Home is where the heart is – Mpay Bay Koh Rong Salome

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“Your home will always be the place for which you feel the deepest affection, no matter where you are”.

Have you ever arrived somewhere and instantly felt like you belonged there? That’s how I felt the first time I stepped foot on Mpay Bay on Koh Rong Salome.

I was on a day trip from Koh Rong and I knew as soon as I got off the boat and stepped onto the pier I had arrived at a special place. As I walked around the village I took in the simplicity of how the locals lived and the laid back vibe.

The thing that struck me the most was the interaction from the local children. They were so desperate to interact with the tourists and eager to learn and practise English.

There is a public school on the Island but it was very clear that not much funding is going that way. There was no long term English Teacher and only part time Khmer Teachers.

When I returned to Koh Rong I already knew in my heart I was going back there to Teach the children English. The only thing was I was broke and there was no free accommodation or food in exchange.

Luckily two lovely ladies that have a guesthouse on the Island gave me a free bed and food in exchange for a few small jobs around the place. Without there support I probably couldn’t have started. (Linda and Kirsten I love you!!!)

I knew somebody that helped set up the charity friends of Koh Rong and lived on Mpay Bay. He vouched for me and the director handed me the keys to the School with his blessing.

I spent the first week in the school getting to know the children. The age range was from 5 to 15 with such a variety of ability levels. Some had very or no basic levels of English. Some could speak and only a few could read and write.

Due to previous volunteers passing through and teaching for two weeks at a time the children knew some vocabulary. There were big issues with basic phonetics, grammar and pronunciation.

Friends of Koh Rong provided me with some resources like books,  flash cards and writing materials. Other then this there was no curriculum, printing facilities or workbooks.

So with no translator, teaching assistant and limited resources I started from scratch. I’m not going to lie the first couple of months were very difficult. But seeing the kids sitting on the school steps an hour early for class every day drove me forward.

After three months I had learnt about classroom management, I knew what teaching methods worked well and each child’s personality and what style of teaching worked best for them.

Then after 8 months of slow but steady progress it was time for the school to break for two months. I had a decision to make. I could stay and do a summer school or go and get some much needed funds. With visa renewal approaching and other expenses I left for the city.

Two months has turned into five. I am now in the city counting down the next three weeks for when I return home. The break away has taught me I need to make teaching sustainable on the Island.

To do this I will be starting a project which will allow me to support myself and other volunteers. The project will concentrate on teaching the children English full time. To incorporate vocational training and to give them hope and inspiration for a better future.

Please support me by liking my face book page for updates. By keeping up to date you may be able to assist me when I reach out for the much needed help the school is going to need.

Mpay Bay Community School

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How Cambodia has changed my Heart, Mind and Soul.

 

 

So August marks my second year anniversary on entering Cambodia. The original plan was to go to Koh Rong Island for a few months until the rest of my savings ran out. I found out soon enough that plans in Cambodia are pointless. When I returned to the UK and people asked me “So what’s Cambodia like?” I couldn’t answer it in one sentence. I would end up saying “Yeah its amazing” or “I love it I’m living the dream”. These lines simply do not and can never do it justice. So here is the long answer and the one I haven’t been able to answer for a long time. After living with the locals for two years I can now tell you why I really love Cambodia.

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SHARING IS CARING – When I entered Cambodia I was struck by the poverty. Families living on very little money to feed their families quickly changed my western mindset. It is safe to say I am more or less broke most of the time in Cambodia. I can hear many of you asking now “why do you do it?

I have somewhere to live, food everyday and a happy heart. What more do I need?

The locals know I am a volunteer teacher so they will often call me to their houses. I hear Nam Bai (Eat Rice) so many times in one day. It is a sign of respect and every time I hear it I appreciate it. Alcohol consumption can become an issue if called by many families in one day. I have had to lie on many occasion to get out of drinking simply because I knew the next day was going to be a massive struggle. Sharing is one of the earliest lessons in life for a Khmer. This is also the main reason why I love Cambodia.

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ANY TYPE OF PROBLEM IS NO PROBLEM – Nothing in Cambodia is ever a problem. There is a solution to every problem. If a child cuts themself on a rock, on an Island with no medic center this could be a problem. They will find a leaf with medicinal purpose and use that to clean the wound. Whenever the unexpected happens a Khmer person will use resources around them and deal with it calmly and with patience until there is no longer an issue. There is no stress, hurry (unless its life threatening) anger or willingness to give up. Coming from a world where the smallest problem is a mountain and comes with stress makes me really appreciate the life I have in Cambodia.

 

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THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE –What are these things for you? For me it’s hearing laughter when you are not feeling your best. It’s walking for a few minutes to be greeted by smiles and greetings from complete strangers. Cambodia for me is the genuine land of smiles. It is hard to stay in a bad mood when surrounded by Khmer people. The children are loving and adorable. Within a minute you will forget why you was pissed off. If you are familiar with the history of the Khmer Rouge you would find it hard to imagine that Khmer people are still able to smile. Despite all the horrendous crimes and murders that took place they smile because they have hope. It is not in their nature to complain and they don’t think that the world owes them a living. They work hard for the simple necessities and as long as everybody is healthy and has a full belly they are happy.The simple life for me is the best life. When you stop chasing materials and objects that give you  temporary happiness you will find real peace and happiness in your heart.

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There are many reasons why I love Cambodia, these are my top three. I know that many travellers that have already explored this wonderful Country will be able to identify with this blog. If so please share. I want to change peoples pre conceptions about Cambodia.I dedicate this blog to my friends and family across around the globe. I think off you often. The bitter sweet is I don’t get to share this with you.Many Khmer people ask me why I stay in this Country to help. I hope this helps you to understand.

 

 

 

 

10 things absolutely everyone living on Koh Rong will experience…

Here is an honest insight into life on Koh Rong and what you experience when living in a tropical paradise. 

Worms, worms, worms. 

Tiny little worms that itch like fucking crazy and make an attempt to enter your body with any cut you have. You end up naming them and tracking their adventure through your toe.

Foot fungus. 

Worse than a worm but a little less creepy. It starts with the little toe and if you don’t stop it then it only spreads until your toes are red sore but crispy and your waking up at 6am feeling like your feet are in a bucket of red ants.

Becoming a borderline alcoholic.

Yes it happens. It’s no fault of your own, honestly. You always tell yourself ah I’ll take a few days off and then there’s a birthday party, or someone’s leaving, or someone’s just off their 24 hour detox but no matter what there is always a new reason for people to get you drunk. 

  
Waking up somewhere that isn’t your bed.

Whether it’s police beach, buffalo, island boys, the beach or someone else’s bed we’ve all been there. No recollection of getting there of course. Waking up surrounded by people eating breakfast and giving you dodgy looks as if you’re an absolute train wreck, or having to traipse up the beach in the midday heat hoping no one notices you in last night clothes and covered in glitter or some kind of party evidence. 

      

Face planting on the way to/from police beach.

So it’s no secret that the pathway to police beach has certainly given a few of us scars to remember. Attempting a 15 minute walk through the jungle, pathway or no pathway, when drunk is ambitious in itself but to accomplish it without a scratch is an expertise some of us wish we could perfect. 

Shotguns for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The amount of shotguns one does while on Koh Rong should never be counted, it will only lead to self doubt and regret. However it’s virtually impossible to escape a shotgun when you’re 10 meters around someone that screams it, and if it’s Bunna or Mr.Boombastic no matter how hard you try they will find you and you will do it.


Becoming lazy.

We come to the island experienced travellers that have been trekking for 3 days or volunteralry walk hours around historical sights or world wonders. When you arrive you can’t comprehend how people can live in such a small environment with no roads and no transport but living on Koh Rong will reset your tolerance to movement and effort. Walking from one end of Koh Tuch village to the other is something that is rarely accomplished by ex pats living here, even forgetting something in your room and having to run back becomes an effort. 

 
Sharting.

It doesn’t happen a lot but for most people it has occurred at least once. It’s a 50/50 situation when the belly flips and you feel the gas about to come out. Instead of air though you end up shitting yourself. Don’t worry though for some strange reason it’s acceptable on Koh Rong. You will hear people casually talking about it as if they are discussing the weather. 

Despising aircon.

The struggle is real when you get to mainland. Having spent a long time on the island your body adjusts to the climate which means perfect sleeping conditions are having a fan on level 3 aimed directly in your face. When visiting the mainland you soon discovered that you’re no longer cut out for aircon and it leaves you disgustingly sick. Searching for a room that has no aircon but hot water is impossible, no one can comprehend why you don’t want aircon when it’s 35 degrees outside.

Being incapable of wearing footwear.

No matter if your feet are in perfect condition or if you’ve got a new hole in your foot everyday you have this incapability to wear any kind of footwear let alone actually owning a pair. When heading to the mainland you’ve got to dig out your 6 month old flip flops or find someone that’s still slightly civilised to borrow a pair off. Then keeping them on your feet when on the mainland is a task in itself.  

 

Meet T – Living Young and wild and free

I was born in the UK and grew up in a small town called Luton. I knew for many years that I wanted to travel and after my relationship broke down I decided it was time to leave the UK. I worked three jobs for 12 months and saved like crazy, I packed my essential items into a rucksack and decided to leave for Asia. The most common question I was asked was “Are you not scared about going off on your own?”. I can honestly say at this stage in my life I wasn’t afraid of the journey, I was more scared of having regrets later on in life.

So 18 months ago I boarded the plane and headed for Koh Tao in Thailand. I had been to Thailand before so it wasn’t totally alien to me but going on holiday and relocating are completely different things and it didn’t take long for the doubts to set in. The first day I got there I remember crying and thinking what have I done. I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t know anybody and I was clueless to what I was going to do. I got up for sunrise and walked the beach and then gave myself a slap and told myself to pull it together. As I looked out at paradise I knew I was in a privileged position and all I could think about were the people back home that had said they wished they could do it.

koh tao landscapeI spent the day networking and using my charm and within 12 hours I had my own bungalow, a job in a cocktail bar and a moped to get about. I spent the majority of my time in Koh Tao Partying, sunbathing, exploring the Island and meeting new friends. After 6 months I knew i was running low on money and I felt that I needed a change. I loved living on the Island but I wanted to see something new and experience a new culture. I had met a lot of travelers that couldn’t speak highly enough about Cambodia so I decided this was going to be my new destination.

This is without doubt the best decision I have ever made. Its hard to explain how magical this place is, its more a feeling. My heart felt full and my mind was humbled as I met the amazing Khmer people. That was 12 months ago and now I am unable to leave. I did the tourist trail starting with the temples in Siam Reap, then the killing fields in Phnom Penh. I also worked in Phnom Penh as a volunteer at 11 Happy hostel. https://www.facebook.com/11happy.backpackers.  This allowed me to stay for 2 months with a free room, food and alcohol. Then I was down to my last $200 and with no return flight I had to decide what I was going to do. I had heard about Koh Rong and how you could work there as a volunteer so I decided to head to the coast the check it out.

I met some travelers that night at a remote beach party and they invited me to go camping on Long beach the next day. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to camp as I was extremely hungover so off I went with 7 other people and one change of clothes. The only way to get to the beach was walking through the jungle or by getting a taxi boat. To save money we walked. The trail was laid out easily at this time which has now changed due to illegal loggers which have now made it hard to find the right path. We climbed boulders, climbed vertical paths and had to stop a lot to drink water as the heat was blazing. When we got to the end of the trail we walked onto the beach and I can honestly say I never seen anything more beautiful. The clearest water i have ever seen and the sand so white and like chalk.

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We then walked up the beach where we met 3 other travelers that were camping. They had been there a week and I was gobsmacked by what they had done. They had made a hanging chair, 2 big bench chairs and a pit for the fire. We made a fire that night, listened to music and swam with the plankton. I decided to stay and camp and my bed was the hanging chair. Unbeknown to us a massive storm was heading out way. I laid in the chair and watched the lightning hitting the water from a far. Then the wind picked up and the torrential rain started. As we wasn’t really prepared  we had to camp under one of the campers harp hammock. Then the lightning was above us and at one point we saw a massive white flash and we had a ringing in our ears for five seconds. The sky was now lighting up every few seconds and as I looked around everybody looked scared. As we were sat under the biggest tree on the beach we decided we should move. We walked down the beach was a big straw shelter over our heads and the flashes lighting the way for us. We hid in a small shelter for the night drenched and freezing cold. The next day a few people decided to leave as they said they were scared. I decided I was going to stay. Over the next couple of weeks people left and myself and the original 3 campers stayed on a few more weeks. We put up tarps for shelter, raked the land for tents to go on and recycled washed up materials. It didn’t take long before other travelers heard about the site and joined us. In one night we had 25 campers with us. Unfortunately this was in low season and after a week of torrential rain and the campsite being flooded we decided to leave.

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This was the turning point in my life. I had lived for 3 weeks on a deserted beach with no running water, no electricity and no contact with the outside world. Pure Bliss. When we left we went to Koh Touch village which is on Koh Rong and after peace and quiet I really didn’t like it there. So we left after a day and headed back to Phnom Penh were I was going to try and find a teaching job. I spent another month here and missed being on the beach so decided to give Koh Rong another try. Thank God I did!! I have now been on the Island for a total of 7 months after coming and going. I went back to the UK for a visit for a few months and to earn some money. I also let everybody back home know that this is where I am going to settle for a long time to come. So what is it about Koh Rong? Where do I start….

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Firstly the village was set up by Fisherman that used the Island as a port when the water was to bad 20 years ago. Since that time many local people have come and settled on the Island. The first tourists visited the Island 3 years ago and as a result westerners have opened up businesses and the tourists have been coming for the last two years. There was no electricity on the Island until February this year and there is still no hot water or Air conditioning. There is a road which is being built through the island for the development being set up by the royal group on long beach. There are a couple of motorbikes which some of the builders use for getting the concrete up the steep hills but other then that you walk or get boats to get to your destinations. The main thing I love about the Island are the local people. They are very welcoming and friendly and would give you their last beer.

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I have done some voluntary teaching and some fundraising for the charity Friends of Koh Rong. http://friendsofkohrong.org/ I have also worked for guesthouses bringing them customers which has allowed me to work for free and earn a small wage every month.  One of the main things I love about the Island other then its beauty is the freedom to do what I want. If I’m bored i can take a walk and end up in an unplanned and amazing situation. So I am going to be on the Island for a while and I will let you know about weird, wonderful, sad, funny and crazy events as they happen. I have also made a short video which you can see if you visit the link.  I have met a couple of crazy girls that will also be blogging so look out for our stories on what its really like to be an expat living in Paradise.

FOKR