Sunday, April 08, 2007

Khmer hospitality knows no bounds

Left to right: Sinoun, Phearng, me, Jana.
By now I shouldn't be surprised at the extent of the warm welcome I receive anywhere I turn up on my adventures throughout Cambodia. But I never fail to be overwhelmed by the generous hospitality I get afforded wherever I am, especially if I have to sleep overnight in someone's home. That's exactly what happened on my trip in January as my pal Sokhom and myself went in search of remote temples in the backwoods of Preah Vihear Province. We arrived in the village of Yeang at about 3pm and asked the drinks seller where we could sleep for the night. She immediately took us to her parents' house and they took us in like we were long lost family members. A chicken was caught, killed and cooked, rice wine was passed around and we talked long into the night about each others' lives. I was given a mattress, blanket and mozzie net and afforded VIP status amongst the family and their friends that night and the following morning.

The family was headed by Phearng, who was the same age as me, 47, and was born in the village. He'd spent a dozen years in the ranks of the Khmer Rouge, as most of the 70+ families in the village had at one time or another. Sinoun, his wife, was just as gracious a host and they lived with four of their five children. Their eldest was Sinourt who now ran the drinks stall and had two children of her own. Next was Jana, just 20, was was getting married in a month and felt my presence was a good omen for her impending wedding. The other children were Golap 16, Bouty 12 and Vila 8. We feasted on chicken that evening and then fish with omelette in the morning. The photo above is one of about 50 we took of just about every conceivable combination of family, friends and me, the first tourist they'd ever met. In the morning, Phearng was our guide as we went searching for more remote temples, but it was him and his family who were for me, the real highlight of that particular part of my trip.

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