Day 11 Friday 26 December 2014

This morning we have moved along the Tonle Sap river to see Kampong Chhang (and convincing a spell checker of the need for the second h is difficult).  When the Pol Pot takeover happened one of the key instructions was to remove all Vietnamese into Vietnam – Cambodia for Cambodians (which sounds a touch too like Nigel Farage for my liking – but somehow I cannot see Pol Pot having a pint down the pub) and they were driven across the border.

Accompanying photographs:

When the Cambodians returned to the towns from the country they were allowed to occupy and become owners of property so the Vietnamese were dispossessed of their property.  However they have subsequently returned to Cambodia as migrants and so have created floating villages in Cambodia as they cannot return to the land.  Kampong Chhang has one of the largest floating villages with omething like 900 families living in poor conditions on the river.  I am not sure how but the community exists and finds ways of ensuring the somewhat ricketty floating rafts remain afloat.  Toilet facilities are limited – straight into the river and of course this does not aid pollution levels.  We were told that the Government is seeking to find them land within Cambodia and to resettle them – but this will prove difficult as they seem to have a natural affinity for the water.  Everyone has a little boat with (sometimes very) noisy motors to power their progress around the harbour area.

Then we land to visit the market in the village itself.  Our guide, who is moonlighting this week – he is normally a civil servant, seems keen to make us believe that some of what we are seeing are Cambodian delicacies – but I am not so sure.  The food seems plentiful, even bountiful, and whilst we accept that less pleasant items were consumed during the diffiult periods it is hard to credit all he says.  He eventually manages to identify a snake on a skewer but none of the travellers try it – the wife warns me off from going anywhere near it.

Against this he claims that the homeless Vietnamese on the river all have smartphones – maybe not iPhone originals but cheap Chinese copies and there is evidence of suppliers everywhere.  The other aspect is that of relatively small children around who are not immediately attached to a parent or adult – riding bikes, watching the tourists (not detectives) and even testing some english – usually just hello! – but friendly and smiling.  Such visits are no doubt regular events but there seem to be less parental worries about child safety (see the recent Paddington film for mention of “stranger danger”).

Along the main drag the buildings have a real sense of faded grandeur – decay and decline in places alongside others which have been improved and are being looked after and extended.  On the other hand we see at least three statues along the way that have received no care and attention at all.

We pass along more of the floating village before returning to our cruiser.  Amongst other things we see a hall decked for a wedding and water side suppliers.

Having moved a little down river we go ashore for a trip on a cart pulled by ox.  Perhaps the traditional mode of transport in the countryside it is now I suspect largely used for tourists.  We journey from the riverside a good mile or so at a decent walking pace with children walking behind us.  We sit facing backwards with my wife between my legs.  The lack of suspension soon  tells on the backbone.  The cute little girl walking with us is rewarded by a dollar from my wife.  We eventually turn into a temple, one of the few not completely destroyed by the communist regime, although it was vandalised and saw other use during the period.

For the next stage of our journey we transfer to rather more comfortable coches and we head across the countryside to Oudong where there is a very impresive buddhist temple (where we are all duly blessed.  This is the Vihara of the Wat Kampong Leu Pagoda which retained some very beautiful wall paintings.

However disaster struck outside the temple as my wife’s new camera had decided to malfunction – and it was her Christmas present.  She had been snapping away madly since arrival in Hanoi and is regularly uploading her output to facebook as a record of events.  However the iris which covers the lens refuses to open.  Possibly some dust has got into the mechanism as it is very dusty.

I do however manage to get some photographs – there are some wonderful statues in the grounds of the temple and in the surrounding area.

The area does have the benefit of some major employment in at least one (and possibly more) garment factory.  This does however require workers and they have a form of co-operative transport – not a bus, simply a trailer loaded with people all going back to a single village.  We pass a small number of these and we are told that they are not insured but are needed as the only way to get from a remote village back to the factory and back.

There should be an Oudong album on Flickr which covers the second visit mentioned.