Cambodia: Slice of Khmer culture and village life

Laura and Taj and from the United States travelled to Cambodia and were in the Siem Reap area to explore the Angkor temples and Tonle Sap. They wanted to stay in a homestay to learn more about Cambodian and Khmer culture. Homestay Host Pheaktra was a perfect way for them to see real Cambodian village life as she is a kindergarten teacher as well as a local tour guide.

Laura and her friend at the temples

What did you do in Cambodia?

On our first day, our host arranged a tour of the Tonle Sap Lake and floating villages. It was a marvelous site and a unique look into a Cambodian subculture where communities of people actually live in the middle of lakes and rivers. They've learned to harvest the water for its resources and adapt to the change in water levels from season to season.

Of course, we also spent a day at the Angkor Temples and opted for the sunrise tour. Getting up at 3:30am to witness the sunrise over Angkor Wat was so incredible, and so worth it! We spent the rest of the morning exploring the three best know temples of the complex (Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Prohm). This was plenty for us but many people choose to spend two or more days to get the full experience of the complex.

Floating villages

Any tips or advice to travelers in Cambodia?

Book your tours through your homestay host if they offer assistance with this. Our host was happy to book our tours for us. The tours were much more affordable than those we saw online and our money did not go to third party booking agencies. In Cambodia, one or two dollars goes a long way - our host was happy to refer us to her friends and we were happy to contribute to the local villagers and economy.

U.S. currency is accepted and preferred all over Siem Reap (and widely accepted throughout the country so we have heard). We never had to exchange currencies, but be sure that your dollars have no markings or tears, as the local banks will not accept any bills with defects and prefer bills that look brand new. Luckily, ATMs can be found readily throughout the city of Siem Reap and offer withdrawals in both U.S. dollars and Cambodian riel.

Angkor Wat Temple With Tree Growing Out of It

How was your experience with your host?

The homestay experience was exactly what we were looking for and more. We were hoping that by staying in a small village we could get a better taste of Khmer culture - Pheaktra's family & home environment provided exactly that! On the first morning we woke up to the welcoming sounds of traditional Cambodian music being played by one of the neighbors. We were told that there would be wedding later that day! Pheaktra already had our breakfast ready and had no problem accommodating our vegan diet. We ate outside with her family who greeted and welcomed us with warm smiles. Our accommodations were humble as we expected but the home was beautiful. She had a delightful garden with exotic trees and fruits. There were even cows, chickens and a rooster wandering about. The village was complete with colorful homes, lush backdrops with both farm animals and domestic pets. Throughout the day we could see many passers walking by or zipping thru on their motorcycles. We ventured out a bit and found some stores, a market, and some local grub spots within a kilometer or so. The best part is that it is only 10 minutes from the city center and the infamous Pub Street.

On our final day, Pheaktra knew we didn't have anything planned so she invited us to help out at the school where she works. Her class size had been doubled because another school teacher was out sick that day. We got to spend the morning teaching English and singing songs with 3 & 4 year olds who were as cute as can be. It was so much fun and a great end to our last day in Cambodia!

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