An impromptu tour, some unfamiliar medicine and unexpected hospitality.
Buddha at Wat entranceWe find people in South East Asia to be incredibly friendly and welcoming. Cambodians are no exception.
We had a chance encounter with, Yoen Soek, a tuk-tuk driver/tour guide. He speaks English exceptionally well (we’d later learn he has been to America and has a daughter in University there on a scholarship).
We hopped in the tuk-tuk to see a Wat (temples are called Wats in SEA) with more than 10 000 statues of Buddha inside. We made two other stops on the way there.
The first was at a blacksmith’s where they still make knives, cleavers and other tools the traditional way: by fire, a humungous hammer and a lot of elbow grease. The blacksmith was very happy to explain the process to us (it takes a full day to make one meat cleaver) with Yoen translating all the way.
Our second stop was at the shop of a traditional healer or also called a Shaman. He welcomed us in and served us some ice-cold water. He looked a bit young to me to be a Shaman, but he started explaining all the different medicines to us. He certainly seems to know his stuff and had something for almost any ailment you can think of. It came out in the conversation that he abandoned a job in marketing to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. The Shaman gave us some traditional medicine that is used as a daily tonic. It was incredibly potent with a very high alcohol level. If I had to drink that every day I would constantly be drunk, but apparently, it’s very good for you.
The Wat where the 10 000 Buddha is found is amazing. With intricately carved woodwork pieces, all donations to the Wat, as well as the 10 000 Buddha, it is definitely an amazing sight.
We crossed the river back to Phnom Penh by ferry. It was in fact nothing more than some planks with an outboard motor attached.
During our trip, we heard personal accounts of the horrific period of the Khmer Rouge from Yoen. Regardless of the horrors he and his family experienced, he remains positive, open to the world and full of life.
By this time, our tour had run long over the intended time and it was almost past lunchtime. Yoen stopped in at his house where he gave us food and we met his wife and son.
The kindness and sincerity of this man left a lasting impression. If you ever want an amazing tour of Phnom Penh, email Yoen at email@example.com
Phnom Penh is a chaotic but vibrant and growing city. It’s incredible to see how much progress has been made in the less than two decades they have been rebuilding their country.
Have you been to Cambodia? What were your impressions and experiences? We’d love to hear from you.