Kampong Cham part III: the bamboo bridge and Koh Paen

Koh Paen, sometimes written also as Kaoh Pan, is an island in the Mekong. During the dry season the island can be accessed  through a bamboo bridge, situated a couple of kilometers south of Kampong Cham‘s town centre. You’d be surprised that this bridge is used not only by pedestrian or bicycles, but also by motorbikes and cars – someone says it can withstand trucks, but I haven’t seen any with my own eyes, so I’ll be cautious before I back this statement.

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham - 1

During the monsoon, when the water rises, the river swallows the bridge and it is possible to reach the island only by boat, but the bamboo bridge is re-built at each dry season. We’ve heard they’re planning to build a ‘real’ bridge, which if it’s true, it means that there will be no bamboo bridge in the future.

Koh Paen’s main economic activities are agriculture and fishing, therefore many people living on the island are either fishermen or they work in one of the tobacco plantations.

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham -11

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham - 16

We cycled to Koh Paen at 4.30am, hoping to get a good light and an interesting sky, for photographs. As our bicycles strolled along the riverside on our way to the bamboo bridge, the sun was rising and the sky becoming bluer and bluer. We thought Kampong Cham would be deserted at that time, but we were wrong. The day had already started for many people. Groups of men and women of all ages were either exercising, or taking a run or an aerobic class with loud music being played in the open air, or simply making their way to work.

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham - 3

Once we got to the bridge we stopped for a while, to take a better look at it. I was impressed and amused at the same time. My western mentality forces me to see safety issues everywhere, and I wondered whether an engineer would deem such a structure safe for transportation or not. But does it matter? Motorcycles were nonchalantly driving back and forth from and to the island, and so did bicycles and pedestrian and that was enough 🙂

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham - 2

On the other side of the bridge, after some sandbanks we stopped at a stall and pay a small toll. The sandy road going into the village was paved with what seemed to be large bamboo mats. The sandy road soon turned into a dirt road, the large bamboo mats disappeared, and we got straight into the village.

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham - 4

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham - 6

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham - 7

Because we were the only westerners around, as we cycled along stilt houses and wat (temples) we soon became the centre of the villagers’ attention – I don’t remeber having ever said hello to so many strangers in such a short time 🙂

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham - 8

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham - 9

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham - 10

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Koh Paen, Kampong Cham - 13

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham - 15

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham - 23

Finally, following the main road we got into a complex that included a buddhist temple and an elementary school. As we needed a break we decided to sit down and enjoy a refreshing drink at one of the street bars in front of the school yard. Romana tried to get close to take some pictures of the children playing in the yard, but as soon as she pointed her camera at them they ran away laughing. The whole thing quickly turned into a game: Romana put the camera down and turned her back so the children would come close again – when they were close enough Romana turned toward them quickly, making a funny face and pretending to try to take another picture. The children would run away again, but this time they were laughing louder than before. Playing this game a couple of times gained us the children’s trust so they eventually came close to us and tried to communicate and interact with us.

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham - 19

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham -20

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham - 21

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham - 22

After a while, we jumped back on our bycicles and cycled through the complex, while the sun was getting higher and hotter. At that time we had been cycling for almost 6 hours, and we were starting to feel tired and hungry, so we decided to make our way back.

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham - 14

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham - 17

Koh Paen, Kampong Cham - 18

Once back at the guesthouse we looked at the map and we figured out we didn’t even get to do half of the island. Clearly we had underestimated its size. And because that morning we’d spent all our energy on the island, we didn’t have any left for the rest of the day, so we just enjoyed some relaxing time reading, blogging and sorting out the pictures on the balcony of the guesthouse, straight in front of the Mekong river.

  • Leigh

    What an amazing area of an incredible country. Kampong Cham was only a 2 nite stay for me and my friend when we visited Cambodia almost 12 months ago. The smiles of the Khmer people and the early start both rang true and most of all that loud music playing for Aerobics took me straight back there.

    Koh Paen was almost the highlight of my 9 week sth east asia trip , leaving siam reap on a rickety old local bus after a big nite on pub street wasnt great and then when our bus broke down i thought this is going to be a bad day, the breakdown however gave us the opportunity to mingle and moreso just watch children of the tiny strip of houses we were passing through.
    Great food, met some amazing people and being not really on the tourists top places to visit i felt it had the most authentic cambodian way of life on show all hours day and night.
    your photos are so similar to some of the pics i took and i can almost be sure one of the kids in your pics is in one of mine.
    when we were there we walked into a tobacco field and helped 3 woman 1 child and 1 man tread the plant for rolling to then be sold on , we had also accumulated a massive amount of hostel, hotel, guesthouse toothbrush’s and paste which we passed onto the people of the island who were much more than ecstatic to recieve them along with a soccerball we handed on to them.
    A great place that i will definitely visit again and recommend,
    i literally just searched kampong cham for a remisinisce and found your blog,
    thanks – Leigh

    • Emanuele

      Leigh, thanks a lot for sharing your experience. I can see how Kampong Cham, and this Koh Paen island (as well as many other places in this province) can be the highlight of a trip to Cambodia – everything is so authentic and geuine! I’d love to see your pictures if you have them online somewhere, or if you want to share them on our facebook page.
      Great idea re toothbrush and paste.
      Also I’ve taken some photos of street dancing and aerobics, both in Kampong Cham and Phnom Penh, I’ll share them soon.