Against the flow of the mekong
Kratie Travel Blog› entry 52 of 86 › view all entries
After Phnom Pen we followed the Mekong north on a very bumpy dirt track. The river was blue and wide. Knowing that these still waters had come all the way from the Himalayas, through China and laos made it even more magic. Small house boats, fishing boats and the odd ancient wooden ferry past us.
Along side its political history, also the landscape reminded me about Guinea Bissau. palm trees, banana trees and dense green bushes pushed onto our track and in between all the green small wooden houses stood on stilts. The women even dressed in a similar way to their african sisters; a batik sarong and a different patternd batik top. Often the cambodian women wear the traditional cambodian red chekked scarf around their heads thus almost completing the picture.
However as we crossed the river in a small boat things changed. A group of school girls appeared on the dusty track infront of us. They rode ancient creaky bikes, all wearing black burkastyle dresses -only their currious eyes peaking out. Around us women still wore the traditinal khmer sarongs but with long sleeved tops. In a small shop when, we were surprised that even the language had changed slightly, the girl explained to us that they were cham people. The chams are an ancient people and faught bitter wars with the khmers in the Ankorian period.
This day we finished in a two horse town. As we sat by the river with a beer, watching excercise groups hop around to deafening europop in the sunset I felt so in tune with life around me and the journey. Its those days it's all about.
Further north a long remote stretch awaited. 140 km. That day we started way before dawn and as we rode along in tired silence i realized that even close to bigger towns the villages here were without electricity. The sparse light came from the setting moon and distant dawn breaking. The mekong to our left was black with moonlight shimmering on its surface. Amongst the dark huts small fires and cooking coals bustled away as women prepared food. Children started to wake, sleepy hellos followed and with sunrise we rode along to the usual excited chorous of 'hello', 'goodbye' and 'okay'.
Eventually we left the small roads and dirt tracks of the mekong. The villages thinned out as we turned east and rode up into some higher flatlands. There was no traffic, the road was wide and nicely tarmacced. A lot of trees seemed to have been cut down, maybee to make room for fields and villages that never appeared. Big trees reached up here and there but sometimes the forrest took over. it didn't look horrible or tortured and as the dry seasonhad coloured everything red and brown it felt like riding through european autum. Here in the barren, beautifull heat suddenly the propper long distance riding began again. the kind of riding where you don't constantly have to look at the map and where you don't have to constantly chek the wing mirror for crazed drivers. And also the kind where you don't always have to talk to people; For a long time we had been riding amongst people all day, always shouting hello. Everytime we had stopped we would be the centre of attention. We'd adappted to this and the sudden silence and complete focus on riding was someting we hadn't had for a long time. Other cyclists seem to hate this part of Cambodia but to us its some long missed solitude.
On our last night in Cambodia we sat by the Mekong again. The water reflected the blue colours of the evening sky and in the west the sun was setting. A thin traditional fishing boat with a couple of boys in it passed us. The swishing sund of their net and one boys silly song mixed with the sounds from a settlement on the other side; distant chatter, cowbells, dogs and then the odd little hello from the road behind us. Men came down to wash in the mekong a litlle further on.
Then three small, naked children appeared. The girl climbed a tree stump and cried out in triumph. Her younger brother was as excited but to short to climb the stump. They were only 3, maybee 4 years old. Two women wrapped in the traditional khmer scarf followed, deep in conversation. When they noticed the children playing by the stump the broke their conversation and chased the squeaking children to the Mekong for their wash.
Here I bloked out everything i had learnt about Cambodias cruel and difficult time and focused entirely on the singing boy, the laughing children and the chatter of the women. Memories of children splashing in the mekong, of cooking fires in the morning, of people picnicing under trees and the cosy safe feel of the dark and hot markets. All are good times and form a strong part of todays Cambodia. And as much as I would have liked to close the book on Cambodia here i can't because these good times are not all there is.