Travel Story #1 – Heaven in a Bowl

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People travel for a number of reasons, but at heart, I think everyone travels because travel is intensified living, as Rick Steves says. We have more new experiences in ten days of travel than we probably do the rest of the year. Travel challenges our prejudices, forces us to adjust, learn and adapt in ways we only did as children. That is why I travel. To see a new world, but also to be able to see with new eyes.

On one of my recent trips, I was traveling from Siem Reap to the fairly remote Preah Vihear temple. We could have done this as a day trip, but it would have been a very long day, with not much time at the temple itself. So I decided that we would stay in a village in Preah Vihear province. This was pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but we found a surprisingly clean and pretty guesthouse called Sokha Home. The guesthouse itself almost felt like we had stumbled into a modernist cottage in a fairy tale. Beautiful rooms, great service and sweet English speaking Bundy made our stay incredibly comfortable.

Once we settled in for the evening, we were then on to the next challenge, finding something to eat. More importantly, finding something vegetarian to eat! Our host, Bundy, directed us to a restaurant just across the road from Sokha. Here is where we really started having trouble. The owners did not speak any English at all, and we simply couldn’t communicate what we wanted to them. It was easy enough for Suraj, my husband – he pointed at a dish that was displayed on their board, and it turned out to be some heavenly tasting chicken and rice in a bowl (his words, not mine). Soul food, he said.

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Heaven in a bowl

Desperate times called for desperate measures. We typed “Vegetarian” in Google Translate in the hope that it would show the Khmer word for it. Sure enough, something vaguely Khmer-ish came up and we showed this to the hotel owner. He mimed something we did not understand. He smiled at us, which looked like, “No problem at all”. Then, he disappeared into the kitchen. We were puzzled, but there wasn’t really a lot of choice, so we waited to see if he would come back. He did – with a cutting board full of stuff. There was bread, vegetables and several pickles on the board, and we were able to taste everything, and tell him what we wanted in our sandwich (Everything, except a weird smelling sea-weed like vegetable). Then, feeling a little apprehensive, we waited for our sandwich.

At this point, my stomach was growling, and my dad was making impatient noises. Our sandwiches came out, annndddd…… Trust me when I say this, it beat the usual Sub from Subway by about 100 miles! It was absolutely amazing and the owner stood by our side to make sure we liked it. He only walked away when we gave him three thumbs up (two of mine, and one from Suraj). 🙂

Finally, he wrote something in Khmer, which translated to – “Thank you for coming”. Really, he did. This was a busy restaurant at dinner time, and he could have fobbed us off, but he didn’t. For a meal that cost us no more than USD 2.50, he went out of his way to be hospitable to my family. My point is that, travel is always peppered with these kind of experiences. The bare-bones of what life is truly about. With our bellies full and a shiny new experience under our belts, we all went to bed and on to Preah Vihear the next day, ready for a new day in a country beautiful for its hospitality and resilience.

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At Preah Vihear Temple

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