Friday, August 29
On day 8 of Pandaw's Mekong Unexplored cruise we visited Wat Nokor in Kampong Cham. The ruins of an 11th century sandstone (Mahayana) Buddhist shrine predate Angkor Wat which was built in the 12th century but a modern (Theravada) Buddhist pagoda has been squeezed inside its walls.
We travelled by bus on some of our excursions and saw local country life including rice planting in a tiny paddy field surrounded by buildings; a family-run pottery that specialised in small cooking stoves and pots made without the help of a wheel - the women walk around in circles patting the pots into shape; and a rubber plantation and factory that was once government owned but is now privately owned by a relative of Cambodia's president Hun Sen. No surprises there since Cambodia is number 160 on a list of 175 countries ranked in order of corruption.
The smell of raw latex is revolting; the end product is blocks of solid rubber about the size of pillows that weigh 35kg so the skinny fellows moving them around in the video must be stronger than they look.
Up until now we had been on the Mekong but now we sailed downstream as far as Phnom Penh where we entered the Tonle Sap river towards Kampong Chhnang. Anchored overnight on the far side of the river from the town, a very peaceful location with fields, birds and insect sounds and hills in the distance.
On the other side of the river was the town itself with a large floating village of Vietnamese immigrants who our guide accused of overfishing even though they have fish farms under the houses.
Kampong Chhnang has a busy port, mostly for small boats, and we had an interesting to walk through the town past shops, market and fords. (NB it was near Kampong Chhnang that we visited the pottery at Andong Roosy).
This was day 9 of our journey and it was here that we departed from the original itinerary. We were now supposed to sail upstream into the Tonle Sap lake but unfortunately the monsoon was late and water levels were low, so low that even a boat with the shallow draft of the Angkor Pandaw couldn't make it. Somebody said it was a sandbank at the mouth of the lake that was the problem - maybe Pandaw's next boat should be a dredger. Instead we sailed back downstream to Kampong Tralach where we had an oxcart ride arund the district. This method of transport makes rickshaws and cyclos feel like limousines in retrospect, however it was interesting although tricky to video (from onboard).
On day 10 we visited Prek Kdam, a village given over to silversmiths, and Udong, another former capital of Cambodia. The Vipassana Dhura Buddhist Meditation Centre looked like a popular place although the non-meditating rourist must surely have been a distraction. Several hundred monks and lay monks live in the complex - which includes a large refectory.
The next day we left early for a six-hour bus ride to Siem Reap. A bus ride along a bumpy road is not a patch on a slow cruise on a boat on a lake but it couldn't be helped and this one was enlivened by a brief stop in Skun, also known as Spiderville because of the local delicacy - deep fried tarantula.
I wasn't hungry.
Friday, August 22
The third section of the Mekong Unexplored journey on the RV Angkor Pandaw was all new territory for me.
After leaving Angkor Ban (see previous video) we cruised upstream and anchored on the river bank near Chhloung, a town between Kampong Cham and Kratie.
Enjoyed a pleasant early morning walk of a couple of kilometres to the main township which was notable for some of the old buildings in particular the Chinese shophouses. Some were in good condition, others just about falling down.
This area has a fair sized population of Moslems and we saw quite a number of women wearing headscarves.
We then continued upstream to Kratie. This was as far upstream as our boat was able to sail next day we travelled by minibus to a World Wildlife Fund protected area where (if you're lucky) you can see the rare Mekong River dolphins. These are a sub-species of the freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins and there are fewer than 100 of them left. Small boats with four to six people aboard took about an hour to reach the dolphin area and then we sat and waited. It took a while but in the end the dolphins put in an appearance. Awesome!
In the afternoon we went by minibus to Phnom Sambok where a number of wats, pagodas, monasteries and a whole lot of statues of monks sit on a hill surrounded by trees and with a great view over the Mekong. Very pleasant excursion.
We then cruised back down the Mekong towards Kampong Cham. There was a fantastic electrical storm as we sailed along. Went on for ages with sheet lightning as well as bolts. Most impressive.
Saturday, August 16
Here is another video from my recent Pandaw trip on the Mekong from Saigon to Siem Reap.
After crossing the border we cruised to the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.
In fact we woke up in the morning to find we were tied up at the tour boat wharf there which meant we didn't see the Phnom Penh skyline as we sailed in - a bit unfortunate as the wats and palaces look quite impressive (as I remember from my previous Mekong journey). However the morning sky was spectacular for we early risers.
We spent the day in Phnom Penh with a cyclo ride to the royal palace in the morning and sort of free time in the afternoon. Pandaw organised a visit to the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng prison in the afternoon but I went to those places on my last trip and they were both utterly grim and inhuman. Maybe you should see them once but never again.
Next morning we had a short sail to Prek Bong Kong, a silk weaving village. There are very many of these in Cambodia - this is quite different from the one we visited on our last trip; no hordes of hawkers on the river bank when we tied up, just a walk to a couple of family-owned weaving areas and stores.
Later that day, after another sail, we visited the rural village of Angkor Ban. The highlight here was the local primary school where all the Pandaw people were co-opted into talking to the kids to improve their English. Cute!