I Continue From Here
Backpacking Cambodia: Day 09 (20-Feb-2019)
To The Mountains
I had to be at the tourist centre near the pier by 8:00 AM. On my way, I had a good breakfast at a restaurant near the pier. Some other travellers and I were transported to the bus station on a tuk-tuk. The buses stop for food at least two times during the day - One at around 11 AM and an other at around 1 PM and the locals make sure to eat at both these times. Unfortunately for me, I had no vegetarian items. The menu in all these road side stalls consist of precooked gravies offered with rice and all of them contain meat or fish. I decided not to eat anything this time until I reach Koh Kong. Koh Kong buses can be usually crowded as this town is closer to Thailand border.
At Koh Kong, I met the driver of the shared taxi arranged by Mr Lim. As we had to wait for someone, I asked him if he could help me find some vegetarian food. We walked to a near by restaurant and the cook agreed to make some egg Fried rice for me. He was quick and the food was delicious. It was accompanied with some much needed tea.
After my co-passenger arrived, the three of us left to Osoam village. It was one of the most exciting trips I had taken. First, we passed by several dams constructed by the Chinese. There were concrete roads that led up to the dams. Once we had crossed the dams, we found ourselves midst hills, on a mud road. It was exciting.
The driver and the other villager spoke in Khmer language that sounded musical to me. It appeared to me that they were constructing really long sentences; Specially his friend. He would speak for at least a minute before taking a pause, indicating end of a sentence. Since there are no public transport to these villages, the taxis that ply make sure to transport goods to the villagers for a nominal price. In fact, whole of Cambodia does not have public transport offered by government, which to me is surprising.
We had a few stops, during one of which, our driver came back with a fried chicken leg to chew on. It was funny how he held it in his one hand and tasted them as he drove; with its three toes pointing towards me. We also stopped at a village house for a while where he had some business. The family consisted of a couple and their infant. The man opened a bottle of rice wine and pulled out three shot glasses as they continuously conversed. He offered it to the driver and the other villager but they refused to drink. I was mildly offended that he had not offered it to me, I would have gladly accepted it. We sat there for a while and then continued our journey to Osoam village. The village can be approached from two directions. One from Koh Kong and other from Pursat.
It was sad to see that even the rural villages hidden in the forests and mountains had not escaped the effect of plastic waste. In terms of plastic waste disposal, these villages were no different from the cities. They were present everywhere; next to homes, by the road. Another shocking image is that of burnt trees in between the farms indicating conversion of forest land into farm land. I was shocked to see this. It was a depressing site.
In Osoam village, I was taken directly to Mr Lim’s house. He wasn’t there but I was greeted by his daughter who guided me to my cabin in their back yard. There were a few travellers in the common area. I was impressed with the farm so, after leaving my bags at my cabin, I headed to explore the surrounding. I was surprised to see Mangalorean Okra plant here as well. I always thought that these are unique to Mangalore. I have found a lot of connection between Mangalore and Cambodia, its astonishing. Perhaps there is some connection that we are unaware of.
When Mr Lim arrived, he showed me around the area. Later, I had an interesting conversation with him. He offered me a drink and we sat at the main area discussing life in this rural village. He told me that during rainy season the mud roads turn into pools of sludge and it is impossible to ride. He told me that the villagers stock food for these three months and help each other if they need something. Also, in case they want to travel to the town, they take a boat and cross the lake to approach a road on the other side. The Government has often promising to improve the conditions but like in many other countries, these are only false promises offered during election campaign. On this day as well, Mr Lim had received a few Government officials as guests who visited the village to discuss improvement plans. Mr Lim had been busy all day in meetings with them. It is surprising to see that few kilometres from here there are dams and transmission lines carrying power while the villages around it lack electricity. I wonder to where, the hydropower generated in those Chinese dams are supplied to. Lim rents electricity from his neighbour's generator for about an hour in the evening for around $6 per day. It is during this time that we get to charge our phones in the common area.
As the conversation continued, I asked him about the burnt trees around the village. He told me that the Government has allowed villagers to convert some forest land into farmland so that they can earn a living. At first, I was angry about this decision as this would severely affect the green cover. But as I stayed here longer, as I thought more about it, I realised that we (Travellers or tourists) come here for few days to experience the jungles but we still expect the villagers to provide us certain amount of guidance and comfort. I find that utterly selfish of us to expect them to live in those hard conditions without a proper livelihood while we live in cities full of comforts with our opinions about what they should be doing.
The land here is very fertile. Wherever I traveled I saw farms and fields. That is a reassuring site in itself. Mr Lim has an interesting collection of plants and trees. His passion fruit creeper and variety of orchids that he carries back from the jungle are the main attractions.
Mr Lim teaches English in a Government school that has upto class 9. He plans to open his own private school and invite foreigners to come and teach there. He has some big plans for this idea that he is already in the process of implementing. He told me that English and Chinese language are in great demand here as there are lots of foreign tourists and Chinese investors. The hold of French language (From the colonial times) is slipping away. Though there still exists a choice, youngsters prefer to learn English or Chinese over French. Most people the ti have met in Cambodia are worried about the aggressive Chinese investments in the country. They fear that soon their identity would be lost. Already, the boards in many areas can be seen in both languages - Khmer and Chinese. He said he wanted to do his masters but could not for some personal reasons. But today, as he compares himself with his friends who have done their masters, he sees them in the same place, in no better condition. So he said - "All the same!". His younger daughter, sweet little Shaira who speaks excellent English and is extremely bold and opinionated for her age, arrived with a plate of roasted ground nut.
Mr Lim told me that his neighbours sometimes come over and help his wife and daughters at the kitchen. In return, he brings baby food for her child when he goes to the city. Visitors can either stay in his house or in any other village homes that accepts guests. Hence its a Community that hosts travellers. But Mr Lim is the primary contact for Osoam Cardamom Community Centre.
It is interesting to notice that when the Cambodians learn that I am an Indian they always recollect Hinduism (That is evident in almost all the temples in the country) and the Indians who come on motorbikes selling clothes. Everyone would mention about this mystery men who all the way from India, come to sell clothes in rural villages on a motorbike. I was yet to meet one of them.
After that good conversation with him, it was time for my special vegetarian meal. Before going to bed, I took a short walk in the front yard. I was glad to have made it here. This felt like true Cambodia, away the crowd.
My Route - Sihanoukville -> Koh Kong -> Osoam