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April 9, 2016

Destination: Cambodia

Latitude, Longitude: 12.5657, 104.9910

Where: Southeast Asia

Area in km2: 181,035

Population: 15,458,332 (2014)

Main religion: Theravada Buddhism

Interesting fact: During the height of the Khmer empire, between the 9th and the 15th century, it’s capital Angkor was a megacity, home to about a million people.

The Cambodian smile.

Cambodia, formerly known as the Khmer empire, borders Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and the Gulf of Thailand. With South-east Asia being a popular destination for backpackers, Cambodia is famous for its tourist hotspot; the temple complex Angkor Wat.

The country has a rich history, shadowed by a gruesome more recent past (search for Pol Pot or Khmer rouge if you are interested). While the country has been relatively stable for the past 20 years, the so-called ‘Lost Generation’ is still struggling with devastating social issues and widespread poverty. Learning more about the dark side of Cambodian history creates a bigger understanding of the hardships in daily life and politics and all the more respect for how resilient and determined the young generation of Cambodians seem to be.

Battambang is the second biggest city in Cambodia, after capital Pnom Penh. Some well preserved buildings from the French colonial past add an architectural charm to the city. Bambattang is the leading rice-producing provence which is reflected in local specialties – rice cakes smoked in bamboo over fire, rice paper for making rolls – and the scenery, lots of rice fields and rice farmers. The landscape is as rich with agriculture as it is with people – the community is connected and friendly. The famous Cambodian smile plays a very important role in communication – it can mean hello, a simple acknowledgement, but smiles are also used to hide worries, embarrassment or anger. The smile is connected to Buddhist religion, where an inner smile represents harmony and spirituality.

Another friendly face you might encounter is the tokay gecko – there are many superstitious tales going around considering this beautiful creature. If you hear one, keep your ears open: If it calls out more than 7 times it means good luck, less than 7 calls not so lucky.

Cambodians take pride in their Khmer cuisine, offering cooking classes on every street corner. Rice is often accompanied by fish from the Mekong river or sometimes pork or beef. A specific local flavour maker is Prahok, fermented fish paste. You will find similarities to Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine. Black pepper, cardamon, turmeric, tamarind, galangal, ginger, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves are essential in traditional Khmer cooking. Stir fries consist of local vegetables such as winter melon, bitter melon and luffa or leafy greens like water spinach, also known as morning glory. Banana blossoms are a beautiful looking and surprisingly tasting addition to salads or noodle dishes.

A khmer meal usually consists of at least three dishes in very different flavours – sweet, salty, sour or bitter. This way a meal will satisfy the full palate.

Cambodians have also embraced the French baquette, known as nom pang in Khmer. Baquette with eggs and a cup of Cambodian coffee is considerd a typical breakfast.
Text by Sprout.
Photos by 2sporks1cup; an Aussie & a Colombian living life with a wandering spirit. Seven years together & over 60 countries up their sleeves.

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