Three Days Upriver

Posted by on Dec 16, 2004 in Cambodia | No Comments

Cambodia is not a country of many roads. In fact, every time I left Phnom Penh I ended up having to come back to get somewhere else. And although Siam Reap is North of the capital, I still needed to come back to town in order to head north to Laos. My route to Laos followed the Mekong River North. Because of the long distances, bad roads and limited bus schedules I had to spend my first night in the town of Kratie. Known for it?s proximity to the rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins, Kratie is a bit of a frontier town. There?s not much there besides a market and a lot of barber shops. Another girl and I decided to make the best of the situation and hire a motorbike out to see the dolphins. The boat was very peaceful as the sun set across the Mekong. We watched five dolphins play in the current, turning on their backs and jumping around.

The next morning, while waiting for the boat North I walked around town, amusing the local residents by taking photos of barber shop signs. An old man was selling flavored ice from the back of his bicycle and I my camera quickly attracted the attention of the small children buying treats. One girl in particular was enamored with my camera. She wore a pink princess dress and wouldn?t let me take a photo that she was not the focal point of. She desperately wanted to keep my camera and kissed the LCD screen with her sticky mouth each time she saw herself on screen. After our photo session she started the ?pick me up? game. It was very simple–a child would walk up to me and I would pick them up and then put them back down. This last a good ten minutes before it progressed into the ?twirl me around? game where I lifted each child up and twirled them around. Although I was stuck in this town on the road to Laos with nothing to do I still managed to have a good time playing with the locals. You can see a progression of the photoshoot in the image below.

The road North of Kratie is in terrible condition so I opted to take the fast boat upriver to the town of Stung Treng. Once again, I was stuck for the night only an hour south of the Laos border. This town had even less than Kratie, not even cute children to play games with. I watched from my hotel as irritated Westerners tried to bargain with drivers for rides to the Eastern provinces. The town felt like one big rip off. Because the locals know people are only in transit they try to get as much money as possible for the smallest things. I had arranged a slow boat to the Laos border but in the morning was told that my fellow passengers had overslept and I would need to take a speed boat instead. The speed boat was a tiny fiberglass shell which didn?t seem to touch the water at all. The fact that my driver was wearing a helmet didn?t ease my mind at all. For the entire hour?s journey I sat, wind stinging my face, devising a plan for when the boat stuck a rock and tipped over. Would I hold my small bag with my camera above my head or would I try to rescue my heavy backpack from sinking to the bottom of the Mekong? Thankfully, the boat arrived to the deserted bank where the Cambodian official waited to take $1 from me (for the stamp–wink wink) in one piece. My fellow passengers weren?t so lucky, as I was the only person out of six granted an exit stamp. The driver continued to the opposite bank to drop me off at the Laos border where the officials asked for another dollar and arranged a moto driver to the islands. Most tourists travel through Thailand to get to Laos because the roads are better and travel is easy. In the end I?m glad that I spent the extra effort to make it up the Mekong.

You can see the photos from Northern Cambodia here.