American Moondance Adventures find Adventure and Service Learning in Cambodia

This 11-day itinerary of travel in the cities and towns of Cambodia was carefully crafted for a group of American high school students. Their visit in July 2014 focused on physical adventure, service projects and learning about traditional values and culture of Cambodia.

Institution                             Various American schools via Moondance Adventures

Education                             American High School students

Group                                  12 students and 2 supervisors

Purpose of Visit                   The students are interested in service projects, trekking adventure and learning about                                                        Cambodian culture

Travel Dates                         2-12 July 2014

Travel Route                         Phnom Penh – Chi Phat – Siem Reap – Bavet (Vietnam)

When we designed this program, the agent wanted to include about 40 hours of community service. However, we advised the agent that this would not allow any time for sightseeing and that a visit to Cambodia would not be complete without some time spent learning about history and culture. We also were careful to arrange alternative activities in case, for example, heavy rain made trekking unsafe. We informed the agent about how to prepare for the climate and its affect on certain situations. Our program planning staff is always available to support the local guides with information and help with decision-making.

The day the students planned to cross the border into Vietnam to travel to Ho Chi Minh City, we found out that one of the students did not have a Vietnam visa even though the two adult supervisors had prearranged this detail for the group. The next day, we called for help to our Vietnam office and Hugues, the Khiri sales manager, was able to get the visa approval letter within 24 hours. The student group was delayed by two days but we learned a valuable lesson. From now on Khiri staff personally will double-check every passport for visa so we don’t have any more difficult surprises like this.

One funny story that came out of this trip was during one of the service project days the American kids made a fun game for the local children. The high school students made a bowling game using water bottles and an apple as the bowling ball. They taught the Cambodian children how to knock over the water bottles and set up a contest to compete for the highest score.

Students visited the following projects:

Chi Phat Community

This community-based ecotourism project offers trekking and adventure in the Cardamom Mountains. Travelers can experience spectacular sunrises by boat on the river and mountain bike to nearby waterfalls. Birdlife is prolific. The students were lucky to spot hornbills and monkeys. The local guides are former poachers.

Apsara Arts

990 apsara art

Apsara Art Association

This organization aims to preserve Cambodian art and culture by giving teachers the opportunity to teach dance and music to disadvantaged children. The students had the opportunity to learn Khmer traditional dance and both the Americans and their host students performed a dance routine for each other.

Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus

Translated as “brightness of arts” in Khmer, Phare Ponleu Selpak is a non-profit organization founded by young Cambodians returning from refugee camps in Thailand. The purpose of the organization is to help local communities develop better education and artistic training.

Friends Restaurant

The students had lunch at Friends Restaurant, where under privileged street children are the servers and have the opportunity to gain first-hand experience working in the hospitality business. The food was delicious and all profits are reinvested into this training center.

Summary of the travel itinerary:

Day 1 | Arrival in Phnom Penh

The students arrived in Phnom Penh from the USA.

990 Plant the tree

Day 2 | Phnom Penh – Chi Phat

This morning the students traveled from Phnom Penh to Andong Teuk, a small riverside settlement on the way to Chi Phat. In the afternoon the students rode mountain bikes to some river rapids and enjoyed a swim. They finished the day cycling to the Cardamom Reforestation Project and helped plant trees.

Day 3 | Chi Phat – Antong Prang

The day started before sunrise to board boats and experience daybreak on the water spotting birds and monkeys with binoculars. After a few hours the students began a guided trek through the forest taking time for photos and learning about the natural ecosystem and wildlife. The day ended after a sunset visit to a pond in a clearing of the forest for a chance to spot more wildlife in a very tranquil setting.

After dinner at the evening campsite there was time for exchanging stories and experiences of a long and exciting day.

Day 4 | Chi Phat: Preak Ta Veal

Before sunrise the student group woke up early again and walked back through the dark forest to the clearing at Preak Ta Veal with flashlights. The birdlife was absolutely stunning here at sunrise.

After breakfast, the day was spent trekking to Chi Phat Village. The students loved the adventure of this trip. They loved the waterfalls and the peaceful village without many tourists.

Day 5 | Chi Phat – Phnom Penh

After breakfast the school kids said goodbye to their hosts and left for Phnom Penh by bus. In the evening they joined the local people doing aerobics in the city down along the Mekong River and enjoyed a dinner dance performance at Bopha Phnom Penh.

990 apsara art

Day 6 | Phnom Penh

The students rode in a traditional cyclo (pedi cab) to tour through the heart of Phnom Pen. Highlights were the Silver Pagoda and the National Museum with its huge collection of Khmer sculpture and artifacts recovered from Angkor. The students had lunch at Friends Restaurant.

The afternoon tour was to Tuol Sleng Prison and Choeng Ek, famous places of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. This excursion may have been distressing for some. However, it is an important piece of Cambodia’s recent past.

The final stop of this busy day was at the APSARA Art Association.

Day 7 | Phnom Penh – Siem Reap

On the way to Siem Reap, the children visited a stone-carving village to see first hand the challenges in this kind of craftsmanship. The students also visited the peaceful environment of three main temple complexes on foot and enjoyed a picnic lunch.

990 Tuk Tuk

Day 8 | Siem Reap

In the morning, the students explored Ta Phrom by tuk-tuk. This jungle-clad temple is overgrown with tree roots that push between the temple’s huge stone blocks. Then we went on to Angkor Wat, one of mankind’s greatest achievements and a testament to the skill and artistry of the Khmer builders. After lunch the school kids visited Angkor Thom and several other important Angkorian temples. They finished their day with a hike up Bakheng Hill to watch the sunset and see unrivaled views of Angkor Wat.

The evening activity was to attend the Phare Ponleu Selpak Cambodian circus.

990 repair home

Day 9 & 10 | Siem Reap

For each of these two days the students traveled outside Siem Reap about 13 km to a village where they helped repair homes. They had the chance to experience local transportation in an ox cart.

Day 11 | Siem Reap – Phnom Penh – Vietnam

We departed Siem Reap for Phnom Penh and went onto Bavet/Moc Bai at the Vietnamese border.