Arriving in Cambodia from Laos I decided to head east to Ban Lung. I thought this small town with a plethora of waterfalls and a crater lake would be a good place to start. Felling energetic I decided to walk the 5km to the perfectly round crater lake. Clear waters, friendly locals, and my new Basque friend Aitor made for a great first day. The next day we rented bicycles and rode 35kms to visit three waterfalls in the area. Two of the falls were no more than a trickle. It was as if someone was emptying a water bottle over the rocks but the last was brilliant. We spent an hour swimming with children, taking pictures and enjoying the scenery.
Next stop was Kratie and the endangered Irrawaddy fresh water dolphins of the Mekong River (I feel like I've been following this river forever). An hour and a half is spent on a long boat following the dolphins as they gently breach the water for breath and disappear as quickly as they appeared. At first I tried to get a decent pic of the dolphins but I spent more time looking at blurred photos that resembled the Loch Ness Monster. "I think it's a dolphin!?! Isn't it?"
After only a day in Kratie I was off to Phenom Phen. Surprisingly, Phenom Phen is a very modern, new and clean city, at least where the tourists go. First day there I met a local named Bonnar (*sigh*) who took us to a bar on the beautiful riverside for drinks then to a local Khmer restaurant for cheap tasty barbecue. After dinner we decided to go dancing to a club called the Heart of Darkness. Before you enter the club there is a sign stating there are no knives, guns or grenades permitted. Grenades? Really? Do people bring those to clubs? Next you are searched, for weapons I presume. At this point I wasn't sure what to expect but once inside it looks just like any other modern club. The first thing you see is the abundance of old white dudes with young Cambodian girls (*cough*, prostitutes, *cough*) and men with young boys. As you venture further into this small club you realize that everyone is here. Foreigners, locals, expats, prostitutes, gangsters (no, really) and clubbers alike dance all night together to the beat of bad trance and cheap beer. I danced till 3am, something I never did even when I drank.
No visit to Phenom Phen is complete without a visit to S-21 or The Killing Fields. These were the places that the Khmer Rouge doled out torture and then death to thousands of Cambodians. In the mid seventies Cambodia was ravaged by the Khmer Rouge, a totalitarian communist group that abolished money, eradicated religion, forced every Cambodian to the rice fields, and killed the educated. Ultimately their horrific reign cost the lives of two million people. A reminder of what one man with a perverse agenda can do. One of the Khmer Rouge motto's was "To keep you is no benefit, to lose you is no loss."
Feeling that I was running out of time I accelerated my travels through Cambodian. Just outside of Kompong Chhnang I visited the small village of Ondong Rossey that makes a large percentage of the pottery sold in Cambodia. I sat with three women, a mother and her two daughters, as they gently tapped the soft clay into shape with their wooden mallets. It was entrancing and musical listening to them at work. Each handmade pot is perfectly symmetrical and identical to the previous pot. The village economy is built around pottery with every second house being dedicated to the craft. Entire families will make the pots while the father will load an ox cart far beyond capacity and travel far and wide selling his wares. I wish I wish could have spent a couple days instead of a couple hours in this quiet little village.
In Battambang I rode the bamboo train. The train is a spartan piece of transport consisting of no more than a bamboo slat base on two sets of wheels with a small belt driven motor. I thought it barely big enough for four people only to discover that up to 30 locals will pile onto this bantam carrier.
The train clicks, clacks, bounces and jerks you from side to side as it rolls over the neglected crooked track with disconcerting gaps. If you happen to come across another bamboo train (which is a given) then the train with the fewest people, cargo or motos is to disassemble their train to allow the other to pass. Twenty minutes later you arrive in a small town for a brief rest. After a short exploration of the town, I was invited to play volleyball with some locals. Some young, some older but all unexpectedly good. I was thought quite the player as well only for the fact that I was the only one that could reach over the net. Since my "rest"was twenty minutes longer than it should have been I headed back to the train sweaty and smiling.
Now it's off to Siem Reap to do some major temple trolling!