Our final days of Thailand flew by in a daze of heat and adventure. After and exhausting day of long bus rides and an overnight, 11 hour sleeper train, we finally arrived in Ayutthaya at 5am from Chiang Mai. We then stumbled to our hostel, with the help of three Tuk Tuk’s, confused and tired. After settling in and a quick nap, we started our long day of adventure throughout Ayutthaya. We started off renting bikes and riding to the ancient ruins – and it was incredible. The ruins, which were originally built in 1374, were once known as Wat Maha That, a royal temple which housed Buddha’s relics. In 1767, during the fall of Ayutthaya, the Burmese invaded destroying the city’s most prized and beautiful buildings, leaving us to ponder why and soak in the intensity of it all.
The temperature was significantly hotter, some 676 km south, than it was in Chiang Mai, but we kept trudging along to see more sights. We biked to a giant reclining Buddha on the outskirts of Ayutthaya, which was fascinating and lacking tourists (which is always a plus). We grabbed lunch before the group decided to split up, for some of the group was feeling intensity of the heat, while others pushed on. Half the group went off on their own adventures throughout the city, exploring day markets, street food and just enjoying the air conditioned hostel (which truly is a luxury when every day is at least 100 degrees). The other half (strongest ones) headed to a few temples and ruins basking in the history and beauty, before heading back. At night we hit a night market, consisting mostly of a large variety of foods. We sat by the river enjoying pad Thai, dumplings, mango & sticky rice, and the cool breeze. Our day in Ayutthaya was one to remember.
The following morning, we packed up all of our bags and hit the road. We took and sweaty yet laid back train into Bangkok. Upon arriving, the mood was immediately set for how our next three days would be; vibrant, crazy, and very hot. With little struggle to find our hostel, we made ourselves at home before hopping on a boat to explore the city. Gliding atop the Chao Phraya River by water taxi was exhilarating for us all. Jumping off a half hour later at Tha Chang, the huge amounts of people from all over the world was both overwhelming and exciting. We enter a temple call Wat Po, one of the grandest in Bangkok. It was stunning, with hundreds of golden Buddha’s, amazing architecture, and towering pillars embellished from top to bottom with sparkling stones. After roughly and hour of enjoying the temple, we set on our way walking through Bangkok. The city is HUGE, nearly 1,600 square kilometers (a great deal larger than NYC, for comparison). This being said, we only covered a very small ground, but it was amazing none the less. After the sun became lost in the horizon, we decided to engage in two hours of chaos, bright lights and shopping. Kahoson road in the tourist hotspot in Bangkok, and we loved it. Elephant pants galore, scorpions on a stick and loud music – a nice change of pace from our down and dirty volunteer work just days earlier. After the excitement settled down, we walked back to our hostel for a long night of rest.
Friday morning we woke up, sweating profusely. We hopped on another water taxi to go to China Town . Most of us agreed that the market here wasn’t too different than a Thai one, except perhaps this one was situated in a maze of alleyways. Soon after, we walked no more than one minute down the road to a soaring sky scraper and decided to go to the very top. We entered a 360 degree viewing room, completely empty. It truly put into perspective how large Bangkok is, with a population of 9.1 million, the city spreads out as far as the eye can see. We hung out, sitting in comfy chairs, air conditioning, and sipping on our 95 baht Cokes (quite a bit more than the 20 baht ones we’ve grown accustomed to). After regaining the motivation to move we left, heading for some more relaxation at a park. Arriving just as golden hour was we got to people watch and chill out. Worn out by the heat we barley managed to make it to another, less eventful night market by the water, before heading to the hostel for the night.
Our final day in Bangkok was a free day where the group split up. Everyone except Chris, George, Phone and David (who went mall hopping throughout the business district of Bangkok) went to the Museum of Contemporary Art for the morning. It was stunning; five floors of art of every variety, causing silence and solidarity throughout the group (a rare thing). It was intense and though provoking, saturated in the history of Thai culture. Afterwards some of us stopped at a market for some street food, while jumped on and off boats all afternoon, loving the spontaneity, and others just relaxed.
All in all it’s safe to say Bangkok is incredible and everyone enjoyed every minute of roaming around the vast city. But our five weeks in Thailand were unimaginably amazing, and we were ready to see what Cambodia had in store.
As we say our goodbye’s to Bangkok, we tiredly wake up at five in the morning to catch our bus to Cambodia. Unfortunately, we wend up having to wait in the bus station for the next bus that leaves at 9:30am. Some of us try to sleep, others enjoy walking around and buying snacks. We finally board the bus and it takes about four hours to reach the boarder. Arriving and getting off the air conditioned bus and feeling the gust of heat was an overwhelming feeling. We walked across the boarder and getting ours visas for Cambodia. It all went by so quick; filling out our paperwork, but bribing Cambodian officials with 100 baht each. As my experience went walking into Cambodia, I can see the poverty and how the struggles are mostly environmental. It’s heartbreaking to see and actually pass by it. Afterwards, we were taken to the tourist bus station which was a bit sketchy and gave a bad vibe. Nevertheless, it was our only option to get to Battambang. The bus ride was about two hours. We finally arrived, exhausted and hungry to our destination around 7 pm.
The organization we would be working with this week is PTD (Ptea Teuk Dong) meaning coconut water house in English. PTD is an organization that deals with education, social inclusion of underprivileged children and environmental issues. Monday and Tuesday we started on our service project. We spend our morning hours demolishing a building, so that a new hut could be built for the growth of oyster mushrooms. While we’re getting used to the 100 degree weather, our first days are filled with sweat and determination. After lunch, we split into two groups and go off to the classrooms to teach lessons to the children. All of these children are from around the area and come to PTD to learn English free of cost. The lessons we taught included teaching them to brush their teeth (it was great talking about the importance of brushing teeth and the kids were provided with toothbrushes to take home), and a Lego activity. The kids were so hyped about the Legos that they emptied the buckets with great excitement, and were building in no time. Another activity was Playdough, the kids were very creative and were into making animals. Last of all, the literacy activity was teaching kids words and antonyms.
Wednesday morning, we wake up to our regular routine – working on our service project, but instead of teaching we went to tour Battambang. We were excited to finally venture off outside the walls of PTD. Our first stop included visiting a house where rice paper was homemade, and learning that this women had to make around 1,000 rice papers a day to sell. Secondly, we go to a fish market where there’s fish on the ground and they chop off their fins and tails and in half. It smelled very bad.
Our final stop was at a temple. There was a memorial for those lost during the Khmer Rouge Regime. The temple was used as a prison during that time and a torture chamber. Around the memorial told the story of how the Khmer Rouge came about and all the horrors they inflicted upon the Khmer people. It was heart wrenching and intense. Hundreds of skulls were encased to show the reality of what has been done. The man who drove our Tuk Tuk recounted to us his story, living through the Khmer Rouge. This was truly touching, hearing about the saddening story of him losing his family, and feeling nothing but emptiness and darkness for a long time, before meeting his wife and starting a family. This brought to light the gravity of how the Khmer Rouge affected the people of Cambodia. Over 3.3 million people of 8 million in Cambodia were killed during only a few years.
This experience was heavy and opened our eyes to how lucky we are and privileged. The Khmer people are so strong and their past has certainly shaped their life now. They are survivors, and to be among them is a privilege, and we can all learn something from our short stay here in Cambodia, and at PTD. We are so grateful to have this opportunity – and everyday, we seize the day.
-March 21st-March 24th