OVERNIGHT HOMESTAY AT TBENG KULEN IN RURAL SIEM REAP

By Julien

Banteay Srei district, Siem Reap is more than just temples. There are many local experiences to be had beyond Angkor. On this particular day I had spent the morning at Banteay Srei Butterfly Center (BBC) with Ruby, my Australian friend. Our evening was planned too. Off in a tuk-tuk from BBC we headed for the Tbeng Kulen Homestays. An overnight with a local community awaited us.

For 45 minutes we followed a mixture of smooth and bumpy roads. At times the dirt road had large holes, which meant an exciting ride from the back of the tuk tuk! This made the trip far from monotonous and even rather short. It is half the experience just looking out at the landscapes around me. Once we arrived at Tbeng Kulen Homestays we were warmly greeted by the village chief and his deputy. The meeting area has a large kitchen and dining space where local community members cook for groups of tourists. There is also a kindergarten here that has been supported by the project.

A TOUR OF THE VILLAGE

When we first arrived we visited the village and members of the community. The community leader spoke very good English and so we had a great time as he translated for us with local people from the village.

I met our homestay host and the house where we would sleep. It was a wooden house on stilts backing onto a large grassy area with many mango trees. Inside the house our room was simple but comfortable – two mattresses, a blanket and a pillow…everything we needed to have a good night’s rest. The woman who welcomed us into her house was quite shy but always had a big smile on her face. This made us feel comfortable right away.
Afterwards we toured the rest of the village. Smiling and waving at friendly locals are walked past. The village itself was cosy. Many houses close together yet with lots of trees and grass in between creating beautiful areas to lounge around.

One family was having a picnic outside on the grass and invited us to join. They were having a meal of fish, meat, vegetables, pineapple and of course rice. We stayed one with them for a while, it was a real pleasure as his family was so pleasant. Before leaving they offered me a hat made from bamboo! So generous and kind. This item and the memory I will keep for a long time. Before leaving the family brought out traditional musical instruments to show us. There were a few small drums and a string instrument. We watched as children, adults and grandparents played an instrument for us – it was sweet to see the whole family having a go!

SUNSET OVER THE RICE FIELDS

By this time, the sun was beginning to set in the sky. Our community leaders offered us a ride on the back of a motorbike to go watch the sunset. After 10minute driving back along the main road we made it to a property. Tall palm trees lined the entrance. We wandered along a dirt track before reaching a bamboo structure. We walked up a set of stairs around 4 metres high. When we reached the top – what a view!

The sky was pink and orange as the sun was setting over a beautiful rice field. I watched a herd of buffalo passing by in the distance and a lush forest on the horizon. It was a magnificent sunset, a real postcard landscape. The bells on the neck of the buffalo made a gentle ringing noise however other than that it was silent.. Farmers were walking their cows home in the distance and trees lined the horizon. It was peaceful and beautiful view that felt stereotypically Cambodian. It was a lovely moment.

After 20 minutes watching the sun go down we returned to the village.
On the way to the next place, I saw a volleyball match between young and old on a dusty court next to the side of the road. It was a nice harmony between multiple generations that made me smile. I would have liked to join them, but the night was already falling on Tbeng Kulen.

DINNER AT THE HOMESTAY

Then it was dinner time, on the menu was rice, meat, and vegetables. For dessert was green mango – unripe and sour. It was the first time I had tried this Cambodian snack. It is served with a salt, sugar and chilli or a bbq sauce. It was really tasty. The food was all prepared by our homestay host…always with a big smile no matter what time of day or fatigue. After such a delicious meal, I felt tired from the day so it was not long before I found myself sleeping soundly!

The next morning I woke to the sound of birds. After a quick bucket shower I was treated to yet another delicious meal. A good day always begins with a proper breakfast! This morning is was rice and fried fish with mango and a coffee.


MAKING RICE NOODLES

Before our return journey to Siem Reap we visited the village to learn how rice noodles are made. Also, to try making them ourselves!
At one house in the village we had a demonstration of the process. The process is long and demanding but produces delicious noodles.

A large wooden contraption is used to pound the dough. One person uses there leg to make the plant of wood go up and down to pound the flower. The other, careful that their hand is not squished, move the dough around to ensure it is pounded properly. It is a physical and exhausting activity; the most incredible thing was that the people who took care of the noodle were quite old people. I was all the more impressed by their strength and energy, I of course tried the kneading machine and quickly understood that mental strength was just as important as physical strength.

With a heart full of beautiful connections with a rural Cambodian community and a stomach full of mango we said our last goodbyes to the Tbeng Kulen Homestays. Just outside of Siem Reap, it was here we discovered beautiful landscapes worthy of postcards and as always we shared delicious food with incredible, heart warming people.

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