Preah Vihear

Our next stop on our road trip was Preah Vihear (pray vi-heer), a province in northern Cambodia that featured in a lot of news last year. It borders Thailand, and on its border is a Hindu temple, built about 1,000 years ago. Because of its location and historical significance, it became a hotspot of contention between the Thai and Cambodian armies, as both countries claim the temple belongs on their land. Last year, there were several fights between the armies along that border, resulting in injuries and deaths. Although Poipet is a very long way from the temple, we had an evacuation plan in place, just in case the border clashes spread down to our area. Fortunately, we never had cause to use the plan. And this year, all has been quiet in that area, perhaps because Thailand has had enough trouble to keep it occupied, with its massive flooding last fall and change in government.

SP recently opened a new office in the southern part of the province (far from the border) to provide nutrition programming to the area. We were all quite interested to see the area, as few people had travelled up that way. It is a remote area, although the roads have been recently improved - probably to allow in all the logging companies who cut down the trees we saw along the road.

Preah Vihear has incredible green, lush forests, which is becoming more and more rare in Cambodia as companies destroy the jungle for development. As we drove along the highway, the forest would give way to bare land and broken stumps, such as the photo above - despite the fact we were driving through a protected wildlife area.

Even in the country, there can be a lot of traffic on the road!

The SP office is in a small village at the end of a long, dirt road that rarely sees heavy traffic. The land is much more sparsely populated than Poipet. The village had no electricity, no running water. Power was generated by solar panels (for the office) or car batteries (for normal villagers) or generators (people with more money than the average villager). Although the weather has cooled off a lot, it was still pretty hot at night when the generators were turned off and not even a fan could move the thick, humid air around. 

The village elementary school

While in the village, we met with different groups of community members and leaders, learning about the problems in their villages. They were many: inability to get clean water from anywhere but a river where they also bathe and dump trash next to; no use of latrines but going out in the bush; few children completing school beyond the elementary years; and people migrating to other countries for work, to never be heard of again.

The main street

We were excited to hear that there was a small group of believers in the village being led by a pastor who travels up from another village. Hopefully SP can help support the fledgling group of believers and give them skills to help their community.

Cutting up chicken for dinner

Varin and Jess helping with dinner prep at the office

The office kitchen

Although there are a lot of places in Southeast Asia I am dying to get to, I have to say one of my favorite things is to just travel around Cambodia. Now that we have a bit of language, it opens up the door to really experiencing a place and understanding a bit from the people who live there. Cambodia seems uniform on top, but traveling through the provinces shows it's much more diverse than that. And it helps me feel more connected to the country that I now call my home.