As I said in my previous post (Kampong Cham part I: The Khmer wedding), we ended up staying in Kampong Cham more than planned. We got caught into this sleepy town’s unadulterated charm, where apart from a couple of western coffee shops and bars – some run by expats – nothing seems to be built around the tourist.
Also, we were lucky enough that we were staying with Antonio and other new-made friends. We enjoyed their company and they were also a source of great tips on what was worth to do and see in and around Kampong Cham, moreover they helped us to understand present-day Cambodia, its culture and its traditions. Oh, and their Khmer cook Narin was simply amazing – her delicacies were the best food we had in Cambodia 🙂
The days after the Khmer wedding anniversary we went exploring Kampong Cham on the lookout for nice places to visit and interesting subjects to photograph, whether people or anything else.
The first spots we headed to were the street markets. We usually visit street markets as a first thing whenever we arrive in a new place. Besides the fact that I have a sort of mysterious and inexplicable attraction for street markets, I believe they are a great place to photograph. In Kampong Cham there are two main street markets, one is in town and one is on the riverside north of the Kizuna bridge.
After this second market we went further south and stopped by a temple called Wat Prah Tohm Nah Day Doh. We didn’t see many monks there, as I was hoping (you can’t leave South East Asia without a photo of a Buddhist monk :)), but because there was a great light I still got to take one or two decent pictures of the place.
We continued on in the same direction until we got to a Cham mosque. Cham people are an ethnic group living in various regions of South East Asia, including Vietnam. There are many Cham people living around Kampong Cham – the name Kampong Cham itself means something like Cham settlement along the river. Most local Cham are Muslim, so there are also a few mosques scattered along the province, and it’s not infrequent to see women wearing headscarves. When the Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975, giving a start to the darkest period in Cambodia’s recent history, they tried to exterminate the Cham living in Cambodian territory, because their diversity (in terms of religion, habits, diet, language, etc.) clashed with the Khmer Rouge’s objective of creating a society of ‘equals’. It is estimated that Cham people were killed in a higher proportion compared to the ethnic Khmer during Pol Pot’s regime.
On the next exploratory expedition, in the afternoon, we headed in the opposite direction, that is north of Kampong Cham, always following the road that runs along the Mekong river. We knew there were some floating villages, and initially we just went looking for them. Not far from our guesthouse, we saw the first floating houses so we stopped by. These houses were secured to the shore with ropes and most people living in these villages are – expectedly- fishermen.
When we jumped off our bicycles and got close to the river bank, we were noticed by a bunch of children who, from one of the floating houses, started screaming hello and ran toward us. We ended up spending some time playing with them and taking some pictures. I looked at their houses and I wondered whether these children go to school, what type of education they receive and what a typical day in their life looks like. I guess they don’t have videogames or expensive toys to play with, like their western counterparts. They don’t eat pizzas or burgers and don’t wear branded clothes. Put it very simply they don’t have the things that make western children happy – yet they have a joyful energy, they’re full of life and their smile is able to make your day.
When we said goodbye to the kids we crossed the road – there were some guys playing volleyball. Volleyball is a popular sport in Cambodia. Interest in this sport has grown in the country following the establishment in 1996 of the Cambodian National Volleyball League (Disabled) Organization, or CNVLD. CNVLD became a local NGO in 2000 and promoted disability sports programmes aimed at amputees, including victims of landmines, and other disabled people, with the objective of re-integrating them in the society. Today Cambodia has a national league which is sponsored by the corporate sector and is followed by many people, and one of the strongest standing volleyball national teams.
After taking a few shots we continued on the road along the river, always heading north. We saw a number of scattered stilt houses and then we got into a village. We kept cycling through the village but from time to time, when we saw something or someone worth a photograph, we stopped to take a picture and interact with people. We got to chat with an old lady who spoke some English and said she used to be a teacher. She told us about her sons and daughters and something about her life. We didn’t take any photo of her because she didn’t want us to. But when we finished chatting with her, we met this other photogenic lady on the other side of the road, we showed her our camera and she was happy to pose for us.
Just before sunset we began our way back. When we cycled again by the floating houses, the sky turned a mix of pink and orange and reflected its colour on the river. It was one of the most spectacular sunsets we saw in South East Asia.