It’s a big post today. We hope you’re warm and comfortable.
Kampong Cham is the sixth largest city in Cambodia, which isn’t much of a thing to brag about, but the medium size, relaxed atmosphere, and location along the impressive Mekong River made it one of our favourite places in the country. The roads were spacious, and far less terror-inducing than driving in Phnom Penh. The street food was plentiful and inexpensive, and the locals friendly. The overall feeling of the town was safe and slow-paced, and I’ll say it again: the river was impressive.
There were numerous guesthouses in town, and after peering around a few that were mentioned online, we thought, “Screw it”, and chose an obscure one down a side street named ‘Phkay Ras Guesthouse’, which was probably geared towards Khmer people. The sort of Khmer people who pay by the hour. Opposite our lodging was ‘Monorom I Hotel Massage and KTV’ (KTV is Karaoke), which was busy with the comings (pun intended) and goings of men. Some of this red light spill must have overflowed into our little guesthouse, because the moans of quick sex wafted through our walls in the evening. The owners seemed surprised that we wanted to stay, and they gave us what can only be described as ‘Phkay Ras’ Penthouse Suite’, which was a clean, corner unit on the top floor. Most of the other rooms didn’t have windows, but we had two and a balcony. All for $5 per night. Did I mention it was clean? Yes? Well, it truly was. We were pleasantly surprised.
Dary (unsure of spelling) ran a little restaurant that catered to western tastes called ‘Lazy Mekong Daze’. We weren’t particularly interested in her food, but she had the cheapest motorbike rental we could find – $3 per day.
“Manual or semi-auto?” She asked.
“Anything,” I replied.
“Good, then you can take the semi-auto. This is my nephew’s bike – he’s ten-years-old, and I always try to rent his bike first, because then he gets the money. That one is my sister’s, and the automatic is mine.”
Dary turned out to be a wealth of information. She gave us some home-made printed maps (in French) and told us more places to visit that we could possibly see in our short time. The bike we rented was a little old, but all the gauges worked (rare for rentals), and the engine purred smoothly. It had obviously been taken care of.
Dary also arranged bus tickets without a markup, and so we bought our onward tickets through her too. She was so lovely that we even ate there one night – she cooked a mean pizza.
We tried to make the best of our motorcycle, which sometimes meant driving to particular attraction, and sometimes driving down random roads for an hour just to see what was there. This meant we passed through many small villages and open fields, and witnessed cows sprinting onto roads, vans laden with unimaginable quantities of cargo, strange hybrid tractor things, ox carts, and kids screaming, “Hello!” as we zoomed by.
One spot we intended to visit was Banteay Prey Nokor, where the Angkor-style Wat Nokor Banchey temple sits in a relatively dismal and overgrown compound, strewn with rubbish. We tried our best to ignore the plastic bottles and focussed instead on the beautiful, ancient carvings. The wat was built in the 11th century, and the legend of its construction involves incest and murder. I can recite the full story in the comments below, if anyone cares to ask.
The French Watchtower was constructed in the early 20th century. It was a tall, hollow, brick structure, and once upon a time fires were lit at the top so the governor could be warned of impending peril, assuming he wasn’t taking his evening bath.
Inside the tower was a perilous set of steps – practically a ladder – leading to the top. Spots of rust were present, and it looked far too unsafe to ascend. Naturally, we climbed it. This post’s header shows the view from the top: Caroline looking out over the Mekong.
An hour of driving led us to Wat Maha Leap, a wooden wat more than 100-years-old. It had fallen into dismal repair, which made it all the more appealing. Half the joy of this trip was getting there, as there were no signposts, or even paved roads for the jouney. We bumped along, following the east bank of the Mekong through gorgeous little villages and sparse fields, past rubber orchards and over bridges. At every fork in the road we stopped to chat with whoever was present, asking directions, buying freshly made sugarcane juice, or just saying hello. Even if we hadn’t found the wat, it would have been worth it for the wonderful drive.
The rest of the time we simply drove and explored, the absolute best way to travel!