Picnics by Angkor Wat

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One of the many advantages of living in Siem Reap and having local friends is the Khmer (Cambodian) people can talk to the Angkor Wat checkpoint guards to get you in the beautiful Angkor Wat area for free. Otherwise, foreigners have to pay US $20.

It’s so easy to make friends in town and when you find good people, it’s great to just go with the flow in the day and chill out by the world’s largest religious site anytime.

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Our team played football on an early Sunday morning and we decided to all get breakfast by the temples. As we passed the checkpoint, me and my other Western friend was hiding our faces as our Cambodian friends talked to the guards to say we are just going to the picnic area for some food. So they let us through.

Two of our friends disappeared for 30 minutes to get food for everyone and it was wonderful to have our friends and some of their kids enjoy a great morning by the beautiful water before enjoying a meal together.

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Back to Back Cambodian weddings

The happy newlyweds.

 

I know I should probably be writing about my New Year’s Even in Siem Reap but I have been and will continue to be very busy with my new job with a travel company for the next 10 weeks. I still have to upload pictures then I’ll do a late post.

The last two weeks have been filled with back to back dinners with friends, reunions and consecutive Cambodian wedding parties. I love the openness of Cambodian weddings. One of my friends asked her cousin to give me a formal invitation so that was very sweet. I’ve really enjoying spending time and getting to know their families.

My very sweet friend Mara who got her cousins to invite me.

I went to the smaller pre-wedding party at the house which was really fun. We ate Cambodian food, there is as usual an unlimited supply of beer and soft drinks, karaoke and dancing.

Every time I go over my friend’s place, they are extremely hospitable in typical Cambodian fashion and offer to share their food and ask if I’ve eaten. I was really impressed with my friend too, I know she was so busy helping them prepare for many things, but when she saw that my ice was low on my drink she refilled it for me. Wow, talk about being a great host.

Girls just wanna have fun. Cambodians love karaoke. 

Last year I went to three Cambodian wedding parties in total and three weeks ago I went to three in a weekend. Her cousin’s wedding had the best food of all the weddings I went to and was at a restaurant. It was a fantastic time and I got to meet more nice people.

Great way to spend a Monday night.

Mara’s fun, intelligent and adorable daughter.

This is not soda, it’s duck’s blood. The real Cambodian food.

Pictures from the wedding party

There were at least 700 people at the restaurant of the wedding dinner. I don’t think I’ve ever been to such a big restaurant in Cambodia.

 

 

Getting ready to dance.

 

A mega Cambodian salad.

 

Happy happy

 

Beautifully cooked fish.

 

Christmas craziness in a 95% Buddhist country

Picture before security kicked us out of the display booth.

 

I’ve become very close to many of the women on my football team in Siem Reap since we met two months ago. It’s refreshing to have a group of people to can constantly laugh, be silly and invite each other to events happening around town.

This is my first December holiday away from Vancouver and it helps a lot for me to be with good friends here. Our team will celebrate the holidays together by cooking together and there’s no one else I’d rather spend the night with than them while I’m away from my family.

I”m very happy to be in a predominantly Buddhist country for Christmas for several reasons:

1. There is sun every day here.

2. I don’t really celebrate Christmas and neither do many of our friends.

I am a tree. 

3. There isn’t the excessive shopping and marketing hype where people go crazy at the malls and break into fights to buy crap they don’t need.

After our usual Thursday football game, we decided to go to one of the nearby hotels and take pictures with the Christmas displays. We were attracting so much attention to ourselves that the security guard kicked us and everyone out of the display booth. Our craziest friend asked the police officer to take our picture as she posed like a model. He did not look amused.

And then we proceeded for our weekly $0.75 fruit shake place. We were very happy that they gave us our shakes in a reusable come than plastic cups. There is too much packaging all around the country and the plastic takes a long time to break down. So whenever we can, we try to bring our own cups to reduce the amount of garbage that gets used.

I’m looking forward to our agnostic/Buddhist/Christmas cooking night this Thursday with the girls. We have one life (depends what you believe), so why not laugh as much as we can?

I really don’t know why they kicked us out.

 

The traditional and modern Khmer women

My Cambodian/expat football team

My inspiring and strong Khmer friends on our football team. Seeing them every week on and off the field is always a great time.

“Cambodian men won’t like me, because I’m independent. They don’t like women who say, ‘do this’ or ‘do that.'”—One of my modern Khmer friends.

I’ve spent a year in Cambodia to date and have met Cambodians in rural villages and the heart of the busier cities in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh around the country. I’ve become very accustomed to seeing women who always greet you with a smile, often timid, and who have been raised to become a good wife to somebody, especially in the rural villages where over 85% of the Cambodian population lives.

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I’ve learned from my close Khmer friends, including those who have grown up in the cities, that their parents didn’t support their education because they were girls and prefer to send the boys to school. They would essentially say, “What’s the point? You are going to be a housewife so you need to learn to cook and clean the house.”

A “good” Khmer woman is a woman who does not speak back against authority, parents or their husbands. They are responsible for managing the house and taking care of the children while many of their husbands drink, laze around or cheat with other women. I don’t want to generalize but around Asia, particularly rural areas, this is a very common problem among the men. And the women often just tolerate it.

Modern Khmer women

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More of my confident, intelligent and talented Khmer friends at the one year anniversary at King’s Road restaurants.

 

I have been meeting more women in in Cambodia, particularly in sports groups and NGO employees, who very much surprise me with their boldness, confidence, LGBT friendly attitude, humour and sometimes sexual jokes. They are very liberal even by Western standards.

I very much admire and respect some of my friends who went against their parents wishes, which is very difficult in a culture where you are trained to respect and obey your elders from the moment you are born, and they fought to go to school anyway because they wanted to learn so they found a way to get their own scholarships or pay for their own education. In my previous post, I spoke about some of my strong friends who went against their parents to pursue their passions.

Socially, my modern Khmer friends are very outspoken, don’t take BS from anyone, especially men and earn their own money to live the way they want and learn whatever they want. We see each other at least twice a week and always enjoy a good laugh and be as loud as we want. They are one of the funniest people I’ve met in my life of all the places I’ve been in Europe, Mauritius, Asia and North America.

I know my friends will educate their daughters and their sons to respect women and I hope in the next generation this mentality spreads in more parts of the country.

 

 

Try Green Orange Kayak’s in Battambang, Cambodia

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We were told we would cross six bridges along our ride back into town.

 

My friend and I had an incredible time in Battambang, Cambodia, about 167 km from Siem Reap City. We decided to take a weekend to motto there and back.

I’ve been to Battambang twice to ride the bamboo train on a group trip and saw some of the surrounding mountains. But I had no idea there was kayaking. Battambang is a really nice chill town with amazing food and not an excessive amount of tourists.

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This is the sign to look for on the road to Phnom Banan when you check in at their office.

 

My friend told me about this social enterprise Green Orange Kayaks, which is run by an NGO that provides free English classes to children in the community. Visitors should know they also have guesthouses by the river and the money goes to the program as well.

For US $12, you could rent a kayak for one to three people and take as long as you’d like to go down the beautiful river for 8 km. When we called the organization, even through their office was closed, the employees met us on time on a Sunday morning and led us to the river.

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The usual friendly Cambodian smiles.

 

Because we had to leave by lunchtime in the afternoon, they were nice to suggest that they could drive our motto into town so that we wouldn’t have to kayak the 8 km back, which saved us time. Giving your motto keys to someone you just met would be unimaginable in so many country but in Cambodia, I wasn’t worried at all.

Not only was the landscape beautiful, I was very surprised that the community was Muslim as many of the Cambodians along our route were wearing hijabs, a veil that covers the woman’s head and chest. Only about 1.6% of the population in Cambodia is Muslim, so that’s why it was interesting that they live along the river.

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The first of six bridges we were going to cross.

 

We unfortunately didn’t have time to stop by the villages along the way. Next time I visit Battambang, I’d like to take a full day on the kayaks and stop along the communities and eat lunch at the local restaurant. If you have a full day, definitely take the time to enjoy your ride and interact with the people in the area.

How to get there

Call +855 17 736166 to make an appointment. Most people hire a tuk tuk but if you also have a motto, it’s a beautiful ride there! It’s on the same road to Phnom Banan, which we also didn’t have time to see but definitely worth another trip.

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Our wonderful guides who made sure we got safely down the river. And yes, we got our motto back.

 

 

 

This generation of inspiring Khmer women

Apologies again for delayed posts, it’s been a crazy two weeks of life transitions, getting a bad cold in a country that is at least 27 degrees on any given day and social obligations.

I’ve met some more inspiring and strong Khmer women on my soccer team that plays games weekly. In many traditional Cambodian households, particularly rural areas of the country, which over 85% of the population lives in rural areas, many Khmer girls and women are expected to become housewives and are often not supported to attend school.

When I joined my first game, we did the usual introductions then one of my friends told me, “I’ve been playing football since I was small. But when I was young my father cut my ball in half because he said women do not play soccer and should learn to clean and cook. But he could not stop me and after a long time, he finally understands he cannot stop me. Women empowerment!”

I learned that this same friend was sponsored to attend a five-day program that uses football to also empower women too, which is amazing. When I first joined football, I wasn’t expecting to as many Khmer people playing as there were. But I’m very happy especially to see more women playing than I expected.

Another one of my teammates told me that her family often discouraged her from going to school and only supported her brothers’ education. But she found her own scholarship that enabled her to go to university. She was the first woman in Cambodia to graduate at the top of her marketing class at her university. Now she earns much more money than most of her male colleagues and uses her extra money to buy good books for her younger siblings.

Another teammate is raising her niece in addition to her own children but she keeps reinforcing the important of working hard and always learning. She provides everything that her niece needs to thrive.

While there may be some NGOs that have some impact with advancing women’s rights, it’s ultimately the women like my friends who will have the biggest influence to change the mentality of the next generation and their siblings to value education and support the empowerment of women.

 

Olive, Cuisine de Saison: My best meal in Siem Reap

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I’ve tried the full range of food in the 11 months I’ve been in Siem Reap from my fresh street baguette to five-course meals in higher-end restaurants in town. I don’t care what the price is, but anyone who dines out a lot knows that paying more money doesn’t necessarily mean better flavour. I always come back to a restaurant ultimately because of the flavour.

I had cousins in town for six days in Siem Reap and I have been very disappointed with our US $15 to $26 meals in restaurants for their bland and unmemorable taste. I’d rather have just gone to one of my good friend’s street restaurants and have bought my favourite stir-fried yellow noodle for $1.50 and I would have been more satisfied.

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But when I tried Olive, Cuisine de Saison for the first time I was immediately blown away by the flavours, timing of the food and professionalism of the staff. They probably have one of the most well-trained staff in Siem Reap.

So far I have tasted the wild mushroom soup, which the staff kindly substituted meat for a pasta (US $6), the seabass and risotto (US$12) and the caramelized banana and ice cream (I can’t remember the price). Even the complimentary bread was superbly done by toasting the outside just enough to be crisp while maintaining the soft texture inside.
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The portions are great and the fish could easily be shared between two people. When I took a bite of my friend’s dessert and it was the best whipping cream I’ve ever had in my life! The flavour of the ice cream was very unique too.

My cousin thought the chef was French but he’s actually Cambodian and the food is consistently on time and well executed. I will most certainly be coming back with my friends on a regular basis.