Have you ever been to such a place that completely alters your perception of life in the best way possible? Cambodia, to say the least, captured a very big part of me from the beginning of my trip. I’ll be honest; I had second thoughts about coming here. The gigantic gap between rural communities and their absolute unbiased and friendly, natural attitude very quickly changed my mind and it was a great eye opener. It was one of my best trips and experiences so far.
Koh Sdach is a very petite fishing island off the coast of Poi Japon, only about 250 kilometers but a 6 hour ride on a minibus from Phnom Penh. Arriving in Phnom Penh was already quite different than Thailand or Bali; it’s chaotic to say the least. Being half Thai and have had grown up in Asia, Cambodia is probably one of these exotic left overs my Dad tells me about, the Asia as it used to be: anarchic, busy, loud, dusty and totally out of control if compared with Thailand or Indonesia today. And I love it!
The journey here was a lengthy yet pleasurable one. I was picked up early in the morning by a small rural minibus, ones we also have in Thailand except this one was completely overloaded with people, livestock, and luggage. After a few kilometers it actually wasn’t too bad. The people were unexpectedly friendly and welcoming, conversing with them in a language that I could not communicate in spoke volumes to me as every single person I encountered along the way were nothing but generous and helpful towards me. Many Khmer actually speak a rudimentary Thai, not really a surprise when thinking about their recent history. I felt the immediate feeling of acceptance and welcome, this friendly, mostly unfathomable chatter, offers of food and drink and questions I could not answer.
On arrival, my colleagues welcomed me very warmly and explained the basics. Having had worked for Projects Abroad in Krabi a few years ago, I was familiar with their program when I accepted the job to train volunteers here in Cambodia. During my time here at Projects, I was able to observe a completely unique understanding of life. The simple yet fulfilling way of living here on Koh Sdach is one of the many few things that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed becoming a part of. The houses sit on stilts above the water with gaps in the floorboards so a clumsy person like me would have to be very careful where to place things. Waking up every day to the sound of the water rushing underneath me below the floorboards has become habitual. The very basic housing I have here was not something I was familiar with however became accustomed to right away. Often times I sleep outside my own room, every now and then, even out on the porch underneath the stars and night sky I had the privilege to get to know well.
Allowing myself to be completely immersed in the Khmer culture, I had the chance to visit the local school, teaching children the basis of English through games and expressions and was able to connect to the locals in a way I had never imagined. My daily routine includes diving the astonishing amount of reefs the island has to offer. Participating in and leading dives against debris, observing and engaging in surveys, I feel as if I am personally making a hint of a difference each and every day that I am here. The feeling of achievement and capability, there is no limit to the things you can reach here on Koh Sdach, and that awe has driven me to such depths I’ve never explored within myself until now.
Koh Sdach has offered me unforeseen adventures and encounters in the short amount of time that I’ve spent here, yet it has effectively transformed my life in the greatest way imaginable. At Projects, I’ve been given the opportunity to work alongside the most incredible and likeminded individuals I’ve ever met, who are as passionate towards the ocean as I am. I feel as if I’ve gotten the rare chance to develop myself during my time here and I can say without a doubt that I’ve never been happier given the freedom to explore this uniquely colourful place. I am lucky enough to be here to enjoy the beautifully chaotic and tranquil island, relishing in the lifestyle the community, the ocean and the people has offered me. Koh Sdach continues to prepare me for what I believe to become a meaningful chapter of my life.