Thursday, March 21, 2019

Osoam Cardamom Community Centre

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 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Koh Rong

I Continue From Here 

Backpacking Cambodia: Day 08 (19-Feb-2019) 

Back to Mainland

It was a relaxed morning. I got ready and headed to the main hall and had a much needed delicious breakfast. Rise in the water level made it difficult to reach the swing and the hammocks. I pulled a bean bag and lay down on the deck. Above, the sun was shining bright and it felt good. 

I relaxed there till around 11 PM. Then, it was time to settle the bill and leave on the next boat to the pier. Many stay here for days together, but for me, I think a day was good enough. Of course, I had less time in hand but also, I am a bit restless. I can hardly sit idle. No doubt, it is one of the most beautiful places that I have been to in this country but there is nothing much to do here than lying down in the beach and drinking or partying. So, I headed back to the pier where I bought a $5 ferry ticket to reach the bigger of the two island,  Koh Rong. 

I had booked a night here but when I reached the island, I found the crowd a bit irritating. Sanloem was so peaceful with its pristine beaches and fewer people. On the other hand, this was filled with travellers and tourists. There were restaurants and cafe all along the beach near the pier. Moreover,  I did not want to spend another evening at the beach and preferred rather to head to the mountains and make use of the limited time I had.

So, I cancelled my booking, had lunch at a nice vegetarian restaurant that again had some western staff and took a ferry back to Sihanoukville. This was a random change in plans. Back in Sihanoukville, I was unable to find a dorm in onerderz hence I had booked a hostel called spice society. The place appeared shady and the inmates looked like drug addicts. I only had to stay there for a night so, it was okay. 

In the evening, I spoke to Mr Lim and got directions to Cardamom mountains. I walked to the tourist centre and booked a bus to Koh Kong. Then, I took a walk by the beach where there were only Chinese tourists. It gave me an idea of how much the travellers hate this place, for the Chinese investors are changing the face of this town and converting it into a casino town that nobody but they want to enjoy. I think the Cambodian government needs to understand that people come here to enjoy the serene beaches and quiet islands. Commercialising them would only drive away travellers thus effecting their tourism. 

Anyways, after a walk along the beach, I got back to the same mediterranean restaurant and had dinner. The following day was going to be a long one as well. I badly needed some rest. 

Continued Here 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Koh Rong Sanloem

I Continue From Here 

Backpacking Cambodia: Day 07 (18-Feb-2019) 

The Beach

After another short night, I woke up early and ordered some delicious breakfast at the hostel. I sat by the pool and planned my next two days. There are two main islands that I could visit - Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem. The first one is a larger island and is more commercial. Sanloem, on the other hand, is quieter and popular among backpackers. Mad monkey seemed like an interesting hostel. They had a private beach away from the pier and their boat would take us there at three pick times during the day (10:00am, 12:30pm and 5pm). I decided to be there by 12:30pm. I checked out and walked to the pier. At tourist centre, I booked a return journey on a ferry for $21. I could decide the return date later and take that journey from either of the two islands. 

As the ferry moved away from the beach, I noticed the effect of urbanisation that was taking control of this beach town. The ferry ride was pleasant. I was spell bound by the beauty of the island Koh Rong Sanloem as we approached the pier. Clear blue water, white sands; all that one could ask for. Within some time, my boat to the hostel arrived. 

Two of the staffs were British nationals and one of them was a local, to pilot the boat. One of the British, perhaps in his mid twenties, was training the young boy. Before beginning the process, the boy (Liam) emotionally, with moist eyes, bid farewell to a young couple who seemed equally sad to part from him. It was clear that he was staying back and beginning to work there while the couple continued with their travel. The boy was almost at the verge of breaking into tears as the boat drifted away. Among the backpackers arriving there was a French lady who had a lot of questions to the staff, A quiet Swiss girl, three French boys who had internal jokes to laugh at, a group of four jovial German girls, a serious looking young German man and a British girl who was also an employee at a sales office of Mad monkey in Phnom Penh. She was accompanying a male friend and an older lady. She was a total extrovert. As soon as she got into the boat she was chatting, laughing and cracking jokes at how the boat toppled because she was shifting sides. 

All identities were verified and everyone was given a wrist band. As I had booked that same morning, my name was not on the list that they had prepared but the staff ensured that he would fix that when we would reach the hostel. A ten minute ride took us to a private beach on one side of the island. As we approached the beach, I saw other inhabitants swimming in the beach or relaxing in a hammock. To be honest, it appeared like I was going to this secret beach featured in the movie "The Beach". Ever since I had watched that movie, I had wanted to backpack and desired to be in such a place.

We had to get off the boat where the water was about knee deep and walk to the shore. We walked into the island, crossing an array of trees to reach a hut that is the central meeting point or common area of the hostel and it contains a cafĂ©. We were offered a can of beer as  welcome drink and briefed about the hostel policy. We had to sign some document with a long list of do’s and dont’s. Then, we were all allotted dorms. The staff walked us to our shelters - A hut built in the forest. Among the people who had arrived that day in the same boat as mine, only the French lady was in my 12 bed dorm. 

I got ready and headed to the beach. I relaxed there for several hours. I felt relaxed and this was much needed. Days had been so hectic that I wanted to take a break and do nothing. Thats what this place is for! Though the hostel tries to arrange some fun events, it involves only drinking and partying. I chose to stay back in the beach and enjoy the waves. 

At dusk, all gathered at the common area. My table had people from different countries and various topics were discussed. An 18 year old Canadian girl wanted to know what was the weirdest experience we had had in hostels. For her it was a crazy guy who chose to walk around naked and always left the bathroom door unlatched. Later she realised that he had lost his mind. Then there was this German boy who recollected his experience in a hostel where an Asian lady suddenly, in the middle of the night, decided to organise her stuff. For hours, all he heard was bags being zipped and unzipped. He also believed that when we meet people during our travels, we get very close to some of them and really become thick of friends as though we have known them all our lives. The French lady wanted to know if my French history lessons displayed Napoleon as a hero because in France, he is not considered as a Hero because there are a lot of miseries attached to his regime. Then there was this Canadian man, who was in his mid forties and worked for the Government but hated politics. He brought up some political issues on the table to discuss. Mostly, Canadian politics but this topic always has a universal feel. We discussed Indian politics as well. He was traveling with two of his American traveller friends whom he had met a couple of years ago, while backpacking in Nicaragua. We also discussed the difference between backpackers (who have a fixed daily budget) and flashpackers (The affluent backpackers who could afford to spend while traveling). I think I am somewhere in between. I do not have a fixed budget but I try to keep it to a minimum. All in all, we had a great conversation.  

And of course, there was 18 year old Liam who had successfully survived the first day at work. We all gathered around him to ask him how his experience had been. He told us that since he had not got into a desired university, he had chosen to take a gap year and travel in SE Asia. He first went to Philippines and then reached Vietnam. It is there that he had met the young couple (Whom he had bid farewell to, that afternoon at the pier) and traveled along with them. Eventually, he got very attached to them. They had spent a week here and by the end of the week, the staff had shown interest in hiring him as, one of their employees was leaving soon. He chose to stay back at Koh Rong Sanloem and work there for a while. The staff there consisted of British nationals and locals. Almost all of the foreign staff were travellers who would spend a few weeks or a month or two working. They get free accommodation and meals for sure and I think they also receive some salary. All of us were surprised to see that he was only 18 years old and here he was all alone, far away from home. And then, there was also this 18 year old Canadian girl traveling all by herself. It is very interesting to listen to their stories.

I had my dinner and took a walk by the beach. The sky was clear and there were a few stars shinning down. Full moon was approaching hence there was enough light at the beach. It was peaceful. I headed back and saw that the staff was arranging a limbo game for the hostellers. Everyone who flexed themselves to cross the barrier got a sip of some spirit. It was interesting for me to sit away from all of it and observe this. I noticed how this game that offered free sips of alcohol acted as an appetiser. People flocked towards the bar and ordered more drink. I thought that this was a neat idea to get people to drink. And anyways, there was nothing much to do here. Moreover, everything was so cheap that people did not mind spending a few dollars. However, young backpackers were cautious to not exceed their daily spending limit. 

Some chose to head back to their dorms while others partied. Soon the music got louder and the travellers hit the dance floor. I thought this was the time to head back to my dorm and retire for the day. This day had been incredible. Completely disconnected from rest of the world, I felt like I was in a traveller's paradise. I felt good to be surrounded by likeminded people in this serene isolated island. 

My Route -  Sihanoukville to Koh Rong Sanloem

Continued Here