|My last day in Ratanakiri was also my favorite. For the second time I hired a driver for the day. This time it was Sok, the man who brought me to the guesthouse the night I arrived.
Sok drove me 40 km (25 miles) to the San River and as we traveled the curvy dirt roads by motorbike it was my best chance yet to experience rural Cambodia. 80 % of all Cambodians live outside the cities and the only source of food for many is what they can grow or harvest from the surrounding land. The United Nation's World Food Programme estimates in dry legal jargon that 18% of the population is "food insecure" meaning that their food supply could fall short at any time due to drought, flooding, poor crop yield, etc.
The houses in the countryside are usually wooden shacks raised on stilts to protect them from flooding. The roofs are either corrugated metal or thatch depending on the financial situation of the inhabitants. Some of the poorest housing I encountered consisted only of 2 or 3 tarps hung over rope to form both walls and a roof.
When we reached the San both Sok and I climbed into a long, narrow boat for a 2-hour river cruise. The motor-powered boat was driven by a local man and we stopped in three different villages along the way. The San, like most of the major rivers in the country, has villages dotting its shores in which unique ethnic minorities live. There are Chinese, Lao and Vietnamese communities but there are also a number of native peoples differing from the majority Khmer in culture and religion. The Cham are muslim and others like the Tampuan are animists. We visited a Tampuan, a Chinese and a Lao village during our stops.
The real highlight of the day was on the way back when Sok invited me to his home to join his family in the final day of the New Year celebrations. I didn't stay long but I watched his extended family play a New Year's game involving a sort of pinata and I joined them in some Khmer dancing. Once again I was reminded how fortunate I am to be able to experience something completely off of the tourist track.