Monday, 25 February 2013

Cambodia Third (and final) Installment - Sihanoukville

From Phnom Penh we headed south 240 km. by road to Sihanoukville for some beach time. Sihanoukville is a city located on a small peninsula with beach resorts, tropical islands and a commercial port. A trip that in Canada, especially on the #1, would take just over two hours took four. It’s not the traffic so much, but the road conditions and having to share the road with all manner of transportation. Including oxen.

It was a great opportunity to see rural Cambodia. About 80% of Cambodia’s population lives in rural communities, most eeking out a living working rice fields. As our trip was during their “cool” dry season, there was very little farming going on, just emaciated looking water buffalo or oxen grazing yellowed fields/patties. With virtually no rains during this time of year and no irrigation systems the farms lie idle.

I took pictures during that road trip, they would have been great here camera ate them. ARGGGGG!

The highlight of our stay in Sihanoukville was a visit to Ream National Park. It was established in 1993 to protect a threatened environment. The park encompasses 200 km² of mangrove forests, tropical jungle, and bird life in abundance. Our guide for this day was a park ranger. He began our visit with a boat trip that started at one edge of the park and wound its way through the tranquil waterways for 1 ½ hours.

A few families are allowed to live and fish in the park. All activity is carefully monitored for environmental impact.

A little girl came out of one of the huts to wave as we went by.

After 1 ½ hours we were at the mouth of the river where it empties into the Gulf of Thailand and the location of a tiny fishing village. We watched people going about their daily lives... a woman mending a fishing net....

a child and her pet.

There was even a one room school house. Class was on lunch break so our guide showed us inside the sparse looking facility. I noticed a world map on the wall and thought I should show him where we live...and that we live by the water as well and that fishing is/was an important part of life there too.

He then led us on a 1/2 hour trek through the jungle, pointing out various fruit trees, birds, geckos...and just telling us about the park, the people and their life in it. I learned a lot, for instance, that bananas are considered an invasive plant. And that cashews grow on trees and are not just a nut. Who knew!?!

At the end of trail was this beautiful white sand beach. The only sound was the waves hitting the shore and the birds in the trees. I rolled up my pant leg and waded into the water, it was bathtub warm. Heaven.

A couple of children from the village had tagged along with us on the trek, and at this point asked us for a hand-out. But not for money or treats. They asked for pencil or pen or paper. The guide told us that those items are in very short supply at the school. I wish I had known. All I had in my shoulder bag were two mechanical pencils. They wouldn't have done them any good. I felt so bad. I ended up giving them my Canada and Germany flag button. Note to self, travel with spare pencils & paper to give away.

Again we have AboutAsia to thank for arranging our room at the fabulous Sohka Beach Resort. Because after a day of walking around in blazing heat and high humidity, it was great to get back to the hotel, our air conditioned room,  jump into the pool and enjoy some nice refreshments. Erwin, being the professor, did student advising with the bar-keep at the swim-bar, who happened to be a university student. Wish I had a picture of that. Dr. Warkentin on a bar stool in the pool, drink in hand, talking to student about their career beyond bar-keeping.

Our final two days in Cambodia were free & easy. I worked on my tan. Read. Swam in the ocean. Erwin didn’t spend quite as much time in the sun. I tan quickly and easily, he not so much. We relaxed. Went on moon-light walks with only the cicadas keeping us company.

We went into town and browsed the market one morning. Fascinating multi-sensory place again…just like all the other markets had been that we’d visited, but I love going to them. That's me near the bottom left. Lot's of fun the way, the currency used is the US dollar.

Some random signs we saw along the way.

We tried to as much as possible to soak-in the Cambodian culture during our two week trip. For the most part we ate, aside from breakfasts which came with the room, outside the hotel/resort compounds.We never felt afraid or threatened when we went for strolls, and in contrast to other developing countries that we've visited, we were seldom asked for hand-outs. Tuk-tuk drivers were another story, but even there a polite “no thanks, we enjoy walking” was enough to stop them. So polite.

My sweetie, on our last evening there.

The next morning we got up early to watch the sunrise and say good-bye to this beautiful place.

We were sad to leave Cambodia because as the days went by we were captivated by the spirit of the place. The Cambodian people and their gentle, quiet & respectful nature will forever remain in our hearts.

To all our guides and drivers, and the many others who touched our lives and had a hand in building our memories, our most heartfelt “awkunh ch'ran” (អរគុណច្រើន).

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