Getting from Can Tho, Vietnam to Kompong Cham, Cambodia requires me to use all my travelling experiences and resources, not to mention an abundance of patience. Instead of land transport, I decide to cross the border by boat, so I have to take a 3-hour bus to Chao Duc, another riverside town, where fast boats go directly to Phnom Penh or slow boats that take you only to the border.
A very slow boat ride through floating houses and a very smooth border crossing and I am in Cambodia. The van that heads to PP drops me at a ferry point. I have to buy a ferry ticket which costs 0.025USD but I only have 20USD and some Vietnamese dong, so the very kind lady gives me a free passage. I sit at a corner waiting for the ferry and the chaos around me comes to life. There are many motorbikes and people queueing to go on the ferry, sellers weaves among the throng of people waving their goods in their faces, beggars pulling at the seam of clothes hoping to pull your switch of charity as well. An old lady approaches me for money but I don’t have any Cambodian Riel so I give her some Vietnamese Dong, she takes the notes and stares hard at them and return them to me! That’s new! I have to show her that I don’t have any Cambodian Riel before she moves on to her next target. Then another 2 changes of van and I finally arrive in Kompong Cham, 10 hours after I set off in the morning.
Yet to be featured in many travellers’ itinerary, Kompong Cham is a small town nestled by the Mekong that boasts an Angkorian temple – Nokor Wat, and a hilltop temple. Life moves slowly here and people are extremely polite and friend, it’s a much welcomed change after Vietnam. Life moves slowly here, the hustle and bustle of the morning gives way to a kind of mellow rhythm in the hot afternoon. At around 5pm, when the sun loses his rage, people crawl out of their indoor hiding and populate the riverfront, young guys dancing to choreographed Korean pop music, old folks doing their line dancings, young men playing Jianzi, and family strolling and chatting. It’s very hypnotic.
Nokor Wat situated 3km outside of Kampong Cham center is a good initiation into Angkorian temples, from the corn-shaped pagoda to the 4-faced statue and the motive of nymphs above the doorways. Built from the same materials – sandstone and laterite – as Angkor Wat, Nokor Wat is almost a complete opposite to its grander sister. It get’s probably 0.01% of the number of tourists that visit Angkor Wat and it’s a living temple, meaning there are monks and nuns there. What really captures my attention is how it blends in so nicely with its surrounding. There are villages and houses just beyond the compound, and the residents come and go as if the temple is but part of the landscape all their lives, it most probably is.
The main hall is housed in a new structure connected to an old one. There are 3 monks and 3 nuns sleeping and chatting when I go in, it smells of incense and earth. The place is small but nicely decorated. The place is really peaceful and I find myself sitting there drunk with the tranquillity. Outside, the are cows grazing and children playing, punctuated by the occasional drone of motorbikes.
The hilltop Phnom Hanchey temple located 25km away is another good place for a short visit. It’s a good place to watch sunrise but that means leaving Kompong Cham at 5am. Alternatively, come here in the late afternoon, and watch the Sun sets over the green landscape. You can either rent a motorbike and ride there or get a motortaxi for around 5USD. The journey passes through some small villages, padi fields and smaller and newer temples. The houses are mostly on stilts as it floods during rainy season and they use the space to store things during dry season. Locals like to come here in the late afternoon for a stroll, it’s especially popular among young lovers. There are small stalls here selling drinks and snacks. While I am enjoying a cold drink and some snacks I see movement above me, there are 2 monkeys jumping from trees to tress. I see one of the stall owners feed them with snacks so I do the same. One of them, tentatively climbs lower and stretches its hand and snaps a piece of food from my hand. A lazy afternoon soon turns into a game with the monkeys.
Kompong Cham may not have many attractions, but it’s definitely a place to get to know the kind and friendly people of the land.