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Trip Report Lcuy's 2010 trip to Boston, Bangkok, Cambodia, and Singapore

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Here is the summary of my trip to Cambodia. The long version will follow:
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In October 2010, I traveled from Hawaii to Boston for the infamous Boston Fodor’s GTG, then met up with my younger daughter in Asia to volunteer with the Ponheary Ly Foundation in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Along the way, we also spent some time in Bangkok, Battambang (Cambodia) and Singapore.

Oct 6: Honolulu to Boston on Continental Airlines. Ticket was just under $1900 and took me from Honolulu to Boston, Tokyo then Bangkok, and from Bangkok to Honolulu via Narita and Guam on the way home. My Bangkok to Siem Reap ticket was purchased separately on Bangkok Airways.

Oct 7: Stayed at older daughter’s home in Watertown, MA.

Oct 8 & 9: Two nights at the Hyatt Summerfield Suites in Burlington, the official GTG hotel. $109/night for a one bedroom apt with 2 dbl beds and a living room sofa bed.
http://burlington.summerfieldsuites.hyatt.com
Oct 10: Hyatt Harborside at Logan Airport. “Won” it that morning on Priceline for $108.
http://harborside.hyatt.com/hyatt/hotels/index.jsp?null
Oct 11: Flew Boston-Narita-Bangkok

Oct 12 & 13: Met up with younger Dear Daughter (DD)) at The Adelphi Suites on Sukhumvit Soi 8 in Bangkok. Great serviced apt with two beds, free Internet, breakfast, washer/dryer and all taxes: US $87 per night. http://www.adelphisuites.com/

Oct 14: Flew Bangkok Airways to Siem Reap $250 ea

Oct 14-29: Seven Candles Guesthouse in Siem Reap. $20/night for a double room with AC and private bath. Immaculate rooms, friendly, helpful staff, dedicated tuk tuk drivers, bicycles. Owned by Ponheary Ly and Family. No pool, but $3.50 will buy you all-day access to the pool (incl towels & chairs) at the Bopha Angkor nearby. Our primary purpose was to work with the PLF in the schools. ( www.theplf.org )

Oct 22-24: Weekend in Battambang. Ferry to Battambang: $15 Stayed 2 nights at the brand new “Au Cabaret Vert” at $50/night for an adorable cottage with AC. The very nice young French owners had a naturally filtered swimming pool, free wi-fi and breakfast. http://www.aucabaretvert.fr/natural-pool-battambang-hotel-cambodia

We took a cooking class in town at the Smokin’ Pot Café” ($8), hired the Hotel driver for a long afternoon and evening of touring in his tuk tuk ($10/day). The last day we spent several hours in the local market, then returned by bus back to Siem Reap ($3.50)

Oct 29: Air Asia: Siem Reap-Kuala Lumpur- Singapore: $165 each.

Oct 29 -Nov 2: Singapore. Four nights at the Intercontinental Hotel. Booked using a “family & friends” discount for $191 per night.

Nov 2: Air Asia to Bangkok $204

Nov 2-4: Nira’s Hostel in Bangkok. Daughter loved staying here for a week before I arrived in Bangkok, and wanted to return. We had a private room with bath, AC, breakfast for about $50 a night. Booked through “Hostel World”. Geared to the backpacker crowd, but quite pleasant with wonderful staff and lots of extras such as wi-fi, TV & free DVDs, share books, in-room fridge, coffee & snacks in lobby. Dorm rooms with bunk beds and private lockers are about $15 night. http://www.nirasbankoc.com/

Nov 4: Continental Airlines from BKK to Guam.

Nov 4: Hilton Hotel in Agana. Ocean view room with balcony: $124/night
http://preview.tinyurl.com/3g5cxq5

Nov 5: Guam to Honolulu. Fly through time to arrive home on Nov 4.

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    The long story.

    This trip, like many of my trips, began one evening with me hunting for flights on kayak.com. The annual Boston Fodor’s Get Together was scheduled for Oct 8 & 9, and I needed a ticket from my home in Honolulu to Boston, preferably on Continental, to keep my Platinum elite status with them.

    Simple, right? Well, yes, but prices were high for that weekend, and I figured if I was going to spend $800 getting to Boston, I should see what a side trip might cost. An hour or so later, I had put a hold on the following five-week ticket: Honolulu – Newark – Boston – Newark – Narita – Bangkok – Narita - Houston- San Francisco- Honolulu. All this for about $1900!

    I spent the rest of the evening thinking about what to do in Asia for a month, and decided to go to Cambodia and volunteer with the Ponheary Ly foundation. My younger daughter and I had been talking about this for years, so I emailed her to see if she’d like to come with me, and emailed Lori Carlson in Siem Reap to see if they could use us.

    Two decisive “yes” answers, and it was on! DD was backpacking around Europe all summer. She liked the idea of coming home via Asia, and Lori said they could use our skills, whatever they were.

    One of the challenges for a trip like this is packing. I would be on the road for five weeks and needed reasonably nice cool-weather things for Boston, and hot weather clothes for Cambodia. I also wanted to carry school/medical supplies and kids clothes to donate to the PLF and favors for the GTG.

    After four months backpacking in Europe, my DD had a wish for some new supplies from home as well. Luckily, my Platinum card on Continental allowed 3 free bags, so I took everything to Boston, then mailed home my cool weather/dressier clothes, jacket, and shoes from there. I ended up flying with a 21 inch wheeled bag, another wheeled bag that looks like a big purse, and a small (12x12x20 ) duffle bag.

    On Oct 6, I had an overnight flight to Newark, then a short hop to Boston. About a week before the flight, I got one of Continental’s “you’ve been upgraded to first class” e-mails. I was really happy…till I noticed it was only the Newark-Boston leg. Drat! It did gain me access to the President’s club lounge though, so the layover in Newark was much more comfortable. I was able to take a shower, and then run down to the new branch of the Grand Central Oyster Bar for a tasty snack.

    In Boston, I had reserved a car from Alamo, as my daughter’s home and the Summerfield Suites are both far, far away from any public transportation. I arrived about 3pm and my reserved compact car was out of stock. They offered me any mid-size, then let me take a Prius without any argument. From past experience, I had inkling I might be spending a lot of time on the road.

    I managed to get to my daughter’s home in Watertown without too much drama, and spent an hour or so taking my favorite dog for a walk until she got home. I wouldn’t call Watertown charming, but the riverside walk and residential neighborhoods are very pleasant. I picked up take-out dinner for us at Sellina’s (Watertown restaurant). It was wonderful - a mango feta pizza, green salad with nuts, and a berry cobbler.

    The next morning, I again headed out with the dog to a park in Newtown. The weather was beautiful and the exercise felt really nice. At about 2:30, I headed to the Hyatt Summerfield Suites in Burlington to start the GTG. I had very good directions, and again, was amazed to arrive with no problems. (Can you tell I’ve had bad Boston driving experiences in the past?)

    As usual, the GTG was a lot of fun. We had plenty of time to catch up with old friends, and get to know some new ones. Rizzuto/Don Topaz had put on a beautiful spread at his home for our “pre-party”, and the dinner at PapaRazzis in the Burlington Mall was a great choice. My sister was flying in from San Diego and made it there just as we all arrived, and my daughter unexpectedly got off work early and was also able to join us as well. After dinner, Bob & Karen opened their room to all of us staying at the Suites and we had a fun get together till the wee hours. Good thing I had the two beds and sofa bed, as my daughter and her dog slept over with my sister and me.

    Oct 9 was the official Boston GTG. About 40 people made it to a long lunch at the Indigo Hotel. We had the whole restaurant to ourselves, so we could mix & mingle and carry on with out bothering the regular guests. Dinner GTG was at the Similans Thai Restaurant in Cambridge. As usual, Rhkkmk and GPanda revved up the crowd. Craig’s wife Jeane won the “knot a cherry stem with your tongue” contest and she and GPanda’s wife gave us all a lesson in hanging spoons from our noses. We all knew GPanda was struggling with brain cancer, but it was a blast that he could be there and still be the rascal that we loved and expected.

    Oct 10: Today I headed back to Watertown to spend my last day with DD. We took Basel the dog and headed for Cambridge. There was a big street festival going on to celebrate Oktoberfest. We did a lot of walking, eating and got some great books at the Harvard Book Store. Neither one of us had paid attention to the name of the street where we’d left our car, so when we set out to find it hours later, we felt very lucky to stumble upon it pretty quickly.

    We got back to Watertown, where I packed up my stuff and said goodbye to DD. My flight the next morning was at 7 am. I was worried about a long drive and returning the car, so I had bid on Priceline that morning and won the Airport Hyatt for $108.

    This was probably one of the best travel decisions I’ve made in a long time. My daughter gave me directions to the airport, but I missed a crucial turn and kept getting more and more disoriented for a solid two hours! At one point, I was on Commonwealth Avenue and got directions from the doorman at my old favorite, the Commonwealth Hotel. He told me to take the third left and I’d be right on the Mass Pike. I think he meant the third Light. I ended up in one of those endless circles where you can’t get off the circuit because every turn is a one-way, the wrong way. After cruising through some very sketchy neighborhoods, I finally ended up at the Marriott near Copley Square. The doorman gave me a route with exactly 3 turns and this time I ended up at the airport. Relief!

    I checked in at the Hyatt, and then drove my car back to Alamo. By now it was about 11 at night, and the Alamo shuttle driver kindly took me straight to the Hyatt instead of to the airport terminal. I had a drink and a sandwich at the bar, then went to bed, thanking my lucky stars that I had not had that happen on the morning of my flight.

    Oct 11: I managed to walk to the airport with no problem, check in for Narita and then relax in the President’s Club. I don’t remember much about the flight…I remember having a few hours in Narita. I did a little shopping, then took a shower and ate a great amount of Japanese food in the President’s club. Then another six hours of flying and, voila!, I was in Bangkok. It was about 10 Pm by the time I got to the Adelphi Suites on Soi 8 where my daughter was waiting in the room.

    Bangkok

    We were very pleased with this serviced apartment, recommended by Carol Simpson. We had a one bedroom apt with two beds, kitchen, washer/dryer, free wi-fi and breakfast, and incredibly helpful staff. I believe we paid US $86 per night. The next day we did some shopping, met up with my cousin’s girlfriend, got a massage at FACE, then had dinner at the Pickled Liver, across Sukhumvit on Soi 11. Owner Maeng was excited to meet more of Carol’s friends and treated us like honored guests. I’ve forgotten what we had for dinner, but it was just wonderful.

    The next morning we realized I’d lost my photos for the visa in Cambodia. We remembered that the last time we were in Cambodia, we somehow got there without a photo of one of the daughters. The immigration agent simply charged us two dollars, then stapled the money to the photo box. So, knowing the standards might not be too high, and using the hotel’s lobby computer, I printed a color picture of my husband and myself from an email. I then used scissors to crop him out of it. We left my duffle bag with my daughter’s winter clothes from Europe at the hotel, then headed to the airport for Siem Reap.

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    Wow, Lucy, are you on a trip-writing roll? Enjoying it! DS is going to see Maeng in a matter of hours, as he is landing at BKK tonight, and going straight to her new bar, Side Pocket, for some food and chat, as soon as he checks into his apartment.

    So glad you liked the Adelphi. It's my home away from home!

    I am interested in the P L volunteering, so can't wait to read about what you did there.

    Carol

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    Bob, you'd get a visit from the process server on the 12th day!!

    Thank goodness Amy_D is a much nicer landlord!

    I decided I HAVE to do this now. Once I go back next month, I know the details of last year will just disappear from my old brain.

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    Holiday in Cambodia

    The Cambodian immigration agent shook his index finger at my makeshift visa photo- "no good, no good. Okay today, but no good next time" - but he accepted it! From the airplane to the lobby took only 15 minutes. A car from Seven Candles Guesthouse met us outside.

    Seven Candles is the home to the extended Ly Family and Fodorite Lori Carlson, and base camp for the Ponheary Ly Foundation. It felt like we were home. The last time we visited Cambodia, we stayed at the Hotel de la Paix. It was wonderful there, but Seven Candles was so much more delightful, especially for an extended stay.

    It’s a three story building in a local neighborhood, but only a few minutes from the touristy section of Siem Reap. The room was immaculate. I think we paid $20 per night.

    Ponheary’s whole family is involved in running the guesthouse. I think there are about 20 rooms. Our second floor room at the end of the hall had two beds, a dresser, desk, nightstand, a TV and small refrigerator. We had a ceiling fan and air conditioner. There were laundry baskets and extra baskets we used to store things under our beds. The rooms have private bathrooms with shower and lots of good hot water. The floors are all marble, and each day the girls who came in to do the room would wipe down everything. It was really simple, but lovely.

    Each floor has a common room at the front of the house; more like a balcony lanai than a room. There was a computer, items like paper cutters and school supplies, and bookcases with guide books, fiction, storybooks and lots of teaching guides and idea books. We had copies of the texts that our kids used, but also found some good stuff on teaching.

    There is a permanent crew of loyal tuk tuk drivers at the house, so after a few days we felt like we were traveling with friends. For most of our forays around town, we used the guesthouse bicycles. Traffic is very slow and I felt very safe on the bike.

    The guesthouse has a small outdoor restaurant that serves breakfast and other meals. We were told to make ourselves at home in the kitchen if we wanted to do our own cooking, but really… Me? cook? It was a nice offer though.

    Other than breakfast, we ate most of our meals at restaurants around town. Food is safe, delicious, and very inexpensive. I think our most expensive meal, for 3 of us with steak, a whole fish, pork rib, appetizers and drinks, cost $26.

    Lori has printed up a review of local restaurants for the guests to use. She may have missed her calling in life, as her reviews are both accurate and well written.

    Takin' Care of Business
    We really had no idea of what we’d be doing when we arrived. We had seen the schools on a previous visit. We knew that students and teachers needed conversational practice, and had read trip reports by TerryR and KimJapan among other Fodor volunteers. Lori told us they could use computer help, sewing classes, art lessons, music, dance, whatever….

    Little did she know that this was actually a lot more scary than if she had told us, “you’ll be working with colors, number, and vocabulary pertaining to classroom items with 42 kids ages twelve to seventeen years.” We knew no one was going to give us a script. With the freedom to do anything, we felt the pressure to come up with something GOOD. Something life changing. Something these kids would remember the rest of their lives…We felt so inadequate, especially since neither my daughter nor I had ever taught anything. Yikes!

    After several days of worry, I realized that I did know a little about teaching. I’d been a Girl Scout leader. I’d taught weeklong classes on natural dyes and weaving to fourth graders. I’d been a swimming instructor and lifeguard at a summer camp. We’d had Japanese exchange students in our home for several summers, so I knew how to communicate with ESL kids, and my English conversational skills are excellent.

    DD has been singing, acting, dancing hula and hip hop her whole life. She taught and choreographed Hawaiian and Tahitian dances for the luaus that her Hawaiian Club put on at BU. She was fresh out of college, and had studied and traveled abroad. She knew how to communicate over language barriers. More than anything else, we were excited and had a lot of enthusiasm.

    When we arrived, Lori asked if we would like to teach at Knar school outside of Siem Reap. It is about 45 minutes from Siem Reap by tuk tuk. We’d be teaching two one-hour classes,from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm. She warned us it was a long commute, and we could have chosen a school closer in, but we decided to follow her request.


    Getting to Know You

    Our first day in Siem Reap, we drove out to the school with Lori to get our bearings, as it turned out she was leaving for a week. We met the principal and several of the teachers and got a look at the campus. There were a couple of wooden classroom buildings, and a concrete building with a few more classrooms. They had big windows and doors, though no glass and no electricity. There were tons of school kids, each cuter than the next one. We couldn’t wait to start!

    The kids go to school six days a week. Because of the number of children they either attend a morning or afternoon shift. The English classes are in the middle of the day, from 11 to noon or noon to 1. Because Ponheary comes from a teaching family, and used to be a teacher herself, she knows education is the key to rebuilding as strong country. The kids could spend their days farming or selling trinkets at the temples, so volunteers not only help the kids with their language training, but make school a fun place to be. There is no electricity and the windows and doors are just big openings. Lots of kids too young for school stand outside and hang out at the windows, so you have a real measure of your popularity by the number of "window groupies".

    While out there, we stopped at the home of one of the students to check on his little brother who had some sort of head infection. This was our first up-close view of the conditions under which a lot of these kids live. From the road, we hiked through a mucky field watching carefully for cow manure and thorny bushes while trying not to slip in the mud. The family lived in what was basically a wood deck with a thatched roof and 3 thatched walls. They had a pump outside, and not much else.

    There were five or six kids, plus their very sweet and pregnant mother. The youngest child,Vei, has cerebral palsy. Lori put some ointment on his head rash, gave mom some prenatal vitamins, then treated and wrapped a burn on the older brother’s hand. He’d used gasoline to burn an anthill, proving 12 yr old boys are the same everywhere.

    The mother was worried about going into town the next week. She needed to have Vei fitted for a new wheelchair, and it meant being in town for several days. The father was somewhere else working. Lori asked about how the kids at home would eat, gave mom some cash to buy them food and we headed home.

    On one hand, it was terribly sad that was all we could do for them. On the other, the mother seemed quite happy for what was done. It really struck home how little these people have, and how little it takes to make a small improvement in their lives.

    Driving back, we stopped at one of Lori’s favorite roadside restaurants for some local noodles, and memorized the location for future lunches.

    We also visited a makeshift orphanage to check on a group of kids basically living on their own. It appeared that their sponsor had run out of money, and Lori wanted to see if they needed some short term help.

    The Long and Winding Road

    The next day, Ponheary needed to meet with the teachers out at Koh Ker School, so we came along to deliver a hot breakfast this distant school. We started out before dawn for the 3-hour trip (each way). Elyse and I slept in the back, while Ponheary, the driver, and another young man sat up front. The back of the van was filled with saimin, eggs and cases of soymilk.

    As the sun came up, we were treated to a beautiful trip thru rural Cambodia. The wet season was just finishing up, and the rice fields were that neon shade of green interspersed with the sugar palms. We passed little hamlets where every home seemed to the same items for sale; charcoal, baskets, fruit, or gasoline. We stopped at one place to get sticky rice cooked over a fire in a segment of bamboo. Once it cooled off, it made a nice snack.

    When we arrived at Koh Ker, the van was unable to go down the smaller road to the school, so we parked and shortly a group of school kids arrived and each took as much as they could carry back to school. It was about ½ km along a very muddy road, but no one complained.

    At Koh Ker, they were waiting for our food. Several women put giant kettles of water over the open fire. In one of them, they boiled tapioca, banana chunks and some cane sugar. All the kids crumbled their saimin noodles and flavoring into their own bowls, then they lined up for us to ladle the boiling water onto their noodles. When they finished, they came for the banana dessert, then each washed their bowls at the nearby pump.

    Ponheary was still meeting with the teachers, so we went into a classroom to watch some of the kids. We ended up teaching them what was to become our theme song, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” We taught it to several other classes as well, then moved up to “The Hokey Pokey”. DD has an excellent voice. As I do in many of my artistic ventures, I made up for my lack of talent with enthusiasm. It was a lot of fun and even the younger siblings who lurk outside the classrooms all joined in.

    Cambodian kids are so much fun to work with. Not only are they just adorable, but they are quick learners, very polite and respectful, and incredibly amusing.

    We were able to take a quick tour of their new library, and then Ponheary led us through the town. This school was really brought to life by Ponheary. Kristina’s trip report,

    http://www.fodors.com/community/asia/kristina-and-krismoms-trip-to-thailand-and-cambodia.cfm
    has more details, but basically, a couple of years ago, the kids were horribly malnourished, had no fresh water, and many of them didn't bother going to school. During the time the PLF was debating whether to adopt the school, several children died.

    Now there is a well with clean water, the kids get fed each day, and they even have a library. Kids have learned to wash their hands, and carry clean water home for drinking.

    Ponheary is like a rock star in that town. It was pretty amazing to watch her interact with the locals.

    We had stopped for lunch at a food stand near a small temple. The food was excellent, though I can’t remember what we ate. Ponheary asked if we wanted to go in the temple, but we chose to just relax as it was raining and we were under a nice tent!

    After lunch we headed over to the new girl’s dorm by the high school. The PLF recently bought a piece of land near the school. It had one building and lots of room for more. They're in the process of improving the dorm, digging a new well, pump, and making a kitchen, toilet, and room for a caretaker/housemother. Twelve girls, who live too far away to attend school otherwise, will live there during the school year. They had one large room with 6 bunk beds, a little clothesline, and an overhead light powered by a car battery. Spartan, but cheerful with bright quilts on each bed. Unfortunately, the girls were all in school, so we didn’t get to meet them.

    Sunday, we had nothing planned. We ate a breakfast of eggs, pancakes and local cold noodles at the guesthouse. We jumped on a couple of bicycles and headed down to the market. We wanted to buy some school supplies, and just wander around. We still were not exactly sure what we were going to do in the classes, but did hope to have time to make paper flower lei and teach them a hula.

    For lunch, we went to the Blue Pumpkin. It has very strong, free wi-fi, air conditioning, and delicious salads and pastries. They have no problem with people hanging out for hours, so we stopped in here many times over the weeks.

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    Lucy, your report is wonderful! Thank God for the PLF and for volunteers such as yourself who manage to keep it working. Will you be back there in October? I'll be in BKK for the last two weeks of October myself.

    My BKK friend, Dr Jack, keeps asking me to go with him on his 'rounds' someday. I think he has experiences very similar to yours, working with the poor. So rewarding!!

    As a 33-year teacher of 5 and 6-year olds, I applaid you!!!

    Carol

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    What Did You Learn in School Today?
    We started school on a Monday. Elyse and I decided to teach together, rather than in separate classrooms. Though we couldn’t work with as many kids, we really enjoyed working with each other. I’d write on the board while she talked or vice versa. We had the kids do a lot of talking about their ages, their families and doing “what is this?” kind of exercises, cutting out colored paper shapes and paper flowers, singing action songs. Two hours of fast action can be very tiring, but we worked as a team and the time literally flew by.

    All the kids loved doing craft projects, especially ones that involved coloring and using stickers. The first day we had them make name cards for their desks. Every day we’d call out their names (lots of laughs due to my pronunciation) and they’d come up to the front to get their card. We had them talk with us or in pairs with each other. We separated them into small teams and had them come up with lists of words based on random pulls of Scrabble tiles from a bowl, and let them choose stickers or small personal items like shampoo as prizes.

    We tried to teach from their textbook, and followed it as much as possible, without knowing how fast to move along. The kids are wonderful mimics, so it was very hard to evaluate any one child’s abilities. We just kept them talking as much as possible, and tried working on the harder English sounds, like mouse vs. mouth; thumb vs. some.

    It was very nice that their regular teacher, Souvanny stayed in the classroom with us. He was able to help with instructions and was actually a very enthusiastic student as well. He sang along, did the Hokey Pokey, and loved learning Hawaiian words and making the Shaka (Hang Loose) hand sign. He’s quite young, and I was happy to learn he attends English night classes on top of his school teaching. All the teachers we met were very impressive.

    They learned the words Awesome and Wonderful and Aloha, so if you ask a kid in Knar, “How are you?”, don’t be surprised if the answer is, “I’m awesome” We started and ended each class with “aloha” and their shakas were, well, awesome!

    Each day we’d spend a little time teaching the music and moves to “The Hukilau” hula. Because it is important to know what your hands are describing in a hula, Ponheary’s sister translated our “Hukilau” lyrics into Khmer for us. It was harder than you think to translate an English/Hawaiian song; e.g. the food item “Laulau” doesn’t really have an equivalent in English, so we settled on “fish spring roll” in Khmer. Hukilau was “fishing party”

    Sometimes we would get out to Knar a bit early, and we’d read to the little ones until our English class started. One day I had a rubber stamp and started stamping hands. Next thing we knew, there were about 200 kids lining up to have their hand “.inked.” The next day, I brought 3 stamps and Elyse, Sovann, and I worked out an assembly line tattoo parlor. It was hard work!

    Our last day of school fell on a Thursday, which is not actually a school day. The kids all come to school anyway, and do things like tend the garden and clean classrooms. On our Thursday, three women from Canada of Cambodian ancestry sponsored lunch for the entire school. Ponheary, her siblings the tuk tuk drivers, and most of the kids pitched in to chop carrots, onions, meat, and open hundreds of packets of dried noodles and seasoning. They fried them all up and served a huge lunch outside. Each kid got as much as they could eat, along with a can of soymilk and Skittles for dessert.

    Our two classes were still wearing their lei, and did a command performance of Hukilau in front of the entire school. My daughter was asked to do a Kahiko (ancient) hula on stage as well. For the first time we were able to just sit and chat with our kids. In the end, there were lots and lots of hugs. We had gotten so attached to all “our” kids and it was really heartbreaking to say a final aloha.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyScjtcM3Pc

    Since we’ve been back, many people have commented how lucky the kids were to have had us there. I have the hardest time explaining that we were the lucky ones. It was an amazing experience and the joy that we found with those kids was life changing for us. Since we left, I have a little hole in my heart that will only be filled when I return back to Cambodia. Lori Carlson jokingly says she is a love slave in Cambodia. I know exactly what she means.

    On the Road Again
    One of the treats of working at Knar was the daily commute. We had the same driver every day, Sovann. He was just adorable and spoke very nice English. On the way out to school, Elyse and I would often plan our lesson as we headed from Seven Candles toward the edge of town. We actually drove much of our route inside the Angkor Wat temple complex, so we had to go through the checkpoint and explain why we had no temple passes each morning. (We always wore PLF tee shirts and had a big basket full of our school supplies, but they never remembered us!)

    Once we went through that, we’d usually turn on our iPods, cover our mouth and nose with a scarf and just enjoy the scenery. We passed water buffalo, little food stands, homes, People’s Party compounds, and several nice temples, plus all the rice fields. We got to recognize some people and everybody the whole route would smile and wave at us. There was very little traffic, mostly bicycles, motorbikes, and kids walking to or from schools or swimming in water holes. It was cool on the tuk tuk, and we’d occasionally stop to eat take photos and chat with Sovann.

    We paid Sovann by the day, so he’d often take us places after school to eat, sightsee or shop. We bought three-day temple passes ($40) our second week, so he’d drop us off and sleep until we returned. He took us to see sunrise at Angkor Wat one day, and other days he helped us negotiate the best price on mangosteen at the market.another day he drove us out to fly in an ultra light at about 6 am on our way to school. He really became a good friend over our time with him.


    I’ll Fly Away
    The ultralight flight (http://www.skyventure.org ) was recommended by Lori. My daughter immediately decided to do this, but I wasn’t sure if I’d go until right after she took off. WE put this off till nearly our last day, and ended up having Sovann take us to the field at 6 in the morning. The British owners of these “go-carts with wings” are very experienced and careful pilots. The driver sits in front, and the passenger right behind. We had radios in our helmets, so you can ask questions as you’re flying. We mostly flew over outlying temples, and at one point came in low over people working in the rice fields. They all laughed and waved at us, obviously used to it. II think it was about $75 for our half hour rides, and well worth it. You can choose the length of time and route before you head up into the air. Make sure to call ahead for reservations.

    Shall We Gather at the River?

    In the middle of our visit, we had a few days off from school. The, so we took a ferry to Battambang Cambodia. We had been told that it is a torturously long ride during the dry season, but could be faster and pretty interesting when water levels were high. If you do this, take a lunch and a cushion for the hard wooden benches. You can also lay down on the top deck, but take sunscreen, an umbrella and a mat.

    Just getting to the boat dock was an adventure. Ponheary called to make reservations for us, and they included a pick-up from Seven Candles at about 5 am. We had bought some fruit and water for the ride, Ponheary thoughtfully gave us lunches as we left the house. Our ride was a pickup truck, and when we got in there were 4 people in the cab and another on benches in the back. They shuffled their luggage, and we all managed to squeeze in.. However, we then proceeded to another hotel, and 4 more people wedged themselves in. by opening the tailgate and hanging their legs out the back. When they started honking in front of another hotel, we all looked at each other in horror! Luckily the couple being picked up refused to get in and we finally headed off to the dock. Ponheary had warned us that even if they asked, we had already paid the dock tax. When we got to the dock, they tried to get us to pay again, but after quite a bit of arguing about half of us succeeded in getting on with no other “fees. Many of the passengers (the young ones) climbed up on the roof of the boat wihere the luggage was stored. DD and I decided to sit on the wooden seats under the roof. In retrospect, we couldn’t decide which was worse…the hard wooden seats that were so close you had to angle your knees outward or the exposure to sun and later pounding rain on top. The boat stopped quite often along the way to pick up passengers. One man had a big cage with chickens, and at one stop a big bag of eels was loaded under the pilot’s feet.

    At times we had to roll down the plastic “windows’ when the rain came down or when the trees were smacking us all in the faces; then it became like a steam bath, but most of the time it was very pleasant.

    At the other end, we were met by a bunch of tuk tuk drivers who were very eager to find us a hotel. One in particular was just a pest as it became apparent the driver we’d pre-arranged had stood us up. As that guy was supposed to take us to an inn, we now had no driver and no hotel. Eventually, we walked into an internet shop nearby and contacted Au Cabaret Vert. They told us to take a tuktuk, and of course the only one anywhere was the same aggressive one!

    It turned out the regional finals for the Dragon Boat races were happening the weekend we were there. Tons of people from the surrounding countryside. There was a carnival setup on the riverbanks, parades in the evening and people walking and having a good time everywhere.

    Au Cabaret Vert turned out to be a lovely place. It wa about 5 minutes from downtown, and was $50 per night for a one bedroom cottage with private bath. They had been open only a few weeks, and we were the only guests that weekend. We were greeted with a cocktail and got to choose our cottage.

    We had a wonderful dinner at Pomme d’Amour the first night. They serve French and Khmer foods in a romantic space. Very nice meal.

    The second day we started with a cooking lesson ($8) at the Smokin’ Pot restaurant. It included a walk to the market to purchase our ingredients, then we prepared about 4 or 5 dishes. The other students were a young Belgian couple that spoke excellent English, and we laughed our way through the morning.

    In the afternoon, we hired our hotel tuk tuk driver to take us around the countryside to see the local sights including the Pak Ou caves and a ride on the Bamboo train (the Nori). There were surprisingly few tourists, and most of them Cambodian. The Nori was or favorite activity. They are little bamboo platforms that run on the regular (unused) rails. The engine ilooks like a lawnmower engine and the whole thing can be taken apart when you meet up with a car coming in the opposite direction.Our cute young driver drove like a speed demon as we headed out, then took his time so we could enjoy the fabulous sunset as we came back into town. Apparently the Nori will be ending sometime soon to allow real trains to use the tracks.

    From there we made our way into the city center, which by now was packed with cars, tuk tuks, motorbikes and bicycles. As we were traveling just about the same speed as the pedestrians, we had an opportunity to joke and laugh with everyone around us. I don’t think we saw more than about 20 westerners that whole weekend. At one point we were part of a parade. 20 or 30 monks were in front of us carrying a float, and some school groups were soliciting money behind us.

    Sunday morning we went shopping at the local market for craft supplies for our classes, fabric, oranges and other foods to take back to Seven Candles. We had time for a brief swim before our 1:30 pm bus to Siem Reap. The owners of Au Cabaret not only picked up our $3.50 tickets in advance, but also gave us a free ride to the depot. The owner came back a little while later with a shawl that he thought we’d left behind. It was theirs; he didn’t know his wife had redecorated the beds!

    As usual in Asia, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Our 3-hour bus ride ended about 1 hour into the journey by pulling over and telling everyone to get out. The four of us who did not speak Khmer had no idea what was going on until about an hour later, when a mini van arrived and loaded about 15 people and their bags into the 8 seats. A little while later, another van came for us.

    DD and I were ready, and snagged the two seats right behind the driver. We had a window and no one else on our laps. Yesss! In a little while, we found the reason for the transfer. It had rained so hard in that area that the road was almost completely under water. You’d think the big bus would be a better high water vehicle, but all the locals had driven to the area to wash their cars and motorcycles or take their kids for a swim in the water! Many of the kids were prepared with little yellow life vests. It was so much fun…a combination water theme park and LA rush hour on the freeway. We had another gorgeous sunset, and eventually transferred back into a big bus for the late ride home. To top it all off, here was a huge orange harvest moon that evening!

    All in all a very fun weekend. The fun continued when we arrived at the bus stop in Siem Reap. We made the mistake of getting into Boris’s tuktuk. Boris has not only a huge sound system, but a disco ball and colored lights. Perhaps fun for drunken young tourists, but pretty embarrassing to pull up to the guesthouse with the disco lights flashing and Beatles blaring in our quiet neighborhood!

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    On the Road Again
    So after two weeks teaching and the day right after our big luncheon at Knar school, we caught an early flight to Singapore via Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia. We had a room at the Intercontinental Hotel. I really like the IC. It’s not only a very plush hotel, but it’s conveniently on top of the Busgis MRt, and has a well developed mall and food center just outside the back of the lobby. It is an easy walk to little India and cabs know how to find it.

    In 2008, my daughter spent a semester studying t the National University of Singapore. This was her first time back, so we re-visited the school and some of her favorite restaurants. She met up with old friends for the Halloween activities along Clark (Boat?) Quay, and I left them to party. One thing that surprised me, but not my daughter or her friend, was the heavy police presence along the quays. I first thought the men in full battle gear with BIG machine guns were people in costume. Instead, about 8 of them took up stations on each bridge. Hmmm. I swallowed my chewing gum.

    Over the three days, we had lunch at the Straits Kitchen, visited the Orchid Garden, ate at several hawker centers, did some shopping at big sales, and had the black pepper crab that I had been craving since my last Singapore trip. We couldn’t resist going into the new Casino at Marina Bay, but after losing $20 in about ten minutes we headed over to the top of the Marina Bay Sands ($20) to watch the sun set over Singapore and the hundreds of ships anchored out in the straits. It was a beautiful evening. After that, we had dinner at Glutton’s Bay, a somewhat upscale hawker center near the Durians. We ordered way too much food for three of us, but ate every bit anyway!

    We also took the MRT/bus combo out to the zoo. I love this zoo! You can get really close to the animals and while it isn’t a huge zoon, the variety of animals was great. They were hosting a Halloween costume party after closing, so it was a very festive atmosphere.

    Life in the Fast Lane

    From Singapore, we flew to Bangkok on Air Asia for our last 2 nights. We left our bags with our other left luggage at the Adelphi Suites, then raced over to get a massage at Face. We came back to get our bags, then had the taxi ride from hell.

    The doorman at the Adelphi had to wander up the road to find us a cab, and when we told him to go to Mahachai Road, he decided to go to Mahachai district, about 40 kms away. We kept asking him to stop and look at our directions, but he kept racing down more and more distant freeways. When he finally stopped in Mahachai district, we were able to have the hostel tell him his mistake.

    I wouldn’t have been so mad, but at the end, he wanted us to pay the meter, plus about $20 for “his trouble”. We ended up with him, the hostel owner, and various families eating at the food booths next to the hotel all arguing. At some point a big guy gave him some money and told him to leave. The big guy and his wife both apologized to us and wouldn’t let us pay them back. It was both aggravating and hysterically funny at the same time, especially as he was stopped in the middle of a street and traffic had to inch by during the 15-20 minute scene. Ahh Bangkok!

    Nira’s Hostel (http://www.nirasbankoc.com/) was actually a pretty nice little place. We had a room & bath for about $50/night. Dorm rooms were about $15. It was near the Metal Wat. in a non-touristy area, with a lot of food stalls across the street. The rooms had refrigerators, TVs, DVD players and you could borrow movies from the front desk. There was a nice reading room and great coffee bar/breakfast room in the front. The staff treated us like family, wrote down the names of dishes to order at the stalls, and went out of their way to make us and other guests happy.

    It was about a 10 or 15 minute walk from Nira’s to Khao San Road. In all my trips to Thailand, I’d never gone to the area, so it was fun to walk around this backpacker’s haven. . We had one of my best massages ever at a place called Madame Joes., did some shopping in the numerous jewelry supply stores, and both got new contact lenses.


    Leavin’ on a Jet plane
    The next day we had a super early flight to Narita, then a 3-hour flight to Guam. Continental upgraded us to First class on the very non-luxurious NRT-Gum flight. I’d booked a room on Agoda that morning, but didn’t realize that we should have pre-booked a shuttle as well. Luckily, the co-pilot had come out from the cockpit during our flight and chatted with everyone in first class (He thanked us all for flying Continental! When was the last time that happened on a plane??). Somehow we realized he’d gone to the same school as my DD and one of his family had been in her class. He saw us looking confused in the baggage claim and offered to take us to the Hilton as it was on his way home.

    The Hilton was pretty sad, and the restaurants were very expensive. Except for the pretty bay view, I really can’t think of anything we liked about it except the cool AC! We only had five hours to sleep though, so it served its purpose.


    Honolulu City Lights
    The next morning we went back to the airport and took our last flight home. It had been a wonderful 5 weeks for me, and over five months for my daughter. Can’t wait to do it again!

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    Super report, and a great experience, I'm sure. Thanks for taking the time to write and post it.

    So, about the SR-Battambang boat. We're thinking of doing that when we leave SR December 1 (we'l spend a couple of nights in Battambang). Would you do it again, or just take the bus? If we do decide to take the boat, is there someplace better (or worse) to sit--left, right, front, back?

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    aprillilacs, you might want to read about this boat trip at www.talesofasia.com

    I love how Gordon describes this boat trip: Siem Reap/Battambang : Dodgy as dodgy can be, but outrageously scenic, it's the kind of thing you do once for the experience but if you need to do it again, you take a taxi. However, other than the scenery, don't expect anything by way of safety or reliability. The trip could take four hours, it could take fourteen hours. You might get stuck in the mud, you might even have to get out and help push it free. You might sink - this usually means everyone grabs their bags and stands in waste-deep water for a couple of hours until another boat comes along. Or you might get where you're going in a few hours without fuss. You never know. Take this boat for scenery and adventure, don't take it if you just want some transportation. One early morning departure per day. Prices fluctuate from $15-20.

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    Very inspiring lcuy! Especially the volunteering with PLF. Your visit to SR sounded rewarding and the fact that you are returning is encouraging to others who may be considering ways to help.

    I know about all about that reaction to the police at the quays in Singapore.

    Deja vu: "I swallowed my chewing gum." Same for me...caught in the act with spearmint on my breath.

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    Awesome report lcuy! I think you arrived in SR the day we left. I could so clearly picture all the places, schools, and families you visited.
    We had our own Battambang boat trip from hell (12 hours on the water) and I don't know if I'd go that way again. On the way back to SR, we took a taxi, and like your bus, got transferred to another mid-trip. No, it's never easy, but that's part of the adventure.
    Like you, I am also "hooked" as Lori says, and am hoping to return next summer.

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    >>>Luckily, the co-pilot had come out from the cockpit during our flight and chatted with everyone in first class (He thanked us all for flying Continental! When was the last time that happened on a plane??)<<<

    (Well, can assure you from personal experience, it occurs flying 'up front' with yes, the all-time cherished Singapore Airlines! Fine crews and friends; always a pleasure, flying SIA.)


    Now, warm greetings Lucy, many thanks for the enjoyable read and thank you for visiting and supporting our sweet little city-state of Singapore! I just arrived in London for a few days of meetings, so your report brings back fine memories of SIN - looking forward to returning this Friday.

    Keep up the good work and best evening wishes to all,

    macintosh (robert)


    ... Singapore Airlines, You're a Great Way to Fly ...

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