The bus picked me up from my guesthouse at 7am this morning and after literally cramming in another 19 Westerners, including huge rucksacks, we set off for Sisophon. I was the only person getting off in Sisophon as all the others were heading to Poipet to catch another bus to Bangkok. We finally pulled into a restaurant just outside of Sisophon 4 hours later (felt more like 8!) where the driver announced that we would stay there for 30 minutes. Sak was waiting for me about 2km away in the middle of Sisophon, so I convinced the driver (in my now improved, not-so-much-pigeon, Khmer) to use my phone and ring Sak and tell him where we were. Sak arrived about 5 minutes later and he took me on his motorbike to check into a guesthouse in Sisophon called the Golden Crown. Considering tourists hardly ever stop in Sisophon, the guesthouse was really nice, all marble, with a huge room and air con, and at the bargain price of $13 (£7.50!)
After a shower and a change of clothes, we headed off to Mongkol Borei in Banteay Meanchey Province on horrendously dusty roads (I'm coughing like I smoke 40 a day at the moment!) with my kroma (scarf) pulled up over half my face and shades on. We arrived at the wedding about half an hour later and I met Sak's huge family - he has 6 brothers and 1 sister, not to mention all the nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts & uncles! Practically nobody spoke English so I was a tad nervous, but they welcomed me with open arms, were very encouraging when I said the odd thing in Khmer, and for the rest we used the universal language of beer & smiles!
Cambodian weddings apparently last 2-3 days. On the first day the family process on foot to deliver gifts to the bride at her home. They then head to the party venue (tents erected in the middle of villages) where they continue with the formalities. Sak and I arrived during the 'hair cutting ceremony' - and they insisted that I participate. You stand behind the bride & groom, holding a comb and a pair of scissors, and pretend to cut their hair. Then you spritz a scent on their hair and finally bless them with water. The above picture shows me looking extremely nervous doing this, with Sak's cousin on my right. We then had lunch - god they each so much at weddings - and then the afternoon was free to rest.
The village we were in has both happy and sad memories for Sak. Happy memories because it is where a large part of his family now live, but sad because this was the area he was held in during the Khmer Rouge regime. We sat next to a pond for about 2 hours chatting about his life, his family, and also his memories of the area and the Khmer Rouge. We then headed off on the motorbike to see some of the countryside and stopped at one particular rice field where Sak had been held in the children's camp (and from where he tried to escape twice). He also pointed out the area where the Khmer Rouge soldiers had taken him to dig his grave. We moved on and visited the house of one of his cousins where we played with the children for a while and checked out his cousin's old motorbike, ate Battambang-grown oranges and drank hot sweet black coffee, served in a little plastic bag with a straw.
We arrived back at the wedding at about 6pm for the evening reception, where we had yet another meal before spending the evening listening to a band and watching Romvong dancing (which is nothing you'll have seen before!). After my 3rd can of Tiger Beer they finally managed to drag me away from my camera and get me on the dance floor to participate in the Romvong, which involves both men and women dancing around a table, elegantly waving their hands in the air. I really can't explain it, so I took a video which I will try and upload to the 'Videos' section.
At 11pm Sak, his wife Theara, and another of his cousins took me back to my guesthouse in Sisophon. I was definitely asleep before my head hit the pillow!
PS. See more photos in the 'Sisophon' album . . . .