Today was a National Holiday - the anniversary of when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1979 to stop the Khmer Rouge regime. Although a National Holiday, many people do not celebrate it as it is a Communist holiday and not everyone in Cambodia wishes to be ruled by a Communist Government.
Anyway, it meant that the school was closed, so I went out for the day with my tuk-tuk driver (Sara) and one of the guides I met on New Years' Eve (Manay). He's a great guide - very knowledgeable and speaks excellent English. We talked at length about his life and his mother's (she survived the Khmer Rouge regime but lost her husband and two other children). Manay was only a young boy during the regime, but was separated from his parents and only managed to find his mother again in the early 1980s. We also talked about the political stability in Cambodia and he had some very interesting views (which I will not disclose on the world wide web!).
We set off at 10am and went to my favourite temple - Ta Prohm - where we spent about 2 hours, before having lunch at a little roadside restaurant called 'Khmer Family Restaurant'. In the afternoon we travelled to a remote village called Banteay Kdei where I could see carpenters at work and spent time sitting with a Khmer family, just experiencing everyday life, playing with the children, and practising my Khmer! The family didn't speak any English but were very enthusiastic when I spoke Khmer (which is improving!). They asked me to taste the dish they were preparing - a traditional Khmer ingredient called Prahoc - made, I kid you not, from dried fish, vinegar, chilli, and RED ANTS and boy has it got a kick (which they all found very amusing!).
I took a few photos (which are in the Siem Reap album) and have printed copies to take back to the village on Saturday for them to keep. The lady with the two young boys is recently divorced. Sadly her husband was an alcoholic, very abusive, and lazy. Her parents also sat with us and they were all very happy that I was wanted to spend time with them and play catch with a bouncy ball I had given the eldest boy. The young girl pictured is from another family - I had given her a pretty hair band, which she is holding in her hand in the photo, and as soon as I'd taken the photo she put it in her hair. Along with the prahoc, I was given a metal bowl of water, which Manay told me was from the water filter. He was pleased that I took a small sip just to be polite to my hosts. Luckily my tummy has held out!!
We left the village and Manay suggested that we visit his own village - Phrum Trank - somewhere he never takes tourists - but he told me that he considers me a friend and was very proud to show me around the village, the street market, the pagoda (where some of the young boys he knows teased him by asking if I was going to be his wife!) and then finally his own home, where I met his mother, sister, brother-in-law, and nephews & nieces.
On the way back from Manay's village we stopped at the Shrine to Preah Ang Chek & Preah Ang Chorm, which is of significant importance to the locals, and contains two standing Buddha images, said to be surrounded by stories of power and indestructibility. The shrine was packed with hundreds of people leaving offerings for good luck. As we stood and watched the commotion around us, huge bats gathered in the trees overhead.