Kratie to Kampong Cham 121km
Kampong Cham to Phnom Penh 117km
For the last two days I've visited the 17th Century, the 1800's and occasionally slipped forward into maybe the 1970's. I'm not convinced that I'm back in 2014.
I've been following the Mekong River southeast. It seems pretty weird to be traveling in that direction, because for the last seven months I've been heading NW, but Ju is landing SE of me in 10 days, so that's where I'm going.
There's a major, but minor, road that runs parallel with the Mekong. There are numerous ferries crossing the river, many of them unmarked on maps. Consequently there are many route options. I have chatted to several that have ridden this route, and their advice has all been different. So, as usual, I've decided to just follow my nose, and make it up as I go.
The main road is not busy, except around the fringes of cities and towns, but on some of my maps, I've spotted some minor, minor roads, so that's where I head. These minor roads, generally run parallel to the "major" road, but closer to the river, which is often only 200m away anyway. But Oh my Goodness. What a difference that 100m makes.
No tourists here. No noisy, pushy horn mini buses here. In fact very very few, four wheeled traffic at all. This minor road is the original road. It passes through the original villages. And for some of the roads, and the villages, it appears as if they have never altered. I'm dumbstruck. There is a grin on my face all day. I could be in medieval times.
None of these houses have running water. One in thirty has power. None have toilets. You can tell because they are all built on stilts, and there are no pipes or holes in the floor. (where do they go, to go?) None have any plumbing. There is no furniture in any house. The occasional house has a thin mattress on the floor. Most have no doors or windows. Cooking is done under the house, on a wood fire, surrounded by the dogs, cats, and sometimes cattle.
There are so, so many amazing photos to take, and the light is amazing, but I take none. It would be like standing on someone's porch in Chch, and taking photos through the lounge window. I feel uncomfortable staring at what I can see, but I can't help myself. Taking photos, I feel, would feel like trespassing into these people private life, into their space.
The roads are rutted, dirt, covered in litter, cattle patties, puddles, and sometimes deep sand. They are very narrow, so the houses on either side seem to encroach. I am at one with the villages. The markets are truly medieval. Flies, dogs, rubbish, crowds, blood, people everywhere, crowding, pushing, bags filled with stuff they're either about to sell, or have just purchased. There are cattle wandering freely through the crowd. There are carts being hauled by ponies, and bullocks. There are ladies lowering a bucket into a well to collect water. The only thing I didn't see was a village idiot juggling his balls.
For almost 100km these scenes repeat themselves. My face is aching from grinning.
Day two changes. Still the narrow road, 100m meters from the river, and 100m from the main route, but we're getting closer to the city, so now we are in the 1800s. Families are in the fields, ploughing with oxen. Cutting corn with sythes. Carting hay behind ponies. Planting by hand. Thrashing rice by hand.
For two days, I feel as if if I turned around and went the opposite direction, I would catch the cast, turning off the lights, the show is over, the tourist has passed, let's go home..... It doesn't seem possibly real, that this is how these people live and work.
And now I'm in a big city, in a guesthouse, down a culdersac, with several other guesthouses. I wasn't even booked in yet, and I was offered weed. "No Prostitutes" is posted everywhere, but I'm pretty sure the hot things standing around the lobby are not paying customers. I chat to an American girl. She's from some star in the Universe, is really glassy eyed, and her thoughts are obviously wandering. A couple of French guys are smoking some sweet smelling cigarettes, and chatting up a couple of hot things. Most are wearing baggy, colourful Ali Baba trousers. Feels just a little 1970ish.