This week I went on a little tour of the Cambodian countryside, and it has been one of the highlights of my time in this country! (Along with watching the sun come up at Angkor Wat, of course.)
When we were making plans for this outing, we told our tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Bay, that the only touristy thing we wanted to do was ride the bamboo train in the outskirts of town – everything else was up to him. So he decided to show us some of his favourite aspects of rural Cambodia, and we were in for a treat!
Picking us up bright and early at 7 am, we left Battambang behind for open fields and sleepy villages. We bounced down dusty dirt roads, swirled through temples with ringing bells, and drove past chickens pecking at their breakfast until at last we reached our first stop.
Bamboo Train (Nori)
I will give a more detailed account of that later, but for now all I can say is that this little bamboo platform on wheels can sure pick up speed! I had a smile plastered on my face the whole time not only because it was fun, but because the speed had glued that expression on my face.
Roadside Bamboo Rice Stand
With the train ride out of the way, our first order of business was to find a little morning snack. We pulled over at a roadside stand that specializes in bamboo rice, and that also meant getting a lesson in the cooking process, which I now have to share with you because I’m certain you’ll be trying to make this at home… 😉
Bamboo rice is made by mixing rice with coconut milk and black beans. The resulting mixture is then stuffed into the bamboo and sealed with banana leaves to prevent smoke from getting in. The bamboo is then placed over hot coals to cook for forty minutes to an hour, and voila!
From there, the exterior of the bamboo is shaved down to get rid of the charred layer, and you are left with a shell that can be easily cracked and peeled down. Let’s just say we were finished our snack before we even got back on the tuk-tuk to continue on our way. Mmm mmm, tasty!
Fishing Village, Fish Market & Crickets
Then it was off to a small fishing village that earns its livelihood fermenting fish. Wait, fermenting fish? Sounds an awful lot like rotten fish, but I assure you it’s completely different! The fish aren’t just left to ferment; they are cut, cleaned, washed, left to dry in the sun for 3 days, and only then are they thrown in a barrel to ferment. The end result is a strong fish paste that can be used to flavour any dish in the kitchen. I bet you’ll want to try making this as well…
I should mention that there was also a cricket tasting component to this visit! Thinking me to be a bit more adventurous than I perhaps really am, Mr. Bay walked us over to a street stand where he proceed to pay a few riel for us all to snack on the crispy little hoppers.
Mr. Bay ate his, Sam ate his, and then…Sam also ate mine because I chickened out! I meant to grab the little black cricket out of his hand, but then the leg just looked too juicy, and the eye was bulging, and I started to think of the liquids that would ooze out once I bit into it, and it didn’t happen this time around. I am told it just tasted ‘sweet and salty’. Perhaps another time…like when I get to Bangkok?! Yes, let’s do it then…
Towns and Farmland
Our morning drive with Mr. Bay also included a little lesson in agriculture. We got a look up close at a silk cotton tree, which for the record looks nothing like other cotton trees I have seen in the past. Mr. Bay casually picked up a long woody pod from the ground and cracked it open in front of my eyes to reveal fluffy clouds of cream. Ooo la la!
We also learned how farmers protect their fruit trees from insects – wrapping each individual fruit in plastic bags! These trees are nicknamed garbage bag trees, because well, that’s exactly what they look like.
The rest of the journey involved lots of bouncing up and down in the back of the tuk-tuk, with lots of waves and hellos from kids along the way. Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday morning!
Here’s a little video of the outing:
Have you ever gone on a drive of the rural countryside?