Monday, 26-01-2014. Day 159.
Crocodiles, Chickens, Bean Sprouts, & Fish Cheese. Yes, Fish Cheese.
Today we had another tour with Dani of Bees Unlimited, this time we'd scheduled his Discover Siem Reap Tour. It didn't start until 2:00 p.m., though, so we had plenty of time to walk into old town for an early lunch at Haven, Siem Reap's trendiest eatery.
An Appointment at Haven
We'd tried to eat dinner at Haven a few nights earlier, but they were booked up pretty solid. The earliest appointment we could get was lunch on Monday or dinner on Wednesday—and since we were leaving on Wednesday afternoon, we opted for lunch. It was okay. I think we would have liked it better if we hadn't heard all the hype.
The Tour Begins
Dani pulled up in front of our hotel right on time. Once again, Sen was our tuk tuk driver for the day's outing. Dani told us he starts this tour later in the afternoon because a lot of Cambodian businesses, at least those not directly catering to tourists, close for a while around the lunch hour.
Our first stop was IKTT, the Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles. There were a few weavers here, but most had yet to return from the afternoon break. Still, it was fascinating to watch them spin the rough cotton into thread on their hand-built spinning wheels and create the intricate designs with traditional hand-powered looms. They also dyed the cotton here using traditional materials like crushed insects and a variety of different plant material.
We were on our way to see a backyard crocodile farm, but as we walked down a narrow street, Dani stopped and said, "Wait a minute, three's something up here that might be interesting." We walked down a narrow alley and came out next to a traditional stilt house where there was a pile of chickens all tied together.
The family who lived there made a snack that was congealed chicken blood wrapped in chicken intestines and grilled over an open flame.
They would be selling these for 1,000 riel (25 cents) at a market later at night. This, unlike the roasted snakes you can find on Pub Street, aren't for tourists—this was for locals only. Dani said, "The Cambodian people will eat almost anything."
Backyard Crocodile Farm
We walked back down the alley to a house where a man keeps something like 30 alligators in a giant concrete pit in his backyard. We met the fellow, who wore nothing but a bath towel wrapped around his waist and a pair of flip-flops. He took us into the back yard where he had a pen filled with baby crocs and a larger concrete enclosure filled with adult crocodiles. here had to be thirty in the large pen.
The pen had three breeding chambers on one end, filled with dirt that the crocs lay their eggs. It wasn't breeding season, but when it was, he told us the phone didn't stop ringing, and he was able to sell all the baby crocs faster than they could hatch.
Banana Chip Factory
We drove up the road a little way to a small house across from a vacant lot where a family made banana chips. They made two kinds of chips—one was made from ripe bananas and the other from green bananas. A big bag was 1,500 riel ($0.75), so we got one of each. I was surprised that the green bananas had a slightly sweeter taste.
We drove and stopped at a blacksmith shop. This is the place that makes and repairs many of the metal tools for the local farmers. These guys didn't wear much in the way of protective clothing—no leather aprons, no eye-wear, and only the main blacksmith wore gloves. For shoes they wore only flip-flops (like most everyone else in Cambodia). But they sure could pound the heck out of a piece of hot metal. They'd get two or three guys hammering away in rhythm as the heated metal cooled, then the main gent would quench it and thrust it back into the fire.
Dani wanted to show us a pair of ladies that made hand-rolled candles from beeswax that were used in many of the temples in the area, but they weren't working that afternoon. But next door to where they would have been working was a larger operation where they made paraffin candles in bulk.
Bean Sprout Factory
Dani said he had a surprise for us and took us to a bean sprout factory, where we met a family that grows bean sprouts in giant clay pots. They sell 200 kilograms of bean sprouts everyday, so chances are if you've had a meal in Siem Reap with bean sprouts in it, it came from this farm.
What Dani didn't know was that bean sprouts are one of Jackie's favorite foods. The family was delighted that she liked them so much (they were quite good) and gave Jackie a big bag as we left. Here we are at the bean sprout factory.
We stopped off at a place that sold fermented honey, but it wasn't open. Just down the road from the honey place, though, we saw a sign advertising Special Meat. This was, Dani told us, code for dog meat. We didn't venture in, but soon enough we encountered another strange foodstuff: fish cheese.
The first thing that you notice about fish cheese is the smell. As you approach the fish cheese processing plant (which is a concrete floor, slick with fish guts and covered with a roof) the stench of fish is mighty powerful.
Fish cheese is, at its simplest, chopped up fish. But it's not just the meat—the entire fish. I asked if they scaled it at all or processed it in any way, and the guys said nope. It's just a big pile of fish hacked up into chunks and shoveled into 5-gallon plastic buckets. These guys had just finished working for the day, and there were 864 buckets (24 wide, 12 deep, 3 high) of fish cheese stacked up alongside the road. Each bucket weighed 22 kilograms (almost 50 pounds), so there was 19,008 kilograms (almost 21 tons) of chopped up fish parts that were being trucked to Thailand.
Strange Roasted Meats at the Market
We drove even further down the road, almost to where the famous floating villages are. We didn't do those markets, however. Instead, we went to a different market where a woman was selling, among other things, large quantities of fried snake. The rest of the market was closing up for the day, so after a quick browse we headed back to town—but not before stopping at the banana chip factory for a re-up.
We said our final goodbyes to Dani.We were lucky we'd had the chance to meet him—his tours made two weeks in Siem Reap a little more interesting. We'd taken three tours with Bees Unlimited, and each one was different and fascinating and well worth the time we spent on them.
That night we met our friends the Wagoners and another family, Yayo and Faby and their two boys, from Suriname for dinner at Namaste.
- Scorpions seen: 1
- Bags of bean sprouts eaten: 1
- Bags of banana chips eaten: 3
- Hours in a tuk tuk: 2