I love this country, pot holes and all. How else could I ex plain coming for a
month and staying ten.
Anyone who has traveled around the country knows
its charm lies in its rural communities. That is why I am often on the road.
One of my frequent journeys from the capital is on route five, northwest
to Battambang, the country's second largest city. Taking over six hours by taxi
on uneven surfaces, the constant rocking of the car induces sleep.
prefer to make the trip in three stages, staying overnight at Kompong Chhnang
The first leg I usually "hitch", starting early in the
morning on the outskirts of Phnom Penh with thumb extended.
Most of my
lifts come from cars and motorcycles. This is not strictly hitchhiking as one is
expected to pay the driver a token amount at each destination.
time at all I am in Oudong, the old royal capital, which is well worth a visit
for its historical value.
Thirty-one kilometers further up the road one
reaches Kampong Chhnang, where I usually spend the night and which is one of my
From a photographic point of view the province contains
many elements representative of the country as a whole. Its landscape is
essentially flat with rounded hills at intervals. Colorful decoration comes from
a sparse population of palm trees, leaves clustered at their tops.
curious sight at various intervals along the rugged highway are the "road
waterers" who continuously attempt to sprinkle down the dust in the hopes that
motorists will reward their efforts with some riels tossed out windows as they
Their efforts are meagre at best. Crouching in the back of a
pick-up, only a krama wrapped around my head keeps the dust from filling my
Kampong Chhnang is nestled tightly along the Tonle Sap. A beehive
of activity, the city's residents cluster on the riverbank, cleaning fish,
gleaning rice or making noodles with ingenious wooden devices.
photographs of beautiful sunrises can be taken at the riverside. The best time
is during the dry season.
Accommodation is sparse in Kompong Chhnang. I
stay at a clean, $5 a night, guest house on the main road, just before a
copy-cat version of the Independence monument in Phnom Penh.
alternatives are a $15 per night hotel northwest of the town or a floating
brothel that charges $10 for a rough room. I suspect room service is
The brothel is hard to miss as it has the letters "U.N."
emblazoned on the roof.
After dark, eating can be a problem as there are
very few restaurants. The only one I have found open is a dancing bar with
exorbitant prices and so I eat at food stalls in front of the market.
The next day, bright and early, I head towards Pursat. Military
checkpoints become regular sights, found primarilly at bridges and road
Heavilly-armed soldiers stop vehicles and charge a "tax" which
the driver pays in cash or cigarettes.
However, the vehicles I have
traveled in never seem to stop. Its likely my eager smiles with a camera at my
side give the drivers an added sense of confidence to run the blockades. In any
event, I have never felt in any danger.
An interesting diversion en
route is Kampong Long on the Tonle Sap where there is a large ethnic
Khmer/Vietnamese fishing village.
To get there, go to Krakor, a small
town two hours outside of Kampong Chhnang. At Krakor, go east ten minutes by
motorbike down a mud track which is virtually impassable during the rainy
Well before the moto stops at Kampong Long people run up
alongside and offer their boats for a trip to see the lake. A thirty minute trip
among the house boats is negotiable; I paid 5000 riel.
villages are almost self-contained. Colorful sign boards denote the businesses.
A large painted tooth indicates the dentist. The hairdresser is marked by a
picture of a woman with immaculately coiffured hair.
It is best to do
this tour in the morning. After lunch it may be difficult to find a taxi for the
27 kilometers to Pursat.
Pursat is a quiet town and not so interesting.
There are plenty of restaurants and a few guest houses on the main road or near
the UNDP office.
Bar Tra mountain is 28 kilometers beyond Pursat and
comes to life on weekends. Because there is little to do in Pursat its residents
descend on the beauty spot for elaborate picnic parties.
has a rocky landscape with huge boulders and thin trees. On top of a small hill
is a strange statue of an emaciated monk who, I was told, fasted to gain
enlightenment. He deplored drinking, gambling and other vices.
rather ironic, because only a stone's throw away there are scenes which would
give him indigestion if he were alive.
Gambling and drinking are the
order of the day. A brightly-painted dance partner can be had for only 200
Light snacks and drinks are available and everyone enjoys
themselves, from picnicking families to soldiers.
city, Battambang, is just three hours away. The under-rated provincial capital,
with striking, albiet aging French colonial archetecture is nestled serenely
along the Khieu river. Its marketplace bustles as the hub of Cambodia's rice
I like to take motorcycles in and around the city because of the
beautiful scenery. Most of the places to stay are located around the central
Traveling in the provinces is not always easy and can take a long
time but I put Cambodia under my 'forgiving' category of countries.
means I overlook the inconveniences because the people are so friendly and the