Kampong Chhnang (Cambodia)


Channy joins us at the breakfast table at our guesthouse. He quietly makes conversation. His English is perfect and he makes the dance gently. A quarter hour later, after first making relationships, we reach the point where a price can be discussed. It’s a fair price to which we all agree so Channy’s tuk tuk will become our chariot for the day.

More prices need to be negotiated at the waterfront. The skipper starts at $US30 for two hours. I’ve read online that the going rate for this type of boat (for foreigners) is about $US10/hour so I start at $15 hoping to settle on $20. We reach agreement at $23. Some might haggle a harder bargain but, as my father says, we give money to beggars easily but when someone is actually working for their income we haggle down to the last cent. Where’s the incentive to work then? Do we value the beggar more highly than the working person?


Our skipper motors the boat upriver for half an hour against the wind and tide. The engine splutters away behind us as we pass a workshop building composite plastic river boats, houses on stilts and mechanic workshops lining the banks of Tonle Sap, which is no longer a lake; it’s now a river.


Floating villages come into view and the engine is cut. Poverty surrounds us at every turn. Tin shacks, huts made of bamboo and leaves, children who should be in school and hardworking people. That’s what comprises the floating villages. Like all communities some people have done better than others. But modern floating houses are the exception not the rule.


That said, smiles abound. Children wave and call “hello”. It’s the only English word they know (except “one dollar”). Young men wearing nothing but underwear seem to be having a swimming race, diving from one boat and stroking quickly towards another. A boy rows from one house to another down a watery “street”. It’s not idealic but humans are resilient and this is home to them.


Back on dry land we travel out of town to a pottery village. It’s interesting enough to see the pottery being made but it’s the landscape I enjoy most. Rice fields are dotted with tall sugar palms. Skinny cattle graze on what grass is available in the cultivated landscape. Gravel roads stretch into the distance creating a contrast of orange and green.


We visit a mountain temple with yet more steps to annoy Paul. It’s peaceful at the top, though perhaps we were meant to walk further than we did. The instructions about what we were to expect were lacking. We are happy though to experience the temple and walk back down.


It’s 3pm by the time we return to town. We eat lunch then take a rest in the aircon. Our chariot departs again at 5pm.


Sunset over the rice fields is the icing on our Cambodian cake. Channy knows a place. He enjoys taking photos there. Words are unnecessary.

All that’s left to do is take one last walk through town, eat dinner, return to the festival to listen to some more music then head home to bed. Tomorrow we return to Phnom Penh on our long journey home.


Channy is a good guide and driver. His contact details are above.

Battambang to Kampong Chhnang (Cambodia)


We sit at the bus station watching the goings on. Our bus is scheduled for 9:30am but it’s already 11am. We’ve watched as the bus to Siem Riep was loaded equally with rice and passengers. Yes, you read that correctly, the bus was loaded with heavy bags of rice. Probably a few hundred kilos of the stuff.

Almost an hour later our single backpack is loaded into the hold of the bus bound for Phnom Penh (Kampong Chhnang is on the same bus route). Then it is unloaded to make way for our bus’s load of rice. There’s so much that some passengers have to take their luggage on board (we are lucky that our backpack fit underneath). Bags of rice are even loaded into the door well at the front of the bus. It makes a good seat for the passengers whose seats have been taken up by the piles of mattresses wrapped in plastic being transported in the back few rows of the bus.

It’s midday when we pull out of the bus station. We pass some time making up stories to go with the karaoke videos playing at the front of the bus. There’s the usual woman slapping man scene all too common in Cambodian karaoke, the love lorn man, the parents whose son is going off to work in the city, and the dutiful son who returns home with cash earned on a construction site. Hours pass as the rural landscape slips by. My reading of a novel seems to fascinate the woman in front of us who keeps looking and giggling nervously. Her children stare wide-eyed at us.

At first Kampong Chhnang doesn’t seem like much. It’s dusty and quiet. We walk past a prison on our way to our guesthouse. Hmm. But the guesthouse is lovely with friendly staff. Our room set in a garden with a bench out the front and cold aircon inside.

Right on dusk we head out to explore the town and find some food. The hour out of the heat has given us a second wind (the bus had aircon but it was old and ineffective).

We eat diner at a Chinese restaurant where two meals and drinks cost us $US5.50 (everything is cheaper once you leave Phnom Penh and Siem Riep). We are charged in Cambodian Riel for the first time in this trip and the staff don’t look happy to be handed dollars (the unofficial official currency of Cambodia). We haven’t needed Riel until now so have given our small money as donations at temples along the way. It’s okay though because we will collect a few dollars worth here in town.

We sit in a big park eating coconut cake for desert watching people. There’s teenagers kicking a small soccer ball around. A group of men play hackey sack. Some children let off fire crackers. Groups of young people hang out on the grass talking or playing guitar. Children run around. Families eat picnic dinners on colourful straw mats. And we are asked whether we can be in peoples’ photos (or they just snap a shot if they think we’re not looking).


What we don’t know yet is that we’ve arrived in the middle of a big festival. On our way home we come across it and stop off. ¬†We will later learn it’s a Cambodia-Thailand friendship festival. It lasts a full week. We wander the stalls.

I play a side show game (and lose). We try a sausage that ends up being randomly filled with some sort of mince and rice noodle mix that tastes awesome.

And we watch the concert. People walk past us gawking as though we are aliens. Street urchins beg for money (no we do not cave in even when they stand batting their eyes at us for half an hour).


It’s funny how we always seem to find festivals when we travel. And always in the places where we least expect it.

Kampong Chhnang is so local. The contrast with foreign-owned Siem Riep is vast, even this evening. I think I will like this town a lot.