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Published: March 4th 2016
New country. And I'm reunited with the Mekong. It's a quiet blue sheen here. 'Soosadai'
It was a 22 hour ride from Vientiane starting with a sleeper bus, complete with soft fleecey rug and a great excuse to read and play - to stay up late with an Oliver Sack's book, listen to my 'Missing' podcast 'can one go missing?' and play my mystery puzzle game! Our Chinese new year readings in Vientiane - well, me reading from a magazine over fried rice after our dancing session in a post curfew club - had told how I'd meet a new love over my weekend trip. This tickled us with the idea of the shared bus beds on my horizon! But it appeared it would be Oliver who would take my fancy.
On awaking, I found the sun shining in and beds emptying with people, 6am and a stop for me. Bag and shoes quickly gathered, eyes rubbed, I was now in Pakse and struggling to keep with it. But a stall coffee, and a sit out with other morning movers helped. After contacting my ticket agency I was whizzed over to the other bus station
in a car of the agent's friend (a car seemed novel) and onto a minibus for the border. I'd arrive in Kratie in time to see the evening aerobics by the river, giving a nod to our Vientiane evenings, and to try my first Cambodian meal - tofu amok, my first coconut based curry on my travels, it was really tasty.
Again I had forgot lessons of before, and had no idea where my guesthouse was. I was lucky to meet a nice Cambodian at the bus station who helped us locate it on google and I jumped on his friends motorbike over there. I'd soon learn that kindness and help was imbedded in the town.
It was the first time in weeks I had my own room - no newly blue-haired friends to make use of the blue pillows here, or to read the Dr Siri mystery novel with!
I'd started my Cambodia time here to stay in a smaller river town and to work for a local school project I'd read of, Kratie English school. I was excited to see what the school was like, to try get involved
and help, give teaching a go. I was jotting down activity ideas when I thought of them, somewhat unsure if I could be good at it. But before I started, I was looking forward to some chilled exploring of the town the next day.
So it was two lovely Skype calls with James and my soon to join traveller Mims, and a nice long sleep.
The colours of day; pale blue river stretching, cream sand, dusty tan roads and the green trees leaning out for the sunned ripples of the river.
A breakfast of bananas, mangos and beans! on toast. A walk through busy market stalls, being browsed by mopeds; piles of fruit, jiggling fish, hanging entrails of coffee and shampoo sachets, fly swats. Walking along the wide riverside, through quiet streets, dust on the ground, dust in the horizon. Hellos from those who passed me; the upright policemen minding a road diversion, horse-cart drivers with farm produce piled high, ball chasing kids in colorful kits and smiles, strolling octogenarians who had a curious eye on this stranger.
Napping dogs, small stalls being snoozed at, gas stations of water refill bottles. The winking of
the Mekong every few steps, winking through tree gaps, over benches, across the promenade paths at me. The occasional scooter rides past. I walked for a few hours, under the deep blue sky, the heat greater than other places so far. I stopped drenched at a cafe, noticing now how my feet were now darker then my legs with the dust, no more white sock marks I guess!
Here I met a lovely couple, expats in kampot and their lifestyle and contributing jobs really appealed. Together we swapped thoughts on Laos from me, and Cambodia they. It gave energy to my ideas in mind, places to spend time in. Kampot was mentally underlined, exclamationed. They shared experiences of the culture here, of a few dos and rudes here, some phrases. We agreed to meet later (time now for my pre sunset run) at the river top spot of my guesthouse for a few camobians* and sunset. A fair few Cambodians*, a yummy dinner and some good laughs later we bid farewell, they continuing onto the north east route by (actual)motorbike.
The next day I got a bicycle and went for a wonderful ride. As
the river promenade ended I continued along the rocky paths between huts and trees and across bridges of wooden planks. Small village life. I stopped at a drink spot, chatting with a few, and confirming how far the Sambok hills were. Another pit stop, and a group of lovely high school boys came over and chatted with me, they didn't believe me when I honestly charmed against their claims of not being good at English. We talked about study, Cambodian places and they asked me my thoughts on Cambodian culture - I think I was right in a young, energetic subset of it, dressed smartly in uniforms with neat gelled hair.
I got to the Sambok hills and it was a beautiful spot, here there is a meditation centre where many of the regions monks, nuns and Buddhists come to meditate, often following vipassana meditation in the forest. There were many stairs to climb, lined with statues of monks receiving alms, of large photographs of meditation moments, it was wildly quiet. Leaves crunching, wind rushing, large webs. I wandered about the various levels, statues, sit and meditation spots, lampposts, a colourful flag high on a pole; a
small colonial style building for one level, then an older delicate and haunting stone temple, and a newer gold lined temple with dragon decoration at the highest climb.
The views were fantastic; farmland, bare trees, bamboo meditation platforms, the blue Mekong down below. The whole inside of the top temple was made of glorious bright and detailed paintings depicting scenes of Buddha and town life, which to me also seemed Hindu in style. I meditated a little while here. I walked out and down the hundreds of steps through the different levels, seeing a few Buddhists deep in meditation, walking slowly by.
I completed the 20km bike ride with a jump in a swimming pool of one of the areas fancier hotels. I really like swimming at the end the day, and was keen to get in the river here as well.
I was feeling ready to start at the school tomorrow..
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