DAYS 12 - 13 (27th - 28th October) KOMPONG CHHNANG
DAY 12 (27th October)
After leaving Battambang we were heading to Sihanoukville for an overnight stop before going to Lazy Beach, for some relaxation. We knew that it was possible to do this trip in one very long day. But we had decided that, as this was a holiday, we would break the journey into 2 days. We didn’t want to overnight in Phnom Penh again, so had researched Kompong Chhnang. This sounded like our sort of place and we wanted to visit the Vietnamese floating village here.
Now Kompong Chhnang seems to be a much overlooked town, by most tourists. But I will tell you now, that it is well worth spending a little time here.
Having finally departed Battambang at 08:15, the Mony Rith bus finally pulled over to the side of the road in Kompong Chhnang at 12:00 noon. It had only taken three hours forty five minutes, including a rest halt.
As the bus stopped, we were the only people to get off - not even the locals were tempted! We were immediately pounced upon by waiting drivers, but only one chap spoke decent English. He offered to take us on his motorbike to our hotel. But we played it cool, as usual, as first we wanted to book our bus ticket for the following day, back to Phnom Penh, where we were to change buses for Sihanoukville. Again, as usual the buses tried to overcharge us, but we were getting the hang of things and got the price down to 15,000 riel. We then discussed with the motorbike driver (they are called motodups) about doing a tour around the area. After a brief negotiation, we agreed a price of $8 for the 2 of us on one bike. So that would be nice and cosy with the 3 of us all together.
As we had large packs, he said we would have to take 2 bikes at $2 each, to the hotel, which seemed reasonable. So he organised another chap and we set off.
We had done as much research as possible (not much) on the hotels in town. Initially we had read that Sokhas Guesthouse was Ok, but then there were some mixed reviews, saying it had gone downhill. So we plumped for the Sovann Phum Hotel (no website – email : email@example.com), it is on National Road No.5, Kandal Village and telephone numbers are 011 886 572 and 012 812 459. It is quite a newish hotel located right next to another similar one called “The Asia Hotel”. Whilst I was looking at the rooms at the Sovann Phum, my wife checked out the Asia. Our decision to stay at the Sovann Phum was correct, as it was better than next door. The rooms were very clean, spacious and came complete with A/C, fridge, hot water and TV. There was also free internet in the lobby. Not bad for $15. We unpacked a little and feasted on the Fresh Spring Rolls we had brought with us from our cookery course the night before.
At 1:00 pm, the motodup driver collected us and we puttered out into the surrounding countryside. First he took us to a nearby mountain – Phnom Santuk (which was really a hill) and we had a walk up to the small temple. On the summit there were large boulders which I endeavoured to scale, without much success. I put this down to the fact that our travel insurance didn’t cover me for extreme sports and had nothing to do with age at all! The temple, Wat Santuk was closed, but there were some good views across the countryside, with the Tonle Sap Lake in the distance.
From the hillock, we drove down some dirt roads towards the village where the pottery is made. This is what the town is named after, Kompong Chhnang means Clay Pot Port. Before the village, we stopped in the vast rice fields with the Golden Mountains in the distance. I have to say that at this time of year the rice had a lovely golden sheen to it in the sun. Our guide explained that the local women turn to making pots after this rice has been cut. This is in addition to those who are already making pots full time. The men on the other hand, climb the bamboo ladders up the sugar palm trees to make Palm Beer (seems a good trade off to me). Sometimes these trees are interconnected with bamboo poles to save climbing up and down.
Arriving into Ondong Rossey, the pottery village, at 2:00 pm, we were first shown the Pottery Development Centre or Cambodian Crafts Federation shop, which is a community based project. Here they have all manner of pottery objects for sale. However, yet again we couldn’t buy anything, due to weight and fragility issues. The piggy banks they make interested us (for starters they aren’t piggies), as they don’t have any way of getting the money out once it’s inside. If you want your cash then you have to smash it open. But you don’t want to break your lovely pot, so it keeps building up. Maybe the bankers should have been given these and we wouldn’t now have the crisis we are in!!
From here we drove around the village where every dwelling seemed to have a pottery maker working below the house. Our guide simply drove into any house and the workers were quite happy for us to observe how they made their items. First of all we watched a lady making some large pots which could be used for all manner of storage. Instead of using a wheel, she had the clay on top of a large stand and she walked around it beating it into shape, before adding the base. Our guide said she could make between 10 and 12 each day. They were dried in the sun before being taken to a communal kiln to be fired. Only after firing did the clay take on its pinkish colour.
Across the road we visited a factory turning out the fire pots which are used for cooking. We had seen these all over the country, but this is where they were made. It was interesting watching the complete process. Our guide – Kim Chamrong – explained that here the clay was mixed with the ash from rice husks, to provide greater strength. The pots were then made using a mould and they were fired by putting them into a large stack and a bonfire placed over them. Every part of the process was done by hand, even cutting out the ventilation slots. We asked how come they made so many, and he explained that they don’t last forever and would eventually need replacing. But they were so cheap it didn’t really matter.
Ten minutes down the road and we were watching the piggy banks being made in the shape of elephants. There were all different sizes and were made on a small rotating wheel. Here there were a group of women all involved in different stages of the assembly. We were intrigued as we watched one lady layering up and making the heads and trunks. She was so quick and skillful in her work.
Moving on, we next visited a house where the women were making bowls. These were turned on a foot powered wheel. We watched as one bowl was made and then another placed on top. Then another and another, there she was with four bowls all being made at once. When completed, they were passed on to other ladies who carved and decorated them, before placing in the sun to dry.
Our last visit in this area was to a brick factory and it was fascinating. Arriving at 3:15, Kim led us inside to view the production. A man stood atop a huge mound of clay which he shovelled into a noisy machine, which forced it out in a long square strip. A woman was poised ready with a lever which she brought down cutting the clay strip into four bricks at a time. These were then stacked behind her on a vast line of bricks, awaiting firing. The procedure was a continuous production line.
The kilns were huge and ancient, but obviously sturdy enough to complete the process and were in constant use. We walked around the factory with Kim explaining everything to us. He was just the opposite of the Battambang drivers. Anything we wanted to ask or see, he was more than happy to tell or show us. He restored our faith, for now, in Cambodian drivers.
FLOATING VILLAGE - VIETNAMESE
At 3:45, Kim dropped us off at the wooden boat dock for our trip around the floating village. Being the only tourists, we had been spotted as we drove up, and people were running to meet us. Before we set off we bartered and managed a rate of $6 for a one hour tour. We had chosen to be paddled around in a local wooden boat as opposed to motor driven. This was much more leisurely and peaceful.
Having been escorted down to the jetty, we carefully climbed on board a very small boat and used the two life vests as cushions for the wooden seat. We were off, to what I think was Phoum Kandal village.
Despite it being called a floating village, most of the homes are permanent and have electricity, supplied via pylons sunk into the lake bed. It even appeared that maybe 50% had TV aerials. Most of the homes are floating, however some are on stilts. This village was different again from the one we had visited at Kompong Khleang. It was groups of houses with kind of streets between them. Our captain (for want of a better word), who was rowing standing up, took us up and down these avenues. Again, all the children would run out waving, blowing us kisses and shouting hello. As we were moving at a slow pace, it meant that word could get out and they were waiting as we paddled by.
As the homes are on the water, all the vendors paddle their wares around on boats and we were intrigued with what was on sale. We were even more amused when we saw the differing forms of boats the children paddled around in. These ranged from pieces of polystyrene to large cooking pots.
We thoroughly enjoyed seeing local life as it drifted past us, but all too soon our hour was over and we were on the return leg. When we docked, they tried asking for extra money for the life vests, but as we hadn’t asked for, nor used them, we didn’t pay and they weren’t upset.
So back on dry land, we found Kim parked up along the river bank and we stood chatting whilst watching the locals standing on the steep embankment, fishing. Time was getting on and our stomachs were growling as we hadn’t really eaten much this day. He took us to the local stalls near the jetty, but they were only just setting up, so he suggested going back into town.
The sun was setting as he wound his way through the back streets of town. Slowing down outside one house, he explained this was where he lived with his wife. It was her mother’s property, but they all lived together. He wanted to introduce us to his family and asked if that was Ok. We really enjoy this type of encounter and readily agreed. We sat cross-legged upstairs on the wooden verandah and his wife brought out a fan, some fresh cool water and a plate of yam with palm sugar – very nice. It was lovely just sitting with them gossiping, but sadly we had to leave to get some food.
He asked if we would like taking to a local restaurant. We had read that everywhere in this town closed really early, so agreed, and he took us to a local place he knew. We would never have spotted it. We thanked Kim, gave him $10, and arranged for him to collect us the following morning, to take us to the bus. The restaurant served really basic food, but it was cheap. It was the type of place where you had to go into the kitchen and point at what you wanted, which at this time of night was basically what they had left. I had chicken soup, a fish, carrot and ginger salad, a desert and free water. My wife just had some veggie dishes and the total bill came to only $1.5. That, we thought was good value! We ate our meal and were just about to leave, when the heavens opened and we were stranded for over 30 minutes whilst we waited for the storm to pass over. Venturing out onto the pitch black streets, at 7:00 pm, we paddled our way back to where we thought the hotel was. Never once had we felt afraid walking around the dark streets at night. Whereas in the UK, you would most probably be mugged - in Cambodia you would be walking and a speeding bike would zip round a corner and you will just catch the briefest moment of somebody shouting "Hello", and they are gone.
Back at the hotel, we still had room for an ice cream fruit salad in the restaurant attached, which actually cost more than the whole meal we had just eaten.
DAY 13 (28th October)
This morning we had a large breakfast at the hotels’ attached restaurant and at 09:30 Kim arrived to ferry us and our luggage back to the roadside pick up point for our bus. He had to do it in two journeys - one person and one bag each trip. Somewhere between leaving his house, the previous night and getting back to our room, I had lost my reading glasses. After he dropped us at the roadside, he said he would go back to his house and look for them, plus the local restaurant where he had taken us. I said if he found them and we had gone, then he could keep them for when he got old!! I do hope he found them, as the bus came early and we left at 09:50 for Phnom Penh.
Kompong Chhnang had been a great place for our whistle stop overnight break and I would really recommend more travellers to give it a visit.
If you are interested our guide’s details are as follows:
Tel: 011 207 741 or 097 824 4784 – sorry no email
PREVIOUS LONG TRIP REPORTS
Siem Reap - Small Circuit
Siem Reap – Grand Circuit
Siem Reap - Sunrise, Roluos and Kompong Khleang
Siem Reap – Banteay Srei, Khbal Spean and Beng Mealea
Siem Reap – Countryside + Chong Kneas + Phnom Krom