The plan for this weekend is to ride with Maraile on the bike to Kampong Chnang (Kampong Chhnang), spent one night and one day there with laid back activities such as taking in some of the local sights.
We leave Phnom Penh only in the afternoon and head north on National Road 5, towards Kampong Chnang and Battambang, the former being only 91 kilometers from Phnom Penh. Guide books complain about the poor quality of this road a few years ago but nowadays the road is excellent, pretty much all the way to the Thai border. The sun is setting down after we pass Udong Mountain.
Arriving in Kampong Chnang only in the evening, we follow the advice of outdated guide books and ride straight to the Hotel Rithisen on the River Parkway and check in. The place is not particularly charming and the rooms are not particularly clean. Later we find that there is a new hotel, at about half way between the market and the riverfront (right hand when coming from the market), which charges the same rates but is much nicer and cleaner. I have been to Kampong Chnang before, in 2003 on the way to Battambang, but never spent a night here. I am not the only one since many people pass through this town on the way to western Cambodia and Thailand but few people stop in Kampong Chnang. Also the guide books have little to say about the place. The Lonely Planet’s ‘Things to See and Do’ starts with stating that “Kampong Chnang has nothing essential to check out, but the riverfront area is interesting to explore”.
After a short break we take the bike and cruise around. Later we find a restaurant and have diner. The rest of the evening we spend on the hotel’s terrace on the third floor.
A high variety of insects is flying in enormous numbers around the light and covers much of the walls and ceilings. At one point before we go to bed we ask one of the staff if we could get some insecticide to spray the rooms. He is so attentive that we find him a few minutes later spraying major parts of the entire terrace. Thousands of dead insects accumulate on the floor within a few minutes, and is later elegantly disposed of with broom and dustpan.
These pictures are taken in the morning from the hotel terrace.
Initially we were planning to take a boat or ferry, cross the river and visit the island, with its several ancient temples from the Chenla period including Prasat Srei and a town called Kampong Leaeng. However, we talk to people at the riverside and learn that the regular ferry will leave only late in the afternoon, too late for us. Individual boats can be chartered at about $30 for the roundtrip.
We have not enough time for the ferry and are not in the moot to invest in the boat. So we decide to get a rowing boat and explore the floating villages around Kampong Chnang town, which should be particularly interesting at this point of time given the high water levels.
This is where we find the boat, only few hundred meters away from the hotel and impossible to miss as the road ends right at the water. The place is crowded with people and we have no difficulties finding a friendly female driver who takes us around in a rowing boat.
Many members of Cambodia’s ethnic minorities live in this place, such as Muslim Cham, ethnic Vietnamese and Christians.
Children using big bowls to get around.
Maraile and I try to row the boat ourselves for some time but we fail very badly and people around us are having a good time. I now have much more appreciation for the elegance and grace with which Cambodian’s at all ages skillfully maneuver these wooden boats through rivers, lakes and rice paddies, seemingly effortless.
Back at the riverfront.
We take the bike and ride downtown, in order to visit the market and the highly recommended, inexpensive Mekong Restaurant at the national road. In one annoying episode, we leave our helmets on the bike while briefly exploring the market. The helmets are stolen when we return to the bike after just a few minutes. Later we buy new helmets at one of the shops near the market. Luckily, helmets are rather inexpensive in Cambodia, most of the more advanced models at offer cost less than $ 20.
After we finish lunch at the Mekong Restaurant we head west on a dirt road towards some close by hills with a pagoda on its top, called Wat Sahn-dtoot (Srae Thmei). We find easily a number of quite and peaceful places, some of them with magnificent views of Kampong Chnang town and its mostly flooded surroundings.
We hang out for some time, relax and appreciate the tranquil charm of the place. Later we get on the bike, ride down to Kampong Chnang town, have a coffee in the market and head towards Phnom Penh.
We visit one of the hill top pagodas (Wat Phnom Robath and Phnom Chahm-bpoo) only about 10 kilometers outside Kampong Chnang. The place offers beautiful views over the Mekong River before the backdrop of flooded plains and green fields.
One can recognize Udong Mountain from here.
Some monks are here, too, quietly enjoying the beauty of the scenery.
From here we ride down the mountain and follow National Road 5 towards Udong and Phnom Penh. From Udong, we take the alternative Road 51 down to Phnom Penh. it is very wide, in very good condition and has not much traffic. However, it does not go to Phnom Penh directly so you don’t really save time compared to National Road 5.
We have been planning on a short visit to Phnom Baset on the way but when pass Udong it becomes obvious that substantial rain is ahead of us. We keep going rather fast and are glad for every kilometer we make without getting wet.
Finally we reach National Road 4 west of Phnom Penh, still dry. We have a short break and enjoy a fruit shake at the roadside.
If you are coming down Road 51, it is on the small road ahead that you reach National Road 4.
We head to Phnom Penh and it starts raining very strongly when we are about to pass the airport. We stop and put on rain gear but wait for the rain to become weaker. This does not happen so we ride the last few kilometers in the rain.