Samantha Siu: an out of the way idyll in Cambodia

Jewellery design runs in the family for New York-based Samantha Siu. Her aunts own a manufacturing company in China, producing pieces for Sears and Macy's, and she’s been inspired by the trade since she was a child. In 2016, she started her own line, which sells at taste-making jewellers all over the world including Seezona and La Maison Couture in London. As well as her jewellery line she also runs a non-profit, which helps fund literacy and conservation projects. Her involvement with the latter took her to Cambodia where she discovered an incredible out-of-the-way conservation park near the border with Thailand.

I first heard about the Cambodian Wildlife Sanctuary from Saengduean Lek Chailert, (who was chosen as one of the world’s influential conservationists by Hillary Clinton, and is an incredible and inspiring woman), and volunteering there was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.  

To get there, you fly to Cambodia’s old capital city, Siem Reap, and then you drive four hours into the jungle until you’re about an hour and half north of Angkor Wat. The sanctuary is 32,000 acres and it’s home to all kinds of birds, monkeys and turtles, but it’s most famous for its elephants, particularly Kavaan, who had a terrible life in a Pakistani zoo until he was saved by Cher, who had him flown to the sanctuary. He used to be known as the ‘world’s loneliest elephant’ but now he has company and a much better life.   

You can visit the sanctuary for half a day as a tourist, but to really appreciate what goes on you need to volunteer there for a week. Which is hard work. The organisers will pick you up from the airport, but once you’re there you cut grass and banana trees for the elephants, feed them, clean their shelters and help with reforestation. You can also go to a nearby village and teach English for an afternoon in one of the local schools.  

While you’re there you stay on site in wooden huts. And they are simple. You wash using handheld showers, or by dumping buckets of water over your head – which is actually really refreshing in the heat of summer. There are crickets and other creatures crawling around, but you do feel incredibly at one with nature and you get a feel for how Cambodians really live.  

And for all the hard work and simple living, it’s an incredibly worthwhile experience. Before it was a sanctuary, the area had been impacted by illegal poaching and logging, but it is still incredibly beautiful and the experience of being there and watching the elephants walk down the path every morning is really humbling and profound.  

Follow Samantha on Instagram: @samanthasiunewyork, and buy her jewellery here: samanthasiu.com 

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