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!

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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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