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Published: February 7th 2015
I'm back at Tokae Restaurant before they open on Friday morning, about 6.15am
. Why do I leave myself so much time? I should know by now buses are never on time and today's was no exception. I had plenty of time to eat breakfast and enjoy a second cup of Lipton's.
Eventually the mini bus was on the road, overcrowded as usual. I think today we had 21 adults and a very cranky toddler on board and I was relieved to fall out of the van in Kompong Cham three hours later, over the crying child and having to carry my backpack on my lap due to lack of space. I gave my fellow travellers a sympathetic smile and a wave as I disappeared down the road on a moto, heading to Daly Hotel where I hoped to get a room for the next couple of nights. They have another five hours to Siem Reap...
Daly Hotel had plenty of rooms, and I'm on the fifth floor. No roosters to keep me awake in the early hours tomorrow, thank goodness. My room is western standard but with the usual hard Asian bed, but for all of $18 a night,
I guess I'll survive.
We entered Kampong Cham over the Kizuna Bridge, one of only a handfull of bridges in Cambodia to span the Mekong River. But of much more interest to me was another bridge, just 600 meters further down the Mekong, the bamboo bridge to Koh Paen Island.
This bridge is amazing! Built entirely of bamboo strapped together with wire, it is completely rebuilt every December after being washed away by the monsoon. I stepped out on it and felt the surface bend under my weight. The softness of the multiple layers of bamboo strips felt like it could give way any minute. I dared not look over the edge and the surface clattered noisily when motos zoomed past me. It was a unique and exhilarating walk for the kilometre to the island, although I had to pay for the privilege. This is a toll bridge and I was happy to hand over my dollar (four times the local rate) at the other end, before walking back.
I've visited so many Wats (temples) in Cambodia trying to remember 'what wat is what' can be a challenge! But this afternoon I visited a wat which was
very different to the rest - Wat Nokor.
Called the 'ultimate fusion temple' Wat Nokor is a modern Buddhist pagoda squeezed into the walls of an 11th century sandstone and laterite temple. It's an odd kind of place as many of the older building’s archways have been incorporated into the new building as shrines for worship. The brightly painted decor of the pagoda contrasted brilliantly against the grey stone and ancient carvings, a contrast I rather liked. Tonight, for dinner
, I head to Smile Restaurant. This nonprofit restaurant is run by the Buddhism and Society Development Association, all the staff being former street kids, now being trained for hospitality jobs. I enjoyed a steak, chips and salad meal here ($5.50) my first since leaving home. It was washed down with a couple of bacardi & cokes ($1.50ea) followed by fried bananas rolled in a nutty caramel mix ($2.00). A delicious meal, and definately more expensive than I've paid for a while, but worth every cent.
Saturday morning and I'm back at Smile Restaurant for an early breakfast. Today I'm sharing a tuk tuk tour with a lovely Canadian couple I spoke with in Kratie, and this is our meeting
Old mets new...
point. They are staying in the same hotel as me and we met up again in the lobby yesterday. It's a small world....
We're going to see Wat Maha Leap, one of the last remaining completely wooden pagodas in the country. The trip is best made via the river, but it's the wrong time of year for that, with water levels too low. So we take the land route which is twice as far, abount 40klm, and involves travelling over dusty roads, something I'm starting to get used to. Our tuk tuk driver asked for $25, of which I'll pay half.
Sacred Wat Maha Leap is more than a century old. It was only spared devastation by the Khmer Rouge because they converted it into a hospital. Many of the Khmers who were put to work in the surrounding fields perished here; 500 bodies were thrown into graves on site, now camouflaged by a tranquil garden.
The pagoda itself is unkempt, but beautiful. The wide black columns supporting the structure are complete tree trunks, painted black and covered in gilded patterns. The Khmer Rouge painted over the designs to match their austere philosophies, but monks later stripped
The carved stone contrasts with the painted walls of the newer pagoda
them back to their former glory. Part of the interior roof collapsed in 2012 and hasn't been repaired. The fallen section is now stored behind the altar, in pieces. It's a shame that the building isn't better maintained, being an important historical site. It was full of cobwebs and had birds nesting inside.
At the back of the pagoda is a cemetery, full of stupas and painted statues. It includes a large gold reclining buddha and a white stupa built on a platform over a weed choked pond. Possibly a memorial to those who died there under the Khmer Rouge? I couldn't find any information relating to it.
We stopped at several other interesting sites along the way - the rubber plantation where we saw how the rubber was collected from the trees, we watched a woman weave a cotton kroma on a loom under her house, then we pulled in at a tobacco farm. The three of us felt uncomfortable during this visit because of the number of children working there.
There was a huge pile of green tobacco leaves on the ground, surrounded by children with a supply of pointed sticks. They were threading the
Another carved stone wall displayed at the end of a row of columns.
leaves onto the sticks, maybe a dozen each time, then stacking them aside. These sticks were then hung in large drying furnaces, to be sold on later, well on the way to becoming cigarettes. The adults there were't the least bit worried with our photo taking, obviously with no idea that we would perceive this as 'child labour'. Their attitude towards tobacco, and kids working, is very different to ours.
I spent the afternoon napping and reading in my air conditioned room, heading out later to Smile Restaurant for another enjoyable meal. Tomorrow I return to Siem Reap on the 8.30am mini bus, a five hour trip. I've enjoyed my travels around north east Cambodia. It's been a full itinerary, I've had no problems filling the days and I've seen and done some memorable things - a longboat ride on the Mekong, walking with elephants, seeing the irrawaddy dolphins, waterfalls, a cookout, Mekong sunsets, the bamboo bridge and lots of wats to photograph. Not to forget the meals I've enjoyed and the people I've met who all have their own stories to tell.. an enjoyable ten days...
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