Written by Sally Hetherington, Operations Manager.
On Wednesday, 10th December (International Human Rights Day), our team embarked on our bi-annual team-building trip.
We met at 4:40am at our building, and for once, everyone was early! I can put this down to the wonderful organisational skills of our Education Manager, Chhalin, who created a ‘buddy system’, where different staff members phoned other staff members to ensure they were awake, and we also teamed up to ride to work together. I couldn’t believe it, but we actually left HHA ten minutes ahead of scheduled time for our trip. Brilliant!
At first everyone in the van was quite excited, but eventually people started dozing off, given it was a very early hour. We drove 70km through the countryside to reach Boeng Mealea temple. We arrived so early that the ticket booth wasn’t even open. After waiting for awhile, I was eventually able to buy my tickets for Boeng Mealea and Koh Ker (the temples are free for Khmers, which reduces our costs), and we made our way to the temple. Thai and Samen decided to get some exercise in, and ran to the temple, arriving shortly after we did in our van.
I have been to Boeng Mealea temple many times, however this was a first for most of our staff. We ordered our breakfast at a local restaurant, then headed into the temple to explore. Apart from one man embarking on his morning exercise, running up and down the entrance, there wasn’t another soul in sight! This certainly worked in our favour, as we were able to take many great photos and not worry about bumping into people. After a short time exploring, we headed back to the restaurant and ate our breakfast. The bill was only $23 for 14 people, which was under the budget we had set. In fact, all day we went under budget for our meals, despite eating so much we kept complaining of being full!
After our breakfast we all piled back into the van and started our trek to Koh Ker. Chhalin had organised some games, so our staff got into teams of two and answered various questions, with the grand prize being the much sought after new HHA t-shirts! It surprisingly didn’t take too long to get there (but maybe that is because I napped on the way), and when we got there, we were once again the only ones around. We walked through some dilapidated temples to then have a large, pyramid temple appear before us.
While three of our team stayed down the bottom, the rest of embarked on the journey to the top of the temple using surprisingly sturdy and well maintained staircases. After a bit of huffing and puffing, we reached the top and were presented with a stunning view.
We took photos and relaxed for a bit, then headed back down the stairs and walked back to our van where we were in for a loooooooong ride to Preah Vihear.
The journey to Preah Vihear was long, though I am not sure exactly how long as I was dozing on and off. We reached the town and stopped for lunch, as everyone was hungry by that stage. The team had a big selection of curries and soups to choose from, whilst I opted for a plain bread roll as I always have to be cautious with what I eat here; I have the opposite to an iron stomach! After laughing at a Chinese ghost movie, we were on our way again and finally reached the bottom of Preah Vihear mountain.
After showing my passport, Chhalin ordered two trucks and we split into two groups of seven for the rocky ride up the mountain. Preah Vihear temple is situated on top of a 525 metre cliff, and the road to get up there is very steep, so as you can imagine, some of our staff had their eyes closed on the journey! When we reached the top, our team headed to the local pagoda carrying 10kg of morning glory vegetables donated by a graduated sewing student. She wanted us to distribute it to poor villagers, so we figured giving it to the pagoda for them to allocate it amongst people would be the fairest way.
It was then time to visit the temple. Construction on Preah Vihear began in the early 9th century as a dedication to the Hindu God, Shiva. Due to the decline of Hinduism, it was eventually converted to use by Buddhists. For many years there was a dispute between Thailand and Cambodia about who actually owned the temple, however in 2013 the International Court of Justice ruled that the land belonged to Cambodia.
Our team took their time looking around the temple, and we stopped for about 30 minutes to play a team building game organised by Chhalin. We had to decide the best way to throw numerous balls around a circle without dropping them. Eventually we were successful, however it took us awhile to get there!
At around 4pm we headed back down the mountain in our trucks. I ate some fried eggs from the mountain which would prove to be a bad idea; I ended up spending the journey home throwing up. Something new I learnt about Khmer culture is that when people are vomiting, another person always hits their back to ‘get the vomit out’. Can’t say I enjoyed that, though I am thankful that my team were so concerned about my welfare!
I can’t tell you what time we reached Siem Reap, as I was too ill, but I think it was around 9pm. My workmates took me home and then headed back to HHA to eat dinner together. It was a very long day, and a first for many of our staff to leave Siem Reap Province! Thanks to everyone who supported this important team building trip to reward our staff for their hard work and dedication to empowering Cambodians.