Sebastian and Alieke hail from Holland, but this adventurous family of four have spent the last 10 years living in Dubai, taking holidays to places like Bali and Siem Reap to escape Dubai’s brutal summer heat. “When the girls have a school holiday they will tell you they want to go to Holland, but we don’t want to just go home.” So what brings them to Cambodia? We caught up with them as they lounged poolside at Navutu Dreams Sunday morning after brunch to talk Tonle Sap houseboats, benefits of eating local, and giving children perspective through travel from an early age.
Q: How did you come to Siem Reap and Navutu Dreams?
Sebastian: We have friends living in Brunei. There is not much to do there, so they travel a lot and they recommended we visit Cambodia. I learned about Angkor Wat over five years ago and it has been in the back of my mind ever since. The girls are on summer holiday now. We’ve been here for six days, and tomorrow we will go home to Holland for a month.
Alieke: Siem Reap has more of a holiday feel, doesn’t it? We’ve visited Bali, and it’s beautiful there, but it is more pure here. It is more unique. And less developed.
As we chatted, the couple’s two daughters, eight and six years old, helped Phalika to fold flowers for the day’s tabletop centerpieces.
Alieke: They’ve been helping the staff fold the flowers every morning. With kids you need a break every day. They love to hang around by the pool here and have down time.
Q: So how do you keep two young girls happy here?
Alieke: We took them to the pottery studio one afternoon. They loved that. But when the bunny got delivered to the resort yesterday its feet had broken off from its body. So the afternoon of fun at the studio ended in tears.
Sebastian: I think their favorite thing has been riding in the tuk-tuk.
Alieke: And we don’t have rain in Dubai. The rain is a treat, but when it rains so hard…
She explained that the previous day they had ridden up to Banteay Srei to play in the waterfall and watch the monks, but on the way there it had begun raining – no, pouring. July marks the beginning of rainy season in Cambodia, so visitors are encouraged to get an early start. Even in the early afternoon, the rain was so heavy they eventually decided to turn back and dry off at Navutu.
Sebastian: When you’re wet and covered in mud, it is so nice to come back to this haven. It’s clean and quiet and the girls are happy to play by the pools for hours.
Alieke: I didn’t expect to receive such good service here. You can expect it in places like Bali now. But even here, it’s all so civilized and everything is there for the girls. It’s good for us to come here to give them some perspective. Yesterday we saw a man in town selling books. He had no hands. And of course at first the girls were a bit scared, but it is all we can do to explain to them more about the world.
Q: Speaking of learning more about the world, what is one thing that stuck in your mind in this last week?
Alieke: We spent one morning on the Tonle Sap lake with Beyond Unique Escapes Travel. Probably because of the weather, we ended up getting a private tour. Just seeing all those people living in small houseboats. And all those houses up on poles; to imagine that all those houses will be nearly under water in a month or two. All those people moving their stuff inside or out. The way they construct these houses here is so interesting.
Sebastian: For me, the temples. Of course. Ankgor Thom and Bayon. The structures are amazing. They’re so well maintained, you know? And it is all so green and clean. We miss the green in Dubai. They make green spaces in Dubai, but they’re not so green like here – always covered in dust.
We chatted about life in Dubai, and I asked what their diet is like. What people eat when traveling abroad says a lot about them. Turns out the daughters don’t mind tasting local cuisines: although Niam Niam offers Western fare, they ordered a plate of spring rolls with soy sauce.
Alieke: Our friend told us to eat at Café de la Paix, but they haven’t been here for eight years. Obviously when we went to have a look, Café de le Paix did not exist anymore. But we like to try the local food when we travel and I had this Khmer beef salad. I love the French twist with the Khmer food here. And the herbs!
Sebastian: Khmer food is less spicy than Thai food. Maybe not for everyone, but for me that is a good thing. Last night we went to Chanrey Tree for more Khmer beef.
Alieke: We do love to eat the local food, but tonight I think I want to try that little Italian place, Il Forno, at The Lane off Pub Street .
Sebastian: On our last night? Well, does it have pizza?