On route from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh I decided to break up the journey by visiting rural and less tourist trodden parts of Cambodia. My first stop was a little town along the Mekong River called Kratie.
My journey to Kratie was actually an interesting adventure itself. After a very comfortable ride in a minibus where I had a row to myself, we stopped for lunch. I was the only person going to Kratie, so once everyone else left on various routes, my new ride turned up (an hour and a half late). At first I thought I had the wrong minibus – the back window was smashed and the paintwork was pealing making it look like it could break down at any minute. But no, this was in fact my ride – a 14 person minibus, which seated one English girl, 23 Khmer people, one monk and four children. Who knew this was even possible!
After a ‘fairly’ squashed four hour journey that consisted of getting wet because the side windows were broken, as well as climbing out one of these windows at a toilet stop (to which everyone laughed as I fell), I finally arrived in Kratie. Greeted by a beautiful sunset over the Mekong River, I knew I was going to like this place.
Sunday 2nd April
Personally I find the best way to explore a small town is to hop on a bike and cycle around. Hiring a bike from the hostel, I found a local boat which took me over the Mekong River to a small island called Koh Trong.
This was by far one of my favourite mornings and places in Cambodia. The nine-kilometre trail around the island was beautifully untouched with lush scenery consisting of forests, beaches, a floating village and rice fields. I was also warmly greeted by the residents who waved and shouted hello at every opportunity. This is what I wanted – to see the peaceful and rural side of Cambodia. The afternoon was just as eventful as I met two guys at the hostel for a 16km round trip to a mountain temple called Phnom Sombok. Not wearing the right attire (my shoulders and legs were on show), I headed to the entrance to wait for the boys. Whilst patiently sitting by the steps, a large Khmer family spotted me by the entrance and rushed over to chat. After back and forth of trying to communicate, it then turned into a photoshoot with every family member wanting a photo with me. It was a really heartwarming half an hour, with the children sitting with me and the youngest son even giving me a flower necklace he had made. Time and time again the Khmer people have not only shown their kindness, but also their truly welcoming nature. I’ve never met a nation of people who when they smile, they smile all the way through to their eyes with no undertones of anything else. This was a truly special day in Kratie and the evening was the icing on the cake at a restaurant called Le Tonle. Not only was the food amazing, specialising in Cambodian delicacies, it also offered a hospitality training programme to disadvantaged youths, so was definitely worth the money.
Kampong Cham – Monday 3rd April
The next day I got up early as I decided to spend just a day exploring Kampong Cham, another city on the Mekong River, south east of Cambodia.
As I said above I much prefer cycling, however with little time on my hands, instead I rented a scooter for the day. My day started with an hour ride to a temple complex called Wat Hanchey. I’m glad I braved the journey as it had a stunning view across the Mekong River. I also sat down and had a drink with a lovely local lady, even though the conversation was very broken, it was still nice.
I had read about the Ko Paen Bamboo Bridge, which is the longest bamboo bridge in the world, so decided to head there after. The bridge looked extremely unstable and hearing it’s rebuilt every year as the Mekong annually rises and washes it away, I was hesitant. But after bumping into a Swiss couple who I had met in Kratie, we headed over the bridge together. It was a very bumpy and fun ride, but my gosh it was terrifying, especially when a car came by. The bridge was the entrance and exit to the small island of Koh Paen. This was similar to Koh Trong, but personally I didn’t think it was as beautiful. Saying goodbye to the Swiss couple I decided to visit two last temples (right next to each other) – Phnom Srei and Phnom Pros. Taking in the sites and chatting to a few of the local people I was getting ready to leave when one of the monkeys in the temple ran at me. Thinking it was just trying to scare me I stood my ground. A second later it had it’s arms around my legs and took a bite of my calf. In shock I still managed to shake it off before it charged me again. I tried making myself big, stamping my feet, while a Khmer family ran over to also scare it away. Pretty shaken I jumped back on my scooter and headed for the hospital for a rabies jab. I ended up in the wrong place twice, but after more encounters with lovely Cambodian people, I ended up in a clinic and got my first of two jabs (as I already had rabies vaccines before travelling).
It was scary at the time, however it didn’t spoil my Kampong Cham adventure. I could have easily spent more time in both towns, as there was still so much to do, however the capital Phnom Penh was calling.
Jessica Storm ✌️