A man with a young girl on his shoulders
Cambodia,  Culture & tradition,  Food & drink,  Just One Person

Lunch with Mr Noon and his family

Of course the main reason to visit Siem Reap is to see the temples of Angkor. But it’s possible to get ‘templed out’ so it’s good that there are alternative activities and places to explore between temple visits.

I posted some time ago about how we met some wedding guests in a small village in this area. When we did so we were actually on our way, with our guide Sam, to meet up with a certain Mr Noon at the village market. We had arranged to visit him and his family for lunch.

I am always in two minds about this sort of experience. Is it voyeuristic and exploitative to go to ‘stare’ at people in their homes, living very different lives to our own? Or is it good to be participating in activities that benefit local people financially? And is it a positive thing to be meeting and engaging with them? As our tour company for that trip, Selective Asia, are very conscientious, we decided to trust their judgement and go for it. The visit would give us the chance to learn about life in rural Cambodia away from the main tourist destinations.

I am very pleased that Cady has revived her ‘Just One Person’ challenge. Today I want to introduce her, and all of you, to Mr Noon and his family.

Shopping for lunch

We met Mr Noon at the market, as I said, where we were to shop for ingredients for the lunch. He picked out a chicken and plenty of vegetables. Of course I also took the opportunity to wander off and explore. This market is the ‘one stop shop’ for the village and surrounding farms. There were stalls selling all sorts of things, not just food; clothing and shoes, toys, electronics, furniture, gold jewellery …

After our shopping we parted company for a while. Mr Noon took the food home so that the meal could be prepared, while we visited a local monastery. I’ll share that visit another time but for now let’s skip ahead to our arrival in Mr Noon’s village.

Village lunch

When we arrived we could tell his purchases had been put to good use. Pots were steaming over fires in the kitchen, which stood apart from the main house. We were made welcome, and his wife started to bring in platters of food. There was fried chicken, various vegetable dishes and the ubiquitous steamed rice. There were also bowls of lemongrass-scented chicken soup. It wasn’t fancy but it all tasted good.

As we ate their three-year-old granddaughter played nearby and played up to my camera! Later their younger daughter (sister to the child’s mother, I learned) arrived home from morning school. She shyly came to talk to me, keen to practice her rather basic English. It was she who explained the family relationships to me, and she showed me photos of her sister’s wedding on her phone, as well as of herself and her school friends.

At one point I was idly looking out of the open door when I saw one of the many dogs in the village come to sniff my shoes and socks, left there when we entered. Much to everyone’s amusement he picked up one of the socks in his mouth and set off down the village street, with Mr Noon running after to retrieve it for me. Goodness knows why a dog would want my smelly sock! But it gave us all something to laugh about. And shared laughter is a special thing when verbal communication is limited by a lack of a common language.

Soon after this incident we said our goodbyes to Mr Noon and his family and headed back to Siem Reap. Reflecting on the visit afterwards I felt comfortable that it had given all of us a chance to interact over this shared meal as well as no doubt helping the family finances.

I visited Cambodia in 2020, just as the Covid pandemic was starting to take hold on the region and the world. I hope this particular family came through those difficult years and are now receiving guests again.

26 Comments

  • bluebrightly

    I’ve had the same questions and I appreciate the way you discussed your reservations and reasons for going ahead. The sock incident is hilarious! Your photos are wonderful, especially of Mr. Noon and his granddaughter, of course. About 20 years ago, my son attended a school with a month-long Costa Rica program that included a week’s stay with a local family – each student was placed with a different family so they were on their own. It was in a rural part of the Osa Peninsula, near Puerto Jimenez. Talk about language immersion, that’s probably why his Spanish is good! It was very, very moving for him. He struggled with wanting to give gifts to the family but the school had to have strict rules in place about that. I got to meet them when they had parents’ week – it was heartwarming. I was thankful that this family agreed to have him stay with them for a week, even if they received some compensation and he helped out with chores.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      That must have been an amazing experience for your son 😀 It’s not at the same level of challenge but when I was 15 I spent about ten days on the school’s French exchange, staying with a girl and her mother (her father had died the previous year, sadly) in a small village. All the other pupils from my school stayed with families in the nearby town where the school was located, but because I was one of the better French students I was sent to this village. Her mother spoke no English while she was too shy (or perhaps still too traumatised by the loss of her father?) to talk much at all. The mother ran the local cafe which was on the ground floor of the house and was the hub of the community. I spent most evenings down there, being talked to by the local old men as they played cards and understanding about one word in ten! I’m sure my French improved hugely as a result and is still passable today despite not having studied it past 18 and only using it occasionally over the years 🙂

  • Smitha V

    Such a fun, informative post, Sarah. I love the idea of interacting with a local family as it gives you a better understanding of the culture. And, if they’re willing, nothing like it. Mr Noon looks like a kind person- you got a beautiful picture of him with his granddaughter. Did you give him a copy? I’m sure he would cherish it.
    From Dhaka, its supposed to be easier to travel to Northeast India and South-east Asia, so, these are on my bucket list. After reading about this meal in the village experience, I’m looking forward to try it out too. I’m so glad I read this post.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you so much, I’m really glad you enjoyed this and were inspired to maybe visit this region. I loved Cambodia and Laos so I hope you make it there! I sent a copy of these photos to the tour company who arranged our visit. I hope they passed them on, but Covid struck very soon after we were there (actually while we were there) so things may have got a bit chaotic or disorganised for a while i guess.

  • Amy

    What a wonderful experience, Sarah! Fun to see how they prepare delicious dishes. We had a similar experience in China. 🙂

  • Leela Gopinath

    Had a hearty laugh imagining the guy running after the dog with the sock!
    Socks are known to be a favourite of insects like cockroaches because they small like meat to them. Socks worn on sweaty legs in tight shoes are more prone to this. Not sure if its the same with canines.

  • Anna

    What a lovely experience… not for the dog though who grabbed your stinky sock 🤣🤣🤣 In all seriousness though this is a lovely thing to do and it’s great that you got such a local experience!

  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    We’ve been lucky enough to meet people on our travels who then invited us to join them for a meal in their home, once in Sri Lanka and once in Thailand. It’s a very humbling and unforgettable experience. We still talk about both of them – as you clearly remember this encounter with Mr Noon too.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yes definitely, and other similar ones too. Because we tend to travel in a different way to you, planning and booking ahead, we only occasionally manage to do such things on an ad hoc basis, although it can happen. But even when arranged through a tour company I feel on balance it’s a positive thing 🙂

  • CadyLuck Leedy

    Sarah, another great post! I love the interaction with the family (at home and in their surroundings) I have found, on our travels, that many folks are opting to open their homes and invite us in to eat and share experiences and our cultures. I always have that niggle in the back of my mind, if this is the right thing to do or if I am intruding, but on the other hand, most times it is an extra income for the family and I think it is their way of leaning about me too. Hopefully, I pass muster! Cady

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Cady. Yes, I agree, the learning often goes both ways. That’s why I think it’s important to try to engage and converse, despite any language barriers. I wouldn’t want to treat such experiences as if I were eating in a restaurant. Having said that, even at that level it can be helping to boost a family’s income, as you say 🙂

  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    The canine sock thief gave me something to laugh about too! What an interesting tour activity to engage in, and I’m glad the food was good. My cooking is not that great, but do you think I could start inviting people over for lunch for a fee? Seriously, I would go broke in a week – LOL!

Do share your thoughts, I'd love to hear from you!

%d bloggers like this: