Our Next Workaway, a Khmer Birthday Party, and Fancy Pepper

Bright Purple Home in Rural Cambodia

Our next and final destination in Cambodia was Kampot. We had been searching for a workaway in Cambodia and found the perfect one right outside Kampot. Besides doing tasks at our workaway, we got to explore the area around Kampot on our days off, and even go to a local Khmer birthday party!

Our Workaway in Cambodia

We had just 2 weeks left on our Cambodian visa and planned to spend this time at a workaway. In case you don’t remember or weren’t reading our blog back then, Workaway is a site and program that matches hosts with volunteers for all sorts of tasks around the world in exchange for food and accommodation.

Each workaway offers something different in terms of the amount of food/meals and work required. We spent 6 wonderful weeks at a workaway in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and are still in contact with the family to this day! However, we’ve also had a not-so-great experience in Sri Lanka, so we were prepared for anything this time around.

Views from the road near the spa

A Day Spa in Kampot

Our hosts this time were a French Canadian couple, in their 40s, who opened a business and made a home along the Kampot River in Cambodia about 5 years ago. They were super nice and we really enjoyed our time with them and their two dogs!

The day spa was a beautiful oasis along the river that offered massages, facials, and a thermal experience with saunas and an ice pool. They had a large piece of property that was full of greenery right on the river. Wild passionfruit grew on vines in the trees and flowers bloomed in every direction. The spa also had a restaurant onsite and a beachy area to sit along the river.

The staff at the spa are all from the surrounding villages and have been professionally trained in massage. Only one of the staff could speak English enough to have a conversation but that didn’t stop us from always greeting each other and trying to ask “how are you?”.

The exchange we set up was 7-hour work days 4 days a week in exchange for a rustic bungalow and almost all of our meals (except lunch and dinner on our days off). We worked when their day spa was open and took our days off when it closed.

Our Accommodation

Our accommodation was a rustic bungalow with a bed, shelf, fan, and hammock. When we say rustic, we really mean the kind you might picture on an empty island with a palm thatch roof and walls made from other natural materials. Our windows were paneless but we had shutters and we also had a light and plug for electricity. It was pretty cool to live in for a short period of time. The only downside was since we were visiting during the rainy season, we had some roof leaks and it took a long time for things to dry. But overall, we enjoyed our cute little bungalow home for the 12 days we lived in it.

The Creatures

Around the property and during our adventures around Kampot, we saw a ton of lizards, snails, and some crazy bugs. Each night we’d listen to the frogs croak and the geckos making their unique “EH OH” sound. There are always lizards and geckos around but the ones we saw here were the biggest we’d seen. Some of them were the size of our forearms! They would always hang out in the bathrooms and race up the wall as soon as you walked in.

There were also a ton of HUGE snails around the property and sadly it was hard to see them sometimes with the stone. When walking around, we’d hear CRUNCH beneath our feet and say a little apology to the snail who was in the wrong spot at the wrong time.

Another cool creature we saw was a HUGE earthworm! Pictured below, it stretched almost double the length of Sam’s foot without reaching it’s full length. Wild.

Getting to Work

Our workdays started around 9 am and varied in tasks. We did a lot of yard work there including picking up sticks, stacking firewood, and replanting plants. We also did some other work like painting, sewing, and photography. Sam also did some social media work for the spa as well.

One of the fun tasks we did for “work” was to remake a board game for them. After dinner some nights we would play games with our hosts. Because board games are expensive and not easy to get there, they had handmade the materials necessary for the game but after a year, they were in need of some love. So, we spent some of our work hours basically doing arts and crafts, and remaking the boards for their game. Yes, perfectionist Sam made sure that Ty had specific instructions for what he was allowed to do.

After our work days, we would relax on the hammock, hang out at the bar/restaurant area, enjoy the saunas and ice pool, and on one day, we were even treated to a massage! Definitely not a normal workaway perk and it was so nice!!

Our Days Off in Kampot

We had three days off during our time at this workaway. On these days we got to explore some of Kampot and neighboring Kep, hike to a waterfall, and sample some of the most unique black pepper in the entire world. But the most memorable part of our days off was when we were invited to one of the staff member’s homes for a birthday party.

A Cambodian Birthday Party

On our first day off, we were invited to one of the staff’s son’s birthday party! We went with our hosts to her home and experienced one of our favorite memories from Cambodia.

We didn’t take many pictures because we were guests in someone’s home but we will do our best to set the scene. Similarly to the home in the picture below, the main house was on stilts, and some women were cooking in the kitchen below. This isn’t a picture of the actual home but another that we saw while exploring the area. It’s common for kitchens to be outside the actual home in smaller villages like this one.

Traditional Home in Rural Cambodia

We were shown to a covered patio and just like our meal from our cooking class in Siem Reap, we all sat on a mat on the ground. When we arrived there were a few adults and a few guests. Food was set out on a short table including fried rice and papaya salad (a very common dish across southeast Asia). There were also a good amount of empty beer cans already, even though the birthday party had only started an hour or so ago. But more on that in a bit.

The only English speakers for most of the birthday party were our workaway hosts, the one staff member that invited us, and her husband. But even with the language barrier, we felt so welcome by everyone there. It’s crazy how much you can connect and show kindness to people across language barriers and every other difference between us.

A sip for me, a sip for everyone

We learned that at Cambodian parties (and funeral anniversaries) there’s a LOT of drinking involved. As in, every time someone wants to take a sip of their drink, they say cheers in Khmer (the language of Cambodia), and everyone cheers and then takes a sip. After a beer or two we decided to keep an empty one at hand so we were always ready for the “Choul Muoy” (cheers) but were not having to keep up with the rest of the crowd since we rarely drink anyways.

It’s Karaoke Time!

About an hour after we arrived, karaoke was broken out and we would have our first taste of the widespread regional LOVE for karaoke. When we think of karaoke (well before Cambodia and Vietnam) we thought of drunk people at bars who sang songs often way off-key in a funny way in front of a crowd and friends. Well, in Cambodia and many other Asian countries, karaoke is a little different. Yes, they were drinking already, but we’re pretty sure that they would sing their hearts out without any liquid courage.

From 4-9 pm the microphone was passed (unwillingly because no one ever wanted to give it up) around to whoever wanted to sing. All of the songs (besides the one we sang) were slow and in Khmer. Our workaway hosts encouraged us to sing a song, saying how much the family and guests would love it if we did. After a LOT of pushing and begging, we gave in and sang “Sweet Caroline”.

We had been so nervous but really when we were singing, no one cared. Not in a rude way but this is just another difference in karaoke. Most of the time, it’s that the singer is enjoying singing so much, everyone can talk and do whatever. It’s not like a whole stand-on-stage and everyone-watch type of production. This helped relieve some of our anxiety about singing karaoke in front of everyone.

Enjoying the Party

As we sat there with everyone, we realized that life can be so much better when we choose the right things to focus on. It’s not about extravagant holiday decorations and the perfect appetizer table, it’s about being open and sharing whatever we can with others. Here we sat, guests and strangers to everyone around us, sitting on the concrete floor, sipping on cheap beer, sharing a meal, singing awful karaoke, and not even being able to fully speak the same language. But everyone was able to have such a wonderful time, there was so much joy.

This night will forever be one of our favorite memories from our past year of travels.

A Taste of Kampot Pepper

On our other days off, we visited Kampot and explored some of the surrounding areas. Kampot is recognized worldwide for its peppercorns. Designated as a protected geographical indication by the European Union, Kampot pepper has a distinct quality and standard. You’re probably thinking, what’s so special about the black pepper? It’s something most people use every day. But similarly to wines like Champagne, only peppercorns grown in Kampot can have this specific classification because of its unique taste. Basically, it’s special pepper.

So, to see what all the fuss was about, we visited one of the smaller pepper farms outside of town. At the pepper farm, we were taken on a tour and taught about the processes of pepper harvesting and the differences between white, black, and red pepper (it’s all the same plant, like tea, just harvested and treated differently). After the tour, we got to sample the different kinds of pepper and a pepper tea. It was actually really cool to learn about and reminded us of the tea factory we went to in Sri Lanka and the olive oil museum we visited in Croatia.

Now that we know these things, are we foodies now? Probably not but that won’t stop us from trying everything we can just in case!


Journey to a Secret Waterfall

We also took a very adventurous ride to a waterfall that isn’t really marked on any maps. Our hosts recommend it to us and gave us some directions to get there. We drove down a narrow path winding through the hills of a banana plantation. Often, we had to pull over to let other motorbikes through with bushels of bananas or logs loaded onto the back. The amount of stuff people carry on the back of their motorbikes will never cease to amaze us.

The road was rough and muddy from all the rain, we weren’t sure that our bike would make it. Eventually, we decided to hike the last bit and ended at the waterfall, having it completely to ourselves! We weren’t dressed for a swim but wish we had been. It was so cool to have made the trip up here and the views throughout the entire ride were amazing.

Farewell to Cambodia

After a few more work days and saying goodbye to our workaway hosts, we headed back to Phnom Penh to make our leave of Cambodia. We really enjoyed our stay at the spa, even with the long hours of yard work. If we had more time on our visa, we would have stayed longer but we didn’t want to pay a fine so we had to leave.

The two weeks at the workaway flew by and we were off to our next country: Vietnam! And yes, if you read our post about Singapore, you don’t even have to ask. We did get our visas on time this time around and we can’t wait to tell you about it!

Until next time,

Sam and Ty