Cambodia: wonder, calm and ingenuity

The sun is beating down on us this afternoon… We crack open a couple of beers, with the gigantic Mekong sprawled out right before our eyes. As we lay on top of a boat, we watch the landscape go by slowly: houses on stilts, children swimming, fishermen… A magical, poetic, and unique moment that takes us from Vietnam into Cambodia. New land, new ambiance. Still as many tuk-tuks, but less noise, less traffic, a more relaxed way of life and more smiles.

When we arrived in Phnom Penh, we had no idea that, after having planned to stay for only a week, we would spend a whole month there, without seeing the time go by, or rather, by letting time go. By ignoring the whore houses, the aging potbellied westerners having sex with teenagers for a few dollars in the capital, and by trying to forget for one moment the mounds of waste strewn all over the country, Cambodia managed to charm us. It’s hard to explain, but that’s the way it is.

With sweltering heat and a 90% moisture level, we travelled all over the country, alternatively using either our calves or our accelerator, or even just using our eyes to stare out of the dirty windows of a bus from another age with creaking brakes.

This place reminds us of Africa, India, and elsewhere. Small trucks carrying unthinkable loads on their backs, people crammed into rickety boats of all kinds, strong black-skinned men dressed with a simple loincloth, incredibly skinny white cows and giant grey ones with funny ears and a huge bump, houses on stilts and hammocks everywhere, red earth, banana trees, floating villages as far as the eye can see…

And there are also those improvised volleyball courts, those almost surreal remnants of the past, that luxurious nature, at times too stifling…

It’s strange, the dollar is the second currency here, the streets are numbered… Here’s a child riding an adult bike, here’s an adult with a child one… An old creaky bus, a toilet break in the wild with the rest of the passengers…

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In this patchwork world where everything seems possible, we let ourselves be carried, swept along. We loaded two bikes into a small tuk-tuk in Phnom Penh, and took a dip in the warm waters of the Mekong on the island of Koh Dach.

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In Kampot, a few hours south, we find it very strange to see aging French expats looking like adventurers with their open short-sleeved shirts, their jailbird tattoos, speaking perfect Cambodian. A dive into the river, a bit of kayaking to survive the intense heat…

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Here we are in Kep! People are napping in hammocks, a few monkeys and especially whole families are swimming together in the sea all fully clothed. In front of us, Rabbit Island! A group of women are praying in the boat. A short hike, a deserted beach and we slip on our masks in the middle of beautiful coral reefs and multi-coloured fish.

Come night-time, hundreds of lightning bolts invite themselves above the water and the sky becomes their playing field. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 a flash of lightning over here… 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 a flash of lightning over there!

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We slowly glide towards the island of Koh Rong Samloem. The beaches near perfection… The water is transparent, the white sand dazzles us… In the stifling jungle, the monkeys swing from branch to branch and we have to beware of the cobras… The geckos and spiders watch us amusedly. Here, we are on their territory… In the water, I have to do a double take. I see something flying right in front of me. I readjust my mask, swim a little faster. The show is unbelievable. It really is a small stingray, undulating before my eyes…

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On the road to Siem Reap, an extraordinarily violent storm breaks out, then a stop in Kompang Chhnang, another one at Battambang… Thousands of bats waltz in the air above us, youngsters play football surrounded by cows, potters, palmtrees, lots of monks, temples, more temples and the Tonle Sap. We Zigzag amongst the countless floating houses… A travelling ice cream salesman floats by us on a row boat, the children jump for joy… Women wash in the water, others wash their clothes… We even sometimes see vegetable crops…

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Seeing those smiling children everywhere shouting out happy “hellos” at us, those schoolchildren celebrating the last day before the New Year break in their schoolyard, those families having picnics and roaring with laughter, it’s incredibly difficult to imagine the tragedies this country lived through. At times, the atrocious reality hits us in the face, like a boomerang, with NGO signs for mine clearing, danger cautions, an armless man, a woman who talks to us about her life before Pol Pot… We sadly notice that we have not seen an “old” person since we got here…

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With a heavy heart, we hit the road for a few hours, when we finally arrive in the mythical site of Angkor. We wake up at 4:30am to discover those monumental temples that look like they’ve been taken straight out of a fairy-tale. Full of wonder, we stare at the minute details for hours… There’s the wildlife as well, the all-powerful nature that has become one with the stone, with history…

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One last sunset, our adventure has come to an end, it’s time to write a new chapter and fly towards the unknown…

In the plane taking us to Burma, we think about the country we have just left, the calm we felt when we were there, those situations and emotions we lived through. Smiling, we think back to that moment of sheer madness, that jubilation that took over us when we danced wildly on Kep beach with a dozen other Cambodians to local hits, clinking glasses once, twice, ten times!

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For those interested, here is our itinerary in Cambodia: Phnom Penh, Koh Dach, Kampot, Kep, Rabbit Island, Koh Rong Saloem, Kompang Chhnang, Battambang, Siem Reap, Angkor

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Valentin Porcher & Cécile Chétif


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À propos de l'auteur :

Valentin Porcher
Valentin Porcher
Artistic director at OLOW Trademark

Site web : www.olow.fr