Rice, Stupas and a Trampoline: A Day in Oudong

Travelling in the Cambodian countryside during the rainy season can be spectacular – imagine the sight of electric-green rice paddies stretching as far as the eye can see, dotted with palm trees and bounded by streams of rushing floodwaters. It’s a reminder that rice is Cambodia’s most important staple crop, covering 80% of all farmland in the kingdom. But before this bounty of cereal grain can reach the supermarket shelf, it must be threshed, de-husked, polished, sorted, quality-controlled and packaged. Where and how does all that happen?

Our staff and kids (minus the ones preparing for their national exams) got to find out last week when they were invited to visit the impressive, 36 hectares facility of Apsara Rice, an hour’s drive north of Phnom Penh. Apsara Rice is Cambodia’s largest rice processor, with a full production capacity of 2.4 million metric tonnes per year. It is a joint venture between CP Group (Thailand’s largest agribusiness conglomerate) and the Soma Group, who are one of Little Hearts’ most generous sponsors though their CSR arm, the Soma Initiative. Soma provided the introduction to Apsara Rice, who have been donating 350 kg of rice to us every month for the last several months – enough to feed all our hungry youngsters.

The day began… well, it began with our bus driver getting lost on the way to the factory! We eventually got there, albeit an hour late, and were given an informative presentation on rice processing and a tour of the factory, including a tasting of different grades of rice at the end. The kids also got cookies and soft drinks, of course. As we were leaving, our hosts suggested that we stay in the area for the afternoon and pay a visit to Oudong nearby, where neither the kids nor Tony had ever been.

Oudong is a settlement at the base of Oudong Mountain; it was the site of the royal capital in post-Angkorian times, for over two centuries (1618–1863). The mountain’s two peaks are connected by a ridge and dotted with temples, stupas and shrines dedicated to former Cambodian kings, including Chedi Mouk Pruhm, the burial site of King Monivong (reigned 1927–1941).

On Tony’s orders, the kids were to climb to the top of the mountain. But first things first – lunch! The kids couldn’t be expected to climb the 500+ steps to the summit on just a few mouthfuls of rice! So they sat cross-legged on mats in a Khmer-style eatery (on a stilt platform) at the base of the mountain and ordered a feast of fried chicken, veggies and (of course) rice.

Strengthened by this intake of nutritious food, the children heroically climbed to the top… no, wait, first they spotted a giant trampoline near the eatery and decided to jump on it for what seemed like forever, just to help the rice and chicken settle nicely in their stomachs. THEN they finally climbed the mountain, not without ample moaning and groaning from some. When they reached the top, they beheld a spectacular view that encompassed Phnom Penh in the distance, rice fields all around, and just below, the Apsara Rice factory we had just visited. Those who had the energy continued along the ridge to visit the other pagodas and shrines scattered across the mountaintop, one of which housed a colossal sitting Buddha.

Then they raced down, stopping along the way to feed some monkeys, and were tired and ready to head home… or were they? Not before 20 more minutes of bouncing on the trampoline!

All in all, a great excursion to Oudong – thank you, Apsara Rice, for the invitation – to get in touch with the countryside and Cambodia’s history and geography


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