Early on the 2nd of July, a group of nineteen sleepy year eleven students accompanied by Ms Newell, Mr Pratt and Ms Johnson met at Sydney Airport to embark on an exciting nine-hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Our first impressions of Vietnam were a mixture of enjoying the heat, taking in our different surroundings and continuous exclamation over the amount of motorbikes riding around the city, something which we never really quite got used to. We spent our days in Vietnam visiting temples and markets in and around Ho Chi Minh City as well as other tourist must-sees, such as the Cu Chi Tunnels used as form of guerilla transport during the Vietnam War and the Mekong River.

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But sadly time was limited, and we soon departed from Chau Doc in a boat, prepared for the five-hour trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. For countries so close together, the two were very different. While in Vietnam, we witnessed many beggars and street kids in a very dirty city. In Phnom Penh, everything seemed clean and the city was filled with beautiful temples and a very extravagant palace. We spent our first afternoon there touring the city in cyclos and visiting the temple on the hill that the city was named after.

One of the most confronting experiences was our visit to the Genocide Museum, exhibiting the horror that was projected on to the people of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge in their 1975-1979 regime. Almost half of the population of that time was tortured, before being murdered and having their bodies dumped in the Killing Fields. We were lucky enough to have a guide that was acquainted with one of the very small group of survivors, a men named Chum Mey, who was able to tell us about his experiences via translation by our guide. His story about the torture inflicted on himself and the murder of his family, as he was suspected to be working for the government, was definitely one of the things that stayed with us after our trip. The reign of the Khmer Rouge has been in the news recently, as one of the leaders of S-21, the camp that we visited, has been trialled and sentenced to thirty years imprisonment for the deaths of over two million people through overwork, starvation and execution.

After our days in Phnom Penh, we made our way up towards Siem Reap, home of Angkor Wat. We spent a day exploring the ancient temple complex before heading out to the Prek Toal floating village, located about two and a half hours boat ride across the Tonle Sap Lake. The two days we spent here were a true insight into the South East Asian culture and way of life. We worked with local villagers building a bridge and shelves and stayed with local families that night, knowing only three or four words in Khmer, the language of Cambodia. The homestays probably provided the greatest culture shock for us (well that, and our experiences with the squatting ‘Eastern’ toilets) as it allowed us to truly live like these people did for one night, as well as interact within their small community. Many of us brought toys and colouring-in books and pencils to give to the children, as many had never owned a toy.

The purpose of our trip to Vietnam and Cambodia was to ‘discover Buddhism’ and to participate in a community project, something that we all achieved. But I think that we also took home greater understanding of and compassion for the people that we met on our travels, something that hopefully will stay with us as we continue on through life and make us always aware of how lucky we are in relation to other people around the world.

By S. Lake.

One response to “VIETNAM AND CAMBODIA – Student report

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