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A Day of Genius Mothering OR Driving from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh with kids the right way

Sray Nut, Teacher Erin, Callie and Chen at the start of the trip

I don’t think I’m going to ever win mother-of-the-year. I think I probably earn a solid C most days, perhaps B- if you take into account how cool my kids lives are (which I can’t take that much credit for, it just worked out that way). Anyway, today I earned at least an A-!

You see we are on a mission to get Callie a new passport (her’s expires in less than six months so I’m afraid she won’t be allowed into Thailand and Vietnam on our trips next month). Because I live by the motto ‘Go Big or Go Home’ I decided to bring Teacher Erin, Chen, Sray Nut and of course Couper, with us to Phnom Penh…and then tack on a couple of days at the beach for good measure. I like the idea that Chen and Sray Nut get to see their nations capital and I also like the idea of my kids playing on the beach with their best friends and getting to be the first ones to show them the ocean. Anyway, I can’t afford tickets for all of us to fly to Phnom Penh (that’s mother-of-the-year kinda money) so we needed to drive. On our recent trip to Kompong Thom Brandon and I had seen a sign for a hotel with a pool. Now it’s somewhat amazing that Kompong Thom even has a hotel, let alone one with a pool! I did some research and it looked nice. So we called and asked if we could stop for a swim and lunch. The very kind manager said that as long as we ate lunch we were welcome to swim!

My ballerina swimmers at the pool at Sambor Village Hotel

So this is how it played out…we left Siem Reap in a private van with driver at around 9am, made one stop for snacks (already ratcheting up the grade since I did get Doritos, but also got apples and grapes!) and then hit the road. We arrived in Kompong Thom one pack of grapes, one bag of Doritos and two vomit bags later at around 1130am. Rather than just stopping for lunch at the same-old side-of-the-road Khmer restaurants we drove an extra five minutes and came to Sambor Village Hotel. The kids were in their swimsuits in under five minutes and while our lunch cooked they swam and played. Car sickness, boredom and an iPad obsession were forgotten for Marco Polo, diving for their toys and races! When lunch came they were hungry and ate well and we were back in the car and heading South again by 1pm. Because they were tired from swimming they all napped the second half of the trip, even Callie, my anti-naps daughter.

Lovely peaceful naps on the second leg

I did get vomited on two more times (I swear I have to get quicker on the barf bag draw!) but we all arrived in Phnom Penh around 4pm feeling like we had had a semi-fun day, instead of a boring puke-fest.

So from now on our guests that travel by road from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh we will be recommending a stop for lunch at Sambor Village Hotel and even if you don’t want to play Marco Polo, it’s a good lunch and a nice break from the road. So yea, maybe not most mother’s idea of an A- day (home cooked meals, discussing morals and values, etc) but I took what could have been a long day and turned it into a bit of an adventure…that’s some genius mothering in my book!

A possible lunch table at Sambor Village Hotel, Kompong Thom
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A Homestay in Kompong Thom at the famous Sambor Prei Kuk Temples

Our homestay and hosts

A few months ago I heard about a new homestay experience in Kompong Thom,  a rapidly growing city about half way between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. It was just recently, on our way back from Phnom Penh that Brandon and I had a chance to stop in Kompong Thom and try this new experience.  It was…interesting.

The truth is that everyone has a romanticized idea about the homestay experience…it involves delicious local food, conversations about life and values with your hosts long into the night and a wonderful nights sleep in the peace of an electricity-free village. Unfortunately, most homestays in our experience have none of these things. In fact they usually involve mystery meat, a lovely family that speaks not a word of English and a rather restless night of bugs, roosters and babies!

Brandon and I have an advantage, we both speak at least enough Khmer to chat, albeit briefly, with our hosts, but we both agreed, that put into Western travelers shoes the homestay experience could be a rather scary one.

With that said, I loved Sambor Prei Kuk and the amazing 7th century Pre-Angkorian temples it houses. After checking in to the homestay we headed by tuk tuk to the temples. Here we were met by our guide Bunteng, and had a delicious lunch of noodles and vegetables. We then set out on bicycles to explore the temple complex. Though there were more travelers here than I had thought there would be, it was still a very peaceful experience compared to the temples at Angkor Wat. Our guide pointed out fantastic details and I have to say that riding on dirt tracks on our bicycles from temple to temple was a real highlight for me. In the evening we even rode our bikes back to our homestay and when mine got a flat tire (I’m on a diet, I swear!) he just dropped it at the nearest house and borrowed their bicycle…it was a nice community moment!

The next morning we took an oxcart ride to some more distant temples, not the most comfortable form of transportation, but it did feel local and an adventure and I got to drive!

All in all, it was a fun experience and I liked being able to see the temples without feeling rushed and knowing that we didn’t have another long drive after, BUT, make sure you look at the photos below of the toilet, “shower” and keep in mind the things not pictured…crying babies, very loud roosters and rather large bugs!

We are offering the two-day Kompong Thom Experience and we are also offering a great Siem Reap to Phnom Penh one day tour that stops in Kompong Thom and visits the amazing temples there, but doesn’t spend the night. Email cambodia@journeys-within.com to find out more.

Arriving at the temple complex of Sambor Prei Kuk
The trees taking over after 1300 years
An interesting detail, since this is clearly not modeled on Khmer features there is intrigue into who was visiting Cambodia at this time
Biking through the temples, literally!
Ancient temples in trees
The floating temple. I am amazed at the durability of these amazing carvings, they truly have stood the test of time.
Driving an ox cart, I couldn't get the noise right to make them go faster so it was leisurely!
Enjoying lunch at the homestay
The shower room. The shower head didn't work anymore so you use that little green bucket to pour rather chilly water out of the water trough and onto your head!
The toilet...we were excited not to have to squat!
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