How to Make the Most of 6 Days in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Plans, itineraries, pre-booked accommodation- they’re all for holiday-makers. spontaneity is what sets backpackers apart from other travellers. However, when you’ve booked return flights which are bleakly approaching and you still have two whole countries to devour in no time, decisions must be (albeit still roughly) made, decisions which my friend and I reluctantly had to make near the end of our trip.

Nevertheless, we did learn if you have at least a few days for each stop it needn’t afterwards feel as though a vague dream that never happened. Anyway, if I stay longer in a place I have no more to show for myself apart from intervals of lazy days in food markets, cafe’s and on a beanbag in my hostel.

It was not only the cities and beach-towns we were worried about squeezing in to our remaining month, but inside each stop-off there were museums to visit, activities to do, volunteering to undertake and in between each of these…so much food to consume!

Siem Reap united many of our ‘must-do’s’ which we managed to tick-off in a short space of time. It is the epicentre of Cambodia with its bustling tourist district and the mind-blowing Temples of Angkor. Furthermore, a short Tuk-Tuk ride away took us to rural plateaus dotted with isolated temples, blankets of rice paddies and extremely under-developed communities which gave us the chance to experience a home stay, volunteer in a modest bamboo-hut school and ultimately soak up both ancient Angkor and present-day post-Kampuchea, all in under one week.

Day One

Angkor National Museum $12 Entry $3 Headset.

Get the headset, otherwise, as a desperate tour-guide once shouted to me on my way into Tulum’s Mayan ruins, ‘it’s just a bunch of rocks.’ Obviously this is a gross exaggeration. You will witness a room of a thousand Buddha sculptures, learn about ancient artefacts of Hindu and Buddhist Gods and enter a room which replicates the sunrise behind west-facing Angkor Wat. You will walk through the entire time-span of the Khmer Empire and it is a useful day if you cannot afford a guide during your trip to Angkor Wat, as here you will pick up useful facts behind the temples’ complex architecture.

Dinner

Approached a street stall down Sivatha Road (off Pub Street) and ordered an Amok, a fragrant spice-free curry with grated coconut and lovely citrus flavours. Cambodia’s most well-known dish.

Days 2-5

Voluntary work at Chhan School

Voluntary work was something my friend and I were desperate to do, there is so much sadness in this part of the world, so it would have felt wrong to have left without doing something to help. Ironically we were worried we couldn’t financially afford to do it. The internet is peppered with ‘voluntourism‘ where large organisations ask for your labour and then charge extortionate fees, a chunk of which does not go do those who need it the most.

Thankfully Chhan School offers a voluntary opportunity which overcomes this problem, it costs nothing but your time, you see exactly how your input is making a difference and if you do choose to donate  (which you’ll find it hard not to) you will understand where the money is going.

You can also experience a home-stay with the neighbouring Hueng family who have lent the land the school currently sits on. They charge $5 USD per night including three home-cooked meals. 

Chann School is ran by Song Somarth who’s life is a huge juggling-act as a teacher of his own school, student at university and  a devout Buddhist monk who must abide by innumerable disciplines. His main priority is ‘Chhan School’ which is named after his teacher at the Bakong Pagoda who helped fund the set-up of this modest school of three-hundred underprivileged and orphaned children. As a monk, he cannot work and solely lives off the alms he collects off the community each morning. So his dreams of gaining a degree are slowly becoming unreachable.

Usually, Song is a one-man-show, his three bamboo-built classes are all packed throughout the school day, so he frantically bounces from one room to the other when volunteers are not present. Consequently we were instantly thrown in the deep-end and my friend and I taught four classes from our first day.

Teaching children with little English as a teacher with absolutely no Khmer was an obvious challenge, Song would rush to save us by scribbling down delicate Khmer symbols on our board whilst teaching his own class. But, this usually difficult situation was softened by the patient and eager-learners who were simply grateful for having native English-speakers in the midst of their school, something that is also apparent by the student’s family-members who loiter around after doing the school drop-off, hang over the bamboo window-ledges and attentively watch your lesson to join in with the learning.

Volunteer Chhan School Siem Reap SmallWorldBIGMouth

Before and after teaching hours we spent a few hours getting to know Song who would teach us some Khmer, talk to us about life under monk-hood and teach us how to meditate…

Chhan School Volunteer Cambodia Siem Reap SmallWorldBIGMouth

Home-Stay with The Hueng Family

When Song left for the Pagoda each evening for his 4am wake-up call we ate with the Hueng family as we also did for lunch and breakfast. The family consist of the grandparents, their Son and their Son’s wife and two children. The women of the house took turns with the cooking which they did over a large stove atop an open log fire. As the men are rice-farmers rice was never in short supply and you are encouraged to eat hefty portions to the point that your stomach will be hard to sleep with at night- but the more you eat the bigger the smiles on the family’s faces!

Hueng Family Food

Breakfast Day Two: Instant noodles with a packet of spicy sauce, green cabbage, Pok Choi and Spring onions.

All served with sticky rice….

Lunch Day One: Chicken in Ginger and Big flat chunks of cold salted Pork. Deep- Fried sugary coconut dough-balls were served as a dessert.

Lunch Day Two: Lemon-tasting Frog and salty small silver fish, both served with a palm sugar dip.

Dinner Day One: A sickly-sweet grated coconut, Pork and Pumpkin curry miraculously cooked from scratch in ten-minutes flat (how she got the pumpkin soft in that time is a mystery!)

Dinner Day Two: A clear soup with cabbage, beans and fish. Cambodian Sour Soup: A cold, yellow hued sour broth (lovely to soak your rice in). Crunchy Rat (whole, with claws and skull).

The Hueng's Daughter-in-Law preparing a Pumpkin Curry

The Hueng’s Daughter-in-Law preparing a Pumpkin Curry

Dinner of rat, rice and fish

Dinner of pork, rice and fish

The Hueng Family - Dinner of Pumpkin Curry

The Hueng Family – Dinner of Pumpkin Curry

Cambodian Homestay Siem Reap SmallWorldBIGMouth

Day 6

This only leaves one thing to do in Siem Reap, to rise as early as Song and to see the unmissable sunrise at Angkor Wat and spend the day wondering through the magnificent remains of the largest Hindu Complex in the world. Some people wish to spend several days temple wondering but you won’t possibly see it all even if you do, I preferred to pick the best monuments  (Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom) so I couldn’t loose interest in one of the Wonders of the Ancient world.

I needn’t go on as I would only be regurgitating what many other websites will say only in a less informative manner.

The Son of The Hueng Family, called Banhook, does run his own Tuk-Tuk and will meet you in central Siem-Reap to show you around the temples for a small fee for the day.

To find out more about Chhan Schoo visit www.chhanschool.org  or visit Chhan School’s blog (created by myself) by clicking on the ‘Volunteer Cambodia’ page.

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “How to Make the Most of 6 Days in Siem Reap, Cambodia

  1. It must have been wonderful to find somewhere inexpensive to volunteer. I had a little look at volunteer opportunities before we traveled but couldn’t find anything that was affordable. I don’t mind donating money, but I can’t help but feel like some of these charities are business first. It might just be better to rock up to a charity and organise with the school or organisation directly. I met a few people during my travels who offered to help in person. It seems more legit. Though you need to be more flexible I guess and there’s less chance to shop around or read any testimonials.

    • Yes it was wonderful! Yeah I agree, the best way is to just rock up! Thankfully we had found out about this simply through word-of-mouth and were handed the monk’s email address. No money passed between our hands and the school’s, instead we bought things for Song to help him out with his studies so we could see exactly how our time here helped instead of being shoved in with a herd of other (paying) volunteers. We also set a website up for the school so people like us can find a voluntary opportunity out there that doesn’t seem like a business and so, like you say, people can organise before they reach Siem Reap.

  2. If it wasnt for your blog post that my friend randomly stumbled across we would have never known about chhan school. We have you to to thank for this post or we would have never randomly called and turned up when we were struggling to plot out the last week of our Cambodia trip. Thank you for sharing the love of Chhan school. I hope that many people continue to find out about Song and his amazing vision so that they will help raise funds or volunteer at the school!

    • This has made me so happy! I’m so glad the post has helped Song and also meant you had an amazing experience in Cambodia. I tried to promote the school on a Lonely Planet forum but got accused of promoting the ‘exploitive orphanage industry’ so this has put his words to pot! I also run the Chhan School blog http://www.volunteerchhanschool.blogspot.com and I’m trying to collect everyone’s experiences from the school to garner future volunteers. It would be really good if you could write up your time there, even if it’s just a short thing, so I can publish it on the site. If you do decide to email it to volunteerchhanschool@gmail.com . Enjoy the rest of your travels!

  3. I am looking for volunteering.
    I am going to siem reap on 23th of Dec.
    Can I join?
    Do you have minimum staying period?
    I can join for 1~3 weeks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s