An excursion with one of our most knowledgeable guides aboard Aqua Mekong is bound to be an experience. Get to know more about Hoeum Hout, a native Cambodian and Angkorian naturalist and guide as he shares with us his favorite things about his home country and his work.
Tell us about your family and upbringing.
I was born and raised near the Angkor Archeological Park in Siem Reap, an area filled with a rich culture, history and traditions. As a child, my father used to take me to visit temples, and this sparked my curiosity, always wanting to learn more. This is how I got interested in subjects such as culture and history. My whole family worked in rice farming, and my mother was a primary school teacher. As a teacher, she encouraged me to go to school in our village. I grew up with three siblings and I’m the oldest son in the family.
What motivated you to become a guide and share your deep knowledge of Cambodian history and culture with guests from all over the world?
I went to a state school in my village. In class, I became very interested in the history of Cambodia, especially in the history of Angkor Wat and other ancient civilizations. The knowledge I acquired during school is what led me to work in the tourism industry, where I started my career as an English-speaking tour guide. As a guide, I have the opportunity to meet guests from all around the world and I am passionate about sharing the culture and history of my country with them.
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
I love meeting people and being able to share and learn from each other about our culture and traditions.
What are some of your hobbies and favorite activities when not onboard Aqua Mekong?
When I’m not onboard Aqua Mekong, I like to spend time with my beloved family and friends in my village. I love nature and being in an open, green environment. I enjoy farming and grow plants and crops such as oranges, mangos, peanuts, and green peas. I have a vegetable garden and grow my own food, which is organic. I also raise animals and grow Rosewood, an endangered tree, and have around 250 of them. To relax, I like to read books.
Around 60 million people live and work on the Mekong River, could you tell us more about the different ethnic groups co-existing in the lower Mekong basin where we navigate?
There are many different ethnic groups who live and benefit from the Mekong river, especially in the lower Mekong river basin. There are Chinese, Vietnamese, Khmer, and several tribes in northern Cambodia. They each have their own religious beliefs and traditions. We are born in a different culture and have a different language, but we all share our river together and live in harmony.
How does religion in Cambodia shape the lives of individuals and families?
Cambodian people practice Theravada Buddhism. More than a religion, it is a philosophy and form of education. It is a very peaceful belief that teaches us to understand Karma, action, right and wrong, and the truth of suffering. It has also taught us about compassion, kindness, and sympathy. Cambodian people are very friendly, warm, welcoming, kind, and generous.
What aspect of Cambodian culture do you enjoy showing and talking about the most to our guests?
There are many significant cultural practices in Cambodia. Personally, I love showing our guests how silk is woven and how rice is grown from the seed to harvest. I grew up with this and notice guests are interested in the process of growing rice. They eat rice but don’t really think about what’s behind it, there is actually a lot of story behind rice.
So when we pass along rice fields and guests interact with farmers and locals who explain the different stages, I can see they really enjoy this. For us, rice is a staple food and very important for our culture and economy.
There are also many spontaneous visits to the villages along the way. Guests get to interact with locals and learn about their daily life, customs, wedding ceremonies, and events. Our guests find these experiences very unique and appreciate to see and understand the local culture.
What traditional Khmer dish would you recommend not to be missed during a trip to Cambodia?
Amok fish or chicken and Khmer Curry — they are my favorite food. I am always recommending not to miss these delicious dishes in Cambodia.
What would be your 5 top tips for travelers to discover and experience Siem Reap at its fullest?
1) Drive along the countryside and enjoy the scenery, with a visit to Phnom Kulen National Park — a beautiful place where you can find waterfalls and sculptures carved into the riverbed. It’s located about 50 km North-East from Siem Reap, and about 2 km from where I live. It is the oldest city in Angkor, established in the 9th century.
2) Visit the floating villages in Tonle Sap Lake to learn about the local daily life of fishermen.
3) Discover Angkor Archeological Park.
4) Visit the Bird Sanctuary in Prek Toal or the Kulen Phnom Tep Wildlife Sanctuary.
5) Taste the local food and dine with a local family.
If there is one learning you would like guests to take back home from your country after an unforgettable voyage onboard Aqua Mekong, what would this be?
Sampeah is a Cambodian greeting or a way of showing respect — an important part of Khmer culture. While performing Sampeah, we place our palms together in a prayer-like fashion bowing slightly. There are different ways of bowing when performing Sampeah. The higher the hand and the lower the bow, the more respect is shown. It is a sign of respect and politeness but also a common way to say thank you or to apologize.
What do you miss about being on board and what are you looking forward to the most on your return?
Onboard, we live and work together as a family, brothers and sisters, supporting and caring for each other. We share love and fun moments and work never gets tiring. I am really missing this time very much. I am looking forward to meeting them again soon and sharing with them my stories, as well as preparing to welcome our guests for amazing experiences and a memorable voyage with us.
The Aqua Mekong offers three, four and seven-night cruises in the stunning Mekong region. With our expert English-speaking guides and local community connections, we are able to reveal a more authentic side of Cambodia and Vietnam, offering fresh perspectives and deeper insight for a truly rewarding journey. Fuel your wanderlust and join us onboard for a meaningful adventure this holiday season.