I woke up feeling rather rough this morning. It turned out to be nothing serious, but an 06:50 hotel departure didn’t help and an (otherwise lovely) bus which had a faint waft of diesel fumes via the aircon probably made matters worse!
The trip to Kampong Cham was made in three chunks. The first stop after about two hours wasn’t great but it seems to be par for the course in Cambodian roadside stops; there was an open seating area with plastic chairs and tables where hot food was served from warming pans, to the back somewhere were toilets and to either side were stalls selling a mix of packaged goods, souvenirs and fruit, veg and snacks for the locals.
Panha had warned us that the toilets would be terrible, so I was mentally bracing myself as I went to use them, but really they were quite clean and not objectionable at all. Certainly not as bad as the ones at Mawenzi Tarn on Kili!
Back on the coach, I couldn’t really settle to sleep – unlike Brett who snoozed the trip away. The coach had a DVD system installed and they played a seemingly endless list of Cambodian songs with accompanying videos. They mostly seemed to involve soulful-looking men singing about their unrequited or forbidden love while beautiful women wandered around either taunting or tempting them. Towards the end of the trip though, the theme transferred to what seemed to be professionally produced wedding videos overdubbed with music. All quite curious.
At the lunch stop I picked the freshly cooked option and then had to divide my time between eating it and keeping the flies off it. One curiosity there was an old guy, sitting at a table adding five or more spoons of sugar to his can of coke before drinking it. Curiouser and curiouser!
When we got into Kampong Cham, the hotel was right on the river (the Mekong). It looked like a colonial era building but it also reminded me of a prison because the hallway between the rooms was white, tiled and about thirty feet wide. If not a prison, then I can only imagine in its heyday the space was used as a lounge area. The bathroom again was a variety of wetroom – something which I’m told is common in Cambodia – but it was a bit bigger than the one in Siem Reap. The room itself was quite a bit larger and had a balcony which overlooked the river.
There was an afternoon excursion planned to an island in the river by bike, but after showering I was feeling pretty grotty, so skipped the tour in favour of sleeping. I got a solid three hours in without problem and awoke feeling mostly refreshed, if still not quite 100%. Brett did go on the tour and, while he said it was tiring, it seemed well worthwhile to see the bamboo bridge which is constructed afresh each year during the dry season and to see how ordinary Cambodian farmers lived.
I was having great difficulty getting my laptop to connect to the Internet. At Siem Reap it wouldn’t hold a connection for more than a few minutes which I suspected was due to an overloaded network. The Mekong Hotel seemed almost empty, so when I could get connected to the wireless hub, but not on to the Internet, I did a bit of diagnosis, configured my IP settings manually and, hey presto, a reliable internet connection! Lesson learned for the future.
Before dinner we headed literally across the road to where five or six vendors had set up stall and enjoyed a beer with a few of our group. The worst of the heat had abated and it was just pleasantly balmy, sitting there, sipping beer, watching the lights glinting on the river and occasional flash of lightning in the distance.
Tonight we had all opted-in to a group dinner at the house of a local family. A couple of German travellers who had been on our bus from Siem Reap too and who knew the guy independently also came along. We travelled by tuk-tuks from the hotel for the twenty minutes it took to get there and that was also quite enjoyable with the breeze and the sound of the crickets in the darkness of the unlit roads.
It was a traditional stilt house, accessed directly from the road but built out over the drop to the side of the carriageway, entirely made of wood, with strips of bamboo used for flooring. The floor was not very close-fitting, with slight gaps between the bamboo strips which, while good for ventilation, also struck me as a great way to lose small objects! Immediately through the doorway you came into the main room of the house and between the central wooden pillars a large mat had been laid down and set with dishes and spoons. To either side was a small sideboard and a TV. In the centre, over the passageway to the other areas of the house was a mini-temple/spirit house. We ate sitting, facing each other down the length of the mat. There didn’t seem to be any flies or mosquitoes in evidence and, although I wondered about that, I felt that might be a little rude to ask.
The food was traditional Khmer cuisine, with thin stock-based dishes, deep-fried meet and wok-fried vegetables along with noodles and rice. There was plenty of it and I contentedly ate my fill. There was a bit of Q&A after dinner, mostly with Panha.
As well as a teenageish son who helped his parents, there were three younger children. The youngest, probably no more than two or three, was engrossed in a video game on a smartphone when we arrived. His elder siblings periodically tried to get the phone away from him which resulted in much noise. After dinner though, Brett and Lyn got their iPads out and helped distract the others with video games of their own.
After what seemed not very long it was time to head back to the guesthouse as there was another earlyish start in the morning. We were tired so opted to head straight to bed and leave the packing until the morning.