iPad! A couple of spontaneous rounds of musical statues (no issues with translation for this one, the universal language of music!), obviously with stickers for prizes & then a final rendition of my favourite Banana song ๐Ÿ‘Œ๐Ÿป. Like I said I couldn’t have asked for a better last day. What’s a great school, great staff & some pretty amazing kids – thank you to all of them for making this such a special & memorable experience! And now almost back to normality, homeward bound in 48hours…

Signing off as ‘teacher Nicola’

Doing the tourist thing… Angkor Temples

You can’t visit Cambodia without exploring the temples of Angkor, they date back to the 7th century and were built over 600 years & are synonymous with Cambodia, so off I went with Lin my tuktuk driver into the human oven on a 6 hour expedition…

I may have slightly under estimated just how big this was & how much walking was involved, I guess the fact you can buy a 3 day pass should have been a clue! I done the short circuit and covered the main Temples of Ta Prohm (where tomb raider was shot), Bayon Temple & a few smaller ones & ended up at the main Angkor Wat temple just in time for sunset. You’re free to roam around just about everywhere which is great as I love a bit of exploring off the beaten track. It obviously goes without saying just how impressive the temples are, the intricate detailed stone carving still standing from thousands of years ago is seriously impressive, but I’ll be honest after a few hours of taking it all in one temple starts to look pretty much like the next one and with the amount of tourists around its hard to get great shots of them, so I thought it would be far more interesting to see what the tourists of the Temples were up to, which was actually just as fascinating๐Ÿ˜„…


And now for the Temples themselves… First up a few from Ta Prohm & Bayon

Seriously impressed at the detailed carvings in this wall (& so we’re all the tourists in the shot above)

And then over to the main attraction, Angkor Wat for sunset…
Now this place had a different feel altogether, it was built in the 12th century and is the biggest religious monument in the world, it’s surrounded by a massive moat and is just absolutely stunning, especially at sunset. Cambodian families are chilling out all the all along the grass riverbank with picnics, BBQ’s & drinks, and there’s Cambodian music playing in the background, you just get a really good feel being in this place, & no rain or clouds tonight so I actually got the sunset shot ๐Ÿ™


So there you have it, my day at the Temples, if you’re ever in Cambodia you obviously have to pay them a visit but just make sure you wear good walking shoes, this is probably the most steps I’ve ever done in a single day in my life! So I clearly earned a foot massage yesterday ๐Ÿ‘Œ๐Ÿป.

Doing the tourist thing… Angkor Temples

Week 3 done, next week I go solo

Warning – photo overload on this update!
Just a 3 day week at the school this week after the bank holidays so this week has just flew by, too quickly! I swapped with Silke to take over the morning nursery class. Quite a different setup to the school, the kids are around 3-6 years, about 30-40 of them & they are just the cutest little things, they basically want to hang off every one of your limbs, you can’t move an inch without one of them attached to you. They start the morning in the cutest way doing 30mins playtime, on day 1 this was not a problem, they basically lay down & watched cartoons but on day 2 it was slightly more energetic & involved 30mins exercise video workout, can you imagine attempting that in 35 degrees with 30 kids hanging off you ๐Ÿ˜ฑ, and then they do a cool down of 10mins yoga, now this is obviously more up my street, how cute watching the kids do all the yoga moves & they totally know them all! Next up is hand washing & brushing teeth, my job is to ration out the toothpaste to each of them, I’ve totally found my calling in life ๐Ÿ˜„, then it’s English lesson time which is over to me! Thankfully Silke has come up with a good format that I can follow, the language barrier is tough with the young kids but our 10 word Khmer vocabulary seems to be getting us through & if all else fails a good old colouring in session never fails!

We put the donation money to more good use this week in a few places, first up some essential supplies for the school; first aid kits, handwash, toothbrushes & toothpaste, fan & fabric for the sewing room, stationery, and a great idea from Bunak to make up a little kit for the kids with a folder, notebook, pen & pencil. I wanted to get a little treat for the kids too & as it was also Silke’s last day decided to do it on Friday, so headed off early to the local market to pick up a couple of sacks of bananas & some bread & condensed milk, now this one took a bit of explaining to me but apparently they love it here, so a milk sandwich it is! We went round all the classes on Friday giving out the stationery kits & food and they loved it, so much so that I’ve never seen so many kids in the afternoon class, I think we actually ran out of seats, the morning classes had clearly told the whole village so they made sure they turned up for that lesson ๐Ÿ˜„. What I couldn’t believe was just how patient and grateful they all were, I expected the nursery kids to just run for the food and start eating it, but no they sat in nice orderly lines, thanked us when we handed it out and waited patiently until everyone had theres before they ate, how well trained are these kids!

It was Silke’s last day & just look at all the gifts the kids handmade for her, lovely little garlands, flowers, boxes with gifts in & little messages ๐Ÿ˜, I think we both had a moment when they started bringing them out, these kids are just adorable!

Great day all round & thanks once again to everyone who donated, yet again your money has made such a difference, this time putting smiles on all the kids faces, priceless! We rounded it off with sing-a-long which obviously had to be the banana song ๐ŸŒ, which I now know all the words & moves to, I clearly love it more than the kids do, they think I’m nuts!

Well farewell to my fellow volunteer, it’s been a pretty special couple of weeks, safe trip back to Dublin & good luck with your exciting next chapter! Now I’m going solo next week!

(And one on the food front this week, the school chef cooked up a lovely fish dish including some fish eggs which I obviously had to try, actually tasted better than they look but let’s just say I didn’t go back for seconds)

Week 3 done, next week I go solo

Volunteers Roadtrip!

Thanks to the kings birthday and the start of ploughing season we had an extra 2 days off this weekend so decided on a bit of a roadtrip out of Siem Reap to see a different side of Cambodia & headed south to a place called Kampot. It’s not easy getting anywhere fast here & rather than waste time on a v long bus journey we opted for an 8hour taxi journey instead, which would have been perfectly fine except for their need to beep whenever they overtake a moped or tuktuk, which as you can imagine was literally every 5seconds, just slightly annoying!!
Kampot’s a really cute little sleepy town right on the river, bit of a European feel to it with lots of old French colonial architecture, most of the people here other than the workers are western & backpackers so that explains its much more laid back hippy feel! We’re only here 2 days / 3 nights so cram as much in as we can…

First up check out TripAdvisor’s no.1 recommended coffee place, what else! This has become standard practice whenever I visit a new place, I’m officially a TripAdvisor addict now & I can’t eat or drink anywhere without leaving a review ๐Ÿ˜‚. Little healthy cafe called Ellie’s, nice banana, blueberry & green tea smoothie followed by a coffee, I’d say it was a 7 on the coffee scale.
It’s peak temperature in the outside oven now so thanks to Kez Loaders recommendation we scout out this little cinema place which do private screenings. Very bizarre catalogue of films, obviously catering to every nationality possible, we go for 12 years a slave & spend the afternoon chilled out on a massive bed with air con ๐Ÿ˜.
Next up we head for a river cruise, which would have been a lovely 2 hour chill on the top deck taking in the scenery, sunset, some fire flies & lightening but it was slightly tarnished by not 1 but 2 near death experiences. Basically all I’ll say is if your ever on the roof of a boat approaching a bridge & hear a horn beep duck & lie down as fast as you can, unless you want to be decapitated ๐Ÿ˜ฑ

Day 2 & we’re off on a tuktuk trip for the day to take in as much of their countryside & coast as possible – salt fields, the secret lake, pepper plantation, rice fields, temple, Kep beach & Rabbit island. I have to say their countryside down here is stunning, green, lush, tropical fields and just check out the secret lake, my idea of total heaven, just build me a little shack on the edge of the water & I’ll die happy๐Ÿ˜„.

The pepper plantation was surprisingly interesting, it’s pretty unbelievable to see what goes into getting the peppercorns into our pepper mills, every one is hand picked, dried and peeled to make white pepper. This plantation has 20,673 pepper trees, each one will make about 3kg of pepper per year & they supply to France & Belgium, that’s a whole lot of pepper picking! Thats us well & truly educated on the production of pepper.

Well that was a cracking little roadtrip out of Siem Reap to see a different side of Cambodia which I didn’t expect to get to do while I was here, actually felt like I was on holiday, so thank you to King Norodom Sihamoni ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿป. ย My eyes are actually hurting from staring at so much so I’ll happily sit in the back of this aircon’d taxi for the 8 hour journey home ๐Ÿ˜ด

(Now it wouldn’t be one of my blog updates if there weren’t food pics involved, so this time I thought I’d share some pics from a pretty special restaurant we found right on the riverside, Rikitikitavi which served the most amazing food, one of the best cooked chicken skewers I’ve had, Silke had the best fish amok she’s ever tasted & she’s a bit of an amok connoisseur. So we actually ended up having 3 very good meals there (which helped to wipe out the memory of the worst breakfast I’ve ever eaten along the road, involving hotdogs & chips, despite the menu stating sausage, bacon & hasbrown๐Ÿ˜ค), & they knocked us up a lovely chicken salad to takeaway this morning for the journey back, so if you’re ever in Kampot you have to check them out, & of course they’ve got a 5 star TripAdvisor review from me ๐Ÿ˜„)

Back to ‘work’ tomorrow…

Volunteers Roadtrip!

Week 2 and feeling like a local

So after a bit of a shock to the system in week 1 I’ve started to adjust to the Cambodian way of life and I’m getting into the swing of it, which basically means you do whatever you can to stay out of the heat and you definitely don’t attempt to walk far in it unless you want to end up dripping wet! My Khmer language skills have improved, I can now do the basic hello, goodbye, no thank you (a definite requirement here as you’ll get asked if ‘you want a tuktuk lady’ at least 10 times every morning on the way to Browns coffee shop), how much, too expensive & I can’t eat peanuts, so that’s me pretty sorted on the language front๐Ÿ˜„.

At the school on Monday it was great to see some of the donation money I raised back home going to good use, the roof of one of the classes was leaking and as rainy season is about to start it was in desperate need of repair, so $300 of your donations repaired the roof over the weekend which was fantastic, massive thank you to everyone who helped towards this, it’s made such a difference.

It’s been a really good week at the school, I’m in the swing of it now & into a routine, even theย crazy hour long tuktuk ride into work is becoming ‘normal’, it actually feels like I’ve been working there forever, & on Monday I actually pulled off doing this whole English teacher thing on my own! The kids are much more relaxed around us now, I’m getting to know them all better & I also learnt a very important lesson this week… they absolutely love stickers, give them a sticker to reward them and their little faces light up like it’s Christmas! ย Friday was games day so we knocked up some memory games, find the object, pictionary & bingo and my god did they love it, I wish you could see the excitement on their faces & my prizes of girl / boy rubbers went down a storm! Aww look what one of the little girls Srey-nick made me, lovely little fresh flower garland, it’s so impressive to see what these kids are capable of, they’re surprisingly creative when they can’t go home to the internet & computer games! Here’s some pics from this weeks classes, just in case you all thought I was just on holiday out here, actual proof I’m working!

We rounded off the week with a great experience being given a Cambodian cooking lesson by the staff, it was pretty amazing to see what could be prepared with just a few good fresh ingredients on a tiny camping style cooking stove… beef, coconut milk, garlic, turmeric, ginger, chilli, lemongrass, kaffir lime, fish & oyster sauce, tomatoes, peppers, basil mmmmmm, honestly it tasted so bloody good!

So it seems that in May Cambodians tend to spend the vast majority of their time either at weddings or taking a national holiday, they take the wedding business serious, proper big affairs which run over 2 days, we must have spotted about 10 of them setting up on the way into work the other day, and if you’re not at a wedding then there’s 5 national holidays in May which works for me! So that means Wednesday off this week and Monday & Tuesday off next week. Wednesday was in honour of Buddhas birthday, we spent it on a bit of a coffee shop crawl, basically moving from one airconed place to the next and then as it was Buddhas birthday how else would you finish up the day but with a ‘monk chat’. A little bit random, basically the 2 of us spent an hour with a monk quizzing him on what being a monk is all about, it was surprisingly very interesting, I can tell you what time he gets up, how long he spends chanting, when he goes to bed, but the most fascinating part of all was by far his bone structure, I’d kill to have cheekbones like that, couldn’t take my eyes off them!

So as we’ve now got Monday & Tuesday off we’ve decided on a roadtrip out of the city to a little town at the bottom of Cambodia called Kampot, it’s an 8 hour drive away & obviously the only way to do that is in a taxi๐Ÿ˜‚. We’ve just checked into the hotel & now it’s time to chill ๐Ÿ˜ด

Week 2 and feeling like a local

Volunteers weekend…

So if anyone was curious about what volunteering English teachers in Cambodia get up to on their weekend, here is it…

Friday night & we have most definitely earned ourselves a good steak & a few gins (ok there might have been a gin bucket involved!), all week I’ve been looking down Pub street saying yeah that place looks a bit full on, not for me, so where did we end up, a Cambodian club on pub street of course ๐Ÿ˜‚. Strange little place, they kept belting out renditions of happy birthday, & I was clearly the tallest person in there, they’re all so tiny!

Saturday night was circus night! It was setup by a small group of local men when they returned home from refugee camps to teach performing arts to street children. Its grown over the past 10 years & the school now has 1200 pupils, the show uses dance, music & modern circus art to tell stories from Cambodia’s history. We had a great night, front row seats & these kids are amazing, the pics don’t quite do it justice, their strength is just unreal!

Sunday started off nice & chilled with a pedicure and massage, but then we remembered that we’re pretty much running the show on Monday & we’re going to need a plan so the rest of the day involved a trip to the local stationary store for some inspiration (we were like kids in a sweet shop!), lots of cups of coffee, lesson planning & a trip to the printers. How do you keep a class of excitable Cambodia kids entertained for an hour with 3 words of Khmer in your vocabulary?? Not sure who has the hardest job, Silke has the nursery kids who obviously have a short attention span & just want to play & I’ve got the primary kids who actually want to learn! 6 hours later & mentally drained but think we’ve cobbled something together involving a word bingo, a numbers game, couple of exercises & if all else fails I can buy their attention with a stash of some pretty cool stickers, pens & rubbers๐Ÿ˜„
Not in million years did I ever expect to be spending my Sundays doing this! But feeling prepared & now off for an early night, lets see if I can actually pull this off, wish me luck ๐Ÿ˜ฑ

Volunteers weekend…