3 March 2012 03:50 pm – (This is the hundredth chronicle of this journey. Planned while I was on the island of Phu Quoc in Vietnam in August 2009, it was supposed to last no longer than ten months! If I had followed the original plan, I would never have written 100 chronicles making my life so public. Thank you to you all, my readers.
I apologize if I bored you or, if you enjoyed reading my travel stories, please continue to follow me, encouraging me to write more of them. I am sure that over the next two years we will have even more fun …) On 17 February 2012 in the morning, with a day of delay from the timetable that was further elongated, Marta and I cycled heading north inland, moving away from the Gulf of Siam.
Just after the Elephant’s hills, we met another couple of cyclists from Australia who were going in the opposite direction and we stopped to chat with them exchanging some information about ourselves and the respective routes.
This is a fundamental rule of a cycle-tourist good etiquette: always stop to chat and socialize with other fellow cyclists, with whom one shares the same passion for slow pace travelling; members of the same small club of bicycle wanderers literately treading every inch of the Earth. The next day, Marta experienced her first tropical storm, so heavy that we had to seek shelter under a farmhouse roof. The same day we reached the Cambodian capital at night in the dark and stayed there for two days. On February the 20th, after visiting the Royal Palace and some pagodas, we cycled along the east coast of Asia’s largest lake, the Tonle Sap, reaching the village of Phumi Kreul. Here we met one of the school teachers, who we followed the next day to visit his class of students. There we sat for an hour with young pupils talking to them and answering their questions. In Kompong Thom we spent the night in a beautiful resort on stilts on the lake banks, sleeping under a mosquito net to protect us from clouds of insects attracted by lamp, with croaking frogs as a lullaby. After crossing the Cardamom mountains and the coastline lush jungle, Marta was surprised to see an area perfectly flat, arid and dry. In fact, at this time of the year the majority of Cambodian land is bleak and yellow. It is a landscape where only the green is the palm trees Aranca Pinnata with their round foliage.
They look like balloons tied to a thin wire preventing them to fly away. The next day we were in Siem Reap where, in a life that feels like a “previous” one, I used to work for one and a half year. This is another place in South-East Asia where I feel at home not just because I lived there but, especially, for the friends that I still have. My ex-staff of ASCO Travel gave me a warm and touching welcome organising a nice dinner attended by most of them. I also met up with Ratha and Oliver, dear friends I knew outside the professional environment. For a whole day we cycled around the majestic ruins of Angkor temples. I took Marta on the massive walls of the citadel, Angkor Thom, where no tourists ever go, and the monkeys jump from tree to tree scared not being used to human presence in that part the forest. From our landing in Bangkok, so far we travelled 1,300 kilometres and the 26th of February we added another 120 kilometres arriving in Sisaphone, at the north-west tip of the lake. A month was already gone since our arrival in Indochina and the cool days of early February were replaced by the first signs of the monsoons, for now only loaded with humidity but soon of rains too. The temperature rose to over 35° C with 90% humidity, bringing to the limit our heat resistance.
The following day we were invited to the second day of my friend Morokot’s older brother wedding celebrations, taking place at the bride’s home in a rural area outside Battambang. Another first for Marta, who fell in love straight away with women traditional wedding dresses worn by about 300 Cambodians guests.
The clothes are mainly an ankle-length skirt with a bodice neckline that leaves bare shoulders, all in shimmering multicoloured and bright silk. The main dish was a tasty salad of jelly chicken legs, initially appreciated also by Marta, however, she does not recognise yet the true delicatessen of the rural cuisine and therefore she fed on the more familiar fried rice with vegetables. In the afternoon we went to visit a banana plantation owned by Morokot’s cousin and the next morning we left again heading south-east, along the west shore of the lake. We reached the colonial town of Kompong Chhnang where I was in contact with father Franco, a missionary of the PIME (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions). He has been living in Cambodia for the past 18 years where, in addition to pastoral work, he assists some projects managed by the humanitarian organization New Humanity, active in the field of childhood disability and education.
We spent all morning with Franco, who invited us to his house for a mocha coffee, which was much appreciated by my travel companion who feels something missing without her daily cup of coffee.
Franco took us to the centre for children with disabilities in town where day-care service is given to about 20 children, some autistic, others with Down syndrome and with other disabilities.
The other day we completely cycled around the Tonle Sap lake reaching back to Phnom Penh in the evening, and staying at the Tokyo Central Hotel near the Independence Monument for a couple of days.
Marta began to discover some of the pleasures of living in Asia going to get an oil massage, which relaxed her very much, and a complete manicure with a polychrome enamel floral designs on her 10 fingernails. We are waiting to receive back the passports with visas for Vietnam to be able to go through the delta of the great Mekong River and reach Ho Chi Minh City.
Meanwhile, this weekend we are going to meet some friends and on Sunday we have been invited to lunch by Claudio and his wife Sophiep in the countryside around the capital for a real Cambodian home cooking dinner. Until next time.
PS: During my last passing though there areas between October and December 2009, I wrote a few chapters of the diary full of information on Cambodia history, economics, culture, etc.. The chapters are on the blog at Travel Log (http://travelforaid.wordpress.com/english/daily-chronicle/diary-vietnam- italy/).