We have asked Tony to pick us up at 9:30am so that we can sleep in. We are on a holiday after all. We get into the tuk tuk with little idea of where we will end up – that’s part of the fun of traveling.
We travel along the river following small roads. This is how the other half lives and it’s important to realise that while we haggle over every dollar many people living here would love to just earn even a dollar for their labours. Today we will learn more about how hard the Khmer people have to work just to earn their meagre wages.
ut first a sobering stop at the Well of Shadows. This is the place where over 10,008 Khmer people were killed during the Pol Pot regime. The memorial tells the story of those unimaginable years. A period of history that many Khmer people today still remember. I am struck by the kindness of Khmer people despite the trauma of war and torture. They could have chosen to be angry and bitter like some other cultural groups who have suffered but they haven’t. Rather, this is a peaceful country where people are friendly and helpful.
We stop at a small shed. A machine that could have come out of the ark is pulverising rice and then smoothing it. This is the first stage in making rice noodles. The second is totake the pulverised and moistened rice flour and pushing it through a big metal noodle maker and boiling the noodles. Wood is expensive so rice husks are burned to boil the water. It’s labour intensive, hot and dirty work.
Our next stop is a guava vendor. She sits on a wooden platform with her fruit piled neatly in front of her. The guava is tasty so I buy a kilo. It’s all grown locally along this road, harvested and sold right here. This is hand to mouth living without any guarantee of income. I feel grateful to have been born in the West. The lottery of birth is something that travel makes clear.
The rice wine making shed is next but, not being drinkers, we don’t stay to taste it. The fermentation process takes place in buckets that serve as vats. Fruit, snake, scorpion and spices make up the brew that is said to make men very powerful (if you know what I mean).
Not much farther along is a row of rice paper shops. I made a video because the process is so simple yet effective. These ladies make 3,000 rice paper sheets every day during the dry season. During the wet work has to stop because there’s no sun to dry the papers. I buy some fresh spring rolls, which taste good.
I wonder what it would feel like to have tourists observing your work on a daily basis. To know people who earn more in a day than you might in a year are photographing you out of curiosity. Is it ethical or responsible? Does our purchase of food and drink at their store justify our gawking? Without us this family might remain in greater poverty but our money might make it possible for families to make headway. I know what I’d do for my family if it came to it. I’d let tourists take photos if it were the difference between a subsistence future or having food in our bellies.
Wat Ek Phnom suddenly appears before our tuk tuk. The giant Buddha is impossible to ignore. It dominates the landscape. Behind it lie the 11th Century ruins of Wat Ek Phnom. There’s no steps to climb – just a rocky ruin to scramble over.
An old lady and a young man’s without use of his legs ply their trade here. They try to encourage tourists to follow them then ask for 1,000 riel ($US0.25). The man crawls. The lady hobbles. For all our complaints about the social security system in Australia, at least this isn’t the lot of our elderly and disabled populations. At home this man would have a lightweight wheelchair, a disability pension, access to education and workplace training, and the protection of anti-discrimination legislation that requires potential employers to make reasonable adjustments to allow him access to employment and workplaces. Our system is not perfect but at least we have something in place.
This is the end of the small tour and we are taken back to Battambong. We eat lunch, have a massage at the seeing hand massage and take a tuk tuk to our guesthouse.
We have plans to go to the full moon festival at a temple but are delayed. We order chicken amok (Khmer curry) and don’t realise it has to be made from scratch. An hour and a half later our meals finally arrive. The taste is amazing and worth the wait. I just wish I’d known.
We end up lazing by the pool (well, I sit in it) playing on social media and blogging. The super moon is bright above. At $US12 a night this place sure is great value.
Tomorrow we will take a bus to Kampong Chnneng. No doubt that will be an experience of its own merits.