I was dead keen to go spillunking in the mud again yesterday and give the new side-mounted awning I have fabricated a try out. I wasn’t sure where I was going to go but I wanted to just load the kids,the dog and the missus and take off. At a party the night before Phalla had mentioned that they were going to visit their farm in Kampong Cham and would we like to come ? I told her I would wait and see how I felt in the morning and the next day after a quick chat with the missus I decided Kampong Cham would be our destination so the chuck box was strapped onto the roof and everyone jumped in.
Once over the Monivong Bridge we stopped at the Prek Leap bakery and loaded up on a huge bag of fresh, hot baguettes to go with the sausages I was going to bbq. The French taught the Khmer how to bake way back in the old days and they now excel at it. They were literally shoveling huge loads of hot baguettes into the bread bins and the smell was just glorious. A little further down the road and I stopped to get a case of water and some ice and then with everything crossed off the list I looked forward to arriving in Kampong Cham an hour os so later and relaxing for the best part of the afternoon.
So imagine my surprise when some 2.5 hours later I am still driving !! When I think of “Kampong Cham” I think of the lovely riverside town that is maximum 90 minutes drive out of Phnom Penh. I forget that KC is actually an entire province and maybe I should have clarified exactly how far into the stick we were going. Or perhaps someone in the family could have done that for me. Alas….no. So onwards we go and it is soon after 1pm and I am getting bloody hungry. My tense mood abates somewhat as we take a turn off Road 8 and all of a sudden head into a district I will now call Hobbitville.
Kampong Cham is famous as a rubber growing region and there are some lovely plantations along the roadside however in Hobbitville, there is not only rubber but also corn,papaya,mango,bananas,lime green rice as far as the eye can see and oceans of casava. Everywhere you look something is growing in abundance and the flats give way to slightly undulating hills. The road is a perfectly wide two lane tar airstrip and there are few cars on the road. The main form of transport is horse or ox drawn cart and kids jump off bridges into swollen creeks. The air seems cleaner, everything is certainly greener and it is like we drove through a portal into some alter Khmer Universe. Seriously – the area was just insanely beautiful!
Eventually after 3 hours we arrive at Tra’s farm and the family that works his land has butchered two chickens, caught some farmed fish and is preparing a huge pot of steaming white rice on an open fire . Their little bamboo and thatched “villa” is very neat and orderly and is a bit like a long house with two distinct sections raised about one meters off the hard packed earthen ground. One side is the entertainment and dining section complete with battery powered TV and stereo and the other side has 3 very small sectioned off “bedrooms”. Tra takes the revenue from the mango and bananas and they get the revenue from the cassava cops as well as whatever else they need from the farm to survive. They are very welcoming to this temporary invasion of a dozen city folk and whilst they acquaint themselves with all of us, Karma acquaints herself with the farm dogs.
I whip out my skillet and as the cooking fire is red hot and glowing with coals I forgo the little butane grill and simply wack them over the fire and soon the area is wafting glorious smells. I can see the resident family drooling over the sausages as I doubt very much they have ever had one quite like those . Sorry – not sharing today. Rain comes in and we set up on the entertaining platform inside the house and everyone tucks in. Tra removes not one but TWO fishing hooks from his fish and I jokingly suggest maybe the family is trying to kill him and take his land which is met with …er….laughter. After lunch Tra and I grab the kids and go for a stroll up the front road and then we cut it into his land and walk the back boundary before heading back towards the house. Grace is on my shoulders and we play a game of Spot The Snake. I pretend there is one behind every bush just waiting to bite us and she delights in squealing every time I let out a loud HISSSSSSSSSSS. When we get back I am a pool of sodden sweat as the rain has stopped, the sun has come out and the humidity is 400%. Grace and I head to the water well and scoop out clean cold water from 5m below the ground for our “shower”. We stand under lush banana and papaya trees on the well worn “shower platform ” and dump the cold water over our head….once….twice….three times….four times. Washing the grime off is just fantastically refreshing and gives me a whole new lease on life and I feel i can face the long drive home although I am feeling tired so I am not really looking forward to it.
We load up and say goodbye to the family and thank them with cases of bottled water and some beer. Tra has loaded up his truck with all manner of agri-produce and we head out onto the road which now has a steady stream of workers coming home on their bikes and in their carts after a hard days work. Everybody in the LandCruiser crashes out immediately leaving me to soldier on towards Phnom Penh through intermittent rain. I am craving a strong coffee and have to wind down the window to gulp fresh air to keep me alert but eventually around 7pm we make it safely home.
I would LOVE to go up there again sometime and Tra is talking about building a pond for swimming and a hut for sleeping so I could easily do an overnight up there. It was probably one of the nicest areas I have seen in Cambodia and reminded my a lot of Far North Queensland with its lush farmlands and crop-centric local economy. Needless to say after one Episode of Game of Thrones I went to bed and had a VERY heavy sleep…….