Cambodia is of course not only to be found in the “Pearl of Asia” (Phnom Penh), in the temples of Angkor or in your plate. In between the famous stones lays a mesmerizing landscape, where you can discover the real Cambodia. To get a feeling of this side of Cambodia, the best you can do is to rent a scooter and head into the countryside.
When cruising from village to village, with a tiny helmet of doubtful quality on your head, an altogether different colorful Cambodia emerges. While dodging the umpteenth bump in the road to – literally – save your ass, you pass by extensive lime green rice fields swaying and sparkling in the sun. Water buffaloes ploughing the earth or wallowing in the water, women harvesting rice and putting it up to dry, fishermen elegantly trowing out their nets into the slow-moving water, palm trees, banana trees, colorful waterlilies in ponds along the road and signs of the Cambodia People’s Party everywhere. These are just some of the images that rural Cambodia has to offer.
The day-to-day life is centered on or around the rivers, rice fields or in the shade of a small stilted home. These houses are usually made up out of wood and thatch/corrugated iron, often not much more than a hovel, built on stilts to be able to withstand the flooding during the rainy season. Running water and electricity are rarely found in these houses. At best a few of the houses will sport an old TV set powered by a car battery. To keep everything from spoiling in these fridge-less villages, ice is often delivered daily in big blocks strapped on the back of a scooter, not exactly the most practical solution.
No matter the size of these houses, there is always a small temple to be found in front of the door, often not much bigger than a highly ornamented mailbox, meant to keep out the evil spirits. Spirit worship is still very prevalent here, next to and often mixed with Buddhism.
Next to withstanding rain and spirits, the Cambodians have also perfected the art of surviving the scorching sun and stifling humidity, mostly by relaxing in hammocks – usually underneath their stilted home – during the hottest part of the day. But this is not the only activity that they have perfected, they also master the art of picnicking, the art of turning a scooter into a vehicle of mass transportation fit for an entire extended family, the art of decorating wedding tents wit eye-blinding colors and gold-leaf coated bananas. If only they would manage to silence the crickets, geckos and roosters during the night…
They are definitely a friendly people and often very handsome. Though they are not always the most organized, a bit too “laid back”. Furthermore, once you are out of the cities the language barrier is often very high and we cannot really make up much out of the Khmer language. It seems to have an inordinate amount of “P” sounds, especially with prices and numbers (e.g., from 1 to 9: muy, pii, pei, puan pram pram-muy pram-pii pram-pei pram-puan). While trying to haggle in the local lingo this really turned out to be pretty funny sometimes and often reminded us of the following:
We cover a lot of ground in the neighborhood of Kampot and the beaches of Kep, in the North-East we hit the dusty red roads of Ratanakiri and skirt the borders of Laos and Vietnam. Sometimes we literally arrive home red-faced from all the dust we have stirred up on our trip. No problem for Kate, that way she at least has some sort of a tan.
Didn’t we fear running out of gas in the middle of nowhere? This never came up, because mini gas stations are everywhere. Often only stocking gas in large coca-cola bottles sold by the liter. An image that certainly belongs in any overview of our road trips. If you still don’t have a clear picture of it all: do have a look and click on our Cambodia photo gallery.
Practical tip: we advise against scootering around the countryside in only flip flops, a T-shirt and hot pants. You really don’t want to slide and fall on sand- and gravel roads with just bare skin to protect you nor steady your ride on a dirt road with just a flap of foam between your feet and the ground. And who wants the typical South-East Asian exhaust pipe tattoo? If only we had a penny for every injured tourist we saw… We usually went for long sleeves, jeans and closed shoes, save the beachwear for somewhere else.