Meeting the ‘hero rats’ sniffing out landmines in Cambodia

A rotary fan is clipped to my small table.

This ancient bit of equipment has no cage to prevent its blade hitting a passing arm or other limb, but its soft breeze is enough to induce slumber. I’m in Sambor Prei Kuk, northern Cambodia, and staying in a traditional stilt house converted to a homestay. There are three generations here, all living under one roof. Even so, they share their space with visiting tourists; the income supplementing a farming family’s meagre earnings.

Every movement and footstep upstairs, where guests sleep, seems amplified. Rooms are separated by paper-thin walls and light shines up through the slats in the floor coming from the Cambodian family’s “living room”. Festooned with hammocks and shared with dogs, chickens and children from next door, this space has a primitive kitchen and a pathway which leads to two Asian style bathrooms with western toilets. The only other quarters are a room where the family sleep.  

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