World Challenge Thailand and Cambodia – Ms Maher’s Blog
On the 9th July, Head of History Ms Jane Maher and eleven Upper Sixth girls departed for a three-week expedition to Cambodia and Thailand. Ms Maher has managed to get a few reports and photographs back home, and here follow her reports – most recent at the top. More updates will be added as they arrive.
Updated 30th July
30th July – Last day in Bangkok
We have arrived at Bangkok after a ferry / bus / taxi journey. We had more adventures with taxi drivers not knowing where to go so we arrived at our Orchid Hostel accommodation an hour later than planned having been taken to the Sheraton at first! The state of us with rucksacks however, hardly suited such a suave billet! We are all looking forward to spending our last bhats before the journey home.
29th July – Rest and Recuperation
We are on the beautiful island of Ko Samed. After a day of cloud and rain yesterday, today is sunny and we have enjoyed an idyllic boat trip. Tomorrow we are leaving the Island on the first ferry and traveling to Bangkok where we will spend full day and night before heading back to the UK.
26th July – The Thailand Trek
(no photos are available yet for this part of the expedition)
Vertical (very in places) lush, and just so wildly spectacular, that you have to pinch yourself to realise you are ACTUALLY experiencing it! The first day was wet. I mean wet. Sodden, we finally reached our bamboo huts and changed into our set of dry clothes. Cambodia had taught us well!
Setting up makeshift washing lines we endeavoured to dry off the dripping garments. After tea, we all slumped into our sleeping bags on mats and slept … well … until … the dogs began barking … the cocks started crowing … pigs started snorting …
After breakfast we all reluctantly donned still-soaking clothes (putting a wet underclothes back on is THE worst feeling, believe me!) and set off.
This was the hardest day of the trek and although some zoomed away at the front, all made it through at their own pace. Clear weather and cooler temperatures helped. This night’s billet was a wooden homestay with rugs. However, it was dry and once mosquito nets were arranged, tea eaten sitting round the pans on the floor of the ‘kitchen’ area we were all ready for bed.
The final day was pretty easy walking with lunch at a waterfall. Many took the opportunity to clean rather smelly feet at this point.
Arrival back at the hostel at Chiang Mai with showers and beds was very welcome. After another night at the street markets everyone was feeling refreshed and aware that our trip was coming to an end with just R&R before flying home!
25th July – Over the border from Cambodia to Thailand
Crossing the border was a strange experience. As we were on foot with our bags on backs we could easily imagine ourselves as like refugees escaping to freedom! However, once we had passed the inevitable bureaucracy our bus awaited. A 13 seater – yes, but for 13 rucksacks AND a rather nice young US backpacker called Jimmy as well – no!! Somehow we all squashed in and off we set. There was some misunderstanding with the driver as to which station he would drop us off at but we understood why he had tried to deposit us at the one just outside the city when we got stuck in Bangkok traffic.
Arriving with slightly raised blood pressure, we made it on to the train with 15 minutes to spare. What a pleasant surprise! Spacious bunks in an air-conditioned carriage, dinner ordered, we all felt very happy with our first experience of Thailand. Being awoken to ‘Get up, get up!’ the next morning was a different matter! Breakfast appeared – which looked better on the menu than in reality – and then we were pulling into Chiang Mai.
A quick reorganisation of rucksacks and – I am ashamed to admit, a Starbucks for many – and we were off on our trek.
20th July – Project phase at a Cambodian primary school
From Siem Reap, along with many purchases made at various night markets, we set off for our project phase at Battambang.
After a hot ride via two buses and tuk-tuks we arrived to really good accommodation (on stilts) and a fabulous lunch. We then went to ‘our school’ where part of the group ‘set to’ removing a previous mural in one of classrooms while others went for supplies.
The girls then divided into groups some painting in a classroom, some helping at a mushroom farm and some with teaching the afternoon classes. This proved a lot harder than anticipated mainly due to lack of real direction but also classes with huge age ranges. The next day followed in similar way and the next until we were ready to leave. An outstanding mural is our legacy there and hopefully some good memories for the children we encountered. We then set off to cross the border to Thailand …
We set off in a very cramped minibus for the seven-hour drive to Siem Reap for some welcome R&R. Our hostel proved really good especially as they had a laundry service! Dispatching bags of very smelly stuff at the counter we had time to explore the lively but very welcoming town, which we all thought was MUCH nicer than Pnomh Penh.
Today we got transport to the temples at Angkor Wat at 4am so we could be first in the queue for tickets. We then watched the sunrise over these ancient and spectacular monuments. The rest of the day was spent exploring them with the highlight undoubtedly being the temple used as a set for the Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones films.
17th July – Report from Ms Maher on return from the Cambodian Trek
Dirty does not come close to describing how we entered our hotel in Banlung. We had to hose down our boots and then proceed to have marathon washing sessions – an array of clothes from undies to trekking gear hanging on para-cord adorned the bed and bathrooms!
The trek was spectacular taking in some lush greenery, waterfalls and … a lot of rain! This was certainly welcome in that it brought down the temperature but, combined with river crossings, we were permanently soaking. Most crossings were knee deep but our last one went up to our necks. Most of us stripped off shirts but swam in trousers and boots after our World Challenge leader discovered a HUGE leech attached to his lower limb!
Sleeping in hammocks and ‘bashers’ proved an experience many of us may choose not to repeat. With monsoon rainfall and thunderstorms throughout each night, they were not the best sleeps we have ever had!
11th July – Arrival and settling in
Arrived here after a long, long journey – the flights were good (apart from a very loud boys school rugby team en route to Australia who were placed right amongst us!) and on time; we all caught up on some sleep on the seats at Hong Kong airport during our seven hours there!
On arrival, the girls got to grips with the transportation to our accommodation. We were all desperate for a shower and drink but we quickly exited the first wash area we found as it wasn’t suitable. Setting off on foot to find a better one, we set off on foot thinking it was close but it ended up as our first trek!
Absolutely worn out we arrived to a smiling welcome and lovely rooms. A shower, food and drinks sent us to sleep happy on our first night in Cambodia.
We spent the following morning sorting transport and food out. We discovered the market and sampled some very interesting fruits.
In the afternoon, an extremely distressing experience was a visit to‘the Killing Fields’ and Genocide Museum followed by equally harrowing S-21 prison / torture camp. Man’s inhumanity to man is more than evident there.