Vietnam and Cambodia 2023

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In July 2023, 30 students had the Fantastic opportunity to partake in an enrichment trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. A trip that we all will never forget. While there we had opportunities to participate in things, we would not have been able to do while solo travelling and experience these opportunities with some of our closest friends and additionally with the support and company of 4 amazing teachers. The cultural and historical opportunities we had there were far better than we could’ve ever imagined, and we visited places which have given us new perspectives on our life back in Devon.

While in Vietnam, one of the places that really stood out to a lot of was when we visited the Cu Chi Tunnels. This was significant to a lot of us as we had studied the Vietnam war at A-level and therefor it was amazing to see the place we had only read about in the flesh. While there our tour guide showed us the real tunnels which had been used by the VC alongside real traps which had been saved from the 70s. Our tour guide had a wealth of information and enjoyed sharing it with us, as such we found it incredibly fascinating, as he described how the tunnels were used to not only fight, but also to carry supplies to soldiers and to villages. One really engaging opportunity we had, was to go down into one tunnel. The tunnel was 200m long from the start and finish. Crawling through was fascinating as it was completely dark once inside and it really brought to life what our tour guide was saying as we imagined having to transport supplies for miles on end through them. Additionally, as we walked through the forest, we got to view a tank which had been VC and see the various entrances to tunnels that were completely hidden to anyone who didn’t know they were there. This was an extremely interesting place to visit as it was historically enriching as the tunnels played a significant role in the Vietnam war.

Another day in particular that stood out to a lot of us was our third day in Vietnam. After being in Ho Chi Minh for the first few days we travelled outside of the city to the countryside. Here, we partook in a bike ride. The bike ride track took us through the most amazing Jungle in which none of us were expecting. There were small houses on the side of the track, covered in rich green leaves of Palm and Coconut trees. We meandered our way down a track, alongside the Mekong Delta, taking in the jungle plants all around us. Although extremely hot we had breaks where we visited a coconut plantation and were able to watch how they traditionally harvested coconuts. I think this day stood out to us as it was the most amazing bike ride which most of us will ever go on. Moreover, after the bike ride we hopped onto a boat which took us down the Mekong Delta to a family run restaurant on the waterfront where we were served a whole fried Elephant ear fish. This day we experienced amazing food and beautiful scenery with only one near fatality of someone ending up riding her bike straight into a bush off of the path!

“My favourite day was the amazing bike ride and the boat along the Mekong Delta, after which we had a freshly cooked lunch on the river”

One of our last nights in Vietnam was spent in the Mekong Delta riverside hotel and spa. We all had rooms that looked over the Mekong Delta and while there were able to participate in a cooking class where we learnt how to make Vietnamese pancakes and spring rolls. As the only way to get to and from the hotel was by boat, in the morning we boarded onto small 3-seater boats and Ventured up small parts of the river, with a local person rowing our boats for us. Throughout the day we hopped on and off small boats, occasionally stopping. We jumped of at a coconut factory and the hopped back on for a cruise through a wild bird sanctuary where wild birds had a safe place to nest and live, the sounds of the thousands of birds were amazing as we peacefully made our way round by boat. This was a serene last day in Vietnam.

The first day in Cambodia was possibly my favourite. Although after a long journey to Cambodia we had to privilege of volunteering at the Phnom Tomao Wildlife rescue centre, just outside of the capital city of Phnom Penh. Free the bears, sun and moon sanctuary were established in 1997 following a spate of bear cub rescues. While there we had the opportunity to prepare the food for the bears as well as snacks where we put honey and plants inside balls and bamboo sticks and chucked them over into the cages. This was amazing as most of had never seen a sun or moon bear and it was fascinating to learn all about their differences as well as all the rescues that the sanctuary had carried out. As well as all the sun and moon bears, we also got to see tigers, this one specifically had been rescued from a Chinese businessman who had been keeping him as a pet as well as a highlight for all of us, an elephant. Additionally, for lunch we enjoyed a home cooked meal of beef noodles, egg, rice, a soup and buttered chicken while sat in a raised hut in the middle of the jungle. This was one of my favourite meals for the taste and scenery around us.

Also, on this day we visited the Cambodia Killing fields, where the Cambodian genocide had taken place. This was an extremely sad experience and gave us time to reflect on all the lives that had been lost during the genocide which not everyone realised had not happened long ago. Our tour guide shared the experiences of her own family in the Killing fields. Her stories were extremely moving and brought the devastation of the place to life. She shared a particular story that stood out to me of her mother who worked in the Kitchens for the highest Khmer Rouge officials, stealing food such as rice and taking it back to camps and feeding it to the children. This was a really moving recollection of her mother’s life in the Killing fields and gave us all a lot to think about especially when she told us that she was the only one of her entire family that had ever visited the site of the killing fields. Although terribly sad it was an extremely important part of the trip for all of us and will stand out in our memories for the rest of our lives. This particular tour guide shared a lot of moving stories about growing up in Cambodia. Another one that I found fascinating was her telling us about her grandmother who had been a Buddhist nun. Her grandmother had been illiterate so our tour guide as a child would have to read all the Buddhist songs etc out to her in order for her to remember them.

The best bit was just getting to see a completely different side of the worlds with a completely different way of life

For one of our last days, we ditched the coach and had a took-took taxi for the day. Our amazing drivers took us through Siem Riep to the breath-taking temple of Ankor War, commonly known to be a filming place of Indiana Jones. Our spectacular tour guide toured us round to various areas of the temple, in which he had a wealth of knowledge for each. We had the opportunity to climb to the top of some of the ruins where we could see the vast jungle below us as well as the stretching grounds of the temple. The wealth of history you felt while you were there was like no other as we admired stone which had been carved into intricate patterns and designs nearly 2000 years ago. The architecture was spectacular. One bit of Ankor Wat that stood out to me specifically was the vast man-made lake which our tour guide told us as a lake which had been used as a kind of blessing lake which people would bathe in.

Throughout the whole of the trip, we had a vast expanse of historically and culturally enriching opportunities. Our 3 tour guides had a wealth of information and told us facts and stories that will stick with us for the rest of our lives, and I believe will make us gain a new perspective on our life here at home in Devon. Additionally, the chance to travel to the other side of the world at 17 and 18 with some of our closest friends is an opportunity we will never have again and will therefore treasure forever. The memories we have gained will never be forgotten and I believe for all of us it has sparked something, leaving us all itching to go back.

One of my personal favourite bits of the trip was the boat rides up the river, while there I couldn’t quite believe I was there as it was an amazing experience which I was sharing with my best friends.