Kampong Cham, Cambodia
This town has by far been the most memorable. Siem Riep has nothing more to offer than the temples of Angkor. Once past that you get nothing more than a over priced tourist town which is a shame really as there is much more to Cambodia and the people than that. Kampong Cham however is where I have had the most fun. RIchard and Mel have been working there for about 7 weeks and have got to really know the town and the people so I had a much better insight into the real Cambodian life. We were staying at the Mekong Hotel, right on the banks of the Mekong river with a view over the New Japanese bridge. The first afternoon and night were a bit drunken as AG accompanied us down there to watch the rugby world cup. We proved quite a spectacle as 2 English, 2 Aussies and an American sat in the bar screaming and shouting. No one else in the bar we asked could even work out what the game was!! As a bonus the loosing bet was that AG had to eat 5 Crickets. There is not a lot to do in KC, as it really just a stop on the way to Kratjie for many travellers, but that is part of it’s charm. You don’t hassled by the moto drivers, the beggars are less agressive and life is generally slower. On the first day we went with the Moto Driver Torl out to see the man and woman twin temples. If any one gets to KC I would recomend going to the Mekong Hotel and asking for him. He is very good and knows his stuff. He is also quite funny in the bargain. There is another guide Vernat, who is mentioned in the lonely planet, who has some amzing stories about being a tank commander pre Pol Pot, how he had to lie to the Khmer Rouge as he spoke French and English, and to admit that would have meant death. They would often randomly shout at him in the street in french or try to trick him. But Torl is a bit more entertaining in his delivery. They are in competition obviously but both are worth a try. I didn’t do much here except hire a bike for a couple of days and ride out into the countryside around town. In KC tourists are still a bit of a novelty so all the kids run along shouting, you can stop a school just by walking into the playground. They run along and all shout the same phrase “Hello!What your name? My name ….” then run away giggling. On one of the days we got a little ferry across to an island on the Mekong. It is nothing more than two boats lashed together and a car engine bolted on the back. But being apparently a ‘very handsome man’ the ferry man let me drive across the Mekong on the way back. Much to the worry of the 20 or so people who were also on the ferry. We also hired a speed boat to go up the mekong then a little tributary to the only wooden temple to survive the KR. For whatever reason they were worried that if they destroyed the temple they would release evil spirits or ghosts so it was left alone. The journey is fun up a little river, very out of Apocalypse now, but with nicer people. This was very typical of my time here. The Khmer are actually quite friendly and as long as you start everything with a smile you can get a long way. On one night we were invited to a familys home for a meal. On the way we went on a sunset ride past Torl’s house and called in. It is really just a shack with two rooms above a pig pen and about 5 occupants. It is amazing and very humbling to see they way in which some of the people live here. After a little chat, we headed to Srei-Mom and Sophy’s house and went for dinner. It was brilliant. They sat laughing as we ate crickets. The neighbours had been invited too, they wanted to watch us. It is very odd to eat a meal with an audience of about 8 people, but they are all very sweet. The two girls are lovely and were part of R and M’s English classes. The night after was a farewell dinner from the students and we ended up in a restaurant attempting Khmer Dancing. It is very odd, complicated and the songs are too long, oh and I can’t do it. The Khmer like many Asians can’t drink that much alcohol (they ones I have met are generally trashed after about 3 glasses). They kept demanding toasts, about every second sip generally, or wanting to down the beer. On the way back my driver casually rested his hand on my knee as he wished me muchj luck for the future. The male on male intimacy here is a little weird for my english up bringing. But once you get use to men rubbing your stomachs, stroking your backs it is ok. We finished off the night at Srei Kim’s. She runs a pavement stall on the banks of the Mekong with her 11 year old niece Naat. So we would quite often finish our nights there, looking out over the river. Naat has boundless energy and taught the Khmer version of Rock,paper sissors stone, and we taught here clapping games and how to do a cartwheel. Apparently she is THE it girl at school with all the new games we taught her. I was really sad to leave as I had such a brilliant time here just relaxing, and talking with the locals, who have some amazing stories and are lots of fun. It is by far the best place I have so far seen. Now it’s to Phnom Penh and a visa for Laos.