I can’t leave without putting to “paper” some impressions of this lovely country.
The people, as in Myanmar and other countries of Southeast Asia, are so gracious, kind and, at the same time, very hard working. (With the exception of the immigration officials!!) They are generous and faithful to their Buddhist beliefs, and without them, many of the beautiful pagodas and temples would not be as well kept up; nor would the monks be able to devote their time and/or life to study, prayer and teaching.
For the most part people lead a very simple life with simple amenities. Siem Reap itself has some lovely homes and also very simple abodes. The motor cycle rules and transports entire families, crates of eggs, school children – you name it! Cars, bicycles, tuk-tuks, pedestrians and motor bikes weave in and out and around one another in some sort of precise dance – it is quite fascinating.
And the food! Fruit-aholic that I am, I can completely OD here! The mangoes and papaya are both ripe (even though the real mango season is in April). I am also in love with their peanuts that are both salty and have some sugar added, along with dried lemon grass, kefir lime leaf, chili and garlic! They are the best. Of course, rice abounds and in all forms – sweet and sticky or plain steamed. The flavors are much like Thai food, but a little less spicy. I have tried the main traditional Khmer dishes – Amok, Lok-Lak and Khmer curry.
We experienced two amazing philanthropic enterprises here in Siem Reap: Phare, the Cambodian Circus, that I mentioned previously, and The HAVEN restaurant. Started by a young Swiss couple in 2011, after volunteering and working in a Cambodian orphanage and seeing the need for training for young adults who no longer qualify for placement in the orphanage. The idea to open a training restaurant was born. They returned to Switzerland and formed a non-profit – Dragonfly – A project for Cambodia’s youth – and returned to Siem Reap in 2011 to build the school and restaurant from scratch. Later a Swiss friend and a Cambodian chef joined the effort.
From their website : “In addition to the training it is also part of our concept to provide a safe haven for our trainees, hence the name. We accommodate our trainees in a house which is located in a close by neighbourhood of the restaurant. They live under the same roof with our house mum which creates a family like structure and ensures an integrated support service for the youths. Apart from housing the trainees HAVEN covers their entire expenses, such as rent, electricity, water and medical costs, food and clothing etc. Additionally they are paid a monthly salary, serving as their personal pocket money. We also provide the school materials and hire instructors for their education. The training programme is free of charge for the trainees. The costs of running the programme is subsidised through the restaurants income and donations through DRAGONFLY”
We were lucky enough to get a reservation at the Haven and it was an extraordinary meal and experience.
Let’s not forget the pampering! Massage parlors, reiki, foot rubs, the funny fish tanks where the little fish eat the dry skin from you feet – and so inexpensive. I had an amazing facial for $10; a pedicure for $7, and Dennis has had massages for less than $20. Prices in general are 25% to 50% of those at home.