Sabbayrikreay Waiting For Carol

DSCN1098For the past few days, I have been in Siem Reap, home to Cambodia’s famous historic site, Angkor Wat.  I haven’t visited Angkor Wat yet because I am waiting to enjoy it with friend Carol, who is arriving tonight from Ho Chi Minh City (yippee!!). In the meantime, I haven’t had a hard time entertaining myself.

To get oriented, I started with my usual walking around.  What is most obvious about Siem Reap is that it is sort of a tale of two cities — one for Cambodians and one for tourists.  The center of town is full of lively bars and cafes and boutiques that Cambodians don’t patronize. The river running through the center of town is lined with trees and small parks, and the city has some lovely French and Khmer architecture.  In the rest of the city, many roads are unpaved or rutted, and there is plenty of evidence that the standard of living is very low.  Women sit on street corners trying to sell a few bananas. Tuk-tuk drivers seem desperate for $2 fares. Shacks are common dwellings and some of the children have obvious signs of malnutrition. Still, Siem Reap has a feeling of prosperity by Cambodian standards, and the feeling here, as in Battambang, seems to be that the economy and social policy are moving in the right direction.

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Because it is such a popular tourist destination, Siem Reap has many great accommodations and food venues of all kinds, and it’s easy to get around on tuk-tuks or motor bikes. My hotel, The Moon, is downright luxurious even though it is among the least expensive accommodation of my last three months. And I have easily kept to my commitment to eat at restaurants run by nonprofits, which seem to be among the best places to eat in Cambodia. I am so not roughing it here!


Marum Restaurant’s interpretation of amok, Cambodia’s classic curry made with fish or meat. It is less spicy than Thai curries with more lemon grass and keffir lime flavors.

Because my other bike tours were great for getting off the beaten path, I spent yesterday riding through the countryside with Samath from Butterfly Tours.   Samath grew up in Battambang Province on a farm and just got his degree in business from the local college. He plans to expand Butterfly Tours and is interested in working for government. He is very committed to supporting the people of the countryside, many of whom live on less than $500 a year. As we rode through dusty, unpaved backroads, we talked about politics and world cultures and our lives.  Children waved and yelled “hello hello” with laughter and smiles. The day felt like scenes from a movie made by me.


The sweet spirit of Samath — he was so excited to show me the praying mantis that landed on his finger.


Older women in the countryside shave their heads because “they no longer care about their looks.” But they are beautiful!


Snack break in the village. Bananas wrapped in sticky rice and grilled in their own little banana leaf packages.  Delicious!


This photo has so many Cambodian things in it: house on stilts, pig, Brahman cow, tuk-tuk, tent for a Cambodian wedding, palm trees, and, unfortunately, plastic bags


Happy on a bike in the Cambodian countryside!


Rice fermenting for turning into rice wine at a local farm. Rice wine is so cheap, the farmers can’t recover the costs of making it. And yet they all have big houses. Why? (See pig photo for answer)


After distilling the rice into wine, the left over rice is fed to the pigs. The pigs get mildly drunk and don’t move, which makes them get fat quickly. And that is why rice wine makers have big houses!


The village noodle maker taught me the Khmer word for “happy” which is “sabbayrikreay.” The noodle-making process is complex (and not one bit hygienic)  and yet there are no noodle factories in the province in deference to production by local households.

And then and then I took another cooking class, which is another great way to learn the local culture and support local small business. Today’s class took place at a small resort in the countryside.  Instead of visiting a market, we visited a small farm where the family grows herbs and vegetables (in addition to rice and children).  In a moment that is surely common to all cultures, Grandma scolded the young men who were making a racket with their motor bike engines while we were learning about growing ginger and basil.


Grandma in the kitchen. This is the entire kitchen.


My interpretation of Cambodian amok.


Green mango salad made in our cooking class today.

A few generalizations about Cambodia…Many Cambodians speak English, including young people in the countryside, and there seems to be a big emphasis on teaching English, probably because the urban economy is increasingly focused on tourism. The official Cambodian currency is the riel but the preferred currency is the US dollar. And from a tourist’s perspective, the whole country seems to be run by 20-somethings!  The ones I have met have all been charming and cheerful and engaging.


Buddhist proverb on my table at Peace Cafe, where I get iced espresso on my way back to the hotel.


Chillaxin’ after the rice harvest.


  1. Love that you are exploring each town and countryside via bike! I’ve done that twice in my travels now: Paris and Barcelona and just loved it! Thinking of you…..where are you headed after Cambodia??

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