So, it’s now 3pm and we’re heading back down stairs at the guesthouse, refreshed and ready for Yo to charge up his mighty chariot and take us on the next stage of our adventure.
We were all very excited at this point because this was one of those not in the guidebook experiences that living and working in a different country sometimes affords you – we were heading to a Cambodian colleague and friend’s home for dinner.
Having called Phirum (the wonderful friend in question) and passed the phone to Yo to ascertain the location, we were off heading back away from the city into the countryside.
Before long we were passed by 2 girls on a motorbike who appeared to be chatting to Yo as they passed. They continued on but were soon back and again speaking to Yo as they scooted past. It turned out to be 2 of Phirum’s family sent on a mission to guide us safely to our destination.
Yo skillfully negotiated the narrow track down to the house and before we knew it we were being welcomed into the bosom of a wonderful welcoming Cambodian family. Bosom being the operative word here because, apart from Phirum’s long suffering dad, her husband and one young male cousin the rest of the family consisted wholly of women. The men were basically outnumbered by about 3 to 1 when you factored us three into the equation.
As well as meeting Phirum’s dad and stepmum, her husband (I’ve met him previously but it was a first meeting for mum and Yvonne) 3 of her 5 sisters (including my new best friend, older sister Pisey) we were also introduced to her beautiful twin cousins, Ching and Jing, along with Pisey’s son and daughter.
A barbecue was being prepared in our honour and while mum and Auntie Yvonne tucked into the copious snacks Phirum was plying them with, I was invited over to help Pisey with the barbecuing – none of that mans territory nonsense when it comes to barbecuing in Cambodia, it’s totally womens’ work.
Despite my best efforts, I was unable to replicate the super deep squat that all Cambodian’s manage with ease, even with the added support of a couple of bricks under my bum to prop me up. Obviously, this was seen as a cause for uproarious laughter as I creaked and groaned my way down, and even more so when I narrowly avoided a spectacular face plant straight onto the barbecue on my way back up.
Whilst I’d been away, the picnic mats had been laid on the floor and when I returned we were invited to leave our chairs and join the family on the floor.
Cue more laughter as my travelling companions made heavy weather of the journey down to ground level and then attempted to ‘sit like buddha’ which apparently I’m quite good at according to my buddy Pisey!
Once settled (well kind of settled – in truth there was an awful lot of adjusting, fidgeting and general discomfort from the British contingent throughout the entire meal) we tucked in to a delicious meal of meat and veg skewers and paper wrapped spring rolls chatting amiably to the twins as they took their opportunity to practice their English (which is flipping brilliant BTW) and demonstrate that, despite sharing a birthday, they were both fiercely independent with very differing aspirations in life. The kebabs kept coming and at one point I got up for a wander and discovered that salted fish had also been added to the barbecue though we never made it that far thus was the quantity of food prepared in our honour.
And then for the next moment of comedy gold. The rise of the pensioners from the mat. Poor mum made a slight hint of her intention and before you could say boo the whole family was surrounding her to help with this gargantuan, and obviously hilarious, task.
Once firmly settled in their reclining chairs, talk turned to what we would do next – Phirum was really keen to show us the rice fields and the sunset but there was concern about distance because of mum and her gammy leg. For a while we went round the houses about whether to go or not with it being mooted at one point that mum and auntie Yvonne should hop on the back of motorbikes to be escorted to the venue (now that I would love to have seen) but finally we set off on foot across a vegetable plot and into the village.
As we wandered along our group split up, I was at the front with my best buddy Pisey and Jing guiding me, auntie Yvonne came next, skillfully guided by Ching, with mum, Phirum and the rest of the clan bringing up the rear. We strolled down a long dusty lane, past Cambodian families settling down to eat their evening meal, bringing the animals in from the field and generally living a typical laid back countryside life. As the sun dropped lower in the sky we arrived at some land owned by the family at the edge of the village and just beyond it the open rice fields with a drop dead sunset for a backdrop.
And then we turned round and there she was, Mrs Supermoon in all her glory, slowly rising above the trees lining the edge of the village. What a wonderful sight to behold and with such a lovely group of people. We posed for photos whilst waiting for Yo to come to get us, whilst unbeknownst to us Phirum and Pisey plotted to extend our visit further.
The extension to our visit involved going to visit the temple to celebrate Water Festival and boy did we have fun. The temple was awash with fairy lights, food stalls and a cacophony of noise when we arrived and we gawped left and right, marvelling at the sights that greeted us. Phirum carefully explained the legend of the event, pointing out the full moon hoisted on a pulley system to later be lowered as part of the ceremony and the spinning candles which would determine the quality of the rainfall for the next year. As we wandered around the local kids were entertaining themselves at various fairground attractions, every type of street food imaginable was being consumed in copious amounts and various musicians and speakers were competing to be heard by booming their offerings out over the numerous PA systems around the place.
We sat on the steps at the entrance for a while drinking sugar cane juice and drinking in the atmosphere as firecrackers ran up the long flagpoles and exploded noisily into the night sky and Chinese lanterns delicately floated away on the breeze. Phirum and I (assisted by her dad) set off our own lantern wishing for good fortune for the whole family before the three weary travellers decided it was all too much and headed off to find Yo and journey back.
We travelled quietly back gazing at the stunning moon guiding our way and marvelling at the wonderful shrines placed carefully outside of each and every home we passed on route and finally we were back at the guesthouse – exhausted but elated after what was perhaps the most amazing day of the whole trip.
(Oh and in case you were wondering, I relented and admitted that Yo was indeed an excellent tour guide and gave him what we’d agreed and a fairly large amount on top, but not before he’d convinced us to go out with him again the next day :-D)