DAY 225, KM 8428, Stung Treng, Cambodia
Saturday 29 March 2008 37 °C
Cambodia is a land of contrast. There is village life, where things have not changed in hundreds of years. And there is city life, where the economy and the way of life are changing everything.
Cambodian Village Life
The houses out in the countryside are simple bamboo boxes on sticks. They have no doors, which allows for a nice breeze to flow through, keeping everyone cool during the night. During the day though, the whole family, along with the cows and the pigs, sit in the shade under the house. Strangely enough though, the "hotels" always seem to be concrete boxes with tin roofs. And in places without electricity for a fan, that really makes for hot, sweaty nights!
As we would ride past these houses, about 40% of the village (40% of Cambodia is under the age of 15) would come flying out of the shade, gleefully shouting,"helllloooo, helllloooo!" The kids made us smile and feel welcome as we biked through the countryside, and we appreciated their enthusiasm as the adults were often very stoic and reserved towards us.
It surprised us to see how the people in the countryside live. Had we been passing through 200 years ago, I doubt that it would have been any different. People would often be pulling heavy carts that should have been pulled by strong animals, small children were doing heavy labor, schools and hospitals were non-existent, and most of the people were just sitting around without any opportunity to find a job. Restaurants (if there were any) consisted of a table on the side of the street with one pot of noodle soup.
Each village that we went through had a single specialty. If you are in a stone carving village, all you see is stone carvers, and you can bet that there is no one selling sugar cane juice. But if you are in sugar cane village, you will find a lady selling sugar cane every 5 meters at the same price. But imagine that you are hungry, you have to wait for noodle soup village if you want anything to eat. For two unlucky days, we went through one sugar cane village after the other. There was no noodle soup village in sight. We had to bike on sugar cane power alone, which gave us a very liquidy feeling throughout the day.
However hungry that we were while riding through the country side, we always hesitated a bit to enter a restaurant. It was always a problem. As we would enter a restaurant, everyone would quickly rush to the back of the restaurant to avoid contact with the scary foreigners. As I approached them, they would either stare like a dear in the headlights, or they would start vigorously cleaning things, hoping that I would just leave. Sometimes we were doing dramatic gestures and attempts at communicating using our Cambodian phrasebook. Instead of helping the situation, it usually just caused widespread panic and confusion. We went through this over and over again, every time that we wanted to eat something.
When we finally met someone who was calm enough to look at us and listen, we would order a noodle soup (that's all there is to eat). Unfortunately for us, the deeper we got into the countryside the more strange the meat floating in our soup became. Sometimes we had so many vital organs floating around in our soup, that we could have probably created a new life form if we had stirred hard enough. So, after the long struggle for a meal, our meals were more for survival than for relishment.
Of the few cities that there are in Cambodia, they are crowded and chaotic. But, you can also find a clean bed and electricity, which meant the world to us after days and days of riding through little villages. Unlike in Thailand, we were relieved to find a tourist place. It meant that people wouldn't run away from us (one school teacher even dragged us to his school and made Amy sing Jingle Bells), we didn't have to eat organ soup, and we could cool down at night with a fan. It was like heaven!
Although traveling through this country was really dusty and not always fun, it was incredibly interesting and we wouldn't have had things any other way.