20 Jul A Crash Course on Rural Life in Cambodia with Banteay Chhmar
The heat is dry and oppressive. You are walking down a muddy red dirt road, flanked on either side by houses sitting on thick stilts and small shops selling everything from SIM cards and batteries to toys and snacks. Motos, bicycles and kuyons filled with farmers returning from their fields maneuver their way around you. Women with colorful checkered krama scarves wrapped around their heads and men wearing stained soccer jerseys cast elongated, curious glances as you and eight other barang (foreigners) walk casually down the path. The sound of chatter, children playing, and the steady rattle of motors are ever-present, but by far the most encompassing sound is the thumping beat of Gangnam Style being blasted at a wedding about a kilometer away. Yes, this is Cambodia. And no, it’s not what you expected it to be.
Over the last four days the Unearthed crew has been immersed in the commune of Banteay Chhmar, where we experienced a hands-on crash course on life in rural Cambodia. Things kicked off to a great start as we ate, drank and danced with our friends from the Community-Based Tourism Group (CBT) as well as people from the village at large. There was even a special visit from the commune chief!
The following two days were action-packed to say the least. We explored the ruins of one of country’s most massive, nearly undisturbed Angkorian temple complexes, biked around the countryside (to find more temples!) and went to a local fish farm to catch our own lunch which we devoured at a picnic near a beautiful water reservoir. We went on numerous kuyon rides, befriended many of the local children, and ate a large variety of typical Cambodian dishes (including “special meat” dipped in ant sauce…yum!). We also learned that one of the best strategies of getting rid of pesky moths is to catch, fry and eat them!
An important component of our visit to Banteay Chhmar was seeing the households being provided with new roofs, walls and rain-collecting systems. While local labourers were hired to ensure that the job was being done in a sound manner, we helped where we could, played with the ever curious children, and provided entertainment for bystanders with games of samurai and soccer. Furthermore, part of our fundraising money is being put towards purchasing 5 water filters (a continuation of a long-term project) for the community as well as a number of workshops and meetings to ensure proper training on the connection between hygiene and health.
In the end, we were all sad to leave this wonderful part of Cambodia where positive change is being generated in a truly sustainable and grassroots fashion. This the second OG group to be welcomed here, and it is truly starting to feel like home.
Chuol Moi (cheers) to a great new partnership and thank you to the CBT and the Banteay Chhmar community for your hospitality!
Som naang la-are!
Sidney, Amanda, Kate, Danah, Katia, Dan, Jess, Catherine and Albert
Southeast Asia Unearthed