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Cambodia and Thailand: Have you ever had fish munch on your feet? - Allison Hoover, Agricultural & Extension Education

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Posted: November 11, 2014

Sleeping on the floor of a hut in an upland village was probably one of the best sleepovers of my life.
My favorite host brother, A-Owan, in a Northern Thailand village

My favorite host brother, A-Owan, in a Northern Thailand village

In the fall of 2013, I took an introductory course to prepare us for a 2-week trip to the Southeast Asian countries of Thailand and Cambodia. The embedded class was titled “Food Security Strategies for Smallholder Farmers in SE Asia.” When I first heard of the course in the spring of 2013, I was extremely excited and hopeful that I could enroll and travel to SE Asia. I was fortunate to be one of the 12 students who were able to partake (along with 3 wonderful instructors) in the unforgettable experience. 

Although we spent over 40 hours on planes (8 flights total), we were also able to travel via van, bike, elephant, feet, tuk tuk, rickshaw, boat, taxi, and metro. I must say, even if it does sound cool, traveling long distances via elephant would not be at all to my fancy… 

Upon arrival in Chiang Mai, Thailand, we were able to tour the city for a few days and experience New Year’s Eve at the famous night market. One of our first educational experiences was a trip to a local organic rice cooperative, outside the city. We were able to also see a bit of the local community forest on that trip! 

Then we traveled into the northern mountains (that border Myanmar/Burma) to stay at the campus of an agricultural development organization (UHDP). With several interesting workshops (including one where we prepared our own “forest-sourced” lunch) under our belts, we traveled with UHDP to two local upland villages. This was probably my favorite part of the trip – not only because I got to play with Thai village children and hike through the mountains to see agroforestry systems, but because we could really immerse ourselves in the culture through a one-night home stay. While there may have been some insects falling from the walls and a stiff back in the morning, sleeping on the floor of that hut in an upland village was probably one of the best sleepovers of my life. With myself and two of my classmates as my slumber party buddies, we spent some time before bed trying to communicate with our “host mom” and other family members. It was a lot of hand motions and, to our surprise, our “host brother” helping out with a bit of English, but we eventually formed some sort of communication. That host brother, A-Owan, drew us some pictures and brought a smile to my face with his clever smirk and personality. 

Thailand was certainly a wonderful experience of culture and agricultural prosperity, but Cambodia was a little different. The post-conflict country (via internal genocide about 30 years ago) is still in a significant recovery stage and is (slowly) developing their agricultural industry as a means for general development. We spent only a few days in Cambodia, but we certainly had a lot of diverse experiences. Upon arrival, we visited a few horticultural farms in the flat, hot lands of Cambodia then followed the crops to the wholesale marketplace. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to also see the “floating village” of Tonle Sap lake (largest lake in Cambodia). It was an unforgettable cultural experience to witness children playing in tubs on a river. We were also able to spend a day wondering around Angkor Wat – which happened to be on bikes! Witnessing a world heritage site was certainly one of the highlights of the trip but I almost equally enjoyed the nighttime experiences we had exploring the markets and shops of Siem Reap. This is where I had the infamous “fish spa” performed to my feet via various moderately small skin-eating fish. It was a unique experience, at only $1 a person! 

Overall, the Thailand and Cambodia trip was one of the best travel experiences I’ve had. Probably the most significant reason for this was the group of people who I traveled with. With 12 students from almost any major you could think of (both ag and non-ag) and 3 diverse yet complimentary instructors leading our way, we had an unforgettable time. We clearly communicated our desires as a group, worked together to complete tasks and adapt to new situations, and helped each other out when needed. And since the trip, we have had at least 3 mini reunions between us due to the ties we made while overseas. While not one of the things I expected to come from this wonderful trip experience, the community I gained was definitely a blessing from the trip.