Tourism With a Local Edge

Wat Opot and Phter Koma have been the tip of the iceberg of our holiday so far.  I am traveling with a nursing friend who left Alice Springs a few years ago, who I’ll call Caz and the sister of my neighbour, who I’ll call Kelly.  Kelly’s 8yo son “Caleb” is with us so we must look like a mixed bag getting around together.  The reason I have time to blog right now, is that they have traveled to Siem Reap a day earlier than me so that I could do a couple more jobs in Kampong Cham before following on today.

We traveled all day Saturday from Takeo Province south of Phnom Penh, to Kampong Cham north-east of Phnom Penh.  A meal stop in Skun elicited excitement as Caz and Caleb ate fried spider.  That night we sat above the much loved Bamboo Bridge watching the world go by before making our way to Night Market for an al fresco dinner.  On Sunday Caz and I left Kelly and Caleb behind and took a dusty road out of town with “Tuk Tuk Dan”.  Our first stop was to John and Sara’s little wooden hut, which I always liken to a Cambodian “Little House on the Prairie”.  As it came into view I pointed to the little concrete outhouse as “one of the toilets I built”, much to Caz’s amusement.

Pulling up at the ramshackle gate, the two older children appeared in the doorway before six year old big sister returned lumbering her c.18mo baby sister.  The children explained via Dan that Mum and Dad had traveled to town to have the wheel pump machine fixed.  This orange punp is a common sight in front yards of rural Cambodia where for abut 2c you can have your bicycle or moto wheels filled with air.  Handicap International supplied it to John as an income generating option.  His wife Sara is the young mother who proposed to “make a business” with me via my purchasing a cow which they might use for breeding before returning it to me once the calf comes along.  I have received enough support from friends and family that this is going to be possible, but need time to work out the logistics of actually purchasing a cow in a country where I neither understand why you’d really want a cow (certainly not for the milk and apparently as a work animal), or how to purchase a healthy animal.  There are various options and I’ll talk about it once we start making it happen.

We left the children and continued on our way towards little Dara’s village, where there was much excitement as we turned into the dusty front yard of their bamboo hut.  After time catching up with everyone, including Caz pulling a bottle of bubbles from her bottomless bag of all-things-useful, we piled back into the tuk tuk with Dara, grandma and 16yo big sister, for a treat visit to Phnom Wat Hanchay, also known as the Fruit Temple, a large hillside complex famous for it’s large statues of animals and fruit, about 25km north of Kampong Cham.  It was my way of meeting my obligation to Dara after promising last time I saw him, that “next time” he could come with me.  Wat Hanchay is in the general vicinity of Paula’s village, so we made a detour to visit her where Caz got to meet the healthy young woman behind the amazing story.  The family were keen to host and feed me despite our impromptu visit, which is exactly why I prefer to “pop in” as a friend would do, to try and avoid too much fuss or expense.  I always love visiting them and this time we stayed on the roadside directly opposite the mosque, as various villagers congregated around us to listen in.

Limping around on his prosthesis, Dara loved the Fruit Temple and climbed onto various statues, telling me the names of things in Khmer as I told him their English names.  After a meal of fried rice and sugar cane juice at one of the open air restaurants on the hillside, he forced himself awake in the tuk tuk en route home by singing, learning some 1950s-style hand-dancing from us, staring or smiling shyly and then closer to home, tickling me wildly.  Caz and I had purchased a 25c strip of checked kramar material each from a vendor driving past us in the opposite direction on a rural track, to cover our faces from the dust.  Grandma tried to teach us how to wrap them around our heads with much hilarity from all sides.  She seemed to enjoy the day more than anyone after living for 70+ years within spitting distance of this famous temple which she had never had the opportunity to visit.

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There is more to come, mainly about how I spent yesterday at Joe’s village.  He passed away a few weeks ago and I spent a few hours with his daughters and other family, which deserves a blog post to itself.  Meanwhile I have a breakfast date before jumping on the bus to Siem Reap so I will catch up at another time.


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