Delightful Provincial Cambodia 12 – Koh Kong River Outing
• South Hotel Shanghai
• Tianlin Hotel Shanghai
• Warner Fashion Hotel Shanghai
• Asset Hotel
A few meters from the jetty for the speed boat to Sihanoukville, you can rent small fiberglass boats for your marine day trips. 15 to 40 horse powers are on the menu – we decide on 40.
The boatman agrees to take us to two waterfalls. He asks 60 USD for a full day – heck, this is not what the guidebook promised. Even though it may be too expensive, even after hard haggling and jointly walking away we don't get him under 40 USD. Actually, we see only one 40 hp boat, the other few ones are 15 hp.
Our boat passes under the new 1,9 km long river bridge that now makes overland travel between Cambodia and Thailand much easier. It's a new landmark of beautiful Koh Kong province. You’ll see more of it in later submissions. Many travelers barely notice it, they whiz through on the overland route that goes like Pattaya – Trat – Had Lek – Thai-Cambo-Border – Koh Kong – Sihanoukville – Phnom Penh. In fact, Koh Kong can be three things: a province, a town on the river, and an island in the sea. We have no transit in mind, just came to sample Koh Kong province's greenery and waterlines for a few days.
MEET THE ARMY
Instead of going straight upriver towards the waterfall, the boatman steers us to a remote army post on the river shore. According to the boatman, we have to seek permission for our river trips as the first water body on our schedule would lead on to Thailand. He hadn't told us of that provision earlier.
The army post has a few shacks with even a basic food stall and an ebullient officer in camouflage. He barks at us, then into assorted communication devices, then downs Heineken from a can.
What are we up to, he needs to know? This mistrust from the army is not new to us, we had it as well in on our foray into Thmor Dah, Pursat province, Veal Veng district. The officers always worry we want to research their illegal poaching and hardwood trade with Thailand.
"Dah leyng, dah leyng", repeats Norah many times. Literally this is "walk play", the Khmer word for leaving home for pleasure, for an hour or for a month. This, the army guy hardly can believe: "Why do you go there, it is the dry season", he barks to Norah, "the waterfall is not there now." It's just after Christmas.
"Why do we go there", asks me Norah, my Khmer lover, siding with the Khmer army against the white man: "In the dry season the waterfall is not there".
"Yes", I reply, "I don't care so much for waterfall or not, I just want to venture out into remote areas and enjoy the trip. The waterfall is only a dot on the map that we use to get out of Koh Kong town and into the wilderness. Not important where we go, just let's go."
Norah nods as if she understood. "Dah leyng", she says again to the officer. According to her, the microphone swinging army man is actually friendly and informs the military upriver of our plans. Having them properly informed, she explains, they won't shoot us off our nutshell.
Before boating further upriver, we are offered a motorcycle to ride to an inland village. It's a steep 2 USD rental fee, but we get a shiny new Honda Dream 125 ccm. On a dirt path with two scary bridges of loose, swinging planks we ride inland about a kilometer. A few shacks along the dirt track form a "village". The end of the dirt track has a red-white barrier and another wood shack – the border to Thailand. As we stand there and ponder our options, suddenly a soldier in camouflage jumps out and asks what we are up to. Norah repeats her "Dah leyng" mantra, but he looks skeptical. When asked if I may take pictures, he strictly refuses permission.
The trip was not in vain anyway: There is a noodle shack with good beef soup and very good local tea. From the friendly people there Norah learns that they live off fishing and pig farming only. According to them, there is no smuggling business. The village has a busy school. We hear that children of Khmer people working in Thailand go to school here. The school kids carry little boards of blonde wood, inscribed with pencils – their private black-boards.
"Better they go to school in Thailand", I remark to Norah even though she doesn't like to hear it, "they get relatively better English teaching there".
"Don't you think they should learn proper Khmer, too", she snaps back?
MEET THE ARMY AGAIN
Finally we clamber back into the fiberglass thing and continue the boat trip. My idea of a dramatic Conradian upriver journey doesn't materialize: The river is too wide, the riverside vegetation too low. Still, it is a delightful trip through high, long, green-clad Cardamom mountains. The water’s partly very quiet, with nice mirrorings of clouds, blue sky and mountains. We don't see any bigger settlement, only a few isolated shacks. According to our various maps and guidebooks, this part of the river may be called and written Metoek, Kaoh Pao, Koh Poi or Kow Bpow; plus "Steung" in front, the Khmer word for a big river.
"Tak chrou kao-sap mui", Waterfall 91, is really nothing, now in the dry season. Just a few stone banks in the water. But a few army guys stand on the stones, awaiting us with questioning faces. We find a nice stone bank shaded by bamboo and other greenery, the soldiers join us, and the conversation slowly trickles along.
Actually, one of the soldiers continues to vomit all over the stones, and they ask if we can take him back to the first military post. That is no problem, we have to backtrack anyway. But don't they have their own transport for a sick colleague?
For the ride back, no less than three soldiers join us. We don't stop at the military post, but at another poor housing. There, our three soldiers get off, after polite thank-yous to Norah; they treat her like an upper-class person who has to be feared. For a change, two new Khmers in non-military rags join us here. Our boatman also receives a bush of dubious green vegetables from a housewife.
The next port of call is our first military post again. The two other Khmers get off here, and the boatman hands his vegetables to our barking, but supportive officer. Nice tip.
KOH POI, KAH BPOW OR KAOH PAO
Finally, we can take the river turn-off to the other "waterfall", which is on record with written names such as Koh Poi, Kah Bpow or Kaoh Pao.
The idea for this two-waterfalls-trip came from Matt Jacobson's "Adventure Cambodia". This book is essential if you have your own wheels, or outboard, in Cambodia. It takes you so much further than the Lonely Planet. It has lots of tips and maps even for out-of-the-way places like Sre Ambel and many others. Unfortunately, the current edition of “Adventure Cambodia” is quite outdated now. Stickman writer Frank Visakay, who has been involved with some editions of that guidebook, tells me the next edition has already been researched, but won't hit shelves before January 2008.
For more than 30 minutes we zoom up another attractive, curving tributary with very little signs of humane activity. The army guy had explicitly given his approval for this trip; Norah and the boatman don't understand why we need any approval anyway, as there are no borders near that waterfall.
Again, Koh Poi waterfall is just a set of dry boulders, prohibiting any upriver travel. But these stones massive looks very attractive, and you can climb around and walk your way to the mainland. According to our boatman, in the rainy season the area is one foaming mess and no boat travel possible. He also claims that one westerner lives in the forest next to the waterfall. An NGO worker?
Four handsome Khmer males in fake Calvin Klein slips splash in the cooling river water. They happily descend on me in good English and talk something about sharing a boat ride, but I manage to fend them off. No look for Norah. Once they disappear with another boat, the rocks become a lovely, quiet place.
But how can we find shadow. Finally I discover a boulder sheltering us from the sun. There we start to discuss next day's boat trip, this time to the sea, with our boatman. Our plan would cost us 80 USD, he states clearly, but we don't agree right on the spot.
As we board the dinghy for the trip back to the hotel, the price for the next trip comes down to 70 USD. Still to much? It is difficult to estimate how many miles we would do.
On the boat, my Khmer lady completely wraps herself up in a white hotel towel. Sitting next to a perfectly mummified Norah, I enjoy the remote junglescape without her. More important than any views is to her that she doesn't get any extra-tan.
Arriving back in Koh Kong town, we pass the bridge again. We then discover that the back terrace of our Koh Kong City Hotel has its own boat landing. So the boat man can drop us right at the lodge. Meanwhile, the price for our planned sea outing has arrived at 60 USD. Next morning he will pick us up for another trip.
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 Bassac River Road 2 (Kandal)
– 12 Koh Kong River Outing
– 13 Koh Kong Sea Outing
– 14 Koh Kong Town and Casino
Nice, as always!