Nan Phalla has been a familiar figure on Kratie’s riverfront since 1992 or 1993. The 42-year-old mother of five is not quite sure of the precise year she opened her stall. “Since I was young,” she smiles. Then, indicating a spot a few metres along from her current location, she adds: “I used to sell there.”
In prime position next to the Koh Trong ferry crossing, her stall contains ripe pomelo, bundles of nehm (raw river fish wrapped in banana leaves) and krolan. Consisting of sticky rice, beans and coconut milk steamed inside a bamboo tube, krolan is Kratie’s speciality.
“Everyone coming to Kratie province buys krolan,” she says. “Both foreigners and locals.”
Phalla breaks off a little piece for me to try. “For foreigners we have to give them some to taste, then they realise how delicious it is.” The krolan has the texture of sticky rice but with the slightly sweet flavour of the coconut milk.
Business is good.
Phalla sells 7,900 kilos of krolan each month to businesses as far away as Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Although she can clear up to $1,000 each month from this trade, Phalla still stands behind her stall each day.
“The customers come to see me,” she says. “If they don’t see me, they don’t buy.”
She is joined by her daughter Kong Kolyan, 17, who helps her out on Sundays, but on other days attends the local high school.
Clearly Phalla places great emphasis on the importance of her children’s education, all of whom are either at school or attending universities in Kratie and Phnom Penh.
Despite the success of her business, the cost of her children’s education has placed a financial burden on Phalla. For each of the past two years she has borrowed $3,000 from ACLEDA Bank to buy her children motorbikes.
“They travel a long way to go to school,” she says. “They study in different classes and at different times, so they want individual motorbikes.”
This is not the first time that Phalla has borrowed money from the bank. Her first loan was for $1,500 in 2008. She used this money to buy some land to build a house. Each subsequent year, she has paid off her original loan and taken out a further one. She still has three more payments to make on her latest loan, not that this concerns her at all.
“We have a good income,” she says. “So we’ll have no problem in paying the money back.”
Fact file: Kratie
Crop and animal production
Fishing and aquaculture
Famous for the only remaining population of Irrawaddy Dolphins which are dangerously close to extinction
Intersected by the Mekong river.
Site of proposed 3,300 Megawatt Sambor Dam