There’s a reason Angkor Wat gets thousands of visitors a year. It’s an absolutely amazing collection of ruins from the 9th-12th centuries, and we spent two exhausting days climbing around a bunch of ancient temples. I know, however, that my photographic prowess leaves a lot to be desired, and that if you do a Google Image Search for Angkor Wat, you’ll find thousands of pictures much better than any I could ever take. We stayed in a basic guesthouse in Siem Reap and ate a bunch of standard tourist food, so I didn’t bother taking pictures for the blog. BUT, if you were wondering, I HIGHLY recommend a visit to Angkor Wat! Even if you usually have no interest in ruins, these are pretty amazing to see.
After Siem Reap, we caught a bus to Battambang, which I is Cambodia’s second largest city. The city itself is a little dull, but we had one of the best days of the trip exploring the countryside around it.
If you happen to find yourself in Battambang, go to the Royal Hotel (it’s right near the central market) and ask for Sambath. This is Sambath.
He drives a tuk-tuk and he and his wife teach cooking classes out of their home. He speaks quietly but smiles easily, and has plenty of fascinating stories about his life. He was born near the border with Vietnam in the early 1970s, then moved to a work camp when the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975. His parents sent him to a Wat (Buddhist temple) for school because it was free and they couldn’t afford a regular school, and he ended up driving a tuk tuk in Battambang in the late 1990s. He now has 3 children and a growing business. He’s a pretty remarkable guy.
First, he took us to see how rice paper is made. This is the rice paper that you need to make fresh spring rolls and I had no idea how it was made before today!
Rice is soaked, then ground up and mixed with water to make a mixture that reminds me a lot of Elmers School Glue. This woman spends her days spreading a thin layer on a piece of cloth stretched over some boiling water, covering it for a few minutes to steam, then carefully transferring it to a bamboo rack to dry.
The family makes thousands of pieces of rice paper a day, which they sell to restaurants in town.
After seeing rice paper, we stopped a little ways down the road to see how white rice is separated from the stalk and husk.
It’s awesome to see how little waste there is. The husks are saved to burn as fuel, and the broken grains of rice that aren’t good enough to package and sell are saved to make rice whiskey or be ground up to make rice paper.
Sticking with the rice theme, we stopped in to see a family who makes fresh rice noodles.
Each kilogram of rice noodles brings in about $1 for the family, which are sold to restaurants and at the market in town. These women are packing the fresh noodles to be taken to the market.
On a few of our bus rides, we noticed that a lot of people brought some bamboo with food inside. We asked Sambath about it and he showed us what it is:
Sticky rice and coconut milk are packed into a length of bamboo, then cooked over a fire (fueled by dried coconut husks!) until the rice is soft.
One of the staples of the Cambodian diet is fish, but because most households have no refrigeration, a lot of the fish that is caught each day is made into a very pungent fish paste.
First the fish are cleaned (head, organs, and bones removed), then the fish is mixed with salt in giant barrels and left to sit for a few months.
If that doesn’t look appetizing enough for you, we also stopped by a place surrounded by rice fields where men go after work to relax. The snack of choice? Snakes!
This is a barrel full of snakes waiting to be cooked for afternoon snack. The rice paddies are filled with snakes (most of which are not poisonous, fortunately), so they are frequently caught and eaten.
Near the end of the afternoon, we stopped in at Cambodia’s only winery
With Sambath as an interpreter, we had a chat with the owner who said she learend to make wine by reading books. It wasn’t the best wine, and the $15 price tag per bottle seemed a little hefty, but since we come from a major wine-producing area in California, it was interesting to see how it’s done on the other side of the world. The winery also produces brandy and grape juice.
Coming from Siem Reap, where the locals we encountered were constantly trying to sell us bracelets and post cards, these less touristy villages were a welcome change. As we drove past houses, adorable kids waved and shouted “hello!” and it was nice to see how people make a living outside the tourism sector. Seeing all the food products got me really excited for our cooking class…which I’ll write about in my next post!