Kompong Cham is Cambodia third largest city and is located on the edge of the Mekong. Much of the population here was wiped out during the Khmer Rouge because of their Muslim beliefs.
Many of the buildings here reminded me that Cambodia was once a French colony although there doesn’t seem to much trace of the French language. The Cambodians have however certainly embraced the baguette and it appears to be a staple in the diet here.
Our reason for coming to Kompong Cham was to cycle across the bamboo bridge. This bridge is the first crossing to span the Mekong and I was excited to be on a bike and feel the wind in my hair as I raced across the bridge.
We were quite surprised to hear this bridge is only operational for 5 months of each year and is rebuilt annually by the local community after the wet season as it does not survive the onslaught of the Mekong in flood. It takes a month to rebuild and a ‘toll’ of $1 per roundtrip is charged to cover the cost of this expense!
It was a great evening and we cycled across the bridge to the island across the way to get a taste of village life. We visited a temple to interact with some of the kids there engrossed in their English lessons despite the fading light. We were invited to help with the lesson and we had fun trying to communicate with the kids. The kids here seem to have their set of stock standard questions which they fire at you in rapid succession! Questions which would be considered very personal in the west are bandied around here with no apologies! After the usual greeting of how are you and what’s your name, they get down to the more nitty gritty. Are you married, do you have a boyfriend, how many boyfriends do you have, how old are you…and so it goes on, They didn’t believe me when I said I was 24, but insisted I must be at least 30! An age I was quite content to admit to!!
That night we visited a local family for dinner and experienced our first taste of a home cooked meal. Cambodian village houses are very basic and eating, meal preparation and sleeping are all done sitting on the floor. We sat down on the mats laid out on the floor anticipating an evening with a difference and we were not disappointed.
Our hosts, a lovely couple with 3 children and a fourth on the way were delightful. They had cooked a number of lovely dishes from fried mushrooms, and noodles to a few stir fries and curries. We tucked in, realising this was a very special occasion for both parties.
After our meal our host had a very special treat for us. He bought out his bottle of homemade wine fermented with tarantulas and insisted we try some shots! I managed to dodge this particular experience, by insisting I would just take a sip from my neighbour’s shot.
Then we watched in fascination while they brought out some of their pet tarantulas and let their 4 year old play with it. After we realised they were actually quite safe as their fangs were removed, I was brave enough to agree to hold it in the palm of my hand for a very unique picture! We lolled about the mats for ages, chatting with out hosts and marvelling at the simplicity of their lives.
Experience, travel- these are as education in themselves.