We’d been in Siem Reap for just one night and wandered through the buzzing downtown market stalls: woven scarves and metal jewelry, tourist T-shirts and carved trinkets. Colorful, and fun to gawk at while eating ice cream from Blue Pumpkin, certainly.
But what fun to get up the next morning, hop in a remork, and ride in the opposite direction of the crowds toward a real taste of the vivid, smelly, real-deal village markets supported by the Cambodian families of Tonlé Sap.
Twenty minutes through the countryside, a turn down a few smaller roads, and we arrived at the outskirts of the morning bustle, where space is first-come-first-serve and people set up in the wee hours to claim the best spot.
Stall after stall of fish from the Tonlé Sap region, rice harvested from local rice paddies, and rice noodles made fresh.
Illegal leaded gasoline, smuggled from neighboring countries, diluted with water, and sold in recycled 1 liter bottles…at a discount, of course.
Lemongrass and limes.
Fresh bundles for fresh meals.
Goods grown in the good earth.
Generations doing the daily duties of agricultural life.
Freshly skinned whole frogs.
Eels from the lake waters.
Pig heads…and tails.
Additional tidbits for the not so squeamish: A video of Tim Hayward and Fergus Henderson cooking a pig’s head and a recipe for Crispy Pig Tails.
Unlike American’s cheap surplus of factory-farmed birds, chickens are expensive in the market.
Meats from most to least expensive: Chicken ($$$) Pork ($$) Beef ($$) Fish ($) Duck ($)
I loved feeling like a privileged guest, allowed to witness the exchange of goods, the fruits of hard work, and the traditions of community.
Frogs, eels, and pig heads: Cambodian vernacular for northwest salmon, free range chickens, and grass-fed beef?
It made me miss my shopping habits at home: my favorite markets, my favorite farmers. My favorite home-grown heads of lettuce and hallocks full of Marion berries.
But you know what I loved most?
Catching glimpses of smiles during market transactions: those are the same the world round.
Many thanks to Intrepid / Urban Adventures for sponsoring this post. I first discovered Intrepid when I bought a second-hand T-shirt at Goodwill in 2008. I was saving every penny for travel, but I couldn’t resist the map of the world made out of Intrepid logos… I Googled the company and fell in love with their travel photos and inspirations. Urban Adventures’ small-group tours around the world offer unique, local experiences showcasing different sides of typical travel destinations. All tours run as guaranteed departures with a maximum of 12 per group (which means even if you’re the only one signed up, the tour still runs!). For more details, check out their day trips around Siem Reap, Cambodia.