Indochina Day Six
07.02.2020 - 07.02.2020
With a more civilised start time of 8.00 am we were able to have breakfast at the hotel this morning. We were offered the choice of 'continental' (muesli or cornflakes, toast, fruit) or 'American' (eggs and either bacon or sausage). As we knew lunch would be early, we both went for the continental option. The muesli was good, the fruit great, the coffee OK but the toast floppy and cold.
Sam and our driver picked us up promptly and we set out on our 'Village Explorer' tour, which would include lunch with a local family. I am always in two minds about this sort of experience. Is it voyeuristic and exploitative to go to 'stare' at people in their homes, living very different lives to our own? Or is good to be participating in activities that benefit local people financially, and to be meeting and engaging with them? As Selective Asia are a very conscientious tour company (with initiatives such as supplying every client with an aluminium water bottle and daily fresh water refills to reduce the need for single-use plastic), we decided to trust their judgement and go for it! The tour would also give us the chance to learn about life in Siem Reap away from the temples of Angkor which dominate the scene here as far as visitors are concerned.
We drove to a village a short distance out of town, I believe somewhere in the vicinity of Puok to the west of Siem Reap (but I could be wrong!). The plan was to visit the local market and shop for ingredients for lunch. But when we got out of the car we heard loud music from a house just down the road, and equally loud talking on a microphone. Sam explained that a wedding was in progress and suggested we went to have a look.
The wedding spilling out into the village street
Sam also said that it was OK to take photos, but I hesitated at first, not wanting to intrude. However several people around the entrance to the marquee beckoned us to come closer and one man, who spoke English, asked where we were from and said we could take whatever pictures we wanted to - so I did!
Some of the wedding guests
~ there seemed to be a lot of waiting around and chatting on the fringes of the activity
Wedding ceremonies here traditionally lasted three days, but nowadays they have been pared back to a day and a half. And the traditional thirty changes of dress for the bride are now only eighteen! This particular wedding was at the stage where gifts of food and drink are presented by the bride's family, the hosts, to the visiting family of the groom, while the groom's family in turn give money, in red envelopes - or at least, that is what I understood to be happening.
Waiting to distribute food and drinks
A photo of the happy couple, and girl distributing food
Distributing the food and drinks
Sam told us that the bride would soon appear, which she did, heralded by a gong. She came from the house, accompanied by bridesmaids, and went to pay her respects to both sets of parents who were sitting on a raised dais. Meanwhile the groom was sitting in the 'audience' with an uncle who seemed, from Sam's explanation, to be performing a similar role to the best man at our weddings.
Once we had seen the bride we left the wedding and went across the road to the village market where Sam and our host Mr Noon, who had met us on arriving here, chose vegetables and chicken for our lunch.
Mr Noon and Sam at the village market
Shopping for vegetables
The vegetable seller
Butcher and shopper
This market is the ‘one stop shop’ for the village and surrounding farms, and there were stalls selling all sorts of things, not just food – clothing and shoes, toys, electronics, furniture, gold jewellery …
Taken near the village market
Butchers shop sign?
We were then encouraged to ride in a traditional ox cart through the outlying areas of the village - traditional perhaps, but certainly not comfortable! The locals have had the sense to upgrade to cars, motor bikes or tuk-tuks, and I suspect find it amusing that tourists are less sensible!
View from an oxcart!
We stopped to visit one house where the grandmother was grinding rice to make pancakes, helped by her granddaughter. Children here go to school in shifts, either morning or afternoon, and while at home are expected to help around the house or perhaps with the family business. But school is compulsory for 12 years, from 6 to 18.
A friend of the family, a nun (hence the shaven head), was visiting and happy to pose for photos.
We climbed back into the ox cart and travelled further out of the village to visit a monastery. I have been trying without success to identify where this was or its name.
We walked through the cemetery, with its cremation site, small stupas (each containing the ashes, Sam said, of one or more family members) and funeral cart.
Ox carts and stupas
Stupa and stupa detail
Shelter over the funeral cart
By far the most ornate building in the complex was the temple, built only last year. We could see the by now familiar motifs of naga (five or seven headed snakes), garuda (winged beasts) and other fantastical creatures. The outer walls were covered in paintings depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha, each sponsored by a local donor or donor family. It was interested to see that the amount of each donation was included in the inscription - $70 for a simple image, $150 for a larger or more elaborate one, $300 for an entire gold-painted pillar. We couldn't go inside but were able to see through the open door that every surface there was also covered in paintings.
Garudas holding up the temple roof, and naga balustrade
Painting on the temple walls
Main temple, exterior and interior
Door detail, and sign acknowledging donation
Nearby we came to a group of statues each depicting one of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac - monkey, rooster, goat etc. These seem to be considered just as significant here in Cambodia as in China.
Rooster statue, and garden scene
A gong sounded to call the monks and nuns (both live here together) to their lunch. We followed a few in the direction of their open-sided dining room and found that here too we were welcome to take photos as they chanted their (lengthy) grace.
Chanting the grace before lunch
Some of the monks
But once they started to eat, we left them to it. It was time to go for our own lunch.
So it was back into the ox cart for another bumpy journey along the sandy tracks to the home of our host, Mr Noon. He had obviously gone ahead of us after leaving the market, as pots were steaming over fires in the kitchen. We were made welcome, and his wife started to bring in platters of food - fried chicken, vegetables and the ubiquitous steamed rice. There were also bowls of lemongrass-scented chicken soup. It wasn't fancy but it all tasted good.
In the main room of the house
Some of the lunch dishes
Separate outdoor kitchen
As we ate their three year old granddaughter played nearby, and played up to my camera! Later their younger daughter (sister to the child's mother, I learned) arrived home from morning school and shyly came to talk to me, keen to practice her rather basic English. It was she who explained the family relationships to me, and she showed me photos of her sister's wedding on her phone, as well as of herself and her school friends.
Mr Noon and granddaughter
At one point I was idly looking out of the open door when I saw one of the many dogs in the village come to sniff my shoes and socks, left there when we entered. Much to everyone's amusement he picked up one of the socks in his mouth and set off down the village street, with Mr Noon running after to retrieve it for me. Goodness knows why a dog would want my smelly sock!
Our driver had brought the car to meet us here so we had a more comfortable ride back to Siem Reap. There we stopped at Angkor Artisans, a craft workshop where locals (many of whom, we learned, are deaf) are trained in stone or wood-carving, metalwork, weaving and other skills.
Carving an elephant
Carving a lion
I was especially fascinated by the stone pieces reproducing elements from Angkor - the faces of the Bayon, the friezes of Angkor Wat and more. If I had a huge penthouse apartment, and the wallet to go with it, I could imagine I would be tempted by one of those friezes. As it was, I settled for some hand-made lemongrass soap!
Unfinished bas relief (copy of one at Angkor Wat)
Working on a copy of a Bayon face, and a carved Buddha
Later that day …
Back at the hotel I had a swim in the pleasant pool, and we relaxed for a bit. While doing so I had a text message from my bank, wanting to verify a potentially suspicious transaction which had been declined. As the location was given as a town in India I knew it could not have been either of us so I confirmed that it was indeed suspicious, and the bank called me as soon as they received my reply. In the lengthy conversation that followed (which ended up costing me around £25!) I was taken through security, recent payments were checked and all found to be in order apart from that one in India, my debit card was blocked and a new one ordered. All very helpful on the bank's part, and it wasn't their fault that the call had cost me so much, nor that I wouldn't be home for three weeks to receive that new card. But it meant that we would have to rely just on Chris's card if we needed extra cash, and also that our two coffees at Bangkok Airport had cost us around £30 in total. I resolved to contact Dean & Deluca on our return, and perhaps to try complaining to the shop itself when we transited through the airport again on our way home.
Night out in Siem Reap
Meanwhile though we had a holiday to enjoy! So late afternoon we walked into the centre of town to take some photos by the river (reflecting a pink sunset) and have a pre-dinner beer in one of the bars of lively Pub Street.
Sunset near the night market
Evening in Siem Reap
For dinner I tried amok, one of the main traditional Cambodian dishes I had yet to sample, wanting to do so before leaving the country tomorrow. It is a light coconut-based fish curry very like Thai cuisine. I enjoyed it, although not as much as some of the meals I had elsewhere. After dinner we went back to Pub Street, to a different bar, where I had a good Mojito and Chris another beer while watching all the action.
On Pub Street
My mojito, and bar decoration
Bar sign, Pub Street
Pub Street activity
On our way back to the hotel we detoured to take some more photos down by the river. It had been a good ending last evening in Cambodia.
Near the night market