I was excited when I woke up this morning, I had read some mixed opinions on aspects of the homestay, but even allowing for that the whole experience still sounded amazing.
But first, breakfast! I walked down to Smile and decided to be adventurous, and it was amazing!!
Bit too amazing, I was sleepy after eating! So walked back to the guesthouse for a 30min snooze – perfect!
To stay as a single person at Rana you can only visit when there are other people already staying and everyone has to stay for 2 nights. Thankfully when I checked the website there was already a couple booked in. And when the tuk tuk arrived in it were 2 other girls, Lauren and Wendy, so that made our homestay 5 people.
We drove out of the town over the bridge and along the main road for about 15/20mins. Then suddenly the tuk tuk slowed and pulled to the side of the road. We thought there was a problem, but no, we pulled through some shrubs and we were there!
As we pulled in we were met by Kheang, the mother at the homestay. She gave us a very warm welcome and showed us to our rooms. Bamboo huts, raised off the floor, double beds with mosquito nets and a side table – all you need for life without electricity!!!!
We dropped our bags and headed towards there house. It was there we met the other couple, Susanna and Kalana (from Germany, but Kalana from Sri Lanka originally).
L-R Lauren, Susanna, Kalana, Wendy, me – taken a few days after this
They were being talked to by Don, the father of the house. It would be fair to say he has strong opinions and isn’t afraid to share them with strangers whether or not you wish to hear them.
Kheang then disappeared into the house and was making us lunch. When people stay with them she cooks food that is eaten only on special occasions – weddings and funerals.
I was I could get the photos off my camera as the food was incredible, the best of my travels so far, all made from scratch everyday – having no electricity means everything is bought fresh. Lauren is a vegetarian and Kheang made her special food at every meal.
We sat getting quizzed by Don, where had we been, where were we going, our plans ridiculed and criticised which made for rather an uncomfortable atmosphere.
Thankfully when the food arrived he disappeared and we could relax, talk with Kheang and find out our plan for the day.
We were to take a walk after lunch, then her mum was coming to talk to us about her life, her experiences during Pol Pot’s time and anything else we wanted to discuss, after that dinner and sleep!
To be honest after the lunch we could have done with a snooze – so much food!
We walked out through the back of the property and into fields – mostly rice fields with new rice and rainy season rice, saw people working harvesting, lily pond lakes, cashew but trees, frangipane trees, jack fruit and so much more I can not longer remember. Kalana was fascinated by all the plants, many reminding him of home, he was picking leaves and fruit and trying things! Anyone we met we’d stop and talk to, if they wanted to talk to us, everyone was so friendly and happy to answer our questions and ask some themselves.
We headed back to the homestay as it was getting dark so we all went to find our torches and it wasn’t long before dinner. Another magical feast conjured for us – we were a bit sad not to be able to go inside and help as you would in a more traditional homestay, but we also enjoyed talking among our little group.
It turned out that everyone was planning on going to Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri as their next stop and all on the same guesthouse. It had been my plan to go to Kratie, but I was in such good company and had been thinking about going in that direction, so as they agreed I too could join them new plans were made!
After dinner Kheang’s mum arrived. We sat gently lit by 2 battery powered lamps, making for a very intimate setting.
Her mum was a beautiful slender old lady, seeming quite shy to begin with and then her wicked sense of humour came out. With Kheang translating for us we started chatting about her life on the farm which she still works on every day, her upbringing, how her parents met, how she met her husband – not until their wedding day, they have a tradition of arranged marriages. We then slowly got onto the subject of Pol Pot and how it affected their family. The biggest surprise for me was that things in the countryside started 3 years before the fall of Phnom Penn, which is where most books written appear to start. They had the Khmer Rouge living with them for that time, they cooked for them but they provided the ingredients.
She said it was obvious something was going on, but the first they really knew of the fall of Phnom Penn was the streams of people leaving the cities and heading to the countryside. The book ‘first they killed my father’ is a good book to read to understand what happened to the people from the city and their ‘re education’. For the farmers from their village they were allowed to stay in their homes, but the homes were emptied of their belongings, they had to make a dye to dye their clothes black as that was the new uniform.
We talked about so much more of what happened, but don’t want to give it all away. We did discover thst she knew a little French from her school days, what she remembered is probably what we all remember if we’ve not spoken French since school – bonjour, ca va?, au revoir and my favorite assez vous (sit down) which was said to us every day as we had to stand when a teacher entered thhe room, so I suspect she did too. Sadly she only stayed for 1hour I think we’d all have loved to have talked to her for much much longer, but for someone who is up and in the fields for 5am it was quite late enough. She stayed the night in one of the huts they have on their property to save her the walk home in the dark.
We chatted for a while after she’d gone about what we’d learnt and Kheang answered yet more of our questions.
She went to bed and we followed not long after, it seemed rude to be sat outside their window chatting while they tried to sleep