One of the best things about living and working in Siem Reap is that I get to experience the one thing I love most when travelling: local life. Not only do I get to see the ‘other side of Cambodia’ during my time working at an NGO, but I also work with a fantastic group of Khmer people who have become very good friends. Now I get to live like a local, albeit in small measures.
Every so often my work colleagues head to a place called 60 Road; a 15 minute ride outside of the centre of town’s thriving area of Pub Street and just around the corner from the main road that leads you to the Angkor Wat temple complex.
An evening at 60 Road is like going for dinner, Cambodian style, and it’s buzzing every single night. A long road lined with mats for hire, street food sellers and a small fun fair, it’s an evening picnic and barbecue haven – the perfect place to relax and spend quality time with friends. Plus you won’t find a hoard of barangs (westerners) walking through it like it’s a tourist attraction; this is exclusively local and any barangs present have probably had the pleasure of an invite from a Khmer friend.
Our social outing was a well-planned affair. Some colleagues went out in the morning to purchase all the meat, sauces, seasonings, fruit and other food items. Another colleague and I later stocked up on the fizzy pop and fruit juices, and crockery essentials in paper form. Upon returning to work, the meat had been marinated and skewered, the fruit sliced, and the homemade ‘butter’ (made with egg yolk, oil and sugar) prepared before the start of our afternoon shift. The last thing to prepare was the rice (you can’t not have rice!) before we arrived at 60 Road around 6:30pm to start our mini feast.
The atmosphere there reminded me of the times at home in the UK when we get really excited about having a barbeque because the sun makes an appearance – fun, laughter, a girly gossip over a picnic, a competitive ride on the bumper cars at the fair. For us, it was of friendship that transcended social boundaries and differences. Together we are all one and the same, and it’s times like this that really make my time here really special.
However, with local life comes the harsh reality of the Cambodian social system. While there are local people enjoying an evening out, we were constantly faced with the harsh juxtaposition of the extreme poverty that still exists here. Street kids regularly approached us to collect our empty cans and plastic bottles, and poor families sat helplessly in the shadows. We gave each of the street kids some bread when they came over and when we were packing up we distributed cups of rice and other left over foods between them. For the family sitting across from us, we gave them everything else we had – they never once begged for anything – and for the first time in days they had a meal. Their beautiful smiles said it all and that was a wonderful end to a great evening.
This won’t be my last time at 60 Road. While I live here, I will cherish the moments I have to live locally, get off the beaten track and escape Pub Street. Just be sure to ask your Khmer friends to take you there during your visit in Siem Reap.