Why Travelling with Intrepid Might Save the Planet... One Community at a Time
If when planning a holiday you hear the words ‘Group Tours’, what springs to mind? A coach crammed with 50 people? A guide holding a microphone sat next to the driver? How about the umbrella? You know, the closed umbrella held up by the tour guide with a massive group trying to push to the front in order to hear what’s being said?
Well, my first experience of a small group travel adventure with Intrepid to Cambodia was anything but that. Our group consisted of 11 people (although 10 is the average group size for Intrepid), ranging from 21 to 60-year-olds from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities. There is a real misconception that Intrepid is for the youth traveller and that you'll be staying in budget accommodation. I can assure you, this is definitely not the case.
Travelling with Intrepid means you are making a difference to the world so there’s an added feel-good factor, which comes free of charge of course. I loved travelling with Intrepid and felt proud to have done it. So will you. Here’s why…
Floating village, Cambodia - Image: Shahen Suriyabandara
Floating village, CambodiaImage: Shahen Suriyabandara
Discovering the Highlights of Cambodia
Coming out of Phnom Penh airport and into the humid Cambodian night air, we were greeted by our lovely local leader ‘Bun’, who took us to our air-conditioned coach. Here, he introduced himself and quickly had everyone in hysterics, helping us to feel at ease and welcome in his home country, before taking us to our comfortable and centrally located hotel.
Our journey began with a trip to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields, where Intrepid had arranged for a very passionate, official local guide to explain in detail about the gruesome history of Cambodia. Although this brief history lesson was heartbreaking to take in, it seemed fitting that the experience started here, as we gained an understanding of the importance of this beautiful country’s history.
Killing Fields, Cambodia - Image: Shahen Suriyabandara
Killing Fields, CambodiaImage: Shahen Suriyabandara
There were numerous wonderful experiences in Cambodia. We explored by day and awoke our senses at night, sparked by the sight, smell and touch of everything vibrant these local markets had to offer. Flowers, fruit stalls, meats, beautiful clothes and incredible street food to name a few. We took part in a cyclo tour around the city as the sun began to set in Phnom Penh. We witnessed the harvesting and extraction of silk, which then got woven into beautiful scarves by local women. The group also had the privilege of standing next to and walking into excavated archaeological sites, half buried beneath the dirt, while overgrown trees quite literally wrapped around the temples in Sambor Prei Kuk. We got on paddleboats to visit a village that sits upon the water with a floating market, and also tried a variety of unconventional foods that might make one’s eyebrows raise. Sounds like just another beautiful adventure in Asia, doesn’t it? Well, it's so much more than that.
This is where the beauty of travelling with Intrepid comes in…
Intrepid group - Image: Shahen Suriyabandara
Intrepid groupImage: Shahen Suriyabandara
Off the Beaten Track and Into Local Life
One of the highlights from this trip was the homestay in Sambor Prei Kuk. We took a bike ride around the village and then enjoyed a home-cooked dinner and breakfast with the host and family. Just by taking part in this bike tour, which was specifically arranged for us, we provided financial aid to the owners of the 11 bikes, with Intrepid paying rental cost to these locals. The tour also pays the local suppliers of the village for the ingredients our host used to prepare our meals. There is a clear sense of giving back and supporting the local community when it comes to doing an Intrepid tour.
This was also apparent when we joined a crochet workshop at Rehash Trash. This social enterprise endorsed by The Intrepid Foundation takes roadside plastic waste – which is then washed by hand – and transforms it into immaculate masterpieces of fashion and homewares. These are crafted by local talented women who, without this scheme, would be without employment, making it a really admirable cause to support.
Rehash Trash, Cambodia - Image: Shahen Suriyabandara
Rehash Trash, CambodiaImage: Shahen Suriyabandara
Every tour from an Intrepid itinerary contributes money to the local community where the trip takes place, allowing us as travellers to give back to the communities we travel in. Did you know Intrepid was the first global travel company to ban elephant rides? Intrepid and its travellers care about the world. They want to make a difference. They don’t want to just take when they have the opportunity to give back. If you think about it, we're contributing to improving livelihoods through sustainable travel experiences. There is job creation. Skills development and job rights. So as mentioned above, we are helping to better develop the world.
There were, in fact, a couple of tours Intrepid incorporated into the adventure which helped communities just by me taking part in the trip, something I had been unaware of beforehand.
Dinner at Friends-International Futures Factory was one of these. Supported by The Intrepid Foundation, this social enterprise provides at-risk youth with hospitality training from experienced professionals, readying them for careers in the hospitality and tourism industries.
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There was also the 22km bike tour with Soksabike. This is another social enterprise which invests the majority of its revenue into its impact programmes, vocational training, community development and cross-cultural exchange, as well as business sustainability and growth. As part of this bike tour, a couple of the stops we made included a rice paper farm, banana chip farm, rice wine and fruit farms where we got to witness the locals creating many of the items we saw in the markets. Many of the locals spent extended hours creating these pieces in order to support their families. They rely heavily upon the scorching Cambodian sun, without which, if it rains for more than two days, they lose profit.
We also had lunch at Sala Bai Hotel School, which teaches young Cambodians the skills they need for a successful career in hospitality.
These tours, organised by Intrepid, all result in a real feel-good factor when you travel. It doesn’t get any better than that now does it?
Soksabike ride with Intrepid - Image: Shahen Suriyabandara
Soksabike ride with IntrepidImage: Shahen Suriyabandara
One of the most memorable highlights from the abundance of tours we did during our stay in Cambodia has to be the golden sun illuminating the skies and rising behind the mammoth Angkor Wat. Our guide Bun knew the best times to leave to avoid the massive crowd of hundreds that later followed us, as well as showing us the best position to stand to capture that perfect selfie angle for Instagram. Going into the Bayon temple, which is vastly underrated by the way, Bun knew all the shortcuts to this marvel of a maze, again delivering us the best positions for photos as well as breathtaking views.
Bayon Temple, Cambodia - Image: Shahen Suriyabandara
Bayon Temple, CambodiaImage: Shahen Suriyabandara
Intrepid Guides are Incredible
Whilst Cambodia itself was truly a mesmerising place to experience, it was Bun that brought this destination to life. From showing us a gem of a restaurant that only the locals were aware of, to giving us an insider’s perspective on all the must-see, and more unknown attractions like rice-beating processes, which only occurs during harvesting season. Not to mention, the endless questions we asked and the detailed answers we received from this knowledgeable, passionate veteran of a tour leader. We were thoroughly grateful to have been led by Bun, which was just as much a part of the experience on this meticulously planned small group travel adventure.
Shahen on the rice field bike ride - Image: Shahen Suriyabandara
Shahen on the rice field bike rideImage: Shahen Suriyabandara
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