We were finally able to connect on her last night in Phnom Penh. When a friend of your moms is in the same city as you on the other side of the world, why say ‘no’ to some company? Over a lovely dinner swapping travel stories and advice, Barbara made a recommendation that would put the cherry on top of my experience travelling through Cambodia. She told me about her time staying at the Meas Family Homestay, and because it could easily be incorporated into my plans, I booked to stay there a few days later.
Finding accommodation is my least favourite thing to do while on the road. Balancing cleanliness, cost, location, amenities and atmosphere is challenging and time-consuming – and I’ve very rarely hit a high score in all those categories. I have found that the overall experience or one thing that is particularly interesting about a place can outweigh those cobwebs lingering in the corner of the ceiling. If not for experience, why travel in the first place?
I was able to arrange to hop off a chartered bus in Angk Ta Saom, a town about 80 km south of Phnom Penh. A short tuk-tuk ride took me to the homestay, passing open-air food stalls, fields of crops, a school and many locals on motorbikes and bicycles. I could already tell one night was not going to be enough.
After settling in, Linda Meas (one of the adult daughters) walked me around the property telling me the history of the buildings and an anecdote about the newly hatched chicks nearby. A bicycle could be rented for a leisurely ride around the area, perhaps early the next morning. The hot afternoon hours passed. I was able to learn more about the many projects the Meas family are working on. For twenty years now they have promoted responsible tourism – putting your money in the right place while ensuring a meaningful stay. For $18 USD per day, I enjoyed three meals cooked in the open air kitchen with ingredients straight from their fields (such as the rice, lemongrass, and watermelons) and all the strong brewed coffee or tea I could hope for. Linda was happy to share her secrets in the kitchen, Khmer dishes making up most of the menu. She was also great company at the table, sharing her stories and Cambodian culture. Her parents were working nearby and the younger family members came and went from the house. At one point four generations of women peeled field melons at the table. Witnessing daily life and sharing stories is an important element of connection no matter where you’re from.
Over the years the family has collaborated with locals and foreigners to establish an English language school not a two-minute walk from their house. I was encouraged to say hello to the students after class. The weaving studio was next door to the school but everyone had already gone home. Colourful patterns in the thread were left on the looms to be continued the next day. The profit from the sale of scarves goes directly to the weavers and some are sold to raise funds for the school. I was shown how they make coconut oil and a line of natural soaps (highlighting the homemade oil) which are now being sold across the country. Taking time to explain how and why they do what they do is fundamental to who they are. The family also encourages longer-term volunteering with one of their projects, which can be arranged ahead of time.
This short stay has been one of the most meaningful so far, and understandably so. In towns booming with tourism, there is no shortage of hotels, guesthouses, hostels and poshtels (upscale hostels), but they lack the care that only chosen family can provide. Less numerous but perhaps more important is the homestay, definitely making choosing future accommodations a little bit easier.
By Megan Katz
On a one-way ticket, Megan is taking time to follow her curiosity literally. Fortunate enough to be on unfamiliar soil, she is keeping her senses clear and her wit sharp. As a maker, dancer and enthusiastic conversationalist, she is seeking meaningful ways to move through new spaces. Endlessly fascinated by human behaviour, local food and cultural norms, stay tuned as Megan shares her thoughts navigating newfound perceptions and impressions.