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Engineers Without Borders in Haiti

To be updated.

Meanwhile, swipe down to the picture gallery 🙂

Photo: EWB, David Clement
Фото: EWB, Tanja Zuppé

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The Khmer Heritage

Night. Heat. Overwhelmed with pleasant excitement, I pull my suitcase through the crowded streets of Bangkok towards the bus agency, because I know – the next dawn I will meet in a new for me, interesting and mysterious Cambodia. While I’m waiting for the bus, I notice a group of young people who seem to have just finished school. From their accents it was clear that they came here from around the world. It didn’t take much effort for me to approach them and get acquainted – traveling alone, you involuntarily start to sail along incredible currents, meeting interesting and so different people on the way. We talked for a long time and played various games until our bus arrived. And how cool it was! The seats are wide, comfortable, with folding backs, where you could sleep – such transport is very common in Asia. A few hours passed unnoticed, it began to dawn, and here we are on the border of two countries. We were taken off the bus because we had to cross the border on foot. After a series of different procedures and paperwork, I finally set foot on Cambodian soil.

What I saw surprised me a lot. The border area itself was like a crowded bazaar – traders shouted prices from behind the counters under the buildings of hotels and casinos, while travelers were trying to find their vehicles. Poverty, hunger and hopelessness immediately caught my eye. Homeless people sat on the roadsides, begging for alms, and exhausted, dirty women with babies in their arms wandered among the crowd. And there were so many of them that I felt helpless and insignificant, because even after feeding one poor man, I realized that I could not help hundreds of others.

When I found my bus and perched comfortably again, I just thought about how lucky I was to be born in a prosperous country, to have a roof over my head, food every day, not to mention hygiene products.

We moved on and soon arrived in Siam Reap, where I spent three busy days. The reason for this trip was my dream to see Angkor – the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire, the ruins of which are located near this city. But I will tell you about it later.

So, saying goodbye to my new acquaintances, I went to meet my host, whom I found on the Couchsurfing site. I arrived at my destination – a primary school, located quite far from the city center. No tourists could be seen here, so I, a blonde with a European appearance and a blue suitcase, was very different from the locals. I waited for my host for more than an hour, so I had time to watch people, and I noticed one very strange thing: all the women who saw me were happy and smiling, the children waved merrily at me, while the men frowned, looking furiously. I still do not understand what caused such a reaction. (If anyone has any guesses or explanations – please share them in the comments!)

At the school behind me, a bell rang announcing the end of lessons, and a noisy crowd of children, about 8-10 years old, poured into the yard. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but most of them got on their scooters and drove home confidently. I was shocked! Little kids. On scooters.

After two hours, I got tired of waiting for a host who didn’t even respond to my messages, so I quickly found a hostel on the Internet in the heart of the city with a pool and round-the-clock parties for only $3 a night. But, what a pity! I was so far from the center, and public transport was nowhere to be seen. Fortunately, I came across a tuk-tuk on the way, so I didn’t have to walk three kilometers on the hot asphalt under the tropical sun. The driver drove me to the doorstep of the hostel, where I heard loud music and laughter. Fortunately, there was a free bed for me in a room with 19 people. After a grueling road, I just dreamed of a pool! So before going to the city, I had a good rest, swam, getting acquainted with many cheerful young people from all over the world, who also stayed here. As you can see, traveling alone does not mean being lonely.

I was anxious to see the city, so without delay, I went for a walk. Despite the fact that Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, it was a great pleasure to walk its streets. Yes, the roads and sidewalks were bumpy, the houses were not in the best condition, the knots of power lines on the many poles looked unsightly, but there was so much different greenery that it gave the city a special charm. I have never seen such colorful flowers of different shapes and sizes, so I felt like in a paradise garden. Additionally, Buddhist and Hindu temples with their golden domes and ornaments only intensified this feeling. Even now, as I write this article, I am overwhelmed with emotions that I unfortunately cannot describe. I remember the monks in their orange robes resting in the courtyard of the temple in the shade of flowering trees. Stray dogs and cats perched peacefully beside them, and kittens jumped on the trees. It was very touching – the doors of the temple are open to all living creatures. Personally, I brought from there as much peace of mind and tranquility as even the sea has never given me. By the way, how many kittens can you see in this photo?

In the evening, the streets of Siam come to life. Bars and cafes are filled with people – locals and tourists. If you come to this city and want to have fun – I advise you to visit the famous Pub Street. Don’t be surprised if taxi drivers offer you to buy drugs from them – they try to make money on tourists in various ways, but keep in mind – Cambodian laws strictly prohibit the sale and use of drugs.

Having walked a lot, I returned to the hostel. After a little chat and a swim in the pool, I went to bed early, because the next day I had a long and busy program. Although I really enjoyed living in a hostel with young people and non-stop parties, staying up until the morning was not my priority, because I came to see the cultural heritage.

Dear readers, if there are girls among you who also love or intend to travel alone, then I want to warn you to be careful. There will always be many men in a hostel, cafe or at the party who will try to get you drunk and ready for sex, maybe even offer you to marry them. Never forget that you, your physical and mental health, your desires or unwillingness are the highest priority. Do not succumb to such provocations just because “they want something, and you are uncomfortable to refuse.” Be able to say no, walk away from the unwanted companion and stand up for yourself.

So, finally the morning came. The long-awaited trip. It was three o’clock in the morning, but thousands of tourists had already gathered under the walls of Angkor. I was not surprised, after all this is the former capital of the Khmer Empire, the largest city of its time. Two thousand years ago, these areas were already densely populated and technically developed. The whole complex covers an area of ​​about 200 km2 and is marked by the geometric structure of the plan and the harmony of the composition. In total, there are about 100 multi-storey palaces and temples, built without cement or other binding materials. The stone blocks are connected by the principle of a lock. Numerous towers, decorated with inscriptions and masterful carvings will not leave visitors, accustomed to European architecture and art, indifferent.

This is not the end of my acquaintance with the culture of Cambodia. Following my tradition, I found a theater here, which was a grand performance about the history of this region. The variety of colorful costumes, masks and decorations, as well as the number and skill of the actors were breathtaking. But the events they brought to life on stage were sad. Many upheavals, wars and crises were experienced by the Cambodian people: the strong and unique Khmer kingdom became a vassal of the Siamese Empire due to endless class strife and invasion. This was followed by French colonization, Khmer Rouge terror, genocide, armed conflict, poverty, and devastation. The consequences of these events still continue to negatively affect the country’s economy and social order.

And again, I realized that we actually have so much and don’t appreciate it. We quarrel, trying to find flaws in everything. But in fact, daily food and the availability of an apartment, clean tap water, the opportunity to study – these are the reasons for the great joy. I know this is hard to believe, but without exaggeration, billions of people in our world do not have such privileges. And those who even have a peaceful sky over their heads and a stable situation in the country – won the jackpot in the lottery called life.

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Travel

Bangkok, Thailand

What type of travel is right for you? Are you one of those people who like to bask on the beach or one of those who wander the crowded streets all day with a camera in hand? Do you catch your breath from the architectural heritage, or rather from the thickness of the wild jungle, where almost no human has set foot? Are you interested in a family vacation, or are you looking for thrills behind the doors of strip bars and massage parlors? In fact, it doesn’t matter what category you belong to. Because here everyone will find something for themselves and, believe me, you will return home full of unforgettable impressions!
I started this rather spontaneous journey from the city of millions – Bangkok. I know most tourists prefer sunny Patagonia or the islands in the south, but if you have already travelled so far, do not neglect the opportunity to visit the capital.


Shortly before my arrival, I found accommodation on Couchsurfing (This website will allow you to meet the locals and have a great time together). So, somehow with adventures I got to the metro station, where I was to be met by my host. It turned out to be a smiling friendly young man Tan, who put me on his motorcycle (with a suitcase on my lap!) and drove me home. To say that new impressions began to overwhelm me from the first minute in Bangkok is to say nothing. Let’s at least take the fact that I rode a motorcycle for the first time (although, actually, the second time, because the first time it was a “motorcycle-taxi driver”? who drove me from the bus stop to the subway station). At first, I was afraid to get on a motorcycle, after all I’ve never did this before! Then people started laughing at me, because a motorcycle in Thailand is like a bicycle in the Netherlands: without it – no way. So I kinda gave in and let them put me on the vehicle.

Here we are – Tan’s home. There lived a wonderful family who, despite the language barrier, were very friendly to me. In his spare time, Tan showed me the city, celebrated Christmas with me, and helped in this unfamiliar country. We talked a lot and learned about each other’s cultures. And I realized how cool it is to know languages ​​and to be able to communicate with people from another part of the globe. Eventually, I stopped being afraid of the motorcycle and started to enjoy it, while Tan picked up speed on the track among the skyscrapers, jumping between cars from lane to lane.
My first day in Bangkok. I do not cease to be surprised. You will no longer find such architectural structures as here in any city. My undisputed favorites were the temple complexes of Wat Po and Wat Arun, as well as the Grand Palace. Walking around the city, you will find many other buildings that impress with their wealth, giant golden Buddhas, mosaics of colored mirrors, ornate dragons, giants and other mythical creatures. My advice to you: when going to Thailand, bring light clothes that cover the shoulders and knees. Only then will you be able to visit temples.


Religion and spirituality occupy an important place in the life of Thai citizens. In contrast to European countries, where more and more young people are turning to atheism, here religion is thriving and keeping up with the times. There are many monks on the streets, who are easily recognizable by their orange robes. And it’s not just elderly men, which surprised me a lot and, I must admit, made me happy. Among the monks are many children, adolescents and young men. Every Thai must be trained not only in the army, but also to complete training in the temple. People say that only such a person can become a real man. People who dedicate their lives to God have many advantages and benefits: they do not pay for transportation, receive food for free, and most importantly – they are highly respected and valued.
In addition to Buddhists, there are many Christians in Thailand, including the family that sheltered me, so, keeping the traditions, I spent Christmas Eve at church, and again, a pleasant surprise awaited me. Spending winter evenings in shorts and T-shirts just itself is an unusual phenomenon, but what I saw in the churchyard struck me! Near the church, which stands on the bank of the river, there was a huge Christmas tree, and hundreds of people danced energetic swing around it! Well, Tan and I were no exception! Loud music was played, street food was sold outside the church, competitions were held in tents, and children tried to win prizes. That’s how, coming to church, you can accidentally come across the biggest open-air party in the style of the forties.

The food is dominated by sweet and spicy flavors. Coconut milk and lemongrass are indispensable ingredients in many national dishes. And the variety of fruits just drives you crazy! Fruits of various shapes, colors and sizes stunned tourists with attractive prices. But do not rush to buy, because first you have to bargain well – you benefit, and sellers don’t lose their skills 😊 During the first days I spent in Bangkok, I managed to try coconut soup with mushrooms, rice with banana, baked in a leaf, jelly of grass in milk, chrysanthemum juice and many other strange things, the names of which I have never heard and probably will not remember. The only things I didn’t taste were scorpions, caterpillars and other insects. When the sun sets and street fairs with food and souvenirs begin to come to life, some traders (especially in tourist places) begin to flaunt their “delicacies”. I’ve even seen a crocodile on a spit a few times, and it’s a sad sight. As my new local acquaintance explained to me, Thais don’t really eat scorpions or crocodiles. This is all done for tourists. That’s where various stereotypes about Asian “eating everything that lives” come from. But, as it turns out, this isn’t always true.
If you have the opportunity, go to the theater. When I’m in another country, I always try to visit an opera or a play, because it can tell us a lot about the spirit of the people. And in Thailand, this tradition of mine did not disappoint me. I went to a play about events from Thai legends. A monkey helped God build a bridge across a river by outwitting a mermaid. I have never seen such a variety of colored and ornate masks in my life. And the melodies of the songs pleased the ear with unusual motives.
After spending a few days here, I decided to move on to Cambodia, where my adventures continued. But about this, as well as about other cities in Thailand, you can read in the new posts.