MY VISIT TO A REAL CAMBODIAN VILLAGE
By Anais Schall
A friend of mine told me about the village homestay at Cheung Kok village close to Kampong Cham during my visit to Phnom Penh. He really liked it, so I decided to go and visit the project, and see if rural Cambodia is as beautiful as my friend told me.
The village homestay has been set up with the support of AMICA, a French owned NGO that started in 1992. Thorn, a local man from the village was fortunate to get a scholarship in France. During his studies in France, he befriended a Frenchman by the name of Gen. During a home visit on 1993, Thorn brought Gen along to meet his family and see how people in his village live. And that was the start of AMICA.
The village homestay Cheung Kok is approximately 3.5 hours from the Phnom Pen. To get these you will need to take a minibus to Kampong Cham. Busses start departing Phnom Penh from 7am in the morning . You will pay around $6 each for a 3hr bus ride. It is more of a large minivan than it is a bus, but it was not uncomfortable and everyone had their own seat. If you have ever taken a Cambodian Taxi then you can understand what a luxury that is.
Aline was our guide during our visit, she grew up in the villages and today co-ordinates their community-based tourism project. Her English is perfect and she was there to help communicate our needs with our host family since their English was not very good.
I was a bit worried about the bathroom situation before arriving, and if you are too, it really wasn’t that bad. Homestays in Cheung Kok have a bucket flush and bucket shower system, but the water was the perfect temperature and you get used to pouring water all over yourself after the first shower. It was actually really refreshing.
The men of Cheung Kok are rice farmers and the amount of work they have depends on the amount of rainfall every year. AMICA’s influence within the village has provided new opportunities for families to generate extra income through ecotourism. During our visit to Cheung Kok, we were able to visit a small silkworm farm and also several of the women weave scarfs at home to sell within their village. I loved this part of the trip, One of the ladies showed us how to weave and I was able to sit for 30min just practising my weaving… yes, there is still hope for me. The women are very fast and at the beginning it looks very confusing but after a few minutes you get to understand the principles and you settle in the rhythm. If you visit the village and buy a scarf from the boutique or your homestay family 100% of your money goes back to the village community. Unlike buying souvenirs or gifts from markets in Phnom Penh where things are bought at a wholesale price and often money goes to neighboring countries such as Thailand or Vietnam, here you can actually directly see the impact of your dollars.
In the village they also produce other types of handicrafts such as bamboo utensils, coconut shell carvings, cotton scarfs (when the silk worms are not making enough silk), and miscellaneous jewelry.
After wandering though the village rice fields with our knee deep in mud – we did choose to learn to plant rice in the field, a lovely grandma saw us and invited us into her home and offer us water to wash the mud off. She was not our homestay grandma, but lived close to the rice fields… just wanting to help us.
Village life is slow and your days seem to be filled with more time. There is a small market by the main road every morning with cheap local food we recommend visiting. A bowl of noodles and gravy will set you back 50¢. Across the main road are two hills known as Phnom Srey and Phnom Pros, or Man and Woman Mountain. There is also a temple at the top, with spectacular views stretching across the whole Kampong Cham province.
Our experience of staying at a homestay in Cheung Kok was nothing short of amazing. We were welcomed into the village with open arms, not only by our homestay family but also by all the neighbors and their children.
Things to do inside the village:
- Village tour
- Rice Fields
- Arts and Crafts
- Visit the local market
- Cycling and more cycling…. Man and Woman Mountain are great places to spend an afternoon at with your bike.