A Day in the Life of Cambodia
If you are a regular visitor to this site, or one of the select travellers who take part in driven2travel events and tours, you'll know that whilst we like to travel and stay in luxury, we are also highly curious about the real life of the places we visit. We are delighted therefore when we find people like Anthony and Fiona Jaensch, two Australians who have built their lives in Siem Reap and provide a range of services from the hotel at Sojourn to the cultural tour and experience company Beyond Unique, both of which support the charity HUSK Cambodia. We have been so impressed with their work that used our London Hyatt Churchill Event to raise money to support them in 2014 and will again in 2015. We discovered Beyond Unique on our first visit to Siem Reap and took a tour party with them for the 'Day in the Life' experience on our second - the experience varies depending on the season - this trip was in February.
Transport from our hotel (the wonderful Park Hyatt) by comfortable minibus was included but we then transferred to a more traditional local ox-cart once we reached the outskirts of Kompheim, about thirty minutes later - not comfortable but great fun. Rocking from side to side as you trundle along the lanes, your nostrils filled with the scent of country life is wonderful. We were here to find out how life is for Cambodian smallholders who subsist on about $50 a month. They eke out a living by growing rice in small paddies as well as mangoes and anything else they can squeeze into their tiny plots.
We started the day by reaping rice in the searing heat and high humidity, being taught the basics by the old lady of 75 next to us, who was three times as fast and caught every grasshopper she came across as a snack - protein is expensive here. I won't lie, it was strenuous work but all the more satisfying for that.
Our group then planted a number of mango trees for a local family who watched with gratitude and amazement in equal measure. We paid to do this? A visit to the village school, built and staffed with money from HUSK was a real eye-opener. The facilities are so basic and yet these are some of the best in Cambodia. If you visit, perhaps bring some books or stationery - the children are so cheerful and love to show off their language skills.
Finally, we retired to a local family's spartan home for a meal cooked by the lady of the house. Everything was fresh and food doesn't get any more genuine than this. The fishcakes, cooked by hand in front of us were delightfully fragrant. The yellow curry with chicken was a humbling experience. This is celebration food by local standards. Happily, the family (and probably some of their friends) got fed in the process.
We had a fantastic day which really enriched our understanding of this country. It is so nice to encounter a project that is putting so much into an impoverished community. Sure, you have to see some temples if you're coming to Siem Reap but this would be the second thing on my list and we hope to return many times to see the project developing.