Phnom Penh to Sambor

We stayed in a homestay last night in the village of Yaev. The family is one of the area’s soft shell turtle nest protectors. Mum is in charge. She finds the nests, keeps an eye on them and delivers the hatchlings to the Mekong Turtle Conservation Centre (MTCC) all for a decent wage. (See our report on MTCC). Their house is like all the others; up on stilts and made of wooden planks. A lovely breeze all night long meant the room was airy and cool. Sadly the house’s four dogs don’t get on so they snarled and wrangled below us most of the night! Had a delicious dinner then sat watching a thai movie on the dvd player linked up to a car battery. I was dropping asleep so soon headed for my mattress and sleep.

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This morning rural life has been on the go since 5. The little boy brought the buffalo round to their field before getting into shirt and trousers, slicking down his hair and heading off to school. Feels a world away from Phnom Penh. We left there on Sunday morning having seen the bats on Saturday evening. Bethy cycled with us for an hour up to a breakfast cafe before saying farewell. We did 110km that day out to Kampong Cham. Might have been less exhausted on arrival if the 40km of dirt road, heavily potted and dust filled, hadn t destroyed us. Oh and the five hours sleep the night before. Lucy fell asleep at the table after lunch and the most we managed was a stagger down the waterfront in the evening. Here we met some of the local “learn english” school students out raising money for a big litter pick they were organising.

We ground out 80km to Chlong the next day nicely broken up by a visit to Hamcheam Phnom complete with temple on the summit, gorgeous views over the mekong and a plethora of giant concrete fruit and veg scattered around the grounds. Also a load of animal statues. People ask why we have no animal photos. Well the Mekong is not a national park and is heavily populated so what animals there are tend to be low in number, hard to find or restricted to areas that have some form of protection. The statues at the temple showed the range that used to be found in the region certainly as described by the Mekong Exploration Commission – tigers, elephants, rhino and gaurs.

This week’s cycling continues along smaller roads where when not watching out for bumps and potholes we can watch daily life unfold. The school run in the morning, bustling markets in the main town where the mobile shops on scooters stock up with fish, chickens, bread, boiled eggs, steam pork buns, doughnuts and brooms before heading up the road to the tiny villages to sell their wares. We passed one guy, or rather he passed us, late for market with a huge pig carcass flapping and bouncing behind him. By 11 the road is quieter as the heat builds and normal people retire to the shade and their hammocks. Things begin to pick up again around 2 and by evening the road is in full swing.

Chlong is a little town with tree lined river front and french colonial buildings in various stages of collapse and neglect yet very atmospheric. Spent a nice evening strolling round tree lined back roads. From there we cycled the short distance to Kratie where we spent 2 days meeting the people working for the Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT) and WWF (see separate web page for more details).

Of course being in Kratie we couldn’t not have a go at seeing the Irrawaddy River Dolphins at Kampi. There are 75 here that frequent the deep pools. The total number left in the wild doesn’t reach 100. So we signed onto a kayaking tour and had a lovely morning, with Matt, Kaya, Ben and our guide Lucky, drifting down the river through sandy islets and the flooded forest of towering trees with massive tangled roots all swept back by the current as well as stopping off for a swim. It’s the coolest  I’ve been all trip!

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And yes we saw the dolphins. It was brilliant just sitting quietly in the kayak waiting to hear a puff of expelled breath and see the silvery grey head back and fin cut the surface. One even popped up within 10m of us. Fantastic. We beached mid stream on an islet and sat watching them move around the river before heading in for a big lunch at Lucky’s house. During lunch had to keep insisting we weren’t going to pay a dollar to see the turtle he’d found in the marsh!

That afternoon we cycled round the island opposite Kratie stopping at a 200 dollar a night resort for a drink before 15/16 year old Ben announced his Dad didn’t know he was on the island with us and was looking for him! So rapid cycle and boat back across we went….

Yesterday we cycled up to Sambor crossed to the biggest island in the Mekong to meet up with WWF doing community work at Koh Phdau. Sadly alot got lost in translation and the WWF guy smiled at us from his bike as he pased us on the road before sending us a message half an hour later to say he’d left but seen us on the road! Great! Now we were on the island and had to get to get to our homestay on the west bank. The MTCC who we’d visited earlier in the day kindly organised this and as the sun set we were sat on grass mats in the bottom of a long thin wooden boat cutting across an eddy filled river to our night’s abode. The bikes tied to a shop on the other island…..

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X Tash and Lucy

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