Friday, August 29

The Mekong Unexplored - Cambodia 3

 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.