It always happens this way. You come to a place to see the major tourist attractions, but you stay longer (if you stay) because of the culture and and the community. So it was with Siem Reap.
Every tourist in Cambodia makes the trek to see the temples of Angkor. It takes three days to see most of the temples, which gives you a bit of time to check out what else is going on. In the end we stayed eight days.
Our first step was to connect with a driver. The streets are full of tuk-tuk drivers who will drive you to your guesthouse for two dollars and then ask if you have a tour booked. For a driver, the real money is in the day-long temple tours, where they drive from temple to temple, and snooze in their hammock while waiting. $15 to $25 a day depending on the length of the trip. Thanks to friends on our Families on the Move Facebook page, we had an inside tip on a great driver, and so it was we connected with Mr. Marom (or just Marom).
Not only did Marom take us around the temples, he introduced us to local restaurants and roadside treats along the way. He also invited us to visit with his family for a day, a fantastic opportunity to relax Cambodian style. We piled into the tuk-tuk in the morning, and drove about 40 kilometres to the village of Dom Dek.
All the extended family was there, together for an annual remembrance of their grandmother. But a more relaxed day we couldn’t imagine. It’s what you do in Cambodia to escape the heat without the benefit of air conditioning. And so, we found ourselves sitting in the cool underside of the house, nursing beers and pop, watching the women prepare soups and other dishes, while the men sat on a wooden platform and the dogs and chickens vied for any scraps that might fall through the cracks. Around us, children played. We went for a short ox cart ride, but that was clearly a special trip for the visitors.
We left, hours later, with an appreciation of the relaxed lifestyle of a perennially warm climate, and the strength of family and community in rural Cambodia.
On the way back, we asked Marom what they were selling at the dozens of roadside stands we had seen on the way there. Each one had a tiny fire and was roasting bamboo stalks, but why? Marom pulled over to one, and we tasted the most amazing sticky rice and coconut milk combination that is cooked inside bamboo stalks. Strangely enough, this one strip of road, about a kilometre long and packed with roadside stands, was the only place in Cambodia where we have seen this particular delicacy.
Marom, we can’t thank you enough for your generosity! Thank you for making Siem Reap come alive!