On the Mekong

Image2 December – I start a new chapter a week into my trip and after several nights spent in Siem Reap. The moment has now come to move on, but I have been doubtful as to the destinations that I'm after and what interest could come from their visit. They may be nothing the matter, they may be remote places that I doggedly and overzealously want to reach, while most tourists limit their visit to Cambodia to Angkor temples and then leave. On the other hand I think it would be very superficial to reduce the country to just one site, however extraordinary its level may be, especially if I consider that Cambodia is the heritage left by the ancient Khmer civilisation that back in time ruled over the entire region.After a journey of several hours I have now got to the banks of the imposing Mekong, that I was admiring tonight in the darkness slowly flowing under the newly built bridge, the only one to span over this river in Cambodia. Now it looks calm and placid, but it doesn't take too much effort to imagine it swollen with monsoon rains: on the pillars of the bridge stands the muddy mark of the flood and you can see that its level is on the par with the embankment. I picture this might of water filling the bridge arches, a grand spectacle of nature.


I have got to Kompong Cham almost by accident, because I was going to buy a ticket to Phnom Penh when I realised the uselessness of getting down to the capital to go up to the hills later. I asked the bus driver to be dropped in Skoul, notorious because its inhabitants make a habit of eating horrendous roasted spiders, then took a minibus to cover the remaining 40 km to the Mekong.For tomorrow too, I have selected a destination that is the result of a last minute decision. I haven't thought it wise to spend 11 hours in a bus to get to Ban Lung and instead opted for the 6 hours that separate me from Sen Monorom, on the higher Mondulkiri hills.My stay here is determined by the absence of public transport running today, but it is not pointless. In town you can spot the few stranded foreigners that don't mix up in a crowd as in Siem Reap. They stand out here and make me feel not so crazy for choosing to come here and even more for wanting to go on to remoter destinations. The town is quiet. I heard a Muslim chant on a loudspeaker on arriving, but thinking it over, I haven't heard any other calls to prayer. A Muslim minority is nonetheless present in the area, which is even named after it, since the Cham are Muhammad's followers of Vietnamese descent, who then gave themselves rather unorthodox rules.

I stroll through the market and its stands with beautiful piled fruits, but I don't go into the actual compound that has a rather uninviting entrance. There are in fact two counters covered with meat cuts full of flies and in the passageways between the stalls I could catch a glimpse of a sand and litter covered ground, and in some places a disgusting slime. I think it is too much!