Kompong Cham

I got up at 6am to change some baht into riel (moneychangers in Kratie also often sell phones or jewelry, you know they change money because they display different currencies in glass containers on the counter) and grab my last sticks of krolan for the bus today, which I got on at 7am.
The bus was supposed to take 4 hours to the little city of Kompong Cham (where the current Prime Minister was born) so of course it took 6 (to determine length of public transport in southeast Asia, this is the formula : ((time you were told) x 1.5)= actual time). It’s just the way it is, and I plan on it. No reason to stress, the scenery is pretty, and though the Cambodian buses are usually far from comfortable, I am beyond thankful if at least the aircon is working or the windows open.
A moto taxi offered to take me to my hotel for 1000 riel (25 cents). His English was excellent and seemed like a legit guy so I asked for his recommendation for a guesthouse under $5. He took me to a place next to the river, and waited while I checked it out. 3rd floor, fan cooled, PRIVATE bathroom (!), and even better – my own balcony!! Definitely. My moto translated for the guesthouse manager, who spoke no English, and I paid them each their due, was given an extra set of padlocks, and went upstairs to nap off the heat of the day.

Kompong Kampang Cham Balcony Budget Cheap Guest House Mekong
View from my balcony
My guesthouse

I wandered around the riverside for a bit, staking out ideas for a morning bike ride tomorrow before I take a bus to Phnom Penh. There’s an awesome bamboo bridge to an island in the Mekong, rebuilt after every monsoon season. Definitely thinking that’s my destination tomorrow morning before I hop the bus (or will I go wild and splurge that extra dollar or so for the much faster minivan? Living fast and furious here)

While an awesome budget find, my place lacks wifi. Or, I lack the language ability to ascertain whether there’s wifi. There’s a nice little coffee place a few doors down across the street – Destiny. It supports an NGO, and had fast/free wifi, friendly service, and great shakes and food (at reasonable prices).

Kompong Cham is definitely not on the tourist short list. Aside from the manager at Destiny, and one European couple at a restaurant I passed by, I haven’t seen any other Falang. Which is awesome! But also slightly lonely – I would love to meet some Khmers, but aside from staring at me, no one is very interested (language barrier is a much bigger issue in non-touristy areas). Except for the teenage boys, who shove each other until one of them shouts an embarrassed ‘hello!’ and then covers his face in his hands while his buddies giggle and cheer. And the toddlers, who all smile big and wave nonstop while yelling ‘halloooooo halloooooo!’ Sometimes women my own age will try to talk to me, the usual questions – where are you going, where are you from, why are you in Cambodia, are you alone?- but then eventually the words run out and they turn to their girlfriends and laugh, and I’m not sure whether it’s at me, for being a sweaty and unusual looking foreigner so out of place.
I’m still getting used to the nonstop attention and blatant, curious stares. It is totally harmless and innocent, but somewhat disconcerting and isolating.. To know you are the center of so much attention and discussion that you can’t understand.
I bought a bus ticket for $4.75, and rented a bike (with basket and lock) for $1 from Mekong Daze bar/restaurant, then grabbed some dinner at Mekong Crossing, had an awesome, big western style salad with perfect Italian vinaigrette for $2.. Oh goodness I’ve missed those salads (seems like salads in southeast Asia are always small, light on veggies and heavy on thousand island or mayo based dressing)! My waiter was super nice, had perfect English, and after chatting came to find out he’s a final candidate for one of 6 scholarships for Cambodians to go to West Point (VERY VERY prestigious academy in the US). Rock on and best of luck!


Mekong Discovery Trail Day 2

Great breakfast waiting for us.. Best yet
The 7am ferry

This morning we woke up at 6am, had another awesome meal, and headed out to the ferry. Good god my butt was sore. When we got to the port town on the other side, Kat got picked up in a car (she was too sore and not feeling well enough to justify the ride back), and Sam and I continued back. We made awesome time, being cheered on with the ‘hallo!!’s of countless children , stopping a few times for a water or crushed ice drink, returning our bikes to CRDT and arriving back to Balcony before noon.

The road on the mainland
View from my bike of the Mekong

Not gonna lie, it was the most physically challenging thing I’ve done in Southeast Asia. The heat, lack of sleep (due to it being so hot), dehydration and not being used to riding a bike all compounded to make a pretty difficult second day (and end of the first day). That being said, this was one of the best experiences I’ve had so far.

Sunset view from Balcony

Mekong Discovery Trail – 2 Days of Biking and a Homestay on Koh Phdao

Kat, Sam, and I woke up at 6am (which was rough because none of us had slept barely at all, the power kept on shutting off and leaving us without fans to sleep in steamy nonmoving air), and left at 615am to be to the CRDT office by 630am where we picked up our bikes from Ravi (our super helpful coordinator) and hit the road!

We stopped and grabbed a baguette for 500 riel (12 cents) and then tried to make the most of a (relatively) cool morning. It was still in the 80s F. We stopped to drink water and let Kat catch up, who was going a bit slower because she wasn’t feeling well.

3 hours in or so, Sam and I stopped at a roadside snack shack for water and some chips. We were sweating our asses off. I’ve never been so hot. We were exhausted.

The awesome old guy who runs the place grabbed chairs for us and, even though he didn’t speak English, we did the best we could to converse. After telling him we were Americans, he pointed at my tan skin and his own tan skin (as compared to Sams being paler?) and said ‘Barack Obama!’ with a huge smile on his face. Then he pointed at Sam’s beard and said ‘Saddam Hussein’ and made a hanging motion hahah, and thought a moment and mimed a beard and added ‘Osama Bin Laden!’ Funny what the rest of the world knows about America..

Our old friend then called over his son in law and grandson, and a bunch of other members of his family to come see us. Kat caught up, and soon we were surrounded by 8 or so of his family members, including a son that spoke great English and was translating his family’s questions to us, and our answers back to them. He asked the usual, where we are from, are we married (no), are we single (2 of us), where are we going (Koh Phdao), where are we coming from (Kratie), how do we know each other (met 2 days ago). After ordering a few more 500 riel waters for the road, we took off.

Thankfully, it took us less than an hour to reach the ferry and take it across to Koh Phdao (1500 riel each person and bike total). After pushing our bikes up the super steep hill, we had about another hour or so before we reached our homestay. Hallelujah! We found it. Sweaty, bum killing, and exhausted, we were welcomed by some members of our host family, the mom dad 7 year old daughter and 3 month old daughter. So sweet! We grabbed some cheap snacks and an awesome ground ice slush from a few of the neighboring families, and then met our community guide, 28 year old Jaansna, and we all decided to take naps and reconvene at 2pm.

Our homestay

After our naps we got back on the bikes,( ooh my bum!), this time with Jaansna too and rode for a while more to see community initiatives in progress, including a huge irrigation ditch being hand dug with spades (in this heat! Ayyyyi).

Eventually we made our way to the community center, where the four of got on a boat in the Mekong. We crossed the river and stopped at a sandy island to go swimming. After 50 kms of riding in sweltering heat, nothing had ever felt so good.
After soaking our sore muscles, we hopped back in the boat towards the center of the river. A quarter from shore, the boatsman cut the engine and we floated. The sound of a deep, throaty exhale caught our attention – Irawaddy dolphins! We sat and watched the amazing mammals, at least twelve of them, breathe, roll over, and surface all around us, a few times only a few meters away. It was absolutely amazing.

We continued back to shore, hopped on our bikes for the final torture of the day, and headed back to our homestay. We watched the father play with his daughter while the mom made dinner.. And what dinner it was!! So good, and so much, and so very needed after such a long day.

After dinner we chilled on the cool lower deck, and watched lightning as we waited for the temperature to cool. Eventually, we headed to our rooms, a part of the living space sectioned off with sheets for privacy, and mattresses on the floor, and mosquito netting.

Koh Trong Day Trip

I woke up around 6am and couldn’t fall back asleep.. I’m used to aircon, so this fan room has been tough, but I KNOW I need to start staying in fan rooms – it gets you acclimated to the weather better (no crazy change from hot to cold to hot), is way cheaper, and fans don’t make you sick like the aircon does here. Whenever I sleep in aircon, I wake up with a scratchy throat, faded voice, and feel a little off.

Anyway. I took a walk to the market, changed my money from Thai baht to riel, exchange rate of 130 to 1. Not great but not bad.

I headed back to the guest house, had some fruit and bread for breakfast, and then Sam (American), Katrina (Canadian) and myself took off for Koh Trong, an island off of Kratie.

The pier is right on the main road that runs parellel to the Mekong (its a small town, anyone can point you in the right direction, and regardless of where you’re staying it won’t be more than a 10 minute walk), and the ferry was 1000riel. We got to Koh Trong, rented bikes for $2 (USD) and began our day. After an hour or so on the bikes, we stopped at a homestay for lunch (Contact the CRDT to set up the day before)- rice, veggies, meat for the other two, and a dessert of mangoes. Really good, and $4 each, going directly to the homestay family.

We cruised around the island a bit more, saw a floating village, were chased by smiling half naked toddlers screaming ‘hellooooo!’ and then returned back to Kratie on the ferry, where we went to the community development office to book our biking trek and homestay for the next two days (only $24 USD for bike, accommodation, 2 meals, a guide on the island, a boat trip to swim and see dolphins!)
After some napping and relaxation, we headed to the rooftop at Silver Dolphin to have some wine and dinner before calling it an early night.

Sunset on The Mekong