Cambodia, or once you see some of the t-shirts 'Cambodge' was by far the best place I have ever been in my life. Not the first place to crop up on many peoples 'Places to visit' list, I recommend you re-think where you want to go, because this place, trust me, is somewhere you want to go. Although I say this, I almost selfishly want to keep it to myself and my friends and recommend you find somewhere else. Wishful thinking, because there is nowhere else in the world where you will see as many smiles in one day.
Projects Abroad, for a first time traveller was perfect for me. Save your pennies! I was there for a month, and it was expensive to go, but cost of living over there is next to nothing. PA costs include; accomodation, two meals per day, some food in the appartment (bread, water, peanut butter, fruit), once per month there is a Social dinner which all food and drink is covered, they take you to and from work, and provide a support and social scene that is priceless. Although, now feeling more comfortable in the country, I am not sure I would use them again as it was expensive, and I feel confident I could provide accomodation and still be involved with other volunteers socially.
Cambodia is a simple place. The people don't have much, but don't want for much either. What we would see as a daily struggle is their way of life, and they smile on through it. As it grows and adapts to the new throngs of tourists that come its way, it doesn't seem to have lost any of its charm.
Day one, you will be met at the airport by a thick wall of heat, and through it a mob of tuk tuk drivers who all want to take you to where you need to be (most of which will have to make a pit stop to look at a map, or by a friends house to ask for directions, but they will get you there!) The sites and smells of Phnom Pehn will leave you feeling like your head is in a spin. As you drive past slums, and new buildings, side by side, you will start to get a grip of the place you are now calling home for the next month, or however long you are staying. The past and the future side by side. Third world poverty next to western bank buildings, what is it they say about irony?
The projects abroad staff were wonderful. From day one they made us feel comfortable and at home, and from the minute we walked into the apartment it really did feel like home! A strange feeling to be thrust into a new culture, with strangers from all over the world, but the PA staff seem to allow you to do the transition seemlessly...well that and the already standing tradition of volunteers watching Glee every tuesday made it easy to feel at home.
Day to day life for us was fun. We would wake up and have breakfast, cram as many water bottles into our bags as we could for the hot day ahead of us, and get into our tuk tuk and pray to Buddah that we would make it safely to work by 8 (Cambodian traffic is an exhilarating experience, and it wakes you up in the morning more than any cup of coffee will be able to) We were Physiotherapy volunteers at an orphanage specifically for children with disabilities. We would work with the children, play with the children, and succumb to doing whatever the little smilers wanted us to do until 11. Then we would be back in the tuk tuk heading back to the appartment for our deliciously cooked lunch. Sitting at the lunch table with 10 other volunteers day in day out, you all quickly feel like one big family. Then maybe after a quick nap, and stocking up on water, we would leave and head back to the orphanage for 2. Here we are once again greeted by the children that just make the whole trip worthwhile (Not that it already isn't) and spend another 2 hours with them until it is their dinner time, and time for us to go home. Another thrilling tuk tuk ride and we are home for the evening. Another cooked meal, that will bound to have something everyone likes, as there are several plates served (all with rice) and its time to unwind with the other volunteers. Tell eachother about your day, perhaps go out for icecream (a projects abroad favourite) Maybe for some drinks on the riverfont, or even bowling! There are no curfews, but most weeknight we would be home by 12, and into bed ready to do it all again the next day.
Weekends are free time, and although projects arrange for certain activities, often everyone splits up and does their own thing. Some people will spend the weekend at one of the many hotel pools in and around the area, some people will get a group together and go to the beach, or visit the magnificent temples, you could even go to neighboring Vietnam for a whirlwind few days in Saigon. There is always something to do, and always someone who will be there with you. I never expected to make such close friends with people that I would be travelling with them, even after our time in Cambodia was over, but when in that sort of environment, a few days of knowing someone and it feels like a lifetime. It was definately one of the highlights of the trip.
I wish I could say there were difficulties, but none really stick out in my mind as they were overshadowed by the good times. The language barrier can be difficult at work, so make sure you can communicate with gestures! Also, depending on the time of year you are there the head can be stifling, and with little airconditioning around the place, it might be handy to bring a hand held fan for when you are walking around.
The people of Cambodia will always be very special to me, and I hope that as their popularity grows, they don't lose what makes their country so inexplicably amazing, somewhere you just have to go and see for yourself!