Kompong Cham was an important French trading post during the colonial era. Crumbling french colonial buildings and classic Chinese shop houses can still be seen in the downtown area.
The big bridge south of the city centre, Spean Kiruna, was the first to span the Mekong’s width in Cambodia and the first to join the east and west of Cambodia by road. It was a joint Cambodian-Japanese project completed in 2001.
Kampong Cham gets its name from its large population of ethnic Cham, Muslims who may have originated in Borneo before fanning out and establishing populations in Cambodia and Vietnam. At the height of the Khmer empire, in 1177, the Cham briefly won control of its territories, before Khmer King Jayavarman VII defeated them in an epic battle on land and water, scenes of which you’ll find on the walls of the Bayon temple in Siem Reap.
At some of the ports, the local authorities have not constructed pontoons for us to ‘tie up to; Wat Hanchey is no different. Such is the diversity of this new vessel that Scenic now have plying the Mekong Delta region, we have exit locations at the back, front and in the centre of the ship.
We are in a country region, but as pagodas go, that does not deter the farmers and village residents from attending a 10 day festival at the temple. After an introduction to what is ahead of us with regard to the vegetation, and elevation climb, we make it to the top of a hill where a great view of the river can be enjoyed.
Our guide, Lovy, finds a 12 year old ‘learner’ monk to ask some questions of his life and living conditions within the pagoda for him. He wakes at 4:00am to assist in cleaning the grounds of the pagoda. Then showers and has breakfast. At 7:00am, he goes to school until 10:00am. He learns the ways and rituals in the life of a monk. The afternoon is often more school for 2 or 3 hours. There are at least 10 boys his age in the pagoda as young monks. His parents live 12 km away and only see him for a short period of time each 2 months. Females are not allowed to touch him and so it is hard for his mother to give him a motherly cuddle. Fortunately, he enjoys living at the pagoda.
As mentioned, we are visiting this pagoda on an important day of a 10 day festival. Residents of nearby villages have come to give food (rice) and money (lots of 100 Reil notes worth 3 cents Australian each). The monks in training walk along the long line of people gathered for the ceremony. There is a loud voice on the public address system, giving instructions to everyone how to give their money and food. (We could call him the chief marketing liaison officer.) And then there is the loud clanging of gongs and bells as the single filed monks move along the line. Each monk has in his hands one bowl for rice and one plate for money. They have a young boy beside them with a shoulder bag that is used to carry the money when the money plate is full. Another guy, with a very large bowl, receives the overloaded bowls of rice.
Our guide gives us some local money, reil, to stand in the line and give to the monks. We have been ‘blessed’ for having given some money to the junior monks who live at this large pagoda. I notice an open temple where young people are kneeling in front of a buddha receiving blessings. They have a book on their heads. They place a bookmark into the leaves of the book. The leader of the ceremony reads the page out to the worshiper. It seems that the words are either instruction or an indication of future fortune for the worshiper to take note of. Money has been paid in order to receive these ‘great words’.
Our walk back to the Scenic Spirit is via a long stairway, and along a busy country roadway. We take a ‘breather’ of cool towels and chilled fruit juice before the ship sails towards Kampong Cham.
Today’s lunch is significant. Certain unnamed members of our group have worked out it is probably the last opportunity to devour more of the ‘ship-made’ ice-cream. The main course is short lived but the dessert seems to be never ending.
Our afternoon tour is to Phnom Pros, another temple. This temple is ‘different’ to other temples, we are told. Yes it is. The difference? There are resident monkeys here by the score. As is the custom at pagodas and temples the ‘chief marketing officer’ is blaring instructions to all the visitors in a wailing fashion; rather overbearing to say the least. But that’s the way of the people. At least its not the football results from some far-away country, or something.
Close by is a ecotourism village. They have decided to follow the ‘organic farming’ model and we are allowed to walk freely through the village and watch a farmer transplant rice in his farm. The rice fields have about 4-6 inches of water in them where fish are often raised and caught prior to harvest. For some of our group, it is the first time that have seen a motorised tractor in use. Under many of the houses, the ladies are weaving using a very old, but successful method.
Our return to the ship is interrupted with a visit to another temple, yes, another temple. and we haven’t even arrived in Siem Reap, the home of many more temples. While wandering around this temple, we come across a young couple having their wedding photos done using the temple surrounds as a backdrop for their photos.
At the Scenic Spirit, we are entertained by a group of children who are part of the ‘Organisation for Basic Training’. They have been taught the traditional dances and musical instruments of Cambodia and perform a number of items, the last of which is a time when guests can join them in a ‘line dance’ – not the same as country and western line dancing. We had brought some gifts for the girls from the Inner Wheel Club of Wandin which were given to their volunteer teachers to distribute.
After a port talk for tomorrow’s transfer to Siem Reap, we enjoy a ‘Farewell Dinner’ before setting loose in our most comfortable rooms to pack bags ready for a 7:30am collection in the morning.
Thank you Scenic. This ship is the most luxurious ship we have sailed on. The cabins are larger by far than any other that we have experienced. Meals have been superb, and the staff have become friends. Thank you again, Mr Scenic.