After the tourist trap that is Angkor Wat, we decided to get out and explore more of Cambodia’s countryside. So we headed south west to a little place called Battambang – although I like to call it Battenberg, which I really fancy a slice of right now…
There are so many meals I’m craving from back home at the moment. I wish I could fly back for a few days, see my family and friends, sleep in my own bed, and gorge on endless amounts of western food — and I mean proper western food; not the stuff they pass off as western food out here!
Enough about my stomach. For now, anyway. Almost every bus journey we’ve taken in Cambodia has been eventful so far. Coming into the country, the coach’s engine caught fire; the 14-seater minivan from Kratie to Phnom Penh became a 17-seater; then on our way to Battambang from Siem Reap, I had my second shower within about an hour after the bus’s air conditioning unit decided to chuck a load of water over me. It’s all part of the journey, I keep telling myself!
We arrived in Battambang, eventually dried-off, and all I can describe it as is sleepy. Our main purpose of visiting the town was to book ourselves onto a countryside cycling tour which is run by a company called Soksabike. Its aim is to support sustainable tourism in the area, and to bring a supplementary income to some of the poorer families who live out in the countryside (a sum of the tour fee is given to the families). And I can’t rate it highly enough.
Our guide, Reaksmey, was absolutely fantastic and we learnt so much from him about the Khmer people and Cambodian life. He took us on a tour through beautiful, lush countryside, stopping off every now and again to meet families, learn their history, and find out what they do to earn a living. Our first stop was at a family’s house where they served what I guess, in the UK, we’d call breakfast on-the-go. They get up at 4am to make cakes similar to waffles – made with rice, flour and coconut milk. A lot healthier than in the western world, and very tasty too.
Our second stop was at a family’s house where they made rice paper. They, too, start working at 4am – there are two of them – and their little production line churns out about 1,200 units a day. That’ll bring in a mere three US dollars. I had a go on a yarn at the third house we stopped off at. Next, we moved on to visit a family who produced dried banana flakes. Their story was pretty sad: during the time of the Khmer Rouge, they were forced to abandon their home and the rice paddy fields that they owned. They lost everything. After the fall of communism, there was a rush for the country’s people to occupy whatever land they could get their hands on. I couldn’t get over how happy and content the whole family seemed, even after everything that has happened to them, and it was lovely to see that they’re able to sustain themselves and live freely once again.
Lunching with the locals was probably my favourite part of the day. Our guide took us to a family who own paddy fields and sell palm-sugar juice, and I still can’t believe I ate egret and mouse!!
I’m absolutely loving trying different things and experiencing cultures that are so different to our own. It’s changing my perspective on everything, and it’s making me think about what I want out of my life when I’m back home. I loved my job before I came away, however I feel like I want to do something worthwhile and actually make a proper contribution to the world. Sorry to any of my former work colleagues who read this, but writing about airport parking and hotels isn’t particularly life-changing!!