Phnom Pros and Phnom Srei, which translate respectively as man hill and woman hill (you can read the legend behind these names here), are situated at approximately 7 kilometers out of Kampong Cham on the road to Phnom Penh. These hills are a nice side-trip for those who visit the Kampong Cham province. Many go there to enjoy the views and the tranquility, or to visit the pagodas.
When we arrived in Phnom Pros on the motorbike we’d rented for the day, the atmosphere was serene and peaceful. At the back of the building a number of monkeys where sitting quietly and seemingly enjoying the silence around.
We were greeted by an old man who for some reasons happened to stand right in front of the temple’s door. The man invited us in, and we where introduced to other people including Buddhist monks, some extremely young. In Cambodia and in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam, where a big Khmer community lives, we’ve seen many young monks. In the Khmer Buddhist tradition one can become a monk very early in life – some become novices as early as ten years of age, but nobody is obliged to take vows permanently, so not all remain monks for all their life.
While a few people, including women, were cleaning and seemingly doing some maintenance work, someone else was waving incense sticks in the air, engaging in what looked like a prayer or a spiritual practice.
Even if we weren’t able to communicate, as nobody spoke English (and our Khmer is also not that good either :)), we still managed to have two of the monks and some of the old men pose for us. Actually they loved to be photographed and their eyes sparkled when they saw our camera.
We stayed for a while into the temple with our hosts and then decided to move on. When we went out in the yard on our way to the motorbike a monkey started fighting with a dog (see my other photo essay Monkey vs. Dog for the pictures). Going to Phnom Srei was in our original plan, but in the end we thought we’d give it a miss, because we were more curious about the village of Cheungkok.
Situated not far from Phnom Pros, continuing for less than a kilometer in the direction of Phnom Penh, but on the opposite side of the road, this little village of 600 people is a minor attraction and it is only briefly touched on in guidebooks we’ve had at hand – I’m not even sure we would have visited it if our friends didn’t tell us its story and recommend us to go.
This village relied for a long time on rice cultivation but resources such as water and cultivable land became scarce over time and the village had to diversify and look for alternative sources of income (you can read more about the story here). That’s when this philanthropic organization called AMICA (Assistance Médiation Internationale pour le Cambodge) came in. AMICA supported Cheungkok by investing in long term projects, introducing the concept of ecotourism and facilitating the learning of new skills (including scarf weaving and other traditional crafts) to help villagers to recover from their crisis.
We parked our motorbike close to what looked like an open-air school – we found out later that that was the place where children and adults learn French and English with the help of volunteer teachers from abroad. After a short walk among the various stilt houses we came across a lady who weaved kramas. A krama is a typical Khmer cloth and it has many uses, including bandanna or head-cover, but it can be used also as a towel or to carry children. We stopped by her loom and she showed us her technique – subsequently she invited us in her house, introduced us to one of her friends and showed us her many kramas. As I knew I couldn’t leave Cambodia without a souvenir for myself, I ended up buying one. But because I didn’t know how to fix it on my head, the other lady gave me a helping hand.
Soon after that, we had another stroll into the village and met other people, some of whom were able to speak English. We also managed to take another couple of pictures before we headed for the guesthouse.
This was the last of our wanderings around Kampong Cham. The day after we continued our trip to Phnom Penh, where we planned to stay for a couple of days to sort out our visa to Vietnam.
It was sad to leave Kampong Cham as the time we spent there was so good that we felt at home all the time.
A big thank you to Antonio, Jen, Camille, Stella, all the guys at Médecins Sans Frontières, and the other NGO workers for their great company, which made our stay unforgettable, and for helping us to discover little Cambodian gems that would have otherwise been left unseen.