Battambang was a flourishing city before the horrific Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, dramatically jeopardized the lives of its inhabitants. Many of them ended up slaughtered in the killing fields or neighbouring killing caves for no reason, whilst others were luckier and made it to close-by Thailand. Most of them spent years in refugee camps under harsh conditions. Kids grew up traumatised with hardly any access to proper education. In 1986, Véronique Decrop, a French art teacher, volunteered at the Site Two Refugee Camp on the Thai-Cambodian border. She used drawings as a therapy to help traumatised children express themselves. That was the spark to what will become Phare Ponleu Selpak (Cambodian for the brightness of the arts), a non-profit organization improving the lives of Cambodians through arts and education, its highlight being one of the best circus schools in the world. Keep reading
He comes back from his 40-minute run in 33 degrees Celcius. He is given a rope and starts rope skipping for a full 10 minutes in a row, focussed and with a straight face. The veins on his temples start showing and when he is done he gets rid of the jacket that must feel extremely suffocating. Pearls of sweat start dripping from his muscled body which he shyly reveals in the burning sun. Without hesitation he starts doing his push-ups. He is breathing heavily when he sits down to tightly wrap some cotton bandages between his fingers and around his hand. He knows the drill. He puts in his mouth guard, slips his hands into some gloves and enters the boxing ring where his trainer is awaiting him. He is ready to start the training from a former Muay Lao champion and also olympic boxing champion, Khampanath Kounlavong, in the backstreets of Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Keep reading
In this last article of our traditional crafts of Cambodia series, we will introduce you to the most favoured alcoholic drink in Asia: rice wine. As the name implies, the alcoholic beverage is made of Asia’s main cereal: rice.
In Battambang, another popular way for families to make a living is to produce the favoured local Cambodian snack: dried banana sheets. Keep reading
I decide to stop my motorbike in front of the narrow improvised bridge. I feel relieved and worried at the same time. Relieved, as the previous river crossing did not offer the luxury of a bridge. I had to launch my semi-automatic 125 cc Honda Dream motorbike into the murky stream and use all of my skills to extract it from the water in which it was immerged wheel-deep. Worried, as this wooden bridge is no more than 50-centimetre wide, with no rails to prevent a potential fall into the water, and for good measure a missing plank in the centre leaving a gap just the right size to sink the front wheel in.
I am looking at my partner with envy as she has already crossed. When she turns her head, I capture her smile and instantly come up with a genius plan Keep reading
“Smell like the hell, eat like the heaven”, Mr. Ola tells us with a mesmerizing smile while explaining his mother’s signature recipe for the traditional prahok, a Cambodian fish paste dish. I uncomfortably move from one leg to the other trying to carefully listen to his story but holding my breath at the same time, avoiding the offending foul smell. We are about to discover how the unmissable and key ingredient for many Asian dishes is made on the fish paste market of Battambang, Cambodia. Keep reading
Rice paper is used for making the famous and delicious spring rolls. Due to the high demand of these thin leafs of edible paper, most of its production takes place in factories. In Battambang, a few families still make a living by producing them by hand. Keep reading
Rice noodles are a favourite in many Asian countries. A pho for breakfast or rice noodles as a base for lunch or dinner are common. To serve this high demand, most noodles are produced in factories. However, it is still possible to buy them fresh and hand-made. In Battambang, a few families living in the rice noodle district have been passing on this know-how for many generations.
Traveling through rural Cambodia, one cannot fail to notice massive jars by some houses. The hand-made jars can typically contain up to 1000 litres of water and are filled up manually most of the time. This water is used for different purposes from drinking to cooking and washing, and is of even greater importance during the dry season.
The traffic is hectic. I am manoeuvring our 125cc scooter to avoid pedestrians randomly crossing the street, scooters coming from all sides, including in front of me and against traffic, and tuk-tuk drivers slaloming between trucks, buses and cars. Driving in these conditions requires an intense focus. Still, my mind is lingering at S-21 we have just left. The depiction of the atrocities committed in this prison under the Khmer Rouge regime has left such a deep impression that we can hardly utter a word to each other. As we are heading South, the traffic gets slightly lighter, and potholes get me out of my thoughts. These victims who survived the tortures of S-21 may have felt the same potholes while being driven to the village of Chhoeung Ek, about half an hour away from Phnom Penh, today known as the killing fields. Keep reading