Monday, July 11, 2011


Weekend in Cambodia: Of history and spiders

The Boddhi Tree Aram in the heart of historic Phnom Penh should become our home for the next 30 days. The friendly staff welcomed us with home-made bread and rules and a selection of fresh fruit. Almost everyone had made it to the hotel already and we stood a good chance of having the full team together for the first official meeting in the afternoon. Boddhi Tree is more than just a hotel. The goal of the team is to improve the living conditions of people in Cambodia through running a successful social enterprise. The organization has grown to 80 staff members, including some who work part time to allow time for their studies, and supports local and international NGO projects.

A few of us decided to go on a sightseeing tour. Since our first destination, the Royal Palace, was closed until 2 p.m., as we learned many, many times from the Tuk Tuk drivers who insisted that we should go on a tour with them instead, we walked(!) around. Walking is not very common in Phnom Penh, which is understandable given the temperature and the high humidity during the rainy season, but a perfect way to explore an unknown city. After a visit to the temple, a good discussion with a young monk about rituals, monastic life and education, and the history of the country and watching a Buddhist ceremony performed for Marisol we continued to the local market

The Kandal market hall with its narrow corridors, where tailors and artisans create and sell their products, is surrounded by stands selling fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and seafood, others offering various cooked foods, and the variety of scents and colors dazzles the senses. We weren’t brave enough to try food from the stands, not on day 1, so we settled for the nearby Riverside Bistro, which serves Khmer, Thai and other Asian food as well as international dishes. The Fish Amok was delicious, and so was the coconut drink served in its natural container.

The National Museum was next on our route. Surrounding an inviting courtyard with fish ponds, it houses a collection of Khmer sculptures including a statue of eight-armed Vishnu, and a collection of Buddhas.

We concluded the day with the first official #ibmcsc meeting with a freshly made variation of Caipirinha (cachaça replaced by vodka) and an introduction to Phnom Penh by ABV staff, followed by a delicious buffet dinner at the hotel. Everyone had made it to the hotel by now, and we were relieved to hear that one colleague’s visa problems had been sorted out at the very last moment (the story he told was almost too good to be true).

Sunday started with another scrumptious breakfast, followed by an orientation tour through Phnom Penh. We visited the Psar Thmai central market, which was recently renovated and offered mostly jewelery, garments, household articles, and managed to get back to our van unharmed by the busy traffic.

An exploration of Cambodian history would not be complete without looking at the 1970 revolution, followed by the Khmer Rouge regime that cost millions of lives and left the country devastated. We spent some time together at the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, where about 17,000 victims were executed and buried in mass graves. Excavations have not been completed, and occasionally bones surface on the walkways. A stupa and a museum commemorate the thousands of deaths and remind people of the cruelties merely 40 years ago.

A visit to the Royal Palace, the pavilions and gardens with the silver pagoda, statues and shrines, in the afternoon concluded our sightseeing tour for the day. We had caught a glimpse of Cambodia’s history in two days.

The only thing that was left for the weekend was a new culinary experience at the Romdeng restaurant, a very nice training restaurant run by former street youth and their teachers and designed to promote Cambodian culture and food, including the infamous fried tarantulas.

Bon appétit!

PS. The staff will also gladly show tarantulas which are alive and happy to walk around on guests’ hands. My favorite quote of the day came from Natali: “Baskar, stop playing with the food!”

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Interactive food; how interesting! Although, I like arachnids so I'd have probably less resistance to eating ants.
I thought this article might be noteworthy since you and the team are "flashpackers" in a sense:
Wow - Gratulation! .. und ich sehe eine neue Brille - sehr schick!
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