Southeast Asia - December, 2012 travel blog

"convenience store" in Sontag's village


house on stilts with motor scooter

Sontag's family's house

father scooping rice flour into noodle press

Sontag shows the noodle press

mother cooks the rice noodles

Sontag and his rice husker

Our last day. We spent the morning in the National Museum of Angkor which gave a great overview of the ancient Cambodian history, especially the Khmer Empire; also good descriptions of Hinduism and Buddhism. On display were many statutes of Buddha (1000 in one room alone) and the Hindu deities. It would have been good to visit the museum before visiting the ruins.

That afternoon we had our last tour with Journey’s Within. First we visited a silk farm whose very bored guide showed us the steps from growing the silk worms, to making and dying the thread to weaving it. Some interesting factoids: It takes 24 days from the time the silk worm hatches until it weaves its cocoon. There are over 5000 threads in the warp of a loom to weave a meter width of cloth; each thread has to be hand threaded through the heddles of the loom.

After that we had one of the best tours of the trip. Our guide Sontag took us to his village which is about 15 km outside of Siem Reap or ½ hr by motorbike. His English was excellent. He told us that he was the oldest child of 8 and didn’t start school until age 13. He learned his English pronunciation from English volunteers who worked at the orphanage.

He was a real entrepreneur. He and his family saved their money and bought 2 machines, one to husk the rice and one to grind it into flour. Both are hooked to a gasoline engine that is started like a lawn mower by pulling a hand crank. He husks the rice for free but he keeps the husks to feed his pigs. He grind the flour for his mother. She cooks rice noodles everyday to sell in the early morning to workers.

14 people sleep in the one room of their house, 8 children 3 of whom are married and 4 grandchildren. The parents sleep under the house. They farm 3 hectares of rice, enough to feed the family. Most of the adults have other jobs. 3 sisters work in town as masseuses, 2 brothers are artists.

They live under the house, cook over an open fire. Water comes from a well with hand pump. No toilet, just the trees.

Their town has been declared an historical town by the Apsara National Authority. So they can’t change anything or build new houses. This means that if adult children want their own place, they have to leave.

It was a fascinating visit. Bob and Sontag talked farming and building; I watched the mother make the rice noodles. Bob was especially fascinated by the tall cement pillars standing the house. Sontag said he was going to replace his wooden stilts with concrete but he was going to need the help of the rest of the villagers to lift the house up and place the concrete pillars in place.

When we got back to the hotel, we had time for a free massage from our hotel. The young woman had very strong hands. She climbed all over me, kneaded my legs more than my back

Our plane left at midnight. As we left the hotel, all the employees of the hotel stood outside the door smiling and wishing us well.

Another 24 hours and we were back in New York.

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