I was gone last week on a business trip with HKL, hence the lack of updates. A couple HKL guys and I conducted 7 HKL credit officer training presentations in 6 provinces over 5 days. 21 total hours of powerpoint presentations, mostly in Khmer. It was a long trip. I also barely had any time to take photos. The itinerary went like this:
Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham to Kampong Thom to Stoung to Siem Reap to Banteay Meanchey to Battambang to Pursat and back to Phnom Penh.
The drive to Kampong Cham was mostly uneventful, in part because the road is in such good shape and the company driver had 15 years experience driving professionally on Cambodian roads. He honed his craft driving for UNTAC back in 1993, when Cambodia was emerging from decades of isolation and the roads were wild. Having a skilled driver was essential for this trip, since Cambodian roads are still some of the most dangerous in the world. Mostly because people don’t wear seatbelts or helmets or really obey any of the basic rules of the road. Billboards along the road warned motorists with the grisly image of a minivan wrapped around a telephone pole. Fortunately, we drove a Ford Ranger equipped with seatbelts.
About an hour and a half northeast of Phnom Penh, Kampong Cham is the third largest town in Cambodia and capital of Kampong Cham Province. I’d been there a month earlier, and this time I had almost no time to explore the place. These shots are from my previous trip:
I did manage to drag myself out of bed to get some shots of the sunrise over the Mekong.
No photos of mine exist of this place. Its prominent features were Route 6, a big hotel with food that made me sick, poverty, humidity, and a decaying iron-trellis bridge. I’m not a fan.
Stoung was the smallest stop on the itinerary. Tourists buses barrel through this town on their way to the temples at Siem Reap, making the highway treacherous to walk along. I found about 15 minutes to explore the place, which was 10 minutes more than I needed.
Siem Reap is the major tourist destination in Cambodia. The temples of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, and a bunch of smaller satellite temples and ruins are scattered about just outside town. Since I lacked both time and the mandatory tourist ticket, we drove past the ruins so I could at least get a feel for the place.
Had to take this from the back seat of the pickup. I’ll be back here later to do the whole tourist thing.
Raw Meat Feast
That night the guys took me to a place they assured would have “great authentic Khmer food.” By this point I’d had my fill of Khmer food, but being polite I let them lead me to certain gastronomic doom. The server brought a clay bowl of red-hot charcoal over to the table and tossed a cauldron/fondue pot thing on top. She then poured steaming water into the moat, which left a little steel island in the middle. A minute later she reappeared with plate after plate of raw meats and vegetables. I could identify prawns, beef, pork, onions, squid, bean curd, seaweed, oysters, intestines, lungs, livers, as well as a number of other random things my colleagues couldn’t translate for me. Everything got tossed in the pot, while some fried on the steel island.
There was no rice to fall back on, so I stuck with the prawns and onions, frying everything to a crisp on my little slice of the island. Eventually I relented and tried whatever was in the pot, avoiding the intestines and oysters. Surprisingly, it was really good, some of the best Khmer food I’ve had outside of Phnom Penh. Plenty of chili sauce and ABC stout probably had something to do with it, but after several days of nothing but rice and fried chicken gristle this was a welcome change.
The road between Siem Reap and Banteay Manchey was downright post-apocalyptic. Nominally “under construction”, the entire road was packed dirt deeply rutted by excavators, tractors and various other heavy machinery. The 2-hour trip was a strange experience. Trucks kicked up massive clouds of dust, reducing visibility and making it like driving through a brown blizzard. There was nothing to look at besides desolate dry rice fields and moto drivers trying to pick their way past deep potholes.
Banteay Meanchey is tucked away in the northwest corner of Cambodia, near the Thai border. As with all these other towns, I didn’t have time to get out and explore. It’s a dusty, gritty town.
The hotel screwed up our reservation and all the other hotels and guesthouses were full, so we had to drive an hour and a half south to Battambang.
The next morning on our way back to Banteay Meanchey for training we passed this scene:
A couple hundred people were milling around the side of a building. Police were trying to control the crowd. The driver rolled down the window and asked a moto driver what happened, thinking maybe a thief had been caught. The moto driver said “someone kill himself”. So it goes in Cambodia.
After the Siem Reap-Banteay Meanchey leg, the road to Battambang was a dream. This part of the country also had busier roads. Pickups loaded with 25 or more people, comically overloaded trucks, antique tractors belching exhaust, ubiquitous Camrys, Cambodians packed like sardines in dangerous-looking vans, beater Thai cars with the steering column on the wrong side, ox carts, motos precariously balancing furniture. Throw some bicycles and oblivious wandering cows into the mix and you’ve got a recipe for an entertaining drive. A scene:
High-speed driving between Battambang & Pursat on excellent roads. Even the driver put on his seatbelt for this stretch. We’d just blast through these podunk villages with the horn blaring, sending kids & dogs scattering. Pursat was the last stop on the list. Our training presentation there was interrupted by a two-hour Buddhist ceremony blessing the HKL branch office.
There was a lot of chanting and praying, and the senior monk tossed rice and flowers into the crowd.
It was a long ceremony, so he needed a nicotine kick.
Would’ve been nice to get more photos on the trip, but the schedule just didn’t allow for it.