Charles Sturt University, August 2018 – Educational Tour
“CRDT organized a flexible, diverse two-week tour to Phnom Penh, Koh Preah and Siem Reap for our group from Charles Sturt University, Australia.
Our tour included a homestay on Koh Preah and presentations by great NGOS like EMIA, CEDAC, TPO, Ensure Khmer Disabled Assistance Organization, and more.
It was such a great tour. Unforgettable.” – Hanli
Educational tour with Charles Sturt University, August 2018
by Phiya (tour leader at CRDTours)
I had an unforgettable experience with 11 university students from Charles Sturt University (CSU) from Australia. I travelled as a tour leader and spent time with them for 2 weeks.
We engaged on a business and cultural Tour Program which is one of many educational programs offered by CRDTours. Our programs are created to provide a travel learning experience beyond leisure. This special and unique program brings the students to several business operation agencies throughout Cambodia, from small to medium enterprises and from different sectors, such as textile, tourism, metallurgy, health and the agricultural sector. By meeting these businesses, the students learned about business operations, business competition, marketing and financial management. Moreover, they learned about the businesses’ specific activities, challenges, their problem-solving methods and more. Beside this, they also had the opportunity to discover local wildlife and culture by visiting different projects all over Cambodia; from the capital Phnom Penh to Kratie, Stung Treng and Siem Reap.
In short, in only 2 weeks they gathered a wealth of knowledge about the different aspects of business operations in Cambodia, while also enjoying the natural and cultural heritage that Cambodia has to offer. What follows is a detailed account of my experience with this fun group.
On the first day, I went to pick them up and meet them at Phnom Penh international airport. We greeted each other warmly and I welcomed them to the Kingdom of Wonder that is Cambodia. In total, we stayed in Phnom Penh for 6 nights. During our time at the capital, we visited the Royal Palace, Wat Phnom, Toul Sleng genocidal museum and the Killing Fields. It made a big impression on the students.
We also met up with a couple of interesting NGOs to learn about their projects benefiting people in Cambodia. Particularly interesting was the learning session with the Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT) which was conducted by the executive director.
CRDT is a local non-profit organization which aims to lift communities out of poverty through participatory community-based approaches whilst conserving the environment. It was initiated as a voluntary initiative by university students. As of today, CRDT has grown into a professional organization which works to deliver community and rural development projects to as much as 7000 families. Its conservational activities include the support of the conservation of the critically endangered Mekong River Irrawaddy Dolphin in Kratie and Stung Treng (more on this later), and the protection of tropical forest and biodiversity in Mondulkiri. The main focus of CRDT is on sustainable livelihood development and entrepreneurship development (the last which was especially interesting for this group of business students).
In short, after our session with the CRDT, we had gained a lot of knowledge on community development, projects for food and income security, entrepreneurship development and environmental conservation for rural people in the north-east of Cambodia.
We also had a chance to meet the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a leading international organization of the United Nations which aims to overcome hunger. The FAO works closely with the Royal Government of Cambodia to provide technical assistance and it works in collaboration with local development partners. One of their priority areas is increasing productivity, diversification and commercialization of agriculture at the national, community and household level.
Yet another interesting organization we met, was the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO). It is Cambodia’s leading NGO in the field of mental health care and psychosocial support. it was founded in 2000 as an independent local NGO that was run and staffed by Cambodians to provide mental health care and support. TPO’s Treatment center in Phnom Penh is the clinic of out-patient consultation of all types of psychosocial, psychological and psychiatric conditions. The clinic staffs are fully qualified and experienced psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and psychiatric nurses.
After our enriching time at Phnom Penh, we took the bus to visit the more rural areas of Cambodia, in specific Kratié province, located in the east. Our trip took around five and a half hours. We stopped on the way to visit the Spider village to see some tarantulas and insects. It was a surprise to me to see the students holding live spiders in their hands and even eating tarantulas! After this stomach-turning experience, we continued to Kratié. When we arrived there, we headed out for lunch. We satisfied our appetites with the delicious food prepared by the cooks of Le Tonlé restaurant and training center (truly something else than grasshoppers and tarantulas). Apart from the exceptionally food, the restaurant is one of a kind, as it also serves as a hospitality training centre for underprivileged youth. The training manager explained us how this concept works in practice, and we had a pleasant talk with a trainee whom served us our meals. It was a very special lunch.
After our lunch we travelled to see the rural area north of Kratié Town. We learned about local ways of life such as the livelihood activities at the Bamboo Sticky Rice Village (Thmaw Krae). We also had a taste of this local delicacy (so much new food on this day!). After we had enjoyed this delicious snack, we went to see the Irrawaddy dolphins that live in the Mekong River. When we were nearing the dolphins, the engine of the boat was turned off so as not to disturb the dolphins. After some minutes travelling to the dolphin pool, it was a magical experience to finally see the first dolphins coming up of the water. We learned that after years of conversational efforts, the dolphin population is finally increasing again.
After enjoying our time seeing the dolphins, we went ahead with our journey to visit and stay with a community at the island of Koh Preah, located some 130 km from Kratié. Arriving there, we were very happy to see that the community was already waiting for us at the shore to lead us to their village.
We stayed two nights in the village. During our time here, we learned a lot from the villagers and they were most friendly; the chefs cooked such delicious food too! One of our activities was to explore the whole island. We were led by one of the elders who brought us to a sacred site to pay our respects to the spirits. He taught us about the local believes and culture. After our brief spiritual journey, we met the community chief, teachers and other villagers. We visited the school and talked to the children and we donated some school supplies that we brought from Phnom Penh.
Overall, we really appreciated the peacefulness of the rural community; leaving the noise of busy traffic, and pressure of tight schedules, far behind us. At the end of our amazing and instructive stay, we were saying goodbye to the villagers who were so welcoming to us and we headed out for our next and final destination: Siem Reap.
The bus to Siem Reap passed the provinces of Stung Treng and Preah Vihear. We stopped for lunch break at a local restaurant near the Koh Ker temples in Preah Vihear province and took the opportunity to do some historic sightseeing. (Koh Ker, which is also known as Chok Gargyar, was a Khmer empire established by King Jayavarman IV between the year of 921 – 944 A.D.) We were lucky to see these ancient structures and it made us even more excited to go and see the famous Angkor Wat complex at Siem Reap.
We stayed at Siem Reap for four nights. In Siem Reap, we visited the Angkor Wat complex for an entire day, marveling at the ancient temples. After our visit to this landmark heritage, it was time to get back to the present and we met up with some interesting local NGOs.
Our last highlight of the trip was to visit the Tonlé Sap. The Tonlé Sap Lake is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and is the second most popular attraction in Siem Reap after the Angkor Wat temple complex. It hosts one of the world’s most vibrant ecosystems, with a massive number of many different species of wildlife in and around the lake. At the Tonlé Sap lake we took off to see some of this wildlife through bird watching at the bird sanctuary near Prek Toal village.
And that was the last major activity with these fun and great people from the Charles Sturt University. For almost two weeks we travelled around together across Cambodia, and we have seen, tasted and learned so much!
I will never forget my time with these students from the Charles Sturt University (CSU), of Australia. And I am looking forward to work together with CSU again in the future and lead more student groups from other universities too.