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.
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.