After a short spell in Banlung, we return to the Mekong river whose path we’ll follow all the way to Phnom Penh. Again, we’re skipping from city to city — Stung Treng, Kratie, Kompong Cham. The river is the business here, and so is the sun that sets or rises above it. The names of guesthouses and cafes are tell-tale: Riverside, Mekong Sunrise, Red Sun Falling or Lazy Mekong Daze. Again, it’s popular to rent bicycles and visit local villages or go on a sunset cruise. The sunsets provide plenty of entertainment. We were enthralled by the variety of colors in the sky and the suddenness of changes. Sometimes we’d still be trying to set our jaws back and put on shoes to cross the street for a better shot while, in a what seemed like a blink, the sunset was over.
There are many little rural islands on the Mekong where life goes on at a slower pace. We decide to visit one — Koh Trong near Kratie. It’s really easy, all we have to do is get on a small ferry boat, on the other side cross the great sand dune, rent bicycles and have a ride around the island. We are instantly rewarded with peeks into the front yards of the villagers. It’s very beautiful and pastoral. The big green Pomelo fruit are getting ripe in front of picturesque houses while lush rice paddies sway with light gusts of wind. Yet we have our doubts… The place has a slight feeling of a human zoo, with farmers going about their business and tourists riding around a single path along the coast of the island. There are community programs in place which allow you to live in a homestay and take part in everyday life and chores of the village, so we hope the villagers gain more than they loose from the growing popularity of Koh Trong.
In Kompong Cham we realise how much we got to like Cambodia and how good we feel here. It usually takes us more than two weeks in a new country to get past the first impressions, grow some confidence and a feeling of safety, find our own pace and interact with the locals more easily. It’s a great because it feels like being in the right place at the right time. The cheerfulness of the people is highly contagious and as time passes we complain less and are more relaxed We spend only one night in Kompong Cham, but as we’ve already took in too many sunsets and bike trips, we pass most of the time in our guesthouse helping a local guide set up his blog to help advertise boat trips. He doesn’t have a clue how to do it on his own, so he’s very grateful and finds many small ways to reciprocate.
Very satisfied with the state of our minds we hop on yet another minibus, this time to Phnom Penh. We sit next to a very nice, but hyperactive, old lady. When not mixing up some drinks, chewing on leafs or reorganizing the contents of her purse, she checks out the fabrics of my trousers and scarf and investigates the quality of my sandals. We offer each other snacks and time passes quickly. We also admire Khmers, who sit on a half of profiled seat in a hopping minibus with a smile and a zen-like attitude.