Khmer golden silk + Kampot pepper rum

How many silk garments do you own? I bet I have at least 70 silk shirts, scarves, dresses, coats, even pants. Probably more. Next question: Where does silk come from? Intellectually, I’m sure most of us can identify the Bombyx mori, the silkworm first cultivated in China. But have you ever seen a silkworm feed on mulberry leaves? Spin a cocoon? Get cooked in hot water and be spun into fiber? Neither had I.

So it was a lucky day when I got to escape Phnom Penh’s midday heat for a trip to Silk Island. My guide was Yoen (below), a father of three sons and survivor of the Khmer Rouge with a list of American friends as long as his chopsticks. If you ever find yourself in Cambodia and need a guide, he’s the guy for you.

Yoen drove me on his tuktuk through horrible traffic, over a bridge, then across a river on a ferry to the island, where Golden Silk is King. FYI: head-to-toe pjs is street-style chic.

There I got an education about the 38-day lifecycle of the Cambodian golden silkworm. I’ll let the photo montage above do the talking. One of the high points was seeing this weaver at rest (below). Love her!


Later, I went to the capital city’s Russian Market, where I met this vendor of local silks. Cambodia’s silk industry is rebounding now, 40 years after the fall of the brutal Khmer Rouge. So naturally I was moved to support it. The intricate ikat patterns astound me.

Phnom Penh is a vibrant, fascinating, rugged city. While its past is very present, given the recent crackdown on press freedom and democracy, it has a lot of love to share. A new rum distillery, operated by two Venezuelans and a Latvian, warmed my soul. Samai Distillery infuses Cambodia’s legendary Kampot pepper into its rum, which I relished at the tasting room. I was desperate to bring a bottle home, but no luck: it was sold out!

A few nighttime scenes. Yes, that’s a tarantula. I ate a leg. I can still feel it in my mouth.

Here are a few daytime street shots: chic cafes, saffron robed monks, school kids and a sculpture that reminds me of our French bulldog.

Lower pics: heart-stopping street murals of ’60s & ’70s pop singers murdered by the Khmer Rouge and a bride posing for wedding photos in front of the National Palace, only about 2 blocks apart. Past and present remain fused together in Phnom Penh.

Next up: Indigo and kimono in Tokyo.

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