Take 15 adventuresome strangers from various parts of the world, invite them to spend 10 days getting to know each other, and three cultures on the way, bring a few bottles of vodka for the road, and what do you get? Eurocircle’s trip to Cambodia & Vietnam, 2013!
Now in it’s third year, the adventure has expanded to include fresh faces, more distant locales and more fun along the way. This year we welcomed Eurocircle members from Germany, South Africa, Russia, Egypt, Spain, Ireland, Sweden, Serbia, Bulgaria and the US. Together, we climbed Khmer pyramids, raced tuk-tuk’s down busy streets of Siem Reap, enjoyed a group massage, and truly enjoyed meeting the people of Cambodia. Next we partied in cool night clubs of Ho Chi Minh City, ate everything in Hanoi, and plunged into the heavenly Halong Bay.
But it all started the night we met in our hotel lobby in Siem Reap. I had arranged for a light dinner so that all travelers could get to know one another. After a 30 hour journey, I doubted anyone would be in the mood for a long get-together, as our tour of the Angkor Wat temples started early in the morning. Much to my surprise, our first gathering was a magical moment, as 15 strangers instantly smiled and recognized each other as if they were long, lost friends. I could tell this was going to be a good trip, as the group seemed to have a lot of chemistry.
The next morning we boarded a private bus, for a short ride to the most recognizable of Cambodia’s temples. Angkor Wat is a massive complex of Hindu and Buddhist temples, built in the 12th century and dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. It is the largest religious complex in the world.
Inside, we discovered a massive complex of multiple structures, and enormous bas relief carvings of Hindu gods. The largest relief describes how the devas (gods) and the asuras (demons) churned the ocean under the aegis of Vishnu, to produce the divine elixir of immortality. Scholars consider this relief to be one of the finest art pieces at Angkor Wat.
We also toured Angkor Thom- a 12th century Buddhist temple with hundreds of 3 dimensional faces of Buddha, and Ta Prom- the photogenic temple overgrown with ancient roots, made famous by the movie Tomb Raider.
On the way back, we asked our driver to take us to a nearby village, to show us how the locals (outside of Siem Reap) live. He parked just outside a little settlement, where the residents were a bit suspicious of foreigners, and quickly scampered into their homes. As we walked down a dirt road, some curious faces peeked out the windows. A few fearless kids waived shyly from their yards, then started following us, keeping a safe distance behind our group. We quickly caught the attention of the local police, who stared following us on motorcycle, so half-way down the road, we definitely had quite an entourage.
The candy we had in our backpacks and all our electronic devices were a huge help in breaking the ice. The kids could not resist the bright colored candy, and grown-ups found our iPhone photos quite amusing. Within a few minutes, everyone was calling friends and family to come out and meet us, and we were quickly surrounded by the residents. This turned out to be the perfect photo-op for the kids, most of which had never seen a digital photo. It’s funny how an unplanned side tour, turns out to be the best part of the day.
The rest of our time in Siem Reap was spent in having a good time with our fellow travelers. We raced tuk-tuks down the streets of Siem Reap, invaded a beautiful spa en masse and enjoyed a loud, crazy massage for the whole group, checked out the night markets and had an amazing time, getting to know one another.
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