We fell in love with the people at the Karuna Hostel, the children in the villages and the SSF center. Such beauty and perseverance of spirit! One HUGE thing I learned while there was that the human spirit is unstoppable! No matter what you go through, if you have a will to survive, you can and you will. And joy? It seems to come from a secret place, from the heart of a child!
After our time in Kompong Speu, we were ready to see some of the wonders of Cambodia. We left for Phnom Penh Airport and caught a flight to Siem Reap, the place of Angkor Wat – the ancient temples. Upon our arrival to our hotel, we were greeted warmly and escorted to the “waiting room” and offered a cold towel and refreshment. We were hot and sweaty after our ride from the airport to the hotel in a “tuk-tuk” – a three-wheeled cabin cycle for private use and as a vehicle for hire. It is a motorized version of the traditional pulled rickshaw and are an essential form of urban transport in many developing countries like Cambodia. I felt like the Beverly Hillbillies driving into Siem Reap with our luggage stacked up in front of us so high that we could only see the top of the driver’s helmet! It was hysterical and way too much fun!
Once we settled into the cool waiting room at the hotel, we were again greeted by another smiling face, Wattana Tan. When he came into the room he bowed gently and introduced himself as our “personal assistant” while we were there at the hotel. His job was to attend to our every need – booking our tours and transportation, dinner reservations, gift purchases, laundry – and he could speak very good English! We had an immediate connection and become friends quickly. He was one of the highlights of our trip. Wattana works over 12 hours a day at the hotel and when he has time off he attends the university. On his day off he took us on a tour of the city and to his village to meet his mother and family of 12 siblings, we sat and talked to his mother and sisters, it was beautiful. But again, the way they live is so poor, so primitive, it is a different and very unfamiliar world.
After our visit to Wattana’s village we went to the market to buy rice and books and pencils and pads for the children at the Lolei Orphanage, an amazing place. Clean and beautiful with colorful shrines and images from their Hindu and Buddhist religions, a lovely garden full of fruit trees and herbs, and a very functional theatre where the children perform to support the orphanage.