Globe Trotting and New Beginnings

A day in the Life of…

Posted on: November 12, 2009

There truly is a magic about Cambodia, the minute you get here you just feel the inspiration, optimism and smiles pulsating in the people.

From the Lonely Planet (and the only reason I am quoting these lines is because it spells out exactly what I have felt when we reached this country).

  • Welcome to the conundrum that is Cambodia: a country with a history both inspiring and depressing, an intoxicating place where the future is waiting to be shaped.
  • Despite having the eighth wonder of the world (Temples of Angkor Wat) in its backyard, Cambodia’s greatest treasure is its people. The Khmers have been to hell and back, struggling through the years of bloodshed, poverty and political instability. Thanks to an unbelievable spirit and infectious optimism they have prevailed with their smiles intact. no visitor comes away from Cambodia without a measure of admiration and affection for the inhabitants of this enigmatic kingdom.
  • Cambodia has been inspiring on many levels – ability despite disability; determination in spite of circumstance.
  • Cambodia is the comeback kid of the new century (You can see the capitalism in 3-5 yr old kids!)

Quick Facts about Cambodia

  • Cambodia came into being through the union of a princess and an Indian Brahmin (Kaundinya). The kingdom they came to rule was called Kambuja.
  • 80% of the population still live in the countryside i.e. villages
  • Population – 14.071 million
  • Restaurant Meal – 2-10$ (and $10 is pricey! all our meals were $5 or under and they were scrumptious)
  • Income levels remain desperately low for many Khmers with annual salaries in the hundreds of dollars (note: not thousands)
  • Some country’s mandate their citizens to join the army (eg: Russia), Cambodia while not mandatory, most villagers choose to be monks for a certain amount of time in their lives (1 month, 2 month, 1 year, 2 year – this number is determined by the family)
  • Currency here is Riels. 1USD = 4075 Riels but all transactions occur in USD. Most prices (in grocery stores, restaurants etc) are listed in USD. It really felt weird doing all money transactions in USD while not in US.

We got to Siem Reap from Bangkok earlier this week. We had signed up for a tour called “A day in the life of…” for the following day.  The idea of this tour is to see what life really is like in a Cambodian village, to spend some time helping a poor village family go about their daily life.

The next day after breakfast, bright and early at 7 am, the Tuk Tuk came to pick us up for this tour.  After meeting our guide and the other people in our group (5 Australians), we got in the van and off we went to Kompee Village for the day!

Kompee Village is about 25 km from Siem Reap. It is a village with 263 families. Our first stop in the village was the house of the village chief. The chief gets elected by the people of the village. The chief can be elected for 1 day(if he is really bad), 5 yrs (usual term) or 10 yrs (2nd term). Our guide introduced us to the chief and after getting acquainted with the chief we took oxcarts from the chiefs house to our host family’s hut. Neither Sahir or I have ever rode on an oxcart before so this was definitely a very fun experience! The 15 minute ride was very bumpy and rickety and we saw the ox poo two times! It’s pretty clear sight when you are sitting RIGHT behind the ox 🙂 On the ride, we passed many huts with the villagers sitting outside and chilling, when they saw us they would wave and scream out hellos. If I was taking a picture of the people some of them would raise their hands up with the peace sign too. Their friendly attitude was awesome!

IMG_3911On the oxcart, ready to go!
IMG_3943Sahir gives it a whirl 🙂

The unique thing about houses/huts in the villages of Cambodia is that they are made on stilts. This is to prevent the house from flooding during the wet season and to make sure termites do not eat up their walls. Some Cambodians consider termites a very powerful force of nature and even pray to the termite mounds. So understandably no one wants to mess with them.

We got to our Khmer host family’s house and said our hello’s and got to work pretty quick. This family’s hut needed a new thatch roof. Roof’s usually last about 5 years and it was time for theirs to be replaced. The family had all the material and we had to help make the thatch roof panels for them. I will let the pictures describe it.

IMG_3955Sowing the palm leaves on the bamboo stick to make the thatch panels.


This is kinda fun! 🙂
IMG_3962The whole gang working hard.

IMG_3968Almost done with one!
IMG_3975Finished product! YAY!

IMG_3988All our hardwork!
IMG_3998With our hosts’ children.
IMG_4005The house cat kept coming to say hello to us

We worked through the morning making the thatch roof panels. After 3 hours we had made 20 panels. Our guide informed us that these thatch roof panels are sold in the market, 13 for $1. So if we were to sell these in the market  we would get about $1.20 for our hard work!That helped put a lot of things in perspective and also made our desk jobs (that most of us hate) look very fun and exciting! 🙂

After a hard mornings work, we washed our hands and cooked a few local dishes with the instructions of the host family. We made rice, seafood soup and steamed Paroc (fish paste) with red ants (a delicacy in Cambodia; made with fish paste, lemongrass, red chillies, salt, garlic and red ants)!

The family was kind enough to let us try what we made and it was delicious. (Yes we did try the fish paste with red ants and it really was yummy! I just had to make sure that I wasn’t directly looking at what I was putting in my mouth).  We then got our “picnic” lunch which was quite boring compared to their food! Our lunch was vegetable and egg sandwiches, fruits and brownies.

IMG_4021Red Ants! ready to get cooked.
IMG_4035Fish paste + ants. See! It doesn’t look that bad 🙂

After lunch we sat around and chatted with our guide, who gave us a lot of information about village life in Cambodia. Later we said goodbye to our host family and went on a walking tour of the village. We walked through the rice paddy fields and saw many fruit trees (papaya, mango, tamarind, pineapple and dragon fruit). Rice harvesting season was coming up so all the rice fields looked gorgeous with the tall rice plants.

IMG_4064The luscious green rice paddy fields

The amazing thing about Cambodia, which is mostly evident only in the villages, is the red sand. As soon as you step into the countryside the color of the sand is a beautiful dark red. I have not witnessed this color of sand anywhere. The guide also showed us the clean water filter that is purchased for the villagers from the tour proceeds. One in five cambodian children die before the age of 5 because of water borne illnesses, so providing clean water to them is high on the NGO priority list. It is only $45 to provide a water filtration system for 2-3 families. This filter lasts for 20 years! For more information on helping provide clean water to Cambodian villages please click here.


The water filter
IMG_4128This girl did not stop smiling! I had to take her picture, she was such a cutie!

After walking through most of the village we came to the local school. This was an open air classroom with about 60 kids sitting on the floor.

IMG_4098Our cambodian classroom

The guide didn’t give us much information and just asked us to teach the kids English and walked away. The kids were very excited to have us and took to learning very easily. We started with the normals A B C’s but they were all beyond that,  so we moved on to animals, days of the week, months of the year and then just random words. We asked some of the enthusiastic ones to come up and say something to the class but the kids weren’t used to being put on the spot like that so they just giggled a lot. This was a very fulfilling experience.

IMG_4100Teaching the kids
IMG_4112SO much fun!
IMG_4121What did you think Sahir was going to teach them how to spell?? 🙂

After 3 hours of learning, it was “Activity” time. We played Dodgeball, Hockey-Pockey and Skip-Rope with them. Towards the end we went to the local store and got some lollypops for the kids. After seeing the kids thoroughly enjoy the lollypops, we were all craving it too and ended up having one each. It was delicious! Either those were some damn good lollypops or I just haven’t had one in a long time.

IMG_4132Enjoying the lollypops
IMG_4134The coolest kids in Cambodia 🙂

Once school was out, we boarded the minivan and started our journey back home. On the way we also stopped at the local monastery and took some pictures. We reached home around 6 pm and called it a night after a nice hot shower and dinner!

From the few conversations I have had with friends family back home, I realized that Cambodia is not a country that many people know much about or that is on anyones travel radar. But if my blog has inspired you to find out even a little bit more about the amazing and beautiful country, here are some recommended links/reads –

  • The 8th Wonder of the world – Temples of Angkor Wat. I don’t have words to describe them.
  • Lara Croft Tomb Raider was  shot at the temples of Angkor Wat.
  • First, They Killed my Father. True story about a child’s experience during the totalitarian regime of Khmer Rouge.
  • If  you are interested in booking some good tours while in Siem Reap this is a good tour company we recommend. The owner is a really nice guy, who actually accompanied us on our tour of the flooded forest.

After reading these if you are interested in visiting Cambodia you should start planning soon before the tourist tide gets here!


7 Responses to "A day in the Life of…"

Awesome! I’m so glad you guys had a chance to take charge of a classroom…it really IS a very rewarding experience.

very informative and very well u both god bless you.

i am so happy both of you had a wonderful experience. fantastic !

Hey guyes i love your blog!
more cats and smiling girls pictures i love it!

Amazing ! Ritu and Saher….something i would love to do.Great blog.

I am sure India is on your list of places to visit and cannot wait for you to blog about it.

“So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his rounds. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked.” — Mark Twain


Thanks! Yes we are in India right now. It is amazing!! Will be blogging about it soon.

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