The people of Cambodia are simply amazing. Certainly, the area around Siem Reap is famous for the temples and the grandeur of Ankor. However, it’s pretty hard to outshine the absolutely amazing personality of the people of Cambodia. We were certainly fortunate to have the help of an amazing guide to take us around and help us experience some local culture, and everywhere we went we felt welcomed.
We told Lim (our excellent guide) that we’d really hoped to get some chances to photograph rice fields at sunrise and sunset, and if we were lucky, to even have the opportunity to take pictures of the rice harvest. We set out before dawn to find a nice viewpoint for sunrise such that we could have a nice view over the rice paddies. It was an amazing sunrise to be sure.
However, what neither Anne nor I expected was the human aspect of what morning would bring. As the sun rose the bikes took to the streets, shuttling children to school and adults to work and the daily markets. We quickly turned our backs on the sunrise and focused instead on photographing the people passing us in their daily chores. While some were generally stoic, the vast majority grinned ear to ear, waving at us as they passed.
Next, we went to a small town near Siem Reap to visit a small daily market. We quickly ran into a spiritual leader for the small village and were invited into his home for a blessing. I’ll admit to feeling a bit out of my depth, trying to understand religious practices that seemed, and indeed were, quite foreign. Anne and I both took turns taking the stack of parchment, placing it on our heads, and inserting a small divider randomly into the stack. Once done, the man would read the card we chose, interpreting the story on it into either good luck or bad. In the case of bad luck, you got to go again! Anne and I were given woven bracelets to symbolize the good luck we were blessed with. All in all, an amazing experience.
On our way back towards town, we managed upon some rice harvesting and made our way into the fields. Lim worked his magic and next thing we knew he was in the field harvesting rice and we were taking pictures of the whole affair. The ladies harvesting rice were quite interested in Anne and myself, asking Lim a bunch of questions about where we were from and how old we were, even if we had grandchildren! (As we found out quickly from Lim, the Cambodian people don’t mind asking very personal questions very quickly. At one point, a gentleman who we’d only chatted with for 5 minutes started telling Lim about his time in the army fighting the Khmer Rouge)
Harvesting rice is a family affair and the ladies harvesting rice spanned two generations from grandmother to grand-daughter. I wanted to try my hand at harvesting as well so I got Lim to show me how it’s done. For what appears to be such a simple gesture, there is quite a learned art to it. The blade used to cut the rice stalk is VERY sharp, and if you don’t twist the blade away from your hand at the right time, you could easily inflict a severe wound. And cutting the clumps of rice isn’t the hard part, tying the bundles together requires real skill (that I never tried to master for fear of being laughed off the field).
To close the day, we headed back towards the Tonle Sap for sunset, hoping to find a vantage point from which we could capture a spectacular sunset. The road we camped out on was just outside a prep school so the road hosted a relatively constant stream of children riding bicycles on their way home who used the opportunity to practice saying “hello” in their best English and giggling as I waved and greeted them back.
Anne and I have visited a lot of places, but I don’t think either one of us has come away from a place and felt such a connection with the people as we did around Siem Reap. While Lim helped open us to new experiences, it certainly wouldn’t have been the same without the genuine nature of the Cambodian people. And sunset wasn’t bad either…