Kampong Tralach and Kampong Chhnang On the Tonle Sap River
It is, of course, on everyone’s bucket list: an oxcart drive through rice fields and lotus ponds in Cambodia. Here is our chance. We have docked this morning at the left bank of the Tonle Sap River and dozens of oxcarts, each with driver and two oxen, are waiting us. In a long convoy we snake on bumpy roads pass rice fields, lotus ponds and brick kilns, to the village of Tralach, where the main street is lined with shops and ends at the local school. We are delighted to have a chance to visit a school and classroom to hear what the students are learning. Students, who seem to be on a break, are eager to meet us and practice their basic English. Kampong does not just mean “village,” but is very specifically a village on a river or other body of water.
Shaken by our oxcart ride and delighted with our latest experiences, we climb back onboard for a fun instruction on how and when to wear Cambodian sarong and krama scarf, which has multiple uses, including as a shopping bag.
Gordon Longmuir, former Canadian Ambassador to Cambodia, gives us his insights and personal experiences with Cambodian politics and society since the Khmer Rouge. It adds another layer of information onto what we have heard from our guides.
In the afternoon we dock again, this time to get into sightseeing boats, which take us to the busy market town of Kompong Chhnang. After a short drive to the pottery village, we get a pleasant surprise. We have arrived in the middle of wedding preparations. Colourful tents have been set up and food is being prepared by groups of women. The house nearby is decorated in bright colors and we meet the happy couple: she, a stove maker, and he, the driver who transports the stoves to the local market.
What we really came for is to learn all about palm sugar, palm whisky and potter making. A local resident quickly climbs the tall palm tree on a skimpy bamboo ladder in his flip flops to check the collection of palm juice from male and female fruits. At 61 years of age he puts us to shame, making the tree climb at least twice a day. His stilt house is full of rice bags and one very large round container filled to the brim.
Back in our boats we go past floating houses and fishing boats bustling with activities. The occupants of the clusters of floating houses in this area are actually Vietnamese, who came in the 1980s.
Our family style Khmer dinner was beautiful. Tonight we will dock in Phnom Penh for an exciting full day visit.