Delightful Provincial Cambodia 11 – Bassac River Road 2 (End)
Only about 80 kilometers from Phnom Penh we reach the Vietnamese border. Just before that, in the small dusty Khmer border village with the usual decreipit huts, there is an otherwordly apparition: A huge plain-white cement building consisting of many orderly 90 degrees angles with a clean, paved parking lot and huge neon signs: "Casino – Hotel – Restaurant – Club". I knew that other Cambodian borders have casinos catering to gambling-addicted Thais; obviously, they also target the Viets.
Norah is miffed that we have to stop our scenic ride at the border barrier. She talks into the Khmer policeman to let me pass through, at least onto the nowhere land up to the Viet border post, but to no avail – only SE Asians may venture beyond the pole here, and alone of course she wouldn't go.
— A SIGN? —
On the way back I stop behind a small steel bridge. "I want to take a few pictures", I explain to Norah.
"Oh, you want to snap the funny sign", she asks?
"Which funny sign?"
"On the other side of the bridge, the sign says in Khmer: BE CAREFUL, THAT BRIDGE IS QUITE OLD ALREADY."
I forget what I had wanted to snap originally and capture the remarkable sign – it's faded, but bears a skull (called "ghost head" by Norah). I learn of that warning only after we've used the bridge two times. Heavy trucks ramble across every few minutes.
It is late afternoon with a wonderful warm sunlight in peaceful countryside. Even though driving our car back to Phnom Penh in the night will be sheer horror, I am not willing to leave lovely southern Kandal province in daylight. I yearn to see more riverside and a sunset over ricefields. Fortunately, Norah shares my faible for pothole research in charming countryside.
— PAGODA BACKDOORS —
One problem on the Bassac river road: Everywhere houses block the view onto the river to the east as well as to the ricefields on the western side. To see more of the river, you have to find the small lanes that lead to Bassac river ferries. There we hit pleasant shady drink shacks and enjoy the river view complete with playing kids plus bathing adults and cows. A coconut is always a clean, refreshing and healthy drink.
Pagodas are another good option to look behind the streetside façade. We drive into the pagoda gates, facing the road. The spacious pagoda grounds always have a smaller back door – where we walk out into open fields or onto sandy river beaches.
I stop at one pagoda for sunset and drive the car into the back part. – "Ui, all houses here for ghosts only", shudders Norah. – "But can you park here", I ask?" – "Yes, but you must stay with me."
In the leafy hinterlands of the pagoda grounds, it is already quite dark. Like a shadow, we see a poor old lady walking around. Norah approaches her and talks for five minutes, then she gives her a dollar.
The backdoor of this pagoda grounds takes us onto a small path through vegetable and rice fields. Sputtering pumps bring in Bassac water. Norah explains the pagoda lady: "When I see old lady like her on pagoda land, I know already: She lives on pagoda land, and she has no family and no money. She lives in the poor wood shack we saw – no electricity there." Norah continues: "Before lunchtime, she can eat what the monks collected, but after lunch there is no food for her. She has nobody to talk to and nobody who takes care her. She cannot go to doctor."
"Isn't she scared of all the ghosts there", I ask Norah? – "Yes, she says she is scared, but she says she has no other option – she has NO family!!" – "So you gave her one dollar?" – "Yes. One dollar. She cried when I gave her the money."
— BON VOYAGE —
A glowing sunball sinks behind a remote line of banana trees. While I snap the image, Norah looks concentratedly just the other way – she studies the vegetable beds. She even tries to drag me away from the sunset: "Look, here they have fresh salad; and this is the vegetable you liked so much in Pursat, you remember? And wonderful, so much chili grows here too!!"
As darkness falls, we walk back through the fields to our pagoda parking lot. Farmworkers smile at us. An elderly lady with dirty clothes, but gold-framed glasses and very distinguished manners walks past. We have a short, polite conversation in old-fashioned French. Now she grows vegetables; but she may have been a diplomat or a professor in a different life – before Pol Pot. We don't ask though. She fishes in her pocket and gives Norah a handful of chilis. Norah beams.
Delightful Provincial Cambodia –
– 1 Kompong Chnang, Kompong Luong, Pursat Town
– 2 Pursat to Pramaui (Veal Veng District)
– 3 Pramaui to Thmordah (Veal Veng District)
– 4 Kompong Cham Town
– 5 Around Kompong Cham
– 6 Into Mondulkiri
– 7 Mondulkiri Elephant Outing
– 8 Mondulkiri Boo Sra
– 9 Out Of Mondulkiri
– 10 Bassac River Road 1 (Kandal)
– 11 (End) Bassac River Road 2 (Kandal)
A great series!