9 Feb Thu KOMPONG CHAM
An early start for a long journey, the pick-up arrived at our guesth at 7:45. Our destination was Kompng Cham, a city by the Mekong (how surprising). Originally we wanted to go to Phnom Penh straight but Kurt (the Austrian guy from Ban Lung) loved this place so much that it inspired us to stop there for a while.
We decided to travel "outside", as it was almost half price (6 USD instead of 10) and we knew "inside" quite well: 7 people cramped in, no leg space whatsoever. We were afraid a bit to have chickens for travelling companion but otherwise we thought it couldn't be that bad. We were wrong. The pick-up stopped in the outskirts of town and haulage began. Several sacks of sweet potato, a motorbike + personal luggages of the passengers (7 locals + 2 of us) were piled up. We were sitting on the top of the hill with scarely any handles. The situation was much worse than it was on the pick-up to Sen Monorom (and we were sitting inside then). The first leg of the journey (to Snuol) was alright as traffic was minimal and we enjoyed the scenery and the sounds of the jungle. Traffic grew rapidly, it was getting hotter and we were getting exhausted of trying to stay alive. The finisher was the moment when they removed the bike near Kompong Cham, that was our only handrail! The driver almost forgot to stop in the city centre, we had to shout at him. Eventually we got there, sunburnt, dehydrated, exhausted but alive.
Checked a few grim guesthouses at the Mekong side the we ended up in Mekong hotel, a huge, communist style building (with extremely wide corridors begging for an ultimate frisbee session - LP). Fan rooms with TV was 5 USD, 10 USD would have brought a/c and riverview - we can live without that.
Palatial lunch at Hao An rest., one of the best (budget) options in town. We deserved it. Pricey but giant mains with Chinese influence (as it is Khmer-Chinese place), nice terrace where we could contemplate a short but torrential tropical rain sweeping through the city. Market (business as usual), walk on the riverside. Mekong was wider than ever before which is not surprising as we are going downwards. Countless fishing longtail boats, people really make their living from the river here. Otherwise the usual relaxed Mekong side feeling (although a bit more bustling than anywhere in Laos).
Dinner in Hao An again, internet (1 usd/hr at last).
10 Feb Fri KOMPONG CHAM
Breakast at the hotel. Rented 2 very good bikes (1.5 USD each) to explore nearby Koh Paen (Island of Paen). This is a huge island in the Mekong with more people living on it than in Sen Monorom (around 10 000). The access to the island in the dry season is an attraction itself: a 100 % handmade bamboo bridge which is rebuilt in every year (as it is washed away in the rainy season leaving ferry the only means of transport). From a distance it seems as if it was made from matchsticks. It seemed quite weird but we saw seriously overburdened motos managing to cross so we took a deep breath and cycled across to the island. We were cycling for about 3 hours but didn't manage to cycle around the island. We were passing through all scenes of rural Cambodia: villages with the usual insight to the daily grind, rice fields with water buffalos, wats, schools and the ever-present hospitality of people (smiles and "hello" everywhere - we were even spotted from 100 m by most of the kids). It was reasonably hot as most of the journey was under foliage. We enjoyed the trip very much, as we were doing sport, interacting with the locals and saw some beautiful countryside.
We had an arrnged tour for the afternoon: we were taken to a nearby village by tuk-tuk. An AMICA project was run here as we got to know it from a French NGO on the spot. They aim sustainable development by teaching methods to thrive rather than pouring money in the piggy bank of the village. We bought 2 bracelets made from palm leaves to support them (half of the money goes to the maker while the other half fattens the budget of the village). We visited a few houses where they made instruments, palm sugar and souvenirs. We also popped in the school and a big annual feast. However, the main attraction for us was to see the water buffalos (around 50 of them) being escorted to take their daily bath in a nearby pool. An ultimate SE feeling again!
That was a very nice day indeed, we didn't mind stopping in Kompong Cham at all.
In the evening we tried another restuarnt, which also served great food (and had a moderate wine list as well)