After the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh we arrive in a totally different world. Glad we actually DID arrive after seeing 3 accidents on the road to Kratie and a driver with a death wish…
Road through hell
Four hours on the road with a driver who didn’t speak English except for the word “toilet”, luckily. My friend and I are still quite tired from the walks and the heat and doze off. Up to the moment our driver screams… An accident just happened. A passenger car is stuck underneath a truck on the left lane (you are supposed to drive in the right lane here). The driver is stuck halfway between the seat and the dashboard and steering wheel. His head is clearly smashed and blood drips down his face. We are in shock. Lot’s of questions go through our Western minds: how does an ambulance get to this place which is so remote? Where are the road services? Is he alive or dead? He cannot be still alive, otherwise people would not just stand there and look at him, right? This is exceptional, right? Our minds are still full of questions and our jaws are still hanging on the floor, when we see another car on its roof with a family and the car content next to it. What is going on here? Why is this road so unsafe? It doesn’t look dangerous from an infrastructure perspective, except that it only has 2 lanes. It becomes a bit clearer while we are not sleeping during our drive… the drivers are speeding as if the devil is behind them, overtaking when clearly someone is approaching from the opposite direction. We try to make clear to the driver that we are not comfortable with him speeding and driving like this. It didn’t really sink in with him… So happy we made it safe and sound to Kratie.
Kampi Rapids – outdoor water playground
After our late lunch at our hostel-like-accomodation, we arrange for a tuktuk and head out to Kampi Rapids. How fun is this! It is a place where the locals enjoy a lazy afternoon with family. Wooden constructions, hammocks and mats on the floor, access to the rapids, food and drinks for sale. We get ourselves a spot and obviously seem to be part of the attraction now… especially when my friend does as all the others do: get into a tire and into the water, in her clothes… I cannot get over the point of jumping in the water with all my clothes on, what is wrong with a bikini? I see no one with a bikini, so I leave it at that.
Almost extinct – Irriwaddy dolphins
Next stop: spotting the Irriwaddy dolphins. I don’t have high expectations… they are so few of them left in this world and are so difficult to spot, let alone take pictures of them. Kampi is the place with the “highest” population and they only seem to live in the Mekong. So, we just go for the boat ride, right? But we ARE lucky and spot several of them. I have mixed feelings. It would be much better to approach the animals without the noise of the motorized boats. What is wrong with canoes or paddle boats? Hope eco-tourism gets new impulses. It started out so well some years ago.
My private monk
Our road trip continues towards Phnom Sambok. 400 stairs to get all the way to the top of this holy place inhabited by monks. Halfway up we meet a monk who insists on guiding us around. A bit difficult as he doesn’t speak a word of English… he points at the signs with explanation in English. I take time to admire everything he shows, but in reality I like to wander off alone and enjoy things at my own pace. He does point out some nice picture spots and I show him the pictures on my camera After accompanying us a while, my friend escapes and leaves me alone with him. Wtf! He stays close to the only sheep remaining in the herd, me. It almost felt like the next place he would show me would have been the sleeping quarters… Anyway, I say goodbye and run down the 400 stairs again where I find my friend laughing her ass off “you got yourself a private monk!”.
Unintended party crashers
On our way back to Kratie we see a big party. What is this? Looks interesting! Stop! We want to see this. It is a wedding. We get closer to look at all these people arriving all dressed up in colorful long clothes, hair styled and heavily made up. Where do they come from? We are in the middle of nowhere? Where do they get their clothes from? How do they arrive so clean? While we are still full of questions we are being absorbed by the stream of guests and are welcomed like one of their own. We are introduced to the families and guided towards a dinner table. What just happened? Did we become party crashers? I was quite ok, but my friend feels we should be leaving, we are sweaty, our hair is all curled up, our faces are red, our make up is partially gone and our clothes are far from elegant. We excuse our selves with a nice smile and make our way back out. Haha, no way, they had a great party planner who fished us up again and brought us back inside. We can’t do this. We go the groom, apologize and wish them all the best, but explain we feel uncomfortable as we are not dressed for the occasion and didn’t bring a gift.
What a day… from death to wedding…
Cycling around an island
We make our way on foot alongside the Mekong to the boat terminal. Well “boat terminal” is a big word. There is a long stairs down to the water. At the top of the stairs we see a woman selling something bizar. I had read about it, but thought it was something from the past. She was selling geeze eggs that were boiled the moment the chicken hatched. Omg… my stumach turns around in my belly…
It is only a 5 minute boat ride to Koh Krong island. We have a large group of Western youngsters on board, all cheery a and chatty, as is normal at that age I guess. We definitely don’t want to be slower than them in getting onshore and onto the island, as we knew there are only so many bicycles available for rent. As we approach the shore we see the cow carts and motorcycles approaching. In the blistering heat at 9 am we hurry up – on foot – over the long stretch of sand before we get to the actual island. We got in first before the teen herd and select ourselves some good functioning bicycles.
It is really great to cycle around here on the circular small road around the island. We see how people live, their cattle, chicken with chicks in every garden, their plantations. In the North there is a resort with a nice swimming pool. We knew this and came prepared. An ideal stop to cool down and watch and listen to the teens who also arrived here to chill. A bit further on the other side of the island we see a family preparing some sort of vegetable or herb for selling. I look at it, smell at it and point at a picture in my little booklet. Yes, that’s it. We move on and take selfies with cows to the amusement of some local farmers, we get lost in the meadows between some other cows and pass by a little guy dressed up as a superhero. He shows us the way forward. We are so hungry by now and in need of some coke zero. Luckily there is a little grocery store on the way. No coke zero and real food, but the offered soda and cookies will do the trick. In front of the store there is a pathway to the beach. Oh, sounds great! We leave our bikes unlocked at the entry of the pathway and make our way down, to find out the water of the Mekong is another 500 m away and we would have to pass searing hot sand in the blistering sun to get there…. we pass.
In the wet season the innerpart of the island is covered in rice fields, but now, in the dry season it doesn’t look appealing or inviting, just a dry patch of some sort of grassy stuff.
By the time we get to the end, my friend and I have that nice red complexion on our face again… the two tomatoes. We make our way to the “terminal” and see that party goods are being offloaded… clearly another wedding happening on the island. Everything is being transported over there: (golden) chairs, tables, decoration, (fake) flowers… for the whole community to join. Guess it is difficult to leave out some neighbours on an island…
In the boat we see three young men preparing for an afternoon in town. Deo and perfume being sprayed, some blue hairspray being professionally positioned on their black shiny hair. O yes, that will do the trick with the ladies 🙂
Being invited in
We are having a late lunch at the restaurant at the docks and use their wifi to arrange for our next leg of the day trip. Our tuktuk assigns someone else, equally nice and courteous. We are mentally prepared for another of those bumpy, dusty remorque tuktuk rides. It doesn’t hold my friend back from falling asleep somewhere during the ride. We stop at a palm-sugar-farmer. I didn’t even knew this existed. It is extremely sweet and fatty. Not my thing. The farmer is much more interesting. He is 70 years old and speaks fluent French.
It is weird hearing an elderly Cambodian man speak French. The picture doesn’t fit the sound. He was thought French at school back in the days. That was normal when he grew up, teaching in schools was in French. You could hear the melancholy in his voice… everything seemed better organized and safer back then. This all changed when the Red Khmer came to power. They didn’t know he was a teacher, nor that he spoke French… that would have been his dead sentence. Some friends of him were able to flee towards Vietnam, others didn’t make it. Horrible and incomprehensible. It is a very intriguing talk with this man. He is so happy to speak French again, it has been years, decades since he was able to have such a lenghty and indepth discussion in French. I am flattered and see his eyes sparkle. OK, I’m going to ask and tell him he doesn’t need to feel pressured and we do really understand if he doesn’t feel like it and we apology in advance if we offend him by asking… “Could you please show us around in your home?”. “Bien sûre! Suivez-moi!” I see his adult daughter saying something to him. I joke to my friend that I am pretty sure she now says to her dad that they didn’t have time to clean up the clutter. I check with our host, and indeed! This is what the discussion was about! Aren’t we all the same? It is a nice and spacious home made out of wood. The only clutter to be found is in the room of the 15 year old grand daughter. Also this looks familiar… just my daughter. There is not that much furniture and the bathroom didn’t get installed. I learn that life is hard here. They live from day to day, ensuring enough food on the table and saving a little bit to create a better future for their children and grand children. As a former teacher he knows exactly what a difference a good education can make in someone’s life.
All to ourselves – 100 pillar pagoda
We say goodbye to the family and make our way to the 100 Pillar Pagoda. What a nice place, again guarded by a monk community, but they seemed busy with their evening plans when we get there. This is really the middle of nowhere and you sometimes ask yourself who got the idea to build this complex right here and why? We are literally the only ones circling around the place. This makes it extra special, add the lovely colors, the gold everywhere, the setting sun to the mix and you can imagine we feel a bit bedazzled.
Wow, another day full of impressions, extremes and things to think about. This trip is definitely living up to our expectations. On our way back with the tuktuk we avoid being pulled into weddings as we are still not in the right dress code, and close our mouth to avoid swallowing too many protein.
Being fed literally
After being cleaned up a bit after the dusty ride, we walk towards the “city” center to get some food. We take a seat at the terrace and contemplate on what are the open questions we got left with… so after a few minutes of socializing with the owner we feel at ease enough to ask him: “Why didn’t we see the bride at the wedding?” It is tradition she only comes downstairs when all guests have arrived and dinner is served. “Do the monks wear underwear or only the orange cloth?” Only that one cloth. Yes, I know… really indepth and intelligent, well thought through questions. What can I say? We have very practical minds.
While we are talking to the owner, our food arrives and we see that it becomes more animated the table next to us where 5-6 local guys are having a drink. My friend has a hard time eating her noodle soup the right way… with sticks. One of the customers at the next table is intrigued and can’t seem to understand why my friend is struggling so much. After gesturing several times how she should be doing it, he comes our way, takes the sticks and starts feeding her himself. ????