"The main highlight of my time in Kampong Cham was the bamboo bridge and the island it led to. The click and clatter of the bamboo strips and the softness of the multiple layers felt like it could give way any minute. You dared not look over the edge and motos and cars would zoom past you creating an adrenalin fuelled wobble in the path as you tried to find your momentum again. It was unique and exhilarating, although be prepared to pay for the privilege – the dollar you pay being over four times that of the local price."
One of the more unique experiences from my time in Cambodia was cycling around Koh Paen, an island situated in the middle on the Mekong River, which, in the dry season is connected to the mainland town of Kampong Cham by an elaborate bamboo bridge structure.
The bridge is hand built by locals at the beginning of every dry season, and it then taken down at the beginning of the wet season, when a ferry transports people across to the island. From a distance, it looks like a string of matchsticks filling the void between the mainland and the island. Next to the bridgehead are a few simple restaurants with portable tables under parasols. Some are placed into the river, so that the guests sit in the shallow water.
On the east bank of the island you can see fishermen using massive hand-held nets in the shape of enormous tennis rackets. With their glistening white nets, the lush green grass and the muddy Mekong waters, in the late afternoon light these fishermen can be particularly photogenic.
There are plenty of local wats on the island and locals make a living fishing, as well as growing tobacco and sesame.
Across the island rise tall mud houses, where harvested tobacco is dried by fire, and edible crops of all types grow. Choose your guide well for a biology lesson in pomelos, chillis, sesame seeds, betel nuts and enormous jackfruit.
As is customary in these parts of the world, you are charged a foreigner tax to take our bicycles over the bridge, but it's well worth it if not a bit bumpy! On the other side, you can spend a few hours cycling through small villages, rice fields and farmland and you are greeted everywhere by excitable and smiley children.
At some point these kids have been taught to ‘high-five’ you as you cycle past teh kids and there appears to be no bounds to the enjoyment that they get from this small gesture!
You are pretty overwhelmed by how happy these children seem and how the simple act of smiling and exchanging ‘hello’ can provide them so much visible pleasure.
It is a far cry from the Western world and you suppose, that if tourism ever take off in a big way in Kampong Cham, that this will change soon.
The bridge (when above water) is about a 15-minute walk to the south of central Kampong Cham.
From a Travel Blog:
The next day I returned alone on a bicycle so I could see more of the island. Again I was charge $1 on the other side, but this time I decided to question it. "How much are they paying?" I asked, indicating some people on a moped. "You are foreign" was the response. I watched someone hand over a 100 riel note. So tourists pay forty times as much as locals then. This is the kind of rip-off I objected to in Cambodia. Some people complain in Vietnam they rip you off, but I never found that; they might start with an outrageously high price, but they are very willing to drop it a lot, if you just play the haggling game a little. I don't think tourist pay much more than locals in Vietnam if they are just willing to put the effort in. In Cambodia, though, most prices seem to be fixed and the price difference for tourist is "official", so there is no way of arguing them down; that's just what the price is for foreigners.
Anyway, it was well worth the dollar. The island is absolutely gorgeous. Everywhere I cycled, there were children shouting "hello" and running after me. Everyone on the island was very friendly and smiley -- with the exception of the older women; most of them are sour-faced and shaven-headed. I mentioned this to someone later, who said "well the older women in this country have had a pretty rough time", which is fair enough I suppose. I didn't find out why their heads were shaven; it may have been permanent mourning, or it may have been that they were nuns. The island is very rural, all the buildings are traditional wooden stilts bungalows, and it just has such a lovely remote village feel to it, which is all a bit strange when there is a regional capital town just over the bamboo bridge. Much of the island is given over to agriculture: tobacco, sesame, and bamboo seem to be the main crops, but most people seem to have jack fruit trees in their gardens too; all over the island chickens, pigs, ducks, and cows wander freely. I wondered how anyone knew which chicken were whose
On the way back I stopped off at a press, where people squeeze sugar cane juice for you. I'd seen a few of them before, but never bought any. I ended up waiting around for ages while a woman cleaned and re-assembled the equipment, and her husband shaved the bark off several sticks of sugar cane; meanwhile loads of children gathered round to laugh at and watch me, and wait for their juice. The guy had to work pretty hard to turn the press, which works just like a mangle, and for the first time I saw a Cambodian sweating. It was very hot, and I was glad for the crushed ice they filled my glass with from a cool box, before pouring in the sugar cane juice. Surprisingly it's not that sweet. I was expecting something clawingly sweet, but in fact it must have less sugar in it than most of the soft drinks it goes into once it's refined. The island left me with a nice warm glow!