May, June and July – Catching up Part 2

Visit from Zoe

Due to national holidays in Cambodia, i had another week off in May. Lucky me got a visit from Zoe, my friend from Hamburg, who was swinging by on her way back to Germany from New Zealand.

It was great to have someone who i knew from home here in Cambodia. We had a chance to catch up and i got to show her my life in Cambodia.

We stayed in Phnom Penh for a few days, where I introduced her to SCAO, took her to various markets and went to a Khmer fotoshooting together.

Then we decided to head to Mondulkiri for a few days. I had been there before, but I really wanted to go again and we craved some jungle instead of lying on one of the beaches of Sihanoukville/Koh Rong. Like my first trip to Mondulkiri, the second proved as an adventure.

We rented a moto, explored the countryside, stood under a huge waterfall, ate the most delicious soup in the middle of nowhere, jumped town a smaller waterfall and rode an elephant – just for 20 minutes though. Even though i came back with a bruised ribcage from the jump down the waterfall, the trip was worth it and it was wonderful to spend time with Zoe.

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Visit from Marie & Inken

Looking back i really had lots of visitors during my last months in Cambodia.
Beginning of June Marie came along and stayed for about a month. Not only did she stay at my place, she also worked at SCAO for about 2 weeks. It was great to have her as a volunteer and share some work experience with her. Together we went to Sihanoukville and mainly watched the World Cup in Cambodia – which meant waiting for a game to start until 3 am and stay up until 5 am at least and then going to SCAO on the next morning.

End of June another friend of ours, Inken, visited Cambodia on her way home from New Zealand. The three of us went to see Battambang and Siem Reap together.
In Battambang we explored the surrounding temples and mountains and went for a ride on the bamboo train. After two days in Battambang we took the bus to Siem Reap, where we visited Angkor Wat. I had already seen parts of it when I was there with my family in December but it was worth going a second time. Especially with the two girl it was a lot of fun. Besides temples and ancient ruins we enjoyed a lot of massages and shopping in Siem Reap.
I had an amazing time with them and it was a bit hard to readjust to live without them when they left for Germany again.

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Birthday Celebrations and World Cup finals

My 20th birthday was spent singing Karaoke and watching the Germany vs. Brazil game at 3 am.
Emilly, Steffen and Fabian had bought a cake for me and brought it to the sports bar beforehand and then surprised me with it and the whole bar singing “Happy Birthday” right before the game started.
Even though I was tired from all the singing, we were watching the game and soon enough were celebrating the German team and their 7:1 win! This was probably one of the greatest birthday gifts ever.
The next morning I was luckily able to sleep in and only had to teach one hour at SCAO. When I came to my Pre-Intermediate class in the evening one of the girls tried to distract me by telling me there was a snake outside the classroom and when I turned around my whole class was singing for me and two students were bringing in a bright pink and white cake. We all took pictures together and later had a wild cake fight. I am still so grateful to all my students and will never forget this special birthday with them.

The World Cup final took place the weekend after my birthday and Emilly, Steffen and Fabi convinced me to go up to Siem Reap with them to visit some other volunteers and spent the weekend there. We were also invited to a Cambodian ceremony, which was somewhat similar to the baptism of a child and visited some of Steffens friends in the countryside.
The whole weekend was topped off with the World Cup Final which Germany won against Argentina! Because no one could decide on where to watch the game and changing our location about three times just before the game started we later ended up watching it in the Pub Street in Siem Reap, which was quite similar to public viewing outdoors. There were several screens throughout the street, loud music so you couldn’t really listen to the commentator of the game and no seats, however no one cared about that once Germany had won the game! The celebration was great and quite passionate, it seemed like all German tourists/backpackers/volunteers etc. had met at the Pub Street and the Khmer also happily joined in, in the various songs being sung/shouted.

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Mondulkiri

Due to the “Water Festival” SCAO closed the school for three days and I had the chance to go explore Cambodia a bit more.

This time we, we being Leon, Emilly, Karo, John, Cecile and me (all of us are volunteers working for SCAO) decided to take a bus to Sen Monorom, a small town in the Province of Mondulkiri.

Mondulkiri is in the north-east of Cambodia and together with Rattanakiri, one of the most unexplored and remote provinces of Cambodia. Other than most of Cambodias countryside, which is flat and full of rice fields, Mondulkiri is very mountaineous, harsh, and much colder and windier than the rest of the country. Many of the hills are covered with rain forest and the province is known for it’s wildlife and enormous waterfalls.

We started our journey on Saturday morning at seven. This time we did not go with a large travel bus, but with a ford transit with only 15 seats. Alas the bus was way faster and also did not stop every 15 minutes to let someone out or in. Because Emilly, Cecile and me already got up at 5 o’clock in the morning to go to the market to buy some fruits and snacks for the journey, we slept a long time of the busride. When I woke up there were already no more rice fields to be seen and instead I could see over the hills into the beautiful country of Cambodia.

Upon arrival in Sen Monorom, the one and only town in Mondulkiri, we started to look for a guesthouse. This time we had been clever and booked out bus tickets in advance, however we didn’t think that I would be necessary to also make a reservation for a guesthouse … – well I definetly would have been.  At first, we waved everyone who offered us a moto or a guesthouse away, because we wanted to look in our travel books before deciding on a guesthouse. The first guesthouse we checked out was really nice and even had a room for three people left, however they wanted to charge us 20 $ a night. Deciding that it was too expensive for us and the bed too small, we called another guesthouse – they were completely booked. Then we remembered a guy that had offered us his last bungalow and called him. He picked us up with his car and we were already super happy to have found something. Then however we noticed that the drive out to the bungalows was quite long. We decided not to care, unless the bungalows would be really really nice – they were not. Or at least they were not what we wanted to settle for. We then went back into town, after apologizing to the guy that we would not take his kind offer, and looked for other places. We called all places listed in out three different travel books – all of them either being completely booked or not answering the phone. Then we called the first place again to see if we could still take the small room – surprise, surprise, also taken. After at least one and a half hour of calling guesthouses and wandering down the streets of Sen Monorom, we decided to call Mr. Den again (our bungalow guy) to pick us up and stay in one of his bungalows.

Karo, John and Leon, who took a different bus than Emilly, Cecile and me, had also arrived by the time and were already waiting for us at Mr. Dens Place, since they didn’t even try to find another place. All of us pretty tired from the journey and especially the guesthouse search, we decided not to do anything to big anymore and just rented motos to see a small waterfall close to our bungalows.

At dinner we met Peter, SCAO’s development officer and some friends. They made the whole trip from Phnom Penh to Sen Monorom by big bike and had arrived approximately 5 hours after us.

The next morning we got up early (again) and went Elephant Trekking. Mr. Den took us to a small village of the Phhnong, the natives of Mondulkiri, where we met our elephant and our guide. We started off with Emilly and Cecile sitting in the basket on top of the elephant and me on the neck of the elephant. Karo, John and Leon walked alongside us.

Sitting on the neck of the elephant was an indescribable feeling. I could feel the every movement of the giant animal, its leathern skin and its long bristles prickling through my pants. Riding through the jungle on top of an Elephant you suddenly had to look out for all the higher leaves and branches and duck yourself constantly.  After about one and a half hours we reached a river and made a rest. We had some lunch that Mr. Den gave to us and afterwards swam in the river and climbed a small waterfall. Later the elephant and our guide also joined us in the river and we had the chance to wash the elephant and swim with him.  On the way back, we changed, and Leon, Karo and John were now riding the elephant. It also started raining – what would a rainforest be without any rain? – and at the end of our hike my feet were completely muddy. However all of us were smiling like little children after the adventure that we had just been part of.

After going to “Mondulkiri Pizza” for dinner, where they told us we had to wait 50 minutes for the new dough to be prepared, just to tell us after 15 minutes of waiting that they were out of cheese and could not make any more pizza for us, we decided to come back the next day and ended up having dinner at the same place that we went to the night before.

On Monday morning we had to move out from our bungalow and move into other rooms at a Khmer Hotel, because Mr. Den, owner of our Bungalows, had a group of people coming that wanted to rent out all bungalows so he decided to offer us the hotel rooms for the same price and basically “threw” us out. The whole procedure took a while and when we were finally finished and had some breakfast we had to solve another problem.

We- now already seven people, since a German-Canadian guy, that we met, had joined our group – all wanted to go see the Bou Sraa waterfalls, 38 kilometres east of Sen Monorom. However we only had 3 motos and couldn’t find another one in whole Sen Monorom to rent. Since we did not want to go with 3 people on one moto on a street that was just red dust and/or mud, we decided to split up. The guys took the motos and us girls wanted to take a shared taxi.

The taxi that should’ve picked us up at 2 didn’t even bother to show up so we quickly decided to hitchhike and just stop a car to bring us to the waterfalls. Easier said than done. We stood at the road for at least 40 minutes without getting at least one car to bring us to the waterfalls. After waiting for what felt like hours, we finally managed to find a car that was going in the right direction. Only negative thing, the driver wanted each of us to pay 4 $. Since we were all desperate to see the waterfalls we agreed to pay the price.

The Bou Sraa waterfalls were incredible. Both of them are quite high and it’s amazing to see the water crashing down on the rocks with that much power. It was so loud that we had to scream at each other to understand anything. Since the waterfalls are the most famous attraction of Mondulkiri it was packed with people having picnics and taking iPad photos in front of the waterfall. Not only were there many people, there were also masses of garbage lying around and you could always see some empty cans or bottles floating in the water. Nevertheless the experience was amazing.

Because we had arrived quite late we didn’t have the chance to stay very long since we wanted to be back in Sen Monorom by sunset and we figured that we wouldn’t find a car to take us back if we waited any longer. Luckily we left at the right moment. The boys were already back on their motos and drove off. Only three cars were left on the parking space. All around us jungle. The first car didn’t have any space left for 4 girls, the second would have taken us back to Sen Monorom but then they remembered that they were going back the next day and the third car first denied but when we offered them to sit outside on the truck bed they agreed to take us back. We were so glad that they offered to take us.

The ride on the truck bed was probably one of the most fun things I have done in a while, and one of the coldest as well. After 20 minutes we were all freezing and wrapped in our towels.  We were almost back in Sen Monorom when the car suddenly stopped and some of the children that had been sitting in the front came out and joined us on the truck bed. We were quite confused and asked where we were going. They told us that we go up to a mountain to watch the sun go down. Lucky us, we had also planned to go there, however we wouldn’t even have made it, since we were too late and the boys had the motos and did not bother to go on top of the mountain with us. Hence we drove up there with the family, watched the sunset – which was one of the most stunning sunsets I have ever seen – met the boys up there and took a bunch of pictures together with the family.

After a while we all climbed back onto the car. We were sure that now we would go back to Sen Monorom, but the family decided against it and drove off into the wrong direction. A little bit afraid that they were not staying in Sen Monorom and hadn’t understood us we told them to please turn around. One of the children however explained to us that we were just going to go to another tourist attraction called “Ocean of trees”. By the time we arrived, you could hardly see the “Ocean of trees” and it was freezing.  We climbed of the car again, acted like we would take some more pictures, smiled, and then climbed back up the car.

We arrived back at the hotel, the boys already waiting for us, and together with Peter and his friends we went straight to “Mondulkiri Pizza” looking forward to have some delicious pizza with mozzarella cheese. There was not a lot going on but this day the guy told us he had enough dough and cheese and everything was fine. Aside from the fact that we had to wait 3 full hours to get all the pizzas. It took them at least one and a half hour to bring out the first pizza, and another 20 minutes for the next one and so on. Plus they forgot one of the pizzas we ordered and just because Karo was to fed up with waiting we told them to leave it and Karo grabbed some food at another place. The pizza was really nice, unfortunately what we will remember is not the nice pizza but waiting 3 hours for it. If some of the boys would not have had a snickers from the supermarket in between waiting they probably would have gone crazy.

The next day we left Mondulkiri and headed back to Phnom Penh. After a six hour bus ride there was nothing better to see all the familiar faces at the center and arrive back home.