Another weekend, another opportunity to get out of the city. With a new esky to try out and a slightly hungover wife to dry out, I decided on heading out to Kampong Cham. We were away by 10am and after fighting traffic over the Japanese Bridge and through Chroy Chang Var we made out first pit stop on the majestic Mekong River. I know the roads to KC well as I used to ride dirt bikes up there alot with Jeff and Brady and remembered some nice places to pull over. With a sly little right turn off the main dirt road and to the amazement of the locals I drove straight over the end of the cul de sac laneway and onto the riverbank where a grassy paddock by the river awaited. Kids out. Dog out. Angus on the tit. Crack a cold beer. Blue skies and a breeze blowing . Wonderful.
The plan then was then to head up to Kampong Cham proper however an intervening phone call from other family members changed all that. “Oh we are heading out of town to and why don’t you meet us at XYZ place”. Well…..a) I hate having other people come into the equation because it means group decisions and b) XYZ ( can’t remember the name ) was actually back towards Phnom Penh and I had no idea what it would be like when we got there. So I harumphed and grizzled and blew some steam and off we went . We found Phalla, Mum,May and Vichea waiting down the road some ways and we then headed over the Mekong via a large new bridge. It soon became evident that crossing the bridge was the extent of Phalla’s plan so it was left to me to sniff out a good place – which I eventually did. So good in fact I am not telling anyone where it is because I would say it will become a regular picnic spot now. We had to take quite a few turns here and there but this place was a cracker. We stumbled across somebody’s riverfront block of land that was being used as a turf business so it was perfectly flat, perfectly lawned and offered spectacular views of the Mekong. With some palm trees for shade…it was just ideal so we set up camp and the kids were soon running around while adults ate Khmer sandwiches and in my case – a ploughman’s lunch of baguettes ,salami and cheese washed down with cold beer.
I was bit worried that at some stage someone would come along and tell us to move as there were a few locals in houses eyeballing us viz “what the hell are they doing ?! “. Actually it was just the opposite. The locals were just lovely and many stopped as they rode their bicycles past to say hello and inquire where we had come from and coo over the babies etc. One Grandmother even stopped to have a yak with us and allowed the nieces to borrow her bike to go to the shop for some boiled eggs. After lunch we went for walk down the lane along the front of the river and it turns out the main business here was turf growing and everyone had these amazing lawns in front of their neat little wooden houses. The effect was rather stunning and unlike anything I had seen in Cambodia. Normally Khmer yards are chicken strewn mud flats with all manner of detritus but this neighborhood was like something out of a propaganda movie with perfect gardens, perfect houses and LOVELY people ! What’s the catch !!?? As we inspected one lawn,Grace made a beeline for the house, went straight upstairs and was followed by a laughing and very welcoming older gent of about 60 or so. Ohm is one of the Khmer people you meet and just instantly INSTANTLY like. Wearing the traditional krawma and with a very neat grey haircut and fit body of a lifetime worker, he proudly invited us all in to look at his house that was built in……wait for it…….1927 ! An awesome example of the Khmer wooden house it was in excellent condition and it’s hardwood gleamed.
I am pretty gobsmacked by the whole place and cannot help but think how insane a weekender the house with the lawn out front would make. So much so I ask Phalla to ask Ohm ( uncle ) if he knows of any land for sale in the immediate area OR if he knows of any houses for rent . He tells us the lawned block in front of his house is not his but is for sale at a huge price and then says ” i have a place directly opposite that I do not use – come and take a look “. HMMMMMMM. So over the road we go and he open some big steel gates and he has a lovely garden with huge frangipanis and a huge chicken coop and chickens running around everywhere and then he opens a smaller gate and we step out onto a large tiled terrace with roof and bathroom / shower at one end and a huge 5 x 5 m empty room with huge windows overlooking the river at the other end. I am looking at Phalla and Phalla is looking at me and we both trip over ourselves as we ask him “ohm..would you be interested in renting this to us ??”. He laughs a little and says sorry, no, I have all my chickens here etc and we laugh and say ok no worries doesn’t hurt to ask etc. No harm done. Ohm then follows us back to our picnic spot and he meets all the kids and mum etc and then after a little while he says ” I tell you what – whenever you want to come back here for a picnic you can use my riverfront place . It is shaded and has a shower for the little kids to cool down as it is hot out here etc etc”. Well bowl me over with a feather. I swear it is moments like this that remind me why I live here. I could move to this hamlet tomorrow.
On the way out we found a couple more interesting places. Back here i wrote about Dog Trot houses and imagine my complete surprise and delight when I saw this Khmer equivalent ! I almost fell out of the car with excitement. Unfortunately I could not get into the house to take more photos but it gave me enough of an idea….
I then spied another very old house with what seemed to have large bullet holes in it – possibly .50 cal or similar. a leftover from KR days ?
So basically that was just a fantastic day in a lovely area and as I said to my wife, we just need several of these spots on our map and we are set. Finding then can be a stressful pain in the arse but once we know where to go, things will be so much easier as we will not what to take and how to prepare etc.