19th July 2017

What I gained from my sabbatical in China and Cambodia

Dan James
Senior Developer

My wife and I love to travel, so when we heard last year that Deeson were introducing mandatory 5 week paid sabbaticals every 5 years, we started making plans straight away!

We’ve been to Sri Lanka before and thought it would be good to spend some more time in Asia. China’s always fascinated us so we did some research and eventually decided that the best way to see as much as possible would be to book ourselves onto a tour, so we did.

Rather than spending all the time in one country we decided to use the time we had to visit another destination as well, and we settled on Cambodia and amongst other things an opportunity to see Angkor Wat.

We set off on our journey, landing first in Hong Kong. The tour group had already started the day before we arrived so our baptism of fire involved negotiating busses and metros, as well as the Chinese border in order to get to the train station in Shenzhen. From there we caught a bullet train, travelling as fast as 300 km/h to Guilin and then on to Yangshuo, our first destination on the tour.

Yangshuo is what I can only describe as a Chinese holiday resort – plenty of bars, restaurants and street food. We had a great couple of days here. One of the strangest experiences was definitely swimming in a mud pool in some of the nearby caves.


After three days we travelled by night train on a 26 hour journey to Chengdu where we got to see a lot of pandas and see what a modern Chinese city looks like – clean, busy and full of mopeds. After a couple of nights here we were on to Xi’an (pronounced she-ann) – another big city.

We went to night markets and cycled the entire city wall, but the main reason we were there was to visit the terracotta warriors. We were particularly fortunate to have a guide that was studying the warriors for his PhD and he told us the entire story of how they came to be made, which made seeing them all the more impressive.

We then visited a small village near the Shaolin Temple for two more days, and had a kung fu lesson at one of the nearby kung fu schools before heading on to Beijing again by night train. In Beijing we saw the tiananmen square and the forbidden city before heading out again to stay at a hostel just near to a section of the Great Wall of China.

The next morning we were up at before 4, we climbed the wall and watched an incredible sunrise before walking up and down a lot of steps for the next few hours.

Kung Fu

Beijing was where we finished the tour so we departed from the rest of our group and boarded the train back to Hong Kong. We had a couple of days here before heading on to Cambodia. We had less time in Cambodia but still managed three destinations, starting in  Siem Reap where we saw the amazing temples of Angkor, including the world's largest – Angkor Wat.

We then headed to Sihanoukville where we spent a amazing (and relaxing!) couple of days staying on the beautiful Otres beach before heading on to our final destination, Phnom Penh – the capital city. Here we learnt about Pol Pot and the terrible acts of genocide committed against the Cambodian people, as well as seeing the bustling and friendly city.


What we thought would be a great holiday turned out to be so much more. We both came home feeling better than we ever have done before, with a renewed perspective on life and work.

How long this will last who knows, but I’ve promised myself to eat better, stay healthy and active and to be more careful about work/life balance in the future. I’ve been inspired to learn more about the Buddhist practices and to seek a calmer, more focussed and happier me.

Having a sabbatical has been a great opportunity to reassess things, and now I’m back, I’m definitely seeing work from a different and more sustainable perspective and I’m looking forward to the new challenges coming my way.

If you enjoyed this post and want to see more pictures from my trip, check out the full album here.

In addition to paid sabbaticals, Deeson offers an unlimited training budget and the chance to work as part of self-organising teams. And we’re hiring!