A continuation from my previous entry.
We initially planned to spend half of our Cambodia trip in Siem Reap, another half in Phnom Penh and on a sleeping bus in between. But then I got chickened out from what I read on the internet about the drive on a sleeping bus, what with the potholes, the speed of the drivers and the high chance of bus broke down in the middle of the journey. So we decided to include a night stay in Kampong Cham as our transit.
We took an early bus from Siem Reap and arrived at Kampong Cham at noon. We were the only foreigners at what appeared as a bus terminal (bus terminals in Cambodia differ depending on your bus operators and they are normally a shop lot or nearby a pump station).
The first thing to do when arriving at a new place is getting my bearing right. The bus dropped us a pump station, unlike what I had imagined when I studied the map, so we tried asking a few locals but nobody spoke English. I started doubting our decision of staying at that small town.
As our lodging was located in front of the Mekong river, we navigated our way towards the river and found the first foreigner on a bicycle smiling at us. At that time, it was comforting to see a fellow tourist/traveller. We then found Moon River Guesthouse & Restaurant where we paid USD10 per night for a really small room. When we arrived, there were other foreigners nestled at the restaurant. So I guess this was where the tourists resided.
Choosing a place to stay in Kampong Cham was not a heavy task as there were not much choices found on the internet. It would probably be easier to just scout for a room there and then and you would end up at cheaper rooms.
After taking some rest in our small-but-dirt-cheap room, the guesthouse staff got us a local tuktuk driver to bring us around town. He first brought us to French tower overlooking Mekong river. It was not that tall but I happened to have a phobia of height and the stairs were so narrow I could really see the ground. So I braced myself to only go half of the tower and watched Huda going to the top of the tower – with no view at the top.
Our tuktuk driver then brought us to a local Muslim village where the villagers were excited seeing our faces. They sent a few villagers who had worked in Malaysia to meet us and welcomed us.
The French Tower
Interestingly there were 2 mosques in that small one-road village. We understood that there were different preferences on the imams, hence the villagers were praying in 2 different mosques for Friday prayers.
We was then brought to another Muslim village, a temple and around town to see how different people were living their lives. It seemed very much like a communist country, where the rich owned mansions while the poor barely had enough food to last for the day.
Our tuktuk driver brought us to a small halal food stall, and feeling not so hungry, we bought a pack of chicken rice. We left it for a while in our guesthouse room and after an hour or so, ants were all over the pack. So, out we went that night to search for food.
Even though this town is famous for being the centre of the Muslim community in Cambodia, it was not easy to find halal stall. While we were walking to a nearby restaurant that I read had a Muslim cook, we found a girl clad in hijab sitting at a cafe with another guy who we later found out was the owner of the cafe. It was such a rare sight at that part of a country, so we just had to stop and smile to the stranger.
The girl was happened to be a solo traveller from Singapore and I was immediately interested to find out more about her travel. So we joined her at the table and talked until the restaurant closed. I guess that chance encounter reminded me of why I travel the way I travel recently. I tend to be more comfortable travelling in small groups and meet new people along the way, perhaps one day I should start my solo travelling and just go without any proper planning. We exchanged contacts before parting (well, “contacts” in this age may means Instagram accounts) and left feeling inspired more than ever.
Kampong Cham turned out to be sweet and inspiring. Who knows what Huda thought of our stay but I wish I could stay longer at that small and friendly town.
While waiting for our outbound bus to Phnom Penh, I managed to complete a draw of that girl in a white dress who looked at me and smile as if she wanted to strike a conversation but was just too afraid because I did not seem to speak her language.
Where we waited for our bus.
Photos taken by Huda with her GoPro.