Sochie is an excellent guide, a humble man, and a proud Cambodian. When it comes to Cambodian history, culture and religion, he’s a wonderful source of information, always willing to share his insight and stories with everyone that joins him on tour. Growing up in the countryside outside of Siem Reap and enduring a difficult childhood of poverty, Sochie turned to the monastery at the young age of 14. He lived the next eight years of his life as a Buddhist monk.
A few years ago, Sochie finished his monk service to pursue other dreams and aspirations. Today, he works as a guide with Sabai Adventures Cambodia. He believes the best way to truly get to know Cambodia and its long history, is in the countryside. The following is an interview with Sochie, a fascinating and inspirational young man, as well as a wonderful tour guide.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you’re from?
Hi my name is Sochie. I’m 24 years old and from the countryside around 35kms outside of Siem Reap city, from a place called Domdek commune.
The area I’m from is mostly countryside living and work. People plant rice, cucumbers, melons and some other vegetables and crops. Most of the women go to the local markets in the mornings to sell what they harvest from the fields. They will also sell chickens, eggs and other animal food products at the market. When I lived there as a child, my mother collected and sold vegetables she grew. This is typical of life in the Cambodian countryside.
The men from my area and most other countryside communities like mine will often make palm juice, palm sugar, or rice wine to sell at the markets. They also work the fields, which is very hard work, especially in the hot sun. They still use many traditional methods in Cambodia. Animals like ox and water buffalos are used to help out with the work and plough the fields.
Do you see a change from traditional ways?
Yes very much. Now most young people leave to work in Siem Reap or Phnom Pehn and live in the city or go to work in Thailand. Countryside work can be very difficult, so many young people leave for the city life and their parents remain in the countryside.
You were a monk for many years. Can you tell us why you decided to became a monk?
My parents died when I was young and I was raised by my relatives, my aunts and uncles. I have a large family with 6 brothers that needed to be supported. It can be very difficult for poor people in the countryside to support large families. My relatives and family elders wanted me to become a monk so I did. When you live as a monk in Cambodia, it’s a place where you can receive some support, a bit of food, a basic place to live, but you can also study and learn. This is the reason most men become monks in Cambodia; it’s a place they can turn to for support. Yes some do it for enlightenment and religious reasons, but that often comes later as we learn more about the life of Buddha. Not very often do children of rich people become monks.
Can you tell us a bit what life is like as a Buddhist monk in Cambodia?
We wake up early every day, around 5am and clean our sleeping areas. Afterwards we set off to visit local people at the markets and small shops with bowls to receive offerings of food and sometimes a bit of money. We eat once again around lunch time and then not again for the rest of the day or evening until the next morning. We fast every day after lunch until the next morning. During the afternoon we study religion, learn about the life of Buddha but we also learn many other subjects. Many of the monks today study at local universities and also study English or other languages like French or Thai.
Life as a monk is very different depending on the season as there are different rules to live by during different times of the year. During rainy season life as a monk is more difficult and strict. There are three months of the rain season we pray early in the morning and in the evening and perform a number of religious duties each day. Dry season is a bit more relaxed. We can leave the monastery more frequently to go home and visit our families.
Why did you decide to finish your monk service?
I was a monk for 8 years and I wanted to change my experiences in life. I wanted to see another way, a different way from the one I had been living as a monk. I also wanted to see if I could make it on my own, without the support of the monastery and the local people. I wanted to use my own knowledge and skill to make it on my own outside of the monastery.
Tell us about the work you do with Sabai Adventures Cambodia?
I work with Sabai Adventures Cambodia as a motorbike guide. I take people into the countryside to show them authentic Cambodian people and culture, away from the city and busy places. That is my favourite part of my job, showing visitors to Cambodia the countryside, explaining stories about the people, how they live and the way of life outside of the city. As a monk I didn’t have much contact with foreigners, but now as I guide I meet people from around the world and I get to share my country and stories with them.
What do you think about the large numbers of tourists now coming to Cambodia?
Some tourists just come to see the main attractions like Angkor Wat and Pub Street, but miss out on seeing the real situation and people of Cambodia. That’s what I like about my job. I take people away from busy places so they can see what things are really like, how people live in the countryside, what they do for work, what they eat, things like that.
When I’m out on tour I get to show them things and places they would never see otherwise. I have my favourite spots I like to visit when I take people out on tour, like the ladies who make traditional rice noodles, or the men making palm wine or the basket weavers. A lot of tourist only see the final products in the markets, like the hand woven silks or handmade baskets but don’t get to see the real people in the countryside who make these things with their hands and skill.
When people go back home, what do you want them to remember from Cambodia?
I want people to remember what the people are like, especially the children in the countryside. I want them to remember the real situation in Cambodia and the real culture, not just the tourist places. I want them to remember the day to day life of the people in the countryside the culture and the experience they had when they were on tour with us.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to read, play sports, go outside and enjoy picnics. I was married just this year, so when my wife and I have free time, we like to visit the lake and enjoy a BBQ with friends or just relax. Sometimes we drive into the countryside for the day or go visit my relatives in the village where I grew up. I also study IT at a university in Siem Reap during the evenings as I am working towards my degree.