Our recent trip to the “Kingdom of Wonder” or Cambodia, consisting of 25 International Baccalaureate students and three staff members from SISC, proved to be an experience of a lifetime. Landing in Siem Reap brought us face-to-face with a civilization that was already advanced in the 9th century and constructed the most amazing temples in the 11th & 12th. At the same time, it has only recently emerged from the horror of the Kymer Rouge and the Killing Fields.
Cambodia is known for its numerous temples of breathtaking proportions such as the Angkor Wat built during the 12th century. Inside the temple, we were captivated by the beautiful and intricate carvings on the walls, columns, and even the roofs. It took us many hours to fully appreciate the extraordinary creativity and dedication of the people who built it.
After the splendour of Angkor Wat, it was almost time for lunch so we headed to the local restaurant where fresh spring rolls, sweet and sour pork, and Khmer noodles were served. In the afternoon, we visited the equally marvelous and enchanting Bayon Temple where a number of huge stone faces can be seen. This was followed by a visit to Ta Phrom where Angelina Jolie ran around as Lara Croft in the movie Tomb Raider. Walking around the temples amidst the staggering heat and high humidity left everyone wanting to eat ice cream and drink cold water.
We ate dinner at Khoulen Restaurant where beautiful Apsara dancers entertained us with several regional cultural dances that had close similarities to those of the Philippines. The team was thrilled by the tuk-tuk ride on our way to the Night Market to do some shopping and 15-minute foot massage or fish spa.
This trip would not have been complete without heading to Phnom Pehn, the capital city of Cambodia. We visited the school-turned-prison used by the Khmer Rouge, one of many where the most brutal tortures and killings took place. Many tourists were there but the place was silent like a church. Endless rooms full of minute cells, torture tools, and photographs of the dead, made the place eerie. We were struck by the brutality inflicted upon their own people by those in power.
Museums, arts and crafts
This was followed by a visit to the Killing Fields where we saw a tree where children were beaten to death. The sense of unspeakable horror that comes over you at the thought is shaded with a profound sadness as you see the attachment of thousands of peace bracelets. We also went to see the National Museum filled with Angkor art and religious artifacts, and the Royal Palace with its magnificent architectures.
On the last day of our trip, we traveled back to Siem Reap and visited the Angkor Artisans. It is a Cambodian social business enterprise which aims to create job opportunities for the victims of the landmines and AIDS. Local residents are also given a chance at employment by learning the skills of Khmer craftsmanship. We had a tour of the different workshop where the students had a closer look at how the artists use their skills in stone and wood carving, painting on silk and silver plating.
The trip to Cambodia was memorable in many ways; firstly students saw first-hand the horror of war, specifically civil war and how it tore families, villages, towns and cities apart. A key feature of the IB Diploma is to promote global understanding and the need for this was ingrained in all the students. Secondly the temples were spectacular and gave us a tremendous sense of culture and history (and religion) rarely seen in Asia. thirdly, the night market provided the scene for many “finds”, not the least of which were a sizeable wooden Buddha and the joys of a foot massage after a full day of walking.
In the end, this five-day study trip in Cambodia has left us with many questions to answer and great memories of increased friendships and acceptance of a completely different culture.[Rina Gillegao is the IB coordinator for the Southville International Schools and Colleges.]