Tuesday
Mar182014

Trail Leader: final trail blog 

It is ten weeks since the trail first met in Bangkok, but sadly also the departure day! We can’t believe it has gone so fast and that we have managed to pack so much in. There have been so many breathtaking, thought-provoking and hilarious moments that the last few days have been spent not only last minute shopping but reminiscing over our fondest memories. For our final blog we have therefore set the task of singling out a favorite moment from each volunteer and staff member, which was no easy task!... 

Angkor Watt

“One of the highlights of the trail was the elephant trek in Pai. I really enjoyed the time in the river with them and being so close such a big, gentle animal. It was very special being able to pet them, feed them bananas and get sprayed with water by them.”  Lauren.

 

 

Circus

“The trek in Pai, Thailand. It was a great experience as I’m not much of a walker normally! The leader was great and everyone bonded over lack of sleep!” Caitlin.

                                                                         Elephants

“I loved the whole trip but I love the memories of our rides back to the volunteer house in the tuk-tuk from the country school.” Leila.

“Angkor Wat day was the best 24 hours ever! We watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat and then after visiting many other interesting and detailed temples we watched the sun set. In the evening we hit a different kind of Angkor – Angkor Wat? – A famous bar on pub street for a great night out that included Kelly and Ebony winning a dance off and then a celebration when we realised we’d all been awake and together for 24 hours!!” Sophie.

“From Thailand my favorite memories include dancing in a floating bar, testing my strength and skills on the total wipeout course, meeting a rather feisty monkey and dancing under the stars at the Koh Tao half moon party, whilst watching fire poi and Ebony’s classic dance moves! Then in Vietnam it was great to meet back up with everyone after their month in Cambodia, we had a great fun quad biking (even though we got stuck!) over the sand dunes in Mui Ne and went to an awesome water park in Nha Trang.” Hilary.

Treking

“My favourite moment of the trip has been volunteering and teaching a brilliant group of kids in Cambodia, especially at the rural school where the students were so incredibly keen to learn. The tuk tuk rides to and from it were like riding through a world so different to what I’m used to” Ellen. 

“The tubing and the trek in Pai were my favourite moments, plus the infamous Halong Bay rocks and sand dunes in Mui Ne.” Ben.

“For me one of the best times was when we had just arrived on Koh Phangan and all nineteen of the group walked along the beach while the sun was setting. Bliss.” Rebecca.

Halong Bay

“The whole trip was awesome and included many laughs such as when I was pushed into the sea by Kelly’s minions, our cooking course with Sophie as the entertainment not to mention dancing to the soundtracks of the trip ‘Don’t you worry child’ and ‘Timber’!” Izzy.

“My favourite bits were the tubing in Pai… and the whole of Thailand!!” Hamish. 

“In Pai, Caitlin, Ebony, Sophie and I decided to cycle to a waterfall 2km away. It remained 2km away for about 2 hours and we never actually found it. Cycling home downhill, Ebony’s breaks didn’t work so she ‘cycled’ with her legs out. Afterwards we went tubing and I got stuck, so I got out of my tube and it floated off down the river. Ebony floated past and offered me a lift but I missed her and belly-flopped into the water. I eventually caught up with my tube… this was the first really funny and really memorable day for me!” Heidi.

“The trek in Pai was a favourite of mine… I’m now off to trek in Sapa, Vietnam!” Filippo.

 

“On the way back from the country school I would sit in the tuk tuk driving over ridiculously bumpy ‘roads’ as the sun was beginning to set. I would sit and reflect on the day of teaching and feel so humbled and blessed. The children were so very special and so eager to learn. It was hard not to be moved by their smiles! Teaching was the best experience and each little face will always remain very dear to me! Why didn’t I adopt one?! One evening, after getting back from country school, me and Heidi made some ‘fried rice’ (and nobody died, yey) then we went to the circus. It was AMAZING. There was fire and music and balancing in crazy positions… it literally moved me to tears (pretty sure everyone was crying on the inside). The circus was set up by eight men who suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and found peace through therapy. They set up a school that helped troubled children and young adults through drama therapy, circus skills and performing arts. It was a really inspiring story and such an experience.” Ebony.

“As I’ve blogged before, we’ve had loads of incredible moments, I loved our day at Angkor Wat, it was incredible to walk round the temples admiring their sheer size and detail. I will smile fondly at the memories of us dancing under the stars; on the islands, on pub street in Siem Reap and in a vegetable shop! In the last week we have had boots handmade, relaxed in a mud bath and saw the ethereal rocks of Halong bay through the mist. The memory that stands out the most for me however is watching the sun set on the island during the snorkel project and then seeing the bioluminescent algae swirling in the sea like tiny shooting stars.” Assistant Trail Leader, Kelly.

Tubing

 For me, today marks the end of six unforgettable months as the SE Asia Trail Leader. There have been so many ‘love-life’ moments but a few that spring to my mind are… tubing down the river in pai, belting out ballads on the party train, swimming through shoals of shimmering fish and spotting a huge puffer fish on my survey, dancing under the stars to the trip anthems, cooking pancakes for the group, writing a song about seven cups of rice and beans, visiting mango lady, cuddling puppies in hammocks, catching fish and bbq-ing them for dinner, the funky monkey boy-band, the mud spa day, the bakery visits, roxy roller cases, dream team matching soft-shells and the many, many times I have laughed hard, sung loudly and traveled with the sun on my face and the wind in my hair and felt SO lucky to call this work!

By Rachel Bradley, Trail Leader

Find out more about the South East Asia Ethical Adventure Trail.

Friday
Mar142014

VOLUNTEER BLOG: HILARY STUBBS & EBONY WARD 

Good Morning Vietnam!

Hilary

After a successful border crossing from Cambodia, the group arrived in Vietnam! The first stop was Ho Chi Minh City, where Hilary rejoined the group (and brought with her the highly desired supplies of dairy milk and tea bags!) and we spent our first night all back together in style – we went to the Hard Rock café (with not so hard rock music; a lot of Tina Turner and Miley Cyrus which suited us just fine!)

Ebony

Then we went to the Mekong Delta, where we tried a lot of “interesting” traditional local produce; the coconut sweets were nice… not so sure about the wine with a whole snake floating in it! We were then taken on a boat ride by the local people through the river, which was so peaceful and picturesque…until the boats got stuck in thigh-deep mud and we had to be rescued by the locals! The next day there was a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels, an amazing place where we learnt all about the Vietnamese guerillas’ attempts to defeat the Americans during the Vietnam War; their warfare techniques were ingenious(“The Seesaw” – a trap with hidden bamboo spikes that impaled people - wouldn’t exactly be suitable for a playground!) We even got the chance to crawl through the tunnels themselves, and even though they had been widened for Western tourists, we still ended up on our hands and knees!

 Our next stop was Mui Ne, where we visited the beautiful white and red sand dunes. Standing on top of the dunes we had the chance to take in the breathtaking surroundings; every type of landscape seemed to merge into one place - crystal clear waters on one side, towering woodland on the other and the dessert beneath our feet. Then we took to our boards and raced down the dunes; a couple of us even hired quad bikes – a great experience (despite getting stuck in the sand and having to be rescued!) and then a stroll down the Fairy Stream was a fitting end to a fairytale day!
 
Our final stop of the first week, the beach resort of Nha Trang, was a hive of activity. A few of us visited a waterpark on an island that was only accessible via the world’s longest sky lift over the sea and then we all headed out on a four island tour (aka booze cruise) where some of us had a go at karaoke and the more adventurous of the group tried parasailing. After all the exertion of the past few days, we treated ourselves to a much-needed spa day, complete with mudbaths, waterfalls and mineral pools!
 
Our first week in Vietnam has been incredible- packed with amazing activities, hilarious memories and beautiful sights…with only one week left nobody wants to go home!

By Hilary Stubbs and Ebony Ward, Volunteers

Find out more about the South East Asia Ethical Adventure Trail.

Tuesday
Mar112014

VOLUNTEER BLOG: SOPHIE STOCKILL & LEILA OSMAN

Teaching in Siem Reap was an experience not to forget. Smiling hearts association for children (SHAC), and Changing and Hoping for Lives organization (CHL), despite their sickly sweet names, were amazing places to teach! We learnt a lot from the short month we spent there, from navigating our way through crazy Khmer traffic, and acting as the chicken pest control squad in the classrooms, to actually teaching some English!


After our first experience clinging to our lives and bikes on our first morning ride to school (rush hour), for which the advice was “just close your eyes on the roundabouts and you’ll be fine!”, we were introduced to where we’d be teaching for the next month. Situated down a painfully bumpy rollercoaster track, near the heart of Siem Reap, it was small and cheerful and we were welcomed warmly by the director Aly. After a morning of training and observation we were thrown in the deep end, being allocated classes of 15-25 children and told “ok, you teach now…” Although this was daunting at first, we soon found our feet and realized that the small children weren’t as scary as we initially thought. Some of the volunteers led spelling bee classes while the others were spread out among different grades. At breaktime we were witness to some spectacular feats – it seemed the students could have led an acrobatic show in their spare time! One game consisted of 2 students holding a rope above their heads while the others somehow hooked their legs over one at a time, whilst flying through the air (we still don’t know how such small children could reach such a massive height).

The following afternoon 3 volunteers (Heidi, Ebony and Leila) were whisked off to the director’s husbands’ school in the country, which with very bumpy tracks, was an interesting experience in a tuk tuk. The daily task of getting out while the tuk tuk driver did a run up, and pushing it through sand pits was definitely a highlight. The country school was very different; being much more secluded and deprived, it was a lot smaller than the city school, with one in three of the students being orphans. Here, there was an adult class as well as two classes of children, all refreshingly eager to learn. It seemed that by the end, there was one class of Yorkshire children (courtesy of Ebony’s accent) and one Welsh (Heidi).

As for the highlights and lessons of our time teaching, there are too many to list in full, but here are just a few!
1. Being greeted every time the bell rang with an adorable chorus of chanting children (which was so catchy that it got stuck in our heads like a very weird song!)
2. World war III between the American and English teachers on who would teach the children to spell aeroplane or “airplane” (wrong), correctly!
3. “helping” the director with IT admin and managing to permanently crash the website! … oops
4. Teaching the hokey cokey to screeching, over excited country students.
5. Receiving adorable drawings, flowers and handmade bracelets from the kids.
6. Seeing the improvement over the course of the month, such as kinder garden knowing all the colours!!!
7. Mutant chickens (with no legs and massive feet) flying into kinder garden classrooms on a daily basis and creating havoc, even flying into a very surprised 8 year olds’ face!

Saying goodbye to the schools was sad, but we received enough small bear hugs to make us feel our time spent there was well worthwhile and appreciated!

By Sophie Stockill & Leila Osman, Volunteers

Find out more about Cambodia Teaching in Siem Reap.

Thursday
Mar062014

Assistant Trail Leader Blog: A Sobering Day.

The trail has travelled to Phnom Penh where we were all reunited this weekend. The atmosphere along the way was great, there was a buzz of excitement as everyone shared stories of the last month at their respective projects. We’ve had an excellent time in Cambodia and felt very welcome everywhere we went by the wonderfully friendly people. This has not always been the case in Cambodia though, and in Phnom Penh it was appropriate for us to understand this darker side of their history a little more before we moved on.

Skulls from the Killing Fields

During a four-year regime known as the Khmer Rouge, in a bid for ethnic cleansing a brutal genocidal regime was inflicted upon the people of Cambodia with an estimated 1.7 million people killed.

This Sunday, we visited the Tol Sleung Genocide Museum. It was previously a high school that during the Khmer Rouge was turned into the notorious S-21 prison where thousands of innocent people were tortured, interrogated and finally executed. Of the 20,000 people believed to have entered, only 7 survived. Inside the gates it was at first hard to imagine the atrocities that happened there as it looks like any other high school. The difference being that the Khmer Rouge documented prisoners’ interrogations and stored a shocking photo archive. There was a solemn feeling amongst the group as we walked around the interrogation rooms and saw fist hand the steel beds and shackles used to torture prisoners.

I found the wall of photos particularly disconcerting, there were rows and rows of faces staring back at us of the prisoners soon to meet their fate – photos taken to prove to the Khmer Rouge leaders that their orders had been carried out.

We then went to the Choeung Ek genocidal centre, (known as the killing fields) which followed the route the prisoners would’ve taken on the final journey of their short, tragic lives. When the truckloads of frightened prisoners arrived they were escorted to a small darkened room and their names were checked off to check no one had escaped or missed. They were then led in small groups to ditches and pits that had been dug by a team based at the site. They were told to kneel down and then they were clubbed on the neck with tools such as cart axles, hoes, sticks, wooden clubs or whatever else could serve as a weapon of death. They were even stabbed with knives or swords to save using bullets, which were deemed to be too expensive.

This resulted in mass graves of victims from every background, the young and old, teachers, politicians, women and children, no one was spared.

It was a sobering, insightful day into the destructiveness and cruelty of some members of the human race. As we drove away and back down the bumpy country round it was a time for reflection on how lucky we were to be leaving the killing fields, a journey which few made during the reign of the Khmer Rouge.

By Kelly Lovick, Assistant Trail Leader 

 

Find out more about the South East Asia Ethical Adventure Trail.

Thursday
Feb202014

Trail leader blog: Cambodia Marine project

As the Eco Trail Leader my days in Thailand and Vietnam are jam-packed with planning itineraries, booking bus tickets, arranging accommodation, hunting out tasty places for dinner, organising excursions and guiding the group through jam-packed pavements, weird and wonderful smells and chaotic noisy scenes that are the epitome of Asia’s charm.

Koh Rong Samloem

But on the paradise island of Koh Rong Samloem, I sometimes have to pinch myself, realise and then feel lucky… that this is work! As a scuba diver and a surfer I am in my element by the sea, but there is something truly special about living on a beach camp for a month. My typical day is a million miles from that London commuter life I used to have…

I generally wake up around 7.30am, but it’s no struggle to get up here! The first person up boils the kettle and I eat a breakfast of noodles and tea in a hammock with my book and a view of the sea.

Today my first work session will be testing one of the new volunteers on their fish identifications. In order to log data about the reef, volunteers must be able to easily identify 63 different fish, so I will don my snorkel and mask, my work clothes (a bikini!) and swim through the reef pointing out the weird, wonderful and beautiful creatures that make our house reef so rich and colourful.

After the morning session we break for lunch during the hottest part of the day. We gather in the shade of the porch with a noodle or rice dish and watch the island boat come in and out at the pier. After lunch, I will be joining up with one of the other volunteers to collect data on a full survey. Working on a selected portion of the reef, we will record the fish, the coral and the little critters that live there.

After showering (with a bucket of water from the local well) I like to dry off on the back decking where the sun sets over the trees and palms. We cook lunch and dinner on a rota system and some nights I will be cooking a vegetable curry or lentil burgers for everyone. Other nights I will be washing up, or like last night I will have time to get creative – fixing my trousers or making a cutlery drainer from a plastic bottle!

I love the simple life, and the evening is blissfully relaxing here. Sometimes we are all engrossed in our books, sometimes we play cards, have games nights, cuddle puppies, have long thought provoking conversations or go for a beer from a cool box at our local rustic bar.

We are starting to know the locals, get to grips with Khmer language and tally up rare sightings like rays, cuttlefish and black blotched porcupine fish. My family ask when I’m getting a proper job, but this is far more appealing!...

By Rachel Bradley, Trail Leader

Find out more about the South East Asia Ethical Adventure Trail.