Educational Adventures in Cambodia and Nepal


Connecting with high school students at the PEPY Skills Fair



On June 7, 2013, two PEPY Tours team members, Sreyneang (Accountant) and Chor (Tour Coordinator), represented us at the first Skills Fair organized by our sister NGO PEPY. The event was held in Kralanh high school, just under 60 km outside of Siem Reap City, and was designed to connect students with various organizational representatives so they could learn about university options and future job opportunities.


700 high school students attended the fair throughout the day and many of them stopped at the PEPY Tours table to ask about the different roles available in a travel organization, and which skills are best suited to each role.


Some students were concerned that they won’t have the necessary skills to do the job in the future or be able to compete with people who already have experience. Sreyneang encouraged the students to keep learning and developing their skills so they can eventually gain work experience. She said, “After I graduated high school, I was afraid that I won’t get work in the future because I didn’t have experience. But I kept applying for jobs after university and learned from my first work experience. Everyone has to start somewhere.”


Chor and Sreyneang were happy to tell students what they could do in the meantime to prepare themselves for the future, from learning Excel to thinking about the kind of roles, tasks, and activities excited them.


Check out this video of Chor at the Skills Fair.




Texas Youths Learn About Education and Development with PEPY Tours

Texas Youths Learn About Education and Development with PEPY Tours

By Anna Baranova, Kendra Campbell, Chor Choch, Ashton Paetzold

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“Destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.” -Henry Miller

At PEPY Tours, our goal is not only to introduce guests to the history and culture of Cambodia, but also to educate travelers about responsible tourism and inspire them to create positive changes in the places they visit as well as in their own lives. During PEPY trips, we try to introduce lessons about best practices in the development world in the hopes that participants come away with new perspectives on how to live, travel, and give responsibly.


We had a great opportunity to hosts many bright, young, and eager college students from high-schools and universities. For many students, it has been their first time outside the country, and for many.


Last year, we had an honor to meet a remarkable bunch of students from Texas, all of whom had won this trip as part of an essay competition. The competition required the participants to read a book on different social issues and write an essay relating the students’ personal feelings and experiences on the topic. The essay winners were a group of inspiring young adults from diverse backgrounds who were eager to learn as well as share their ideas, thoughts, and contagious enthusiasm.


The trip with PEPY was an eight-day whirlwind of rustic village home stays, Angkorian temples, authentic Khmer cuisine, and tragic lessons from Cambodia’s recent past. We set aside time to have regular discussions on topics such as the Khmer Rouge trials, development strategies, the environment, and poverty. This educational journey introduced topics that most students had not had the chance to really think about or experience first-hand before.


Below are personal accounts of two of the many awesome students and faculty from Texas as well as one of PEPY’s trip leaders, Chor:

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Ashton Paetzold, Peer Leader, West Texas A&M University (WTAMU)

“The country of Cambodia touched my heart, woke me up to the realities of poverty, and renewed my spirit of humility. I was captivated by the simple beauty that I witnessed all around me in Chambok [a small village with homestays]. Simplicity has been on my mind and heart ever since our return to the United States. It is hard to live a simple life in the US with billboards, magazines, television ads, the radio, and the internet constantly trying to sell the next best thing. In the past, I have fallen prey to the mentality that money buys happiness.

However, in Cambodia, I witnessed a different mentality. I saw many people who did not possess the material things that many people in the United States equate with happiness, yet they were still content. They achieved happiness by putting their value in relationships rather than in money. If I could take away one thing from my time in Cambodia, it would be to always count your blessings. We must remember to share our knowledge with others, and never shy away from an open door. We must also be aware that every time we spend a dollar, we are supporting the vendor from which we purchase, and are voting for more of that service.”



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Kendra Campbell, Director of First Year Experience, West Texas A&M University (WTAMU)

“I have been fortunate to lead student trips abroad many times for the purpose of learning about other cultures and to “make a difference” through some form of service. Such experiences are always educational and rewarding. Worldviews are broadened, perspective is gained, new appreciation is discovered, and dreams begin to take shape. I expected much of the same coming to Cambodia. However, it wasn’t until working with PEPY that my eyes were opened to a broader lesson on responsible service that we were missing in our previous experiences. PEPY not only shared with us the beauty, history, and culture of Cambodia, but they also helped to fill a major gap in our understanding of the impact we make, the need to learn about and practice responsible service, and the importance of education and empowerment. I felt personally challenged and truly inspired for the first time in a long time, and I took so much away from this trip. I didn’t just learn about how to more responsibly plan future learning experiences and to evaluate programs more fully. I also learned how to be a better leader with a renewed passion for investing in the lives of students, and to think more consciously about how I invest my time and what I invest in. PEPY challenged our thinking and inspired us to come alive and make a difference in our little corner of the world when we return home. It was a remarkable journey for me and our students and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience or a better team with which to share the journey.”


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Chor Choch, Trip Leader, PEPY Tours

“I love leading trips. One of my goals is to learn from PEPY’s partners, friends, trip participants, and the people around me and share those experiences with everyone else I know.


I was so excited to be able share my experiences with the students from TAMIU & WTAMU. Spending time with them for eight days was the most unforgettable time ever in my life, because everyone was super nice, friendly, open-hearted, humble, caring, always eager to help, and flexible in any kind of situation. I am so happy to have had the chance to get to know them and show them my country.


Even as a tour guide, I am always learning new things while leading trips. At the Chambok Community Homestay Project, we met a group of people committed to creating jobs while conserving the forest in and around their community. I felt so proud of this project, because everyone worked very hard to find better opportunities to benefit their community. They chose to adapt to a different way of life to become more independent and self-sustaining. Before this community set up the homestays, people made a living by hunting animals or cutting down trees to sell. Now the people here have opened their own homestay business, in turn creating jobs for other people in the community. The Chambok community also teaches their visitors about the forest conservation and other local environmental issues. This is a huge change for a community to undertake, and I am so inspired by them for changing their ways from being the destroyers to being the protectors of their neighborhood.


I was also impressed by the work going on at Tiny Toones. Tiny Toones is an organization that reaches out to street kids living in poverty. This organization is for kids who used to beg for money, rummage through the trash for items to sell, and suffer from drug addiction. At Tiny Toones, young adults are provided with access to education, and are able to express themselves through breakdancing. It’s so impressive how this organization works with kids who were never before given a chance to share and express their thoughts, ideas, and goals. The kids at Tiny Toones want to change their life and get involved with their community but they just don’t know how. Tiny Toones helps these kids change their lives little by little by helping them find their voice and discover productive ways to express themselves.


These are just a few examples of eye-opening experiences I have had while working for PEPY Tours. I am constantly inspired by great people, students, communities, organizations and of course the PEPY team. I am so excited to lead more trips and learn more, so I can share more with people in my world.”


River Water Clean, Mekong Soft!

River Water Clean, Mekong Soft!

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This past spring we had the pleasure of hosting 9 students and 2 teachers from a Vancouver high-school called Seaquam. We spent 2 amazing weeks travelling between Phnom Penh, Kratie, Island on the Mekong, and the Angkor temples of Siem Reap. Below is one of the teacher’s reflections on the group’s stay with host families in the remote island on the Mekong river.

River Water Clean, Mekong Soft!

Our experience in the village on Koh P’dao was magical and eye opening. The village is home to approximately 2100 people and has no electricity, running water, or cars, but is not short on humor and love. Our homestay families were at the boat to greet us when we arrived and opened their homes and lives to us throughout our stay. We experienced many firsts during our 5 nights on Koh P’dao and as Jocelyn so eloquently put it, “I feel, smell, and taste like Survivorman!”


The kids were fearless troopers and truly embraced the whole experience. They built fences, moved dirt, played with children, bathed and did laundry in the Mekong, woke to the sound of roosters at daybreak, rode bicycles of questionable quality, ate rice at EVERY meal (and never complained), bucket showered with frogs and spiders, used squat toilets, slept under mosquito nets on bamboo floors, spoke Khmer whenever they could, asked GREAT questions and had WONDERFUL discussions, were truly respectful and present – we are so proud.


We were saddened to leave our newfound families and friends yesterday morning. It was an epic 11 1/2 hour journey by boat and bus to Siem Reap, but again the kids just took it in stride (I think the ice cream and games of Mafia helped!). We felt like we landed in the lap of luxury at Green Village Guesthouse at 8:00 last night and all slept well in real beds with fans whirring overhead. Today was just another mind blowing day in Cambodia, which included at visit to PEPY (where our fundraising efforts will go) and to Angkor Wat (one of the 7 Wonders of the World and the largest religious structure on the planet).


We were all in awe and wonder! We are currently enjoying a little down time before dinner and a trip to the night market. The trip is most definitely flying by and we are trying not to think about the fact that we only have 2 more days here. Until next time, Leah Hi (goodbye)!


Cambodia Cultural Dos and Don’ts


Cambodia is a beautiful and fascinating country, with many unique cultural conventions, expectations, and traditions. By understanding the Cambodian ‘code of conduct’ and being aware of how your actions may be interpreted by others, you can engage with this culture on a deeper level, be respectful to the local people you meet, and be a great ambassador for your home country too!


This guideline is designed to explain basic cultural ‘Dos and Don’ts’ which you should try to keep in mind as you travel through Cambodia…




  • ASK BEFORE YOU TAKE A PHOTO – In Cambodia a smile is often a sign of shyness or discomfort, so don’t ever presume it’s okay to take a picture of someone. Ask first – if you receive a nod along with a smile, feel free to snap away! Also remember that many Cambodians will not want their photo taken in a group of three, as it is believed that this will bring bad luck to the person in the middle.


  • COVER UP – Cambodians traditionally dress conservatively, so dress appropriately and show cultural sensitivity by covering your knees, shoulders, stomachs, backs, and cleavage. This is important everywhere, but especially at the TEMPLES. The temples are sacred places of worship, and although you will see many tourists dressed inappropriately here, this is considered to be extremely disrespectful.


  • TAKE OFF YOUR HAT AND SHOES when you enter a pagoda, office, or someone’s home. If you feel that you want to, you can also make a small donation when visiting a pagoda.


  • TAKE A BOW – When you meet someone, it is polite to remove your hat, bow slightly, and put your hands together in a ‘prayer’ position. This is particularly important when you meet monks and elders.


  • THINK TWICE BEFORE GIVING TO STREET CHILDREN – It is extremely difficult to say no to a child, but giving money to street children mightencourage them to believe that it is more useful to spend their time begging than going to school. This may perpetuate or even increase the problem rather than solve it.


  • THINK TWICE BEFORE VISITING AN ORPHANAGE – Orphanages are big business in Cambodia; it’s estimated that up to 75% of children living in orphanages actually have living relatives, and many orphanages are created simply to fill tourists’ demand to see Cambodian ‘orphans’. Would you go to visit an orphanage in your home country? Would somewhere that puts the best interests of the children first allow random visits from strangers?





  • GO TOO FAR BARTERING – Bartering is a must in the markets, and can be a lot of fun! However be polite and refrain from driving prices unnecessarily low – settle on a price that’s reasonable for everyone.


  • GIVE IN TO FRUSTRATION – Many Cambodians will become embarrassed and uncomfortable if you loose your cool, as this is not socially acceptable in Cambodia. They may even smile out of awkwardness, which can make the situation more confusing. Keep calm!


  • TOUCH ANYONE’S HEAD, including children and especially elders. The head is considered to be the most sacred part of the body, and it is very rude to touch someone else’s.


  • SHOW THE SOULS OF YOUR FEET – The souls of your feet should never be pointed towards anyone, particularly the Buddha. This is because feet are considered to be the dirtiest part of the body.


  • HUG OR KISS IN PUBLIC – Cambodia is very conservative when it comes to physical displays of affection. Hugging or kissing in public will make people feel very uncomfortable.


  • BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS – If there’s something you don’t understand, a convention you’re unsure of, or a subject you’d like to learn more about, just ask!