ANGKOR BAN, CAMBODIA —Where the Cow is the Bank Account!

—Where the Cow is the Bank Account!

By Karen Spencer

cow Angkor Ban Cambodia


In our world, when we are financially comfortable, we might buy a Cadillac or install a pool. In Angkor Ban, Cambodia, a village whose wooden houses on stilts and the lifestyle of its inhabitants harkens back a thousand years, a cow is your bank account.  Possession of a bull assures a family of ongoing income as stud fees can be $20. These skinny white cows or oxen are a type known as Zebu.

Additional wealth may be displayed by painting your house a brilliant color or commissioning an elaborate banister for the steps leading to the upper living floor. Large cisterns collect water for washing and cooking, clothes are hung on outdoor lines, ever-present hammocks are hung beneath the stilted house for resting or sleeping, and the cow or cows are lazily reclining in the front yard. Not a blade of grass to be seen anywhere.

Chickens and ducks are part of the family worth. Primitive steps lead up to coops near the ceiling as apparently, chickens prefer to spend their nights up above, while ducks are content cozy on the ground.

While the Khmer Rouge destroyed most villages across the country during three decades of civil war, here they requisitioned or lived in the century-old houses on stilts or used them as warehouses. Some have outhouses, most have haystacks for cattle feed.

Cambodian ladies love their prints and bright colors and have no compunctions about mixing and combining them in a cacophony of discordant combinations. A staple of every wardrobe is a scarf of striped cotton with hundreds of purposes: as a shirt, sarong, shorts, turban, to cook rice in, to use as a bathroom and everyone knows the art of folding and tying them.

Children were not in evidence around the village as all those between six and 14 were in school, anxious to practice their English on and with the visitors. They share their lessons and enthusiastically shout out the phrases on the display board, echoing the English speaking readers, hoping to differentiate the American, Canadian and Australian accents. Outside, the yard is filled with students’ bicycles and a few curious pre-schoolers sidle up to see if they can get in on the excitement.

As little as these people have, as simple and primitive as their agrarian lifestyle seems, the warmth and welcome for visitors and embracing of learning and knowledge and enthusiasm for expanding their horizons, indicates a subtle sophistication and positive outlook that keeps them satisfied with their current lives and certain to make their children’s lives more in keeping with the new century. The visitors leave, glowing in the warm embrace of the children, and not at all saddened by the lifestyle so different from their own, but encouraged by the peaceful, simple and spiritual ambience of the life of the village.

Ed. Note: Karen Spencer has traveled the world, photographing people, places and things with her artist’s eye. During her times abroad she discovered that the creativity in photography offered a way to chronicle unique moments in time.

She was born and raised in New York City, is a City College graduate and had a long career as graphic designer and art director for publishing companies and advertising agencies in NY and New Orleans.

She is spending her eighth winter in Ajijic, is a member of the Chapala Country Club, the Ajijic Arts Society, Mexicoelective and has exhibited extensively here and in her home town of Norwalk, CT. Her work is in collections in the U.S., Mexico, Canada and England.


For more information about Lake Chapala visit:

Ojo Del Lago
Latest posts by Ojo Del Lago (see all)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *