Cambodia! Penom Penh and Chombok homestay

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Asia » Cambodia » South » Phnom Penh
December 25th 2017
Published: January 1st 2018
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We departed Saigon early morning. Andy and Dev came down to say goodbye to us in the lobby. We said goodbye to 4 people in total – Andy and Dev, Mark and Matt. The rest if our group(me, Bill, my dad, Andrea, Celine, Tanya, Tina, Louise and Khakid) were continuing to Cambodia. We walked a short distance to get the express bus. As we were walking to the bus stop I thought there were 2 other random tourists following us but realised it was the missing Germans who are on this leg of the trip with us – mother and daughter France and Fabiana. The bus took us to the border and we filled out the visa forms on the bus. We went through the Vietnam immigration first, got stamped out, then got on the bus to drive 10m to no mans land to get into the Cambodian immigration to get stamped in. All done and we were off – welcome to Cambodia!

We arrived in Phnom Penh in the afternoon. I had expected a small city, and initially the city looked like Khorat in Thailand. After a freshen up, we headed out for a tuk tuk tour (the tuk tuks had a 2 sets of seats which make them bigger than the Bangkok tuk tuks). Our intrepid leader Pear is quite worried (a lot) about pick pocketing so takes every opportunity to tell us to secure our belongings, but after awhile it gets a bit much! Our first stop was the big central market, which was built by the French. It was almost closing time, however we were able to have a short walk around and I got a coconut juice. The main building has a massive dome roof with small slits the ceiling which lets in natural light and its massive with separate areas for various thing e.g. Jewellery, clothes etc. Then next stop was to see the statue of Lady Penh, the lady who founded Phnom Penh. We went across the road then to see Wat Phnom ( Wat meaning temple and Phnom meaning hill). Unfortunately it was closing so we couldn't go in but it looked impressive from the front and had a huge grass clock on the ground. It is said in 1373 the first pagoda was built here to house 4 Buddha statues which were carried by the Mekong river waters and discovered by Lady Penh. Next stop was to independence monument with a stop to see the former King's statue which was across the road from the Prime Minister's official residence. Unlike Thailand, the King in Cambodia is just a figure head with no power. The former king abdicated in the 60's to become a politician in fact. Then we went to look at the independence monument which was barricaded. The centre of Phnom Penh is very developed with big shopping malls and hotels which is quite different to the backstreets which remind me of smaller provincial towns in Thailand. And the cars! More cars than Vietnam, every second car is a Lexus, Rolls Royce, Mercedes, Range Rover, BMW or Porsche. Any luxury car imaginable is here and usually 4WD. I’ve never seen so many in my life and yes they look pretty out of place! We had dinner at a local restaurant and tuk-tuk'd home via pub street market which we didn’t stop at.

The next morning, me, Bill, my dad, Louise and Celine walked around town to get a decent coffee and then walked to the royal palace. We knew it closed at 11am, however tuk tuk drivers were telling us 10am - I bet as a scam much like in Bangkok so they can take us on a tuk tuk tour! The palace grounds itself were large, but a smaller counterpart with Bangkok's palace. It was made up of several buildings, but the piece de la resistance was the silver pagoda (which I now realise was the main temple with the emerald Buddha inside). Originally built as a wooden pagoda in 1892 during the reign of King Norodom, it was spared the full brunt if the brutal Khmer Rouge regime to show the world they were preserving Cambodian heritage (unfortunately the same can't be said for the millions killed during that time but more on that later). It was a quick visit but we walked around and took lots of photos. Back at the hotel, we packed up and checked out, then we were enroute to the Chambok community, our village homestay for the evening.

The Chambok community is a community of villages in rural Cambodia who have come together to develop this as an ecotourism site since 2002, with homestays, local business ventures and local young girls learning and performing national dancing. Our homestay was simple – a wooden house on stilts. As we walked put of the bus my dad said ‘its Thailand 1981' and he was right. Really reminded me of Thai villages back in the 90's! Our homestay family was mum, dad and 4 kids. Bedding was simple mattresses on the floor and mosquito nets. Me, bill, my dad, Andrea and Khalid all stayed in one house and the other girls in the house next door. We chatted with the family downstairs and saw their chicken and baby chicks – all feeding off termites from broken up termite mounds – great initiative! As it was starting to rain it was a bit chilly surprisingly I thought we left that in Vietnam!

We walked part of the way down the road and stopped to buy some Tamarind, then our minivan drove us to the community's communal area where we had a lovely banquet dinner. After dinner we were treated to traditional dancing by the local young girls. It was fantastic – they did a blessing dance and other dances. The girl who introduced them and the philosophy behind the Chombok ecotourism was a bright and smart 22 year old girl. We also chatted to other members of the community during our visit who had perfect English and were eager to share their culture and stories. The girls were so proud of their dances and you could really see the concentration on their faces. Afterwards I got dressed up in a sarong they wrapped into pants with a long tail (!) We went back to the homestay and went to bed reasonably early 8.30pm!

The next day we woke early and said our goodbyes to the family. It was a great experience but it was a shame we didn't spend much time with the family as we ate at the community centre. Khalid was great - as soon as we arrived to the homestay he was off to talk with the family language barrier no issue as he loves communicating with all people and is definitely a natural. So we departed and went back to the community centre for breakfast and our host there explained as it was raining we couldn’t go for a trek to the waterfall as planned. Instead, local ladies came and showed us how to make rattan bangles and rings. They shave the rattan themselves, glue the two sides together and weave the patterns on it. Us girls gave it a go, and purchased more bangles. I love little co-op initiatives like this, it really supports the community! Afterward we departed enroute to Cambodia’s beach playground, Sihanoukville.

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