Travelling through southern Cambodia and Vietnam was a roller coaster of emotions. From the disappointment of discovering the cake we bought was durian-flavored, to the excitement of riding in a boat through a rainstorm, every moment was filled with surprises and adventure. The trip started on the coast of Cambodia where we planted mangroves and paddled in somewhat leaky kayaks. Our time basking in the Kampot sun was cut short though when a storm rolled in while we were snorkeling and eating fresh crab, leaving us stuck on an island. I think most of us were fine with it though as we sipped coconuts and huddled under a rain cover during our day off from lectures and assignments.
From southern Cambodia we entered Vietnam, which was very different from its western neighbor. The first night there I was unpleasantly surprised to find out that the strange tasting meat I had tried was tongue. I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but it was certainly an experience. The food only improved from there, though, and since returning to Cambodia I have begun dreaming about the Vietnamese pancakes we ate in Can Tho.
It was very interesting to experience higher education in Vietnam through lectures by local professors and students at Can Tho University. We not only gained important knowledge about river ecosystems and management, but also learned that three different pronunciations of the same word can mean three different fruits, including durian. This golden nugget of information is something I took great care in learning, to prevent a repeat of our previous mistakes with the durian fruit.
We finished our trip in Cat Tien National Park. Despite the constant threat of very talented terrestrial leeches, I fell in love with the forests there. On our first hike, we saw two monkeys in the understory thirty meters away. I immediately felt like the Jane Goodall of Southeast Asia as the white fur-rimmed faces of the primates were staring straight at us. When we left the Black-shanked duoc langurs, my adrenaline was still pumping and I didn’t even mind the wriggling leech I found stuck to my leg.
Seeing the endangered langurs really made the importance of the knowledge about conservation and biodiversity we are gaining this semester, in and outside of the classroom, that much more apparent. Not only that, but travelling these past two weeks has made me realize just how beautiful and diverse both Cambodia and Vietnam are, and has highlighted my time in Southeast Asia as a once in a lifetime opportunity.