Apologies for the lapse in blogging about our visit to Cambodia. Been simply too busy with work and other freelance assignments that I’ve taken up recently.
Back to our Cambodian travelogue – Day 4 was spent visiting the countryside and it proved to be a much-needed respite from the previous days of sight-seeing at the temples & ruins *templed out*. In fact, a rural retreat to the scenic countryside was such a welcome for us – city slickers – who are so used to the sights of an urban jungle of concrete and skyscrapers!
Sights of a Cambodian Village (Kro Bei Riel Community, Siem Reap)
Wood and thatch hut on stilts
A visit to the village market to get our grocery supplies as we’ll be joining our host, DomDin, and his family for lunch. And, for a very rare occasion, yours truly will be assisting the family to cook a traditional Khmer lunch.
Second stop: Meat stall that was infested with flies and all sorts of insects. Honestly, I was a little hesitant as I wasn’t certain if my stomach could stomach street food and I’ve heard many horror stories about how tourists often ended up with a stomach upset or a bout of diarrhea after consuming food from the streets. Nevertheless, we braved ourselves for this challenge and it turned out that there was no cause of worries at all.
Final result? Whipped up a simple but *haha* delicious dish of mix vegetables & beef ( the dish on the left) using the traditional charcoal stove. An ancient but quaint method of cooking that is still used by many Cambodians in the different villages. Enjoyed the simple home-cooked meal with the company of DomDin’s family and friends as we spent a couple of hours exchanging stories about our different lifestyles, ambitions and recreational activities.
See the yellow liquid stored in those plastic bottles? Bet that you would have never thought that this is a makeshift petrol kiosk that is widely available throughout the whole of Cambodia. A common sight, especially in the countryside and rural parts of the country. And the yellow liquid that you see in the pictures is actually none other than petrol!
An elderly lady, whose children are currently living in the city to establish a career for themselves, planting vegetables in her small plot of farm.
The lady in the ramshackle hut (below) was weaving baskets and handicrafts to sell to a souvenir marketplace. Weaving is a traditional skill passed down to women from generation after generation and many housewives have taken it up as a means to supplement the household income.
A school girl trying her luck to catch fishes for dinner at the village canal
Our very bubbly and lovable co-host, Raksa ( affectionately known as ‘RockStar’ ) showing us a live demonstration on how to use the village water distribution system that was built by the United Nations.
Ending our memorable day at the countryside with an unforgettable ox-cart ride! In my 23 yrs, I’ve been fortunate enough to have ridden on a horse, elephant and camel but never even on an ox-driven cart and truth to be told, it was the most bumpy experience ever! And, we were probably traveling at a snail-slow speed of 5km/hr! LOL.
Our fantastic hosts – DomDin and Raksa “RockStar”- who welcomed us to their village with open arms. Cambodians are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met as they are truly sincere and genuine about meeting people from all over the world. Many of them do not have the priviledge of traveling outside of their hometown, let alone venturing out of their country and thus, to them, it’s visits from foreigners that open up their windows to globalization. Despite spending barely a day together, tears were slightly shed when it was time for us to bid farewell as we left the village with a heavy heart. To quote Raksa, “See you when you see me again!”
You wouldn’t believe it but the 3 of us actually managed to squeeze onto this tiny bike! It was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience (that is … till I return to Cambodia or visit another SEA country) to enjoy a 3-people bike ride since this is strictly prohibited in Singapore and many developed countries! Having said that, it was definitely an awkward experience for MK as he was sandwiched between DomDin and me ( i refused to seat in the middle as I wanted more personal space!) and it was a little too close for comfort for him to be seated so close to another guy … If you know what I mean? *Winks* On the other hand, I was having the ride of my life as it gave me an amazing adrenaline rush with my hair blowing in the wind! Yes, there isn’t a regulation for pillion riders to don a safety helmet … another first experience for me!
This excursion to Kro Bei Kiel Community and its 12 villages is an initiative started by the Self Help Community Centre (SHCC), a NGO that provides free educational and vocational opportunities for the village children (about 1000 at last count). Lady luck was on our side as we managed to meet SHCC’s founding director, Sambeth. Like many Cambodians whom we have met during our short trip, Sambeth also has an inspiring story to share.
After years of working the odd jobs and leading a thrifty lifestyle, he managed to save a small amount of money and wanted to escape from the rut that he was stuck in. Yet, he was caught in a dilemma – Either to use the money and head for a long but well-deserved vacation around Cambodia or to put the money to better use. Frankly to speak, most of us would probably spend that amount of money in (1) retail therapy, (2) a vacation to somewhere exotic, (3) the latest technology or (4) investments. However, it wasn’t that case for Sambeth. In the end, the guy settled on the latter as he wanted to make a change in the lives of the future generations. With that goal in mind, he started SHCC and aims to empower the children by providing them with a valuable set of skills to lead a sustainable lifestyle. Some of the courses offered to students include English, Computer Studies ( a kind group of Singaporeans just donated a couple of computers over) and Organic Farming. Having experienced hardship since young, Sambeth wants to educate the children that independence is important and that they have to be self-reliant in order to provide for themselves. Read more about what SHCC does for the community over here.
To inculcate a sense of giving amongst the villagers, SHCC encourages the teenagers/young adults who are either in university or waiting for scholarship/sponsorship to be volunteer trainee tutors to the younger kids. Phen Mab was once a volunteer tutor but his dedication and commitment to the cause has earned him a paid position with SHCC. Despite being young (same age as me!), he is now holding the position of the Head of Education at SHCC and is responsible for the planning of the curriculum for all students. Oh, did I also mention that he’s managing that important position whilst pursuing a degree in English and Literature (!) in University? Very impressive, indeed.
Looking back, both MK and I have been blessed in so many ways to have met such inspiring people like Sambeth, Phen Mab and DomDin, just to name a few. If you could recall from my previous blog entries, some others include Mr Sary from Happy Ranch Horse Farm, Sobey and Touich from The Touich Restaurant, our driver Sun Same and Khwan, the girl tout. Most of them do not yearn for much luxuries in life; in fact, the 1 common thing that they wanted is education. Education, something which they cherish so much and yet, something that we (me included) often take for granted. I was asking Raksa “Rockstar” about his day in school when he replied, “I love to go to school. I learn something new in school everyday!”