We've told you about our trip to Battambang, and our explorations around the temples, but we've done a few other bits and pieces too, that we've not got round to blogging about, so here's a quick(ish) summary.
We've mentioned a few times that it was Pchum Ben festival the second week we were here, but we've not told you very much about it. Pchum Ben is supposedly a Buddhist festival, but they only celebrate it in Cambodia (although most people here won't believe you if you tell them that!) and it's actually an animistic festival, because it's all to do with ancestral ghosts. It's really a big deal here, and is the largest Cambodian religious festival. The basic idea is that during the 15 waning days of the last lunar month, you have to go at least once to feed the ghosts at the pagoda so that they don't give you bad luck for the next month. However, the ghosts only come out between 4-5 am, so you have to go to the pagoda then. You make little balls of sticky rice, and take them along with fruit. You then sit and listen to monks chanting for about 45mins, which I guess is their version of a service, then you walk round the Pagoda three times, throwing the rice balls onto mats that are set out all round the Pagoda. It was really eerie, because the only light was from candles. It was a great experience! We've biked and walked round the town quite a bit too, so we've got our bearings and everything.
We splashed out on our fourth weekend in Siem Reap, and did a cookery course at Temple Bar, a bar/restaurant in Pub Street in the centre of Siem Reap. Peta and Flic, two Australian volunteers, came with us, and we all made a selection of tasty things. It was $10, but such good value! We got a free t-shirt, and cooked an absolutely massive three course meal, which we could pick. Susie made fried spring rolls, our favourite Khmer Amok, and a strange banana and tapioca pudding. John made mango salad, Cambodian curry and the same pudding with pumpkin in it. We had great fun making everything – the Cambodian staff were really helpful, and made it all really straightforward for us – with their instruction even John managed to roll a spring roll! We spent about 90mins-2hrs preparing and cooking all our dishes (they do the washing up for you ).
Then we ate! None of us who went were convinced by the desserts – Cambodia isn’t a pudding type place really – but the rest of the food was yummy yummy yummy! There was also A LOT of it! Between the two of us, we ate John’s starter, about half of his main, and 1 spring roll each, and then we were stuffed! After trying them, we left most of the puddings, but took the rest home to feed us happily for two more meals! We’d definitely recommend the course to anyone.
Now everyone reading this probably knows that I’m (Susie) not really a ‘getting my nails done’ kinda girl, but the fact that it’s really dusty everywhere so our toes are a horrible colour, and we’re wearing flip-flops all the time made me want to get them done. I went to a little place near school one lunchtime. The two girls in there, who were about our age, are the sweetest things, and were having a chilled out nap on the floor when I got there! They soon woke up, and lept into action! Now, I had only planned to get them painted a plain colour, but they thrust a pile of intricate designs at me, all priced at 2000riel – 50c/30p! I picked a blue flowery one, and then some over-excitement on the girls part, and a severe language barrier later, I ended up with four flowery toes on each foot, one snowman and one rabbit with a balloon! They’re amazing though, and they’d be at least 10times the price anywhere else, even in Siem Reap. Everyone else was so impressed that Peta, Jenny, Flic and Natasha, 4 other volunteers, all went to get theirs done too! On the final trip, we persuaded John to get his done, much to the amusement of the girl there. She gave him a good little pedicure, and he now has a rabbit and some flowers on each toenail!!
Despite saying we’d go swimming a lot, we only actually went twice. The first time we went to a tiny little pool, but it didn’t cost us anything and there were lots of fun toys to play with! The second time was on our last day, and we went to the Prince D’Angkor, a ridiculously posh hotel! Room rates for a double, we noticed, ranged upwards from $240!!! Swimming was a rather more reasonable, although still expensive, $5, and it was lovely. Flic and Natasha came too(they’re Australian and American respectively, both 18 and the four of us have become good friends), and we had great fun taking photos, messing about in the water and trying to sunbathe, although the clouds kept preventing that one!
Susie, Flic and Natasha
Trip round near school
On one of our last days at school, we went with Jenny on a little explore around the area. We first went to visit the local pagoda and Angkor era temple, which is where a lot of our students go for religious events. The pagoda was funny – it’s got a monastery next to it, so there were a lot of monks around. However, being a monk in Cambodia isn’t quite as religious as it would be in the Western world. All men are meant to be a monk for at least a day during their lives, and so there are a lot of men/boys who are monks at the weekend, or for the odd week or whatever. When we went they were all just chilling out, but apparently when Jenny had gone a couple of weeks earlier, they’d all been watching a slightly racy film!! The Angkor temple was pretty, as they all are, but was nice and quiet, except for a couple of girls doing their homework!
We didn’t see many of the kids from school – some biked past and said hello, but that was it really. Susie did see one of the loveliest girls from her afternoon class though, and went to have a little look round her house. It was good to see where she lived, but sad to see how poor it obviously was.
We then biked around to Treik village, which is definitely not spelt right, and is where some of the kids from school live. The area is just beautiful, with rice paddies as far as you can see, just broken up by palm trees and the odd lotus pond. So so pretty. We wished we’d done more bike rides around, because it gave us a lovely feel of how the kids live, as well as showing us some of the unspoilt Cambodian countryside.
We’ve been on two proper nights out since we’ve been in Siem Reap. The first was after we’d done the cooking course. We went out to celebrate with Peta, who had just had some good news. We first went upmarket, to the posh garden of the Foreign Correspondents Club, where we had a cocktail, before heading to our standard Angkor Famous for dinner and some more drinks. We had food, and then Peta and Jenny decided they’d go home, since as they’re both in their 60s, they thought a big night out wasn’t quite for them! I think they were both a little tempted though! Us two, Natasha and Flic carried on, had a tequila shot, shared a pitcher of vodka and sprite, then went onto ‘Angkor What?’, the main tourist drinking spot in Siem Reap. We shared two ‘buckets’ of goodness knows what, had some great fun taking ridiculous photos and laughing at Flic going through a very rapid stage of sober, drunk, really happy, dancing, very tired, within the space of 10 minutes! Susie took her home, and when she got back we had a good dancing session, before dying of tiredness at about 12:30 and heading home. We had a great time, but felt a little too touristy, so we went more locals for our second night out!
This was on our last weekend, and we’d invited Matt, a 19 year old (in Khmer years, or 17 in Western years!), who is working for Globalteer for 6 weeks, and who has a lot of love for John! He calls him his ‘number two James Bond’ and is really quite adorable about it!
We started at our favourite, Ankor Famous, to see shouty lady, get dinner and to line our stomachs with some free popcorn! It wasn’t long before Natasha got a phone call from “number one James Bond” asking where we were. John told him we were in the alley, to which he replied, where?! Now this would all be well and good if A. He wasn’t a local. B. Didn’t do the town tours for new volunteers and C. Hadn’t shown the girls where it was originally, just a few weeks before! Anyway after a few too many directions he got the idea. He also told John he was drunk already, good start!
He found us after not too long and was certainly on something. We don’t thnk we’ve ever heard someone talk that fast, for so long, about so little! He was crazy, but hilarious. He told us he can’t add us on facebook because he’s too rude on there, he wrote wanker! Oh noes! He also told us he wanted to take us to a Khmer club which we were all up for but it was only 8pm, so perhaps not yet.
Soon we headed off to get dollar cocktails at a place the girls had found not too long ago. Matt came with us and also invited two of his “best” friends from uni. They met us there and it turns out he’d only known one of them a week :/ No matter, he had a car and after a time (and Matt’s insistence) we were driven to this Khmer club.
The club could have easily been in England, it had a really nice garden area and rooftop bar where Matt ordered us fried corn, YUM, chilli clams YUM YUM and something else which was dubious...
Anyway, it all seemed to agree with our stomachs well enough and it wasn’t long before we were dancing to.....the Macarena! Now this night out was the same day we’d had our party at school so it was the third time we’d busted a groove in 12 hours! That song really does get everywhere! Fortunately the rest of the music was much better and we had a really good time.