My bus to Kampong Cham, which supposed to be super-fast VIP one, was scheduled at 6 in the morning from Siem Reap and pick was to be at 5.30. Getting up at 5, when the whole hotel was still sleeping, I entered the lobby to wait for my pick up. The whole hotel staffs were snoring loudly and I decided to wait outside instead. The morning was a little hazy, but still quite warm. The mosquitoes kept zooming around my ear trying to irritate my already sleepy mind further. The pick-up van arrived, insides of which were modified to allow more room for luggage and less for the passengers. There were a couple of guys from Taiwan, carrying what looked like side bags used while cycling. They nodded, both looking quite sleepy. We then picked up an old lady who turned out to be from Florida and whom I had met the night before in a restaurant. Our small pick-up van took us to the southern bus stand where we were transferred to one VIP bus. Even though, there were no seat numbers on our tickets, the ticket checker made sure to spread us away from each other, his intentions unknown. As the bus started to move, a small TV in the front started playing the famous Cambodian Karaoke songs, a couple in the video singing and others dancing the traditional dance, which consist of moving legs and hands as less as possible. As more people got on the bus, the volume of the video was increased and by the time bus became full, I had to clap my both hands on my ears, as the music now was ear-splitting! After about three hours or so, the songs stopped, I breathed a sigh of relief. But immediately after five minutes, they started playing stand up comedy. It reminded me of Marathi comedy series back home, where performers shout their lungs out, hoping to make people laugh...and people do laugh. Higher the volume, more the laughter. And this time, I didn’t understand a thing, making it worse. It was just loud, annoying, brain-killing noise.
The so-called VIP bus was supposed to take 5 hours to Kampong Cham, but at around noon time, we stopped for lunch and were still nowhere near the town. Two more hours passed before we stopped again and this time our driver told us to wait there for another bus. Apart from the Taiwanese guy and the American lady, there was one more French girl with us and the waiting time gave all of us some interaction time and by the time our next van did turn up, all of us were friends. The minivan was supposed to take everyone except me to Kratie and the American woman advised me to join them. I quickly scanned lonely planet and wiki travel pages about Kampong Cham and having found nothing of interest, decided to go to Kratie, which was going to be my next destination anyway. I was prepared to pay the extra price, but I think they thought everyone was headed to Kratie which was 4-5 hours further from Kampong Cham and no one even asked me for the ticket.
|Waiting on the "highway"|
As the evening rolled past, the scene changed significantly. Our little group had turned out to be quite chatty and in spite the fact that a 6 sitter minivan was loaded with more than 15 people, our mood was quite mellow. A dark mass of cloud hung in the air on the east side and the setting sun on the west created quite a contrast, lighting the whole scene in vibrant colors. The green of trees seemed to be so bright as if watching a high definition TV show. This part of Cambodia is known for its thick cover of greenery thanks to Mekong and rainfall. The rolling hills in the distance, all bright green as the sunlight reflected on them was quite a sight. Huge gardens of palm trees kept passing on our left side and a few stilt houses here and there. The road was narrow and rain swept. Not dirty, but perfectly clean and just wet enough to look dark gray shade against the green grass on either side. Despite having a tough day in the bus and despite the fact that a 7 hour journey actually took more than 12 hours, I couldn’t help but feel quite jolly. This was the tropical paradise!
We checked into the first hotel we saw. I shared a three-bed room with the Taiwanese guys, Yu Shin and Huang, for $3 per person. Kratie is a small town located on the banks of Mekong. It does not attract too much tourist attention and hence is a low profile town.
The next morning, hiring a bicycle,
the whole group (except the American lady) started exploring the river side. We
kept the Mekong to our left as we road through the countryside. The roads were
flat and had plenty of cover of over-hanging branches of tree, making the
journey much more comfortable that it would otherwise have been. On the way we
passed numerous small villages and as we passed these small children kept
running behind us, shouting “Helllloooooo” and waving it us. You can’t help but
smile at them and shout back...no matter how many times you have to do it.
There were numerous mango trees on either side of the road and we stopped for a
while to enjoy the taste of tangy green mango.
Continuing on, we left the tar road and took a small trail instead,
which led us through a tiny village consisting of stilt houses and lots and
lots of palm trees. Half naked children were still running and waving behind us.
Except for them, the village seemed quite deserted and soon we realised the
reason for this. We came around a house which was crowded by a large number of
people sitting on the corridor outside a stilt house, as if the whole village
had gathered. As we passed them, almost every one of them waved at us, inviting
us to join them. I called out to others to stop and parking the bike I climbed
the stairs to join them. Immediately they started to ask me questions, trying
to say something, all of which went over my head. So I just waved and said
“Happy new year”, which they understood, as was apparent from their wide smiles
and hands raised in toast, carrying beers. I was forced to take a few cans of beer
myself, which I took passing a few to my group, still standing below. Huang
joined me and together we emptied a few cans to help us feel less embarrassed.
A few cans later, I was feeling light-headed as my glasses were passed from one
person to another, each trying them on. It was a bunch of nice people!
|On the banks of Mekong|
|New year party with locals|
With so much beer in our belly, me and Huang no longer felt the afternoon heat and after saying goodbye to village-folk, we enjoyed the ride even more. About 15 kms from the town, we came across a sign of Dolphin and realised that it was the famous Dolphin spotting place. But we kept this excursion for the next day and headed onwards. A couple kms more and we reached rapids, where the Mekong is shallow and really fast. Small sheds have been built with hammocks inside for relaxing. It costs less than quarter cents to rent these hammocks and enjoy getting drenched in these rapids. We spent rest of the afternoon there....getting drenched in the shallow waters, having some water therapy, reading and taking a nap on the hammock.
|Time to head back|