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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Updates from travels in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap

We’ve spent the past week learning about Cambodia’s distant and recent history. After leaving our homestays in Koh Sach Tonlea, we spent a few days in Phnom Penh, where we visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Choeung Euk Killing Fields, learning about the history of the Cambodian genocide. In spite of the dark nature of what we saw and learned, we left Phnom Penh feeling inspired by the resiliency and indomitable spirits of the young people who are carrying Cambodia forward.

In Siem Reap, we continued to be inspired by Cambodia’s dynamic youth. We spent one morning at PEPY, an NGO in Siem Reap committed to education and youth empowerment in Cambodia. We learned about the evolution of PEPY’s youth programming, and every student had the chance to explore town and get lunch with a few of PEPY’s incredible scholarship students. Our new friends made each of us reflect on how often we take our own educational opportunities for granted, and left us feeling hopeful for Cambodia’s bright future.

Siem Reap also offered opportunities for us to dive deeper into our study of ecology. We spent one day learning about the Tonle Sap river and lake system’s large-scale reversal of flow, a unique phenomenon found nowhere else in the world. Annually, the flow of the Tonle Sap River that connects the Tonle Sap Lake, the biggest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, to the Mekong River, reverses direction, carrying massive amounts of fish from the lake to the Mekong and providing around 70% of the protein content for Cambodia’s population year-round. Our group spent an afternoon out on the massive lake, the ecological and cultural heart of Cambodia, observing the many fishermen and women casting their nets and hopes.

On our final day in Siem Reap, we had the opportunity to explore Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples by bicycle. We hopped on our bikes and cruised out of our guest house at 5 am, arriving at Angkor Wat just in time for sunrise. We spent the morning exploring the vast Angkor Wat temple, biking along the walls of the ancient city of Angkor Thom, and among the smiling faces of Bayon temple. A few students returned to the guesthouse early, while another group continued on to explore Ta Prohm temple, returning to the guesthouse by sunset after a long day of adventure and exploration.

We are currently on our two-day boat ride up the Mekong River. This is a short student-led expeditioon, in which our fabulous students have planned, shopped for, and cooked all of our meals, and planned and facilitated our schedule and activities. We are so excited to see them step into their new leadership roles and take on this challenge!