In Pang Na you forget about all your worries or other problems. Despite the mosquitos and the stifling heat, the week I spent in the village was one of the most relaxing and impressive times of my life.
The inhabitants extended a warm welcome to us, so we felt like being home from the first second on.
Mr. Thy, his wife and the two daughters took care of me and my friends; they cooked tons of food for us and were courteous the whole time we stayed there. They and all children of the village showed me what it means to be happy, although parts of Cambodia are still struggling due to its history. However, the people of Pang Na were just thinking about better times in the future. It was great to see that Mr. Thy has built up his own school right next to his house. He wants the children to get good jobs in future times. Everyone in the village is such happy that foreigners come to the village and talk English with them and especially the children. Everywhere we went, a loud and friendly “hello” was shouted out of the properties.
Visiting the temples nearby the Animal Rescue Centre was a great experience as well. They were very calm, one of the temples looked like “little Angkor Wat” and except for us there were no tourists at all. Mr. Thy gave us interesting insights into the Cambodian religions and culture, not only at the temples, but also in the everyday life in the village. For me, there was no better way to get to know Cambodia.
I first heard about Pang Na village from a friend that I was travelling South East Asia with. He had met Mr Thy the year before in Cambodia and was keen for us to share the experience of the 'Real Cambodia' in Pang Na.
We had organised for Mr Thy to pick us up in his Tuk Tuk from Phnom Penh. We made an hour and a half journey - which in its self was a spectacular way to take in the Cambodian countryside, passing endless rice fields and small towns with friendly curious young faces shouting "what is your name?" as we drove past. We were able to visit a local rice mill to buy a 70kg bag of rice to feed Mr Thy's family and the school children.
When we arrived at the village, we were first given a guided tour which included meeting Mr Thy's extended family, drinking beer with his friends, eating pork and noodles in a small cafe and playing a rather competitive game of volleyball with the other villagers. We arrived at Mr Thy's house which was a brick built building surrounded by chickens, two dogs, and orphaned cow and a very noisy pig in a sty at the back. The school was to the left of the house and made out of wood. It had rows of benches and tables within it. The children greeted us with massive grins and instantly wanted us to play football, dance, play tag and teach them the English words to the “See you again” song. After a while Mr Thy said it was time for class and the children took their seats in the school.
We decided to teach the children to say their birthday’s in English. A number of the students were selected to come to the front of the class to read the words on the blackboard. What was nice to see was the children's enthusiasm for learning and how happy they were. After the class was over, we then had the older children to teach, who were around ten years old. Mr Thy told us how important it was for the children of Pang Na to learn English and he felt that speaking the language would open up more job opportunities for the children in later life.
I felt blessed to have contributed to their education and it is one of my highlights of my travels around South East Asia.
In the evening Mr Thy, Mom and their daughters invited us to eat a traditional dinner with them. We sat outside talking for hours about the village, school and Cambodian history. This experience taught me so much of the Cambodian culture and how welcoming the Cambodian people are. You will always be greeted with a smile.
Visiting Pang Na is not only a great chance to get to know the lifestyle of Cambodian people, but also to learn a lot about yourself. Without internet it is almost like your perception of the happenings around you are a lot stronger. Suddenly every sunset, every sand between your toes, every sound of the crickets feels like happiness. And not only the landscapes or animals - but especially all of the people living in Pang Na.
Mr. Thy, his wife and daughters will immediately include you into the family and will take care of you like a daughter or sister. Mom always cooked way too much food for me to eat and the daughters danced and sang songs with me. Behind the house is Mr. Thy’s school, which he built by himself. I enjoyed visiting class every day and even teach some lessons.
While I was staying in Pang Na, I visited local cafés, beautiful temples and an Animal Rescue Centre - all of them being great trips. You will soon see that every local will try to help you the best way possible and every child in the village welcomes you when you are walking by there house.
I only stayed for 10 days, but leaving them was very hard and made me think even more about the beauty of Cambodia. If I could, I would have definitely stayed longer.
A journey through Cambodia feels like a journey through the past. It is a journey in a country that is still at the beginning of a long process of reconstruction. The impressing ruins of Angkor Wat, peaceful temples, endless expanses of rice fields, colorful markets, the Killing Fields and wonderful people who always have a smile on their faces are telling the Cambodian Story. Once you arrive in the capital city Phnom Penh the confrontation with the terrible past and the time under the Khmer Rouge is inevitable.
It is talked about poverty, death and war. We read about it in our travel guides, visit museums and in the evening we return back to our hostels to consume a piece of carefree Western world in a group of other travellers.
A trip to Pang Na is different. There is no talking about the past, but it is obviously tangible by the family tragedies and poverty. In Pang Na, it is all about thinking about the future and living in the present. It feels like being immersed in the Cambodian life. I have met the daily life of the Mr. Thys family, their care for each other and their endless hospitality towards me. There were no western restaurants, no bars and no one wanted to sell you something. But I have spent the days roaming through the streets and from each house a "Hello" was a shouted. We ate together, washed laundry, took care of the cow and I have planted rice with the women of the village. The entire village has welcomed me with curiosity and friendliness. The children have continuously repeated the same questions that they were able to ask in English, although I doubt that they have understood the answer given. At the school next to their home, which Mr. Thy tries to establish for teaching the children the English language for a better future, three classes took place during the day. I was asked to take the role as a teacher, who was currently not affordable. I stood in front of about 25 large, dark eyes couples who were staring at me curiously while waiting to get the chance to learn. It was impressive how inquisitive and enthusiastic these children were.
It has not felt like a normal tourist program or the usual activities that you can do as a backpacker. It was more like an exchange, in which the different cultures can learn from each other.
Looked back, those days in Pang Na have been the most impressive experience and the best way to immerse myself in the real life of Cambodia.