Into the unknown
We left Siem Reap at a ridiculously early hour to get to Kompong Cham which is supposedly the third largest 'city' in Cambodia after Phnom Penh and Battambang, although it definitely felt decidedly smaller than Siem Reap. It turned out to be rather quaint situated on the banks of the Mekong with a couple of smaller islands dotted in the river.
We decided to spend an extra night not only due to the fact we were knackered after a long bus journey and couldn't face another one straight the following day, but we landed a HUGE room with an even bigger terrace overlooking the river for the price of $10 between the four of us. This place was ridiculous, I definitely could've fit my whole London flat on the terrace alone. Amazing. Up went the hammock, out came the book, in came the beers, perfect.
We wandered along the river and saw a gorgeous sunset from an old lighthouse which had extremely steep ladders to climb and made a plan to visit one of the islands the following day.
This turned out to be one of my favourite things we've done in Cambodia. The islands are car-less (although there are some motorbikes) and we hired pushbikes which I think were made many MANY years before we were born. To get to the island we had to take the 'ferry'. This was an interesting part of the day first trying to find the ferry port then discovering what the actual ferry was - some planks on floating empty canisters on which maybe 40 motorbikes and pushbikes pile and the obligatory livestock as standard. Of course we were the talk of the ferry but we've come to realise we're more often than not the main talking point amongst locals so just laugh and smile and agree with whatever's said. It usually works and if not Lauren's drama skills come into play to converse.
The island was beautiful, it was like going back in time. It was so lush, the houses on stilts were amazing, the people were so friendly - I've never shouted hello so many times in a three hour period - we ate some great sticky rice cooked in banana leaf from a lady along a pathway, it was a lovely lovely day. I think I'd spend longer in Kompong Cham maybe. It was so chilled which is what we needed after Siem Reap and Angkor.
But onwards we went, reaching the little town of Ban Lung in the far northeast of the country late in the afternoon. We found a nice enough hotel and set about organising to set off on a jungle trek the following day. It was so much fun to trek again, and so wildly different to Nepal, I don't think anything could have been further. And Russell had normal shoes this time!!
We trekked for one day through the thick overgrown jungle - there wasn't really a path as such. Luckily our ranger was armed with a machete which came in handy when at one point THE BIGGEST SNAKE I'VE EVER SEEN was right in front of us!!!!! He hadn't seen it and almost trod on it (in flip flops of course) thinking it was a branch until it moved when the machete was then thrown, we all screamed, he was doing that nervous laugh people do when they're scared but have to be brave, it was all very exciting. That was when we realised that not only had all but one of us forgotten a torch, but none of us had brought any first aid stuff....
I think we'd underestimated how 'jungle' like the jungle would be after our Chitwan experience in Nepal! And it was only going to be one night, we'd done eleven on Annapurna, this was supposed to be a walk in the park! It was great though that 'untouched' really means just that here.
Camp was next to a beautiful swimming hole where we swung from vines into the water and set up the hammocks. Dinner was cooked inside a large piece of bamboo and was some of the best food I've eaten. It was just fish and vegetable curry with spices but so so tasty. And so clever! Our ranger was amazing.
The following day was just three hours more through the trees then another tasty lunch before an afternoon swim in the volcanic crater lake which was gorgeous. The water was warm and a lovely blue, it was surrounded by trees, there were local kids running all over, it was great. Another unspoilt spot a bit off the beaten track.
This was Jeroens birthday so after starting the day being woken in his hammock in the jungle by me and Lauren singing happy birthday and presenting him with cakes chocolate and a birthday hat, the day ended with some dancing in a slightly surreal Cambodian nightclub. They only sold beer, there were two large screens - one with football one with a movie, the DJ kept switching from what tended to sound like one very long song played at deafening volume to Whitney Houston and the like which emptied the floor, there was a LOT of staring, there were interesting dance moves being thrown, it was fantastic. We danced till 2am and had to be up at 5.45 for a bus to Phnom Penh where we're headed to now. It was hard getting up today, I'm feeling decidedly ropey, but all in a good way! We've been on this bus for almost seven hours now so I hope to god we're nearly there!!