Read the inspired trip at the village cooking class in Siem Reap.
My friend & I did the Siem Reaper Village Ox Cart Ride Food Tour 2 weeks ago. We were pleasantly surprised that this turned out to be our favourite experience of our entire Cambodia trip, apart from of course seeing the Angkor Wat sunrise. The experience was immersive, thoughtful, and clearly driven by a huge passion and love for this country by the company’s founders and employees.Siem Reaper is a fairly young company, run by an energetic, passionate, and considerate group of young employees. My friend and I have been on many food tours in other countries, and we were struck by the maturity and professionalism of this young crew, wise beyond their years. And that is not to mention of fun and engrossing the activities were!
First, we were picked up by tuk-tuk at our hotel and taken to visit the small but cozy Siem Reaper office (a short ride away) to kick off the day’s activities. Payment was made up front, some instructions/guidance was given, and then we had a very nice 10-minute meet & greet with our guides. This is one difference that makes Siem Reaper stand out from other tours I’ve taken. The company’s philosophy is centered around connecting people, sharing culture through activity (sight-seeing, riding, food, etc.), and great conversations.
I was touched that our 2 guides Vat and George took the time to try and get to know us, and share some of their own background and motivations. Some customers may want to get right away to the food, but some of the talks we had along the way with these 2 exceptional young men. But do not worry, they sprinkle these conversations in with the activities well, so there is plenty of learning, cooking, and eating also!
Next, we took a tuk-tuk ride to the village where the activities would take place. The ox cart was already set up for us, and we took a slow, leisurely ride around the village. We got to see the entire village, with Vat and George sprinkling in tidbits about how village life was typically like, how it had changed over time, etc. We stopped off at a local market to sample some delicious Cambodian breakfast foods and treats. We strolled around the market looking at the goods, with Vat and George pointing out interesting local fruits, vegetables, etc. We had a surprise visitor when upon rummaging through some vegetables, a huge Praying Mantis jumped on Vat’s hands and frightened the beejezus out of him! It was an impromptu, hilarious moment. Afterwards we each took pictures with the Mantis perched on our hands!
We then walked over to a local family that Vat was close with. We got to speak with them a little, with Vat describing their lives and how they made a living basket-weaving. We got to see some of their wares, and my friend even bought some beautiful items from them. Note that this was complete with her own choice, never did the family nor Vat or George tries to push any sale or even suggest it. Finally, we walked over to the local community centre (just a small and comfortable series of huts in an enclosed complex) for our cooking class! We first took a quick refresher with some fresh coconut juice and washed up.
The chef had already prepared some ingredients prior to our arrival, and all the cooking utensils were laid out in advance. It was very organized and efficient. We helped the chef cut, slice, and dice vegetables. Then we mixed everything into their respective works, and cooked away under her guidance and care! Everything smelled so good during the entire process. We made 3 dishes – Korko Soup, Amok Trey, and Bok Choi.
Afterwards, we set everything on a large tray, with pot of white rice, and some watermelon slices for dessert later, and laid it all out in the dining area. The dining area was a sheltered hut at the back of the complex, raised from the ground slightly and with comfortable mats and pillows around a low table, shaded from the sun.
This was undoubtedly the best part of the day. Getting to eat the rewards of your labour and having good conversation with friends. Our hosts/guides were extremely gracious as they ate with us, colouring us with stories about traditional family customs and village life, and Cambodian eating customs.
And of course, the food was *FANTASTIC*. The best we had in our time in Cambodia, better than any restaurant food for local fare. Nothing beats home-cooking :). After filling our bellies to our heart’s content, we relaxed in the shade and just shared our lives, our travels, our hopes & dreams. It was a nice quiet afternoon. What touched me most was the love for this country you could hear from Wat and George. They really are on a mission to show others that despite its tragic and bloody past, Cambodia is about a lot more than what we hear in the news. They spoke deeply about their respect & love for their family, their culture, and their country. Two very upstanding young men and I wish them all the best in the world. Afterwards, we took the tuk-tuk back to our hotel where we said farewell to our hosts.
To summarize, if you are looking for a different kind of food tour than what you are used to, and you’re seeking to really get a feel of local living is like, and you are all about sharing across cultures, then this is definitely the tour for you.