Wednesday, March 9th ~ Battambang, Cambodia
A four hour bike tour was scheduled for this morning with the option of taking a Tuk Tuk for anyone who did not want to temp fate trying to balance on only two wheels, dodge oncoming cars, trucks, motorcycles, pedestrians and other bikes, or pedal while steaming in 90+ degree weather.
Can you guess which option I chose????
Tim, manned up and bravely donned a helmet and headed out with the pack as five of us followed closely behind in two motorized, shaded, cushion-seated conveyances with private drivers. We stayed right with them so got to reconnect at each stopping point.
And the stops were all interesting and informative.
Stop #1: How to make rice paper wraps
If you have ever enjoyed a spring roll at your neighborhood Asian restaurant, than you have probably has them encased in the very thin, translucent rice paper wraps.
As with the rice noodles we learned about the day before, the process begins with soaking the rice overnight, this time in a salted water, then the rice is heated, reduced and turned into a very thin liquid paste that can be spooned onto a hot griddle to quickly cook, similar to a crepe. The round disc is then individually layered on bamboo racks and placed in the sunshine to dry. This is a labor intensive project and the entire family will profit the equivalent of approximately $5.00 USD per day.
And how about the money system here in Cambodia…
The official currency is the Riel. The current rate is 4000 Riel to 1 USD. These 1000 Riel notes are each worth 25 cents. The US dollar is widely accepted here.
“There have been two distinct riel, the first issued between 1953 and May 1975. Between 1975 and 1980, the country had no monetary system. A second currency, also named “riel”, has been issued since March 20, 1980. However, this currency has never gained much public acceptance, with most Cambodians preferring foreign currency.” ~ Wikipedia
Stop #2: Dried and fried bananas
Fruit is prevalent and there is great variety. Bananas grow like weeds, and are eaten raw, made into thin, dried leathery strips, and fried into banana chips. The ripe banana is first sliced very thinly – either length wise as shown below if drying for “banana leather”, or crosswise if frying for chips, and placed on bamboo drying trays.
Stop #3: Outdoor Market Place
Markets are always colorful, and this one was no exception. Friendly vendors were lined along the roadway to sell “gold” jewelry, fish, fruits and vegetables. I got the impression this was mainly for locals, not a tourist market. We were greeted with many smiles, some shy, others more open, but never any aggressive attempts to sell us anything.
Stop #4: Rice Wine Production
Yes, we were given samples of the rice wine being produced. This looked more like a backyard still, but the end result was tasty.
The temperature was climbing and the bike riders were showing some sweat-soaked clothing. I mentally congratulated myself once again for my wise decision. Thankfully for all concerned it was almost time to get refreshed.
Stop #5: Rest stop for drinks and fresh fruit
First a lovely fresh coconut was served, top chopped off and presented complete with a straw so that we could rehydrate with coconut water. This was followed up with plates filled with sweet local fruits including, jack fruit, pineapple, bananas, mango, and sapodilla.
Stop #6: How knives and axes are made
A short two minute walk brought us to where several workers were making knives, hatchets and other cutting utensils. I felt for them forging their iron in this already extreme heat. No explanation was offered here, so after a few minutes observation we moved on.
Stop #6: How to make sticky rice
The rice was first soaked, then mixed with a small amount of dark bean, coconut milk, and sugar. It was then stuffed inside cut hollow bamboo tubes, sealed with folded leaves and roasted on an open fire pit. After baking (time varied depending upon the diameter of the bamboo tube), the outer husk was sliced off, leaving a thin shell that could be peeled away by hand and the sweet sticky rice enjoyed.
Stop #7: Returning the bikes
The riders were spent, but still smiling. My hat was off to all those who completed the ride!
There were several opportunities to interact with the local Cambodian people today. I found them charming, friendly, very willing to share information about their life and work, and open to having their pictures taken with us.
And just one more item today – Dinner with a local family
We had the opportunity to have dinner in the home of a local family for $8 per person which included the Tuk Tuk ride there and back. The food was wonderfully prepared, flavorful and fresh. Several of the dishes were available prepared as vegetarian options. Our host shared a long and fascinating story from his past that led to his learning English and working in the tourism trade.
And to top the evening off, we were served Tarantula wine!
And yes, I did try it…
Recipe for Tarantula Wine: Take one 4 liter bottle or larger. Place 30 or more live tarantulas inside the bottle. Cover with rice wine. Add 1 cup of honey. Put a lid on it and let the brew ferment for three months or longer. Share with anyone brave enough to try it.
Gratitude Moment: Today I am grateful for the warmth the Cambodia people have welcomed us with. After learning about the hardships and horrors they have endured in recent history, it is amazing they have such a kind way about them.