Pupils and staff from Antrim Grammar School departed in July for the adventure of a lifetime to Vietnam and Cambodia.
The trip was the culmination of two years’ fundraising, planning and administration for the 12 pupils and two staff, accompanied by their expedition leader from World Challenge.
They flew into Ho Chi Minh City, via Hong Kong. The first thing that hit them in Vietnam’s commercial and industrial hub was the heat and humidity, even though it was early evening when they arrived.
After a few days in Ho Chi Minh City, the group travelled southwest to the port city of Rach Gia, on the Gulf of Thailand for their community engagement and project phase.
The group’s project was based in a small school in the nearby hamlet of Soc Tan where we helped to build a new wall to withstand the flooding that the monsoon brings.
Travelling north, an overnight train journey brought them to the beach resort of Nha Trang for some rest and relaxation.
Travelling once more, the group left the coast and journeyed inland towards the Central Highlands of Vietnam, famous for its coffee production.
After just over two weeks in Vietnam, they crossed the border into Cambodia, where they spent our first night in the small town of Ban Lung. From here they left for their main 5 day trek through some of the deepest and most isolated jungle around Virachey, close to the Laos border. This really was an adventure. After a 40 minute journey up the Sesan River in three long tail boats, sitting just inches above the water, the jungle canopy of mahogany and teak trees closed in and they moored at Tra village. Over the next four days we rose early to trek in the ‘coolest’ part of the day so that we could get to our campsites by early afternoon.
After returning to Ban Lung to rest for a day, we travelled to Siem Reap, principally to visit the temple complex of Angkor. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Angkor is considered to be one of the most significant archaeological sites in South-East Asia and the largest religious monument in the world.
Their final journey was to Cambodia’s capital and largest city, Phnom Penh. feeling it was important to understand Cambodia’s recent past they visited the best-known of the many so-called “killing fields” – now a memorial garden - Choeung Ek, on the edge of the city.
The group also went to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which was the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21), one of over 150 such prisons used by the Khmer Rouge regime.