A Travellerspoint blog

Life Along the Mekong at Chiro

semi-overcast 28 °C

Kathy wasn't feeling very good so she decided she would just relax for a day so Don gets to write the blog today.
The area named Chiro is made up of 12 villages that are spread out along a 10-15 km section of road. They call it Chiro village but I was told that 80,000 people live there!?! We couldn't distinguish one from the other but were told we were in Chiro1. Where we stayed there were about 200 families, mostly farmers. The homestay where we stayed had a series of activities that one could participate in, where one paid a small amount of money and you went off with local people and helped them do some of their day to day activities. The money was split between the villagers and OBT with most going to the villagers.
Part of Chiro village

Part of Chiro village


Life is pretty basic in this area. I arranged to volunteer in their farming activity. I was picked up bright and early by a grade eleven student who was going out to tend one of his family's tomato patches. He drove me out to the area on the back of his motorbike to one acre area the family was renting from a local school and had planted tomatoes. He collected a bag of 15-15-15 fertilizer, two five gallon pails and a yoke from the school and he took them to where there was some casual water. He climbed down, jumped into the water, filled the buckets, attached the pails to each end and carried the 100 pounds of water (10 gallons) up a 3 m. slope and over to where the fertilizer was, put two canfulls of fertilizer in each pail and then mixed it up with his hand. He then got me to fill an old kettle and we walked up and down the rows watering and fertiziling each plant. There were a lot of tomato plants ad we didn't finish watering all of them before he decided we should go back.. He said they organized with someone to buy the tomatoes to sell in the city. On the parcel of land that they own they grow only corn and tomatoes.
We were supposed to have the coordinator Marine give us a tour of the village. She eventually turned up but I only had a look at the school. This school gives supplementary classes to the children in the area. They have five teachers, 400 students. The go to the state school in the morning and then get an extra class each afternoon in either English, computers, math and Khmer. School was a series of bamboo desks with a white board for the teacher. They have no school books just a notebook and a pen. They are trying to become part of the state system as their finances are mostly obtained through donations and the few projects they have and are unpredictable.
School desks

School desks


It was Sunday so there was no school. Many children were hanging around in front of our cabin and happily played soccer for a lot of the afternoon. and many of them practiced traditional dancing and playing music. It was delightful music- it reminder me of Balanise Gamelan playing.
In the afternoon I rented a bike and rode around the countryside. As i went by many children would run out and say hello as I rode by. One lady started taking to me in English so I stopped and found out she is one of the teachers from the school. She said she taught grade 4-5 children, She was going off to a wedding later in the day but we had a nice chat.
Beautiful teacher

Beautiful teacher


Kathy had asked if I could buy some juice so I checked out a few places but couldn't find any. It didn't seem like there were any refrigerators as most of the families selling stuff kept a large cooler with some ice or else just had their fruit out in the open. There were no real stores only families selling a few things from their homes. It was a challenge buying without being able to speak their language but I managed to buy a pineapple, watermelon and a coconut on my outings. There are no restaurants here as the people don't go to restaurants, so they don't exist.
Part of the land they are working is on the flood plain of the Mekong. They plant during the dry season and have to have finished harvesting by the end of April when the wet season starts. After I got back from the bike ride I decided to walk down to the Mekong. The flood plain was about .5 km wide and filled with individual plots of land that were either irrigated from shallow wells or from the Mekong itself. I noted tomatoes, corn, something like zucchini, eggplants, and tobacco along the way all growing on a heavy clay soil. Closer to the river it became sandy with beautiful beach sand. The farmers still use oxen for the heavy work of plowing and cultivating. I was told that they earn about $400 per year.
Working with oxen

Working with oxen


Fields on the flood plane

Fields on the flood plane


Sunset showing the beautiful sand with the skyline of Kampong Cham in the background

Sunset showing the beautiful sand with the skyline of Kampong Cham in the background


For supper I went over to one of the villagers along with four other volunteers and had a delious supper with the family. One meat and veggie dish, one veggie stew called Amok and rice, with fruit for desert. The Khmer diet includes rice or rice noodles with all their meals. Mostly they only have two meals a day. The parents didn't speak English but some of their children understood and talked to us. I wanted to buy bus tickets for the next day and it was all transacted through a nine or ten year old girl. It's amazing the responsibilities these kids accept and are able to carry out. On my way back to our cabin I passed another village house where half a dozen men were watching a boxing match on a TV set out on a table on the ground below their house. Their Sunday night entertainment. Most of the houses are built on stilts to keep thing dry during the wet season and minimize insect and rodents in the house.
This morning I went out fishing with a local Chams man called Mr. Ya. After the Krymer Rouge were displaced from power the new government gave a piece of land to each family except the Chams people, who were Muslim. As a result they ended up becoming fishermen. I, along with Marine and one other Canadian, who is a volunteer at OBT, were picked up by Mr Ya and his eldest daughter in a type of motorized dugout canoe. We drifted along the Mekong and he would throw out a net with chains along the edge and see what he could catch. They both used a single oar tied to the side of the boat to very skillfully steer. His catch was pretty pitiful with about a dozen little two inch fish and one foot long eel. He offered the net for me to throw so I tried it. Guess what? My throw only covered about a third of the area of his and no fish. He then took us to his fish farm. He has a little covered enclosure along the edge of the river where he keeps 4000 fish. He either catches very small fish or buys the small fish and keeps them until they are market size. Sort of like buying chicks and selling chickens. He said he gets $2.50 per KG. He bought some fish food, corn pellets and water lilies, and we got to see the fish frenzy as he fed them. His wife and baby daughter came over to visit with us. Marine said Mr. Ya lives in a village up out of the flood plane but also has this place beside his fish enclosure.
Picking us up for fishing

Picking us up for fishing

Getting ready to cast

Getting ready to cast

His daughter at the helm

His daughter at the helm


Marine enjoying the trip

Marine enjoying the trip

The floating homes of the fisher people

The floating homes of the fisher people

Mr. Ya with his wife and baby

Mr. Ya with his wife and baby


All in all it was a good insight into the simple lives those people live.

Posted by katdill 05:05 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

On the Road Again - to Chiro

sunny 32 °C

We had an email from OBT, where we are staying next, to ask us when and where we would arrive in Kampong Cham. They would send a tuk tuk to pick us up if they had the information. So I asked Dina to call the bus/van company and ask. She got the information and then phoned the OBT number. The hitch was that Dina couldn't explain the location of the drop off in English, so after I talked to Marine, she passed the phone to someone who spoke Khmer so Dina could explain. Very complicated phone call!
We were told we would arrive at 12:30, but we actually didn't make it until 1:30. The road got busier as we got closer to the city, lots of big trucks carrying cassava as well as many other vehicles.
It seems to be very common here to load your van as full as you can possible make it. Disregarding any weight limits entirely. We saw many of these vehicles on the road, one of which was loaded with vegetables - probably a market delivery vehicle. We had passed this vehicle and then after a stop in a town, passed it again. Only this time it was at the side of the road with a flat front tire! We were discussing where the jack and spare tire would be kept and how much of the produce would have to unloaded to make repairs.
Produce van which later got a flat tire

Produce van which later got a flat tire

Our bus driver managing two cell phones and driving!!

Our bus driver managing two cell phones and driving!!


We also saw a variety of things being carried on motorcycles - even a motorcycle semi-trailer with a big long metal trailer with one wheel under the back.
Live chickens on the back of the motorcycle

Live chickens on the back of the motorcycle

Three dead pigs on this one

Three dead pigs on this one


Once we arrived in Kampong Cham, the tuk tuk that had been arranged was not there (not surprising for being an hour late) but we soon got another one to take us to Chiro village, where the OBT site is. OBT stands for the Organization for Basic Training. This organization is a Cambodian-run NGO that is dedicated to the education and empowerment of th children living in Chiro village. They give free English, Mathematics, Computer, and Khmer classes.
Children playing football (soccer) in front of our cabine

Children playing football (soccer) in front of our cabine

Our cabin

Our cabin


Inside our cabin

Inside our cabin


The homestay they run helps fund the school and they have volunteers from different countries working here for various periods of time.
We were shown to our bungalow (bamboo cabin) and then had lunch in their restaurant. Good very cheap food.
Then we had a shower and a rest before Marine came back to take us to the local family's place for supper. There we visited with four of the young volunteers while we waited for supper to be ready.
We had a little visitor in the bathroom sink

We had a little visitor in the bathroom sink


After making arrangements for tomorrow with Marine, it was time to retire for the night.

Posted by katdill 18:47 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Elephant Adventure

semi-overcast 27 °C

We went for breakfast to the Green House Restaurant, where we were to meet up with the tour for the Elephant Community Program. We loaded up a van and drove off into the countryside. At our drop off point, we met up with some other tourists and a guide. We had 3 guides, Samnang (who is Dina's husband), Heng (an unusual woman guide) and Lunh (who used to be a mahout). Heng's English was very good and she is hungry for new words - had to spell a few for her so she could confirm the meaning with her dictionary. Most of the Cambodians we have talked with have horrific stories of the time of the Khmer Rouge - how their families were killed and they just managed to survive. It's amazing how kind and giving they are, instead of being bitter and hateful.
Heng telling her life story

Heng telling her life story


We walked down a steep hillside path to get to the place to meet the elephants. There were 3 of them, 2 females and 1 bull that they warned us to stay away from. He could not be trusted and might strike out at anyone. The 2 females came right up to us and asked for the sugar cane we had brought. Once we had fed them all we had brought, they returned to foraging in the jungle. We followed along and just watched them and visited with the guides as we slowly made our way down to the river.
Female Asian elephant

Female Asian elephant

Feeding Corpom sugar cane

Feeding Corpom sugar cane

Doc, the bull elephant

Doc, the bull elephant

Once down at the waterfall and pool, the elephants went in and anyone who wanted to help wash them could go in as well. The male elephant was kept back and didn't go in until the females were done and the tourists were out of the water. Then his mahout rode him into the water and washed him from on his back. They don't ride the elephants much at all, but this was a better way to control him if he started to act up.
Don helping wash the elephants

Don helping wash the elephants

The mahout washing Doc from his back

The mahout washing Doc from his back


After the bathing was over, we then had a long hike up and down hills to get to the lunch and rest stop. They had a lovely lunch prepared for us and we had about a 1/2 hour rest in the shade. Then we went on (up another hill!) to the Punong village. The Punong are another minority tribe in the Cambodian mix.
We got to visit one of the old style houses and have their lifestyle explained very thoroughly. We then loaded up the van and drove to a coffee plantation. We had an informative tour there, seeing many different fruit trees they grow as well as coffee and pepper.
Old style Punong house

Old style Punong house


Then it was back to town and home again. We had supper at the Mountain, a Cambodian owned restaurant and guiding business. Good food and very friendly people.

Posted by katdill 05:43 Archived in Cambodia Tagged elephants Comments (1)

Exploring Sen Monorom

sunny 25 °C

After breakfast, we went for a short walk in the neighbourhood. First we visited a temple or pagoda with a lovely gateway. There were many little shrines (stupas?) which we figured were for the dead. We'd been told previously that each family had a shrine and the bones/ashes of the cremated dead were all put in the same family shrine. There were quite a variety of styles and sizes.
Gateway

Gateway


Some of the many shrines

Some of the many shrines

Some of the elaborate ones

Some of the elaborate ones


We then walked down the hill to the lake we could see at the bottom. We thought it would be larger, because the map showed it being much bigger and on both sides of the road. But it seems they have dammed it up and made it the city reservoir. We saw some lovely furniture - built very solidly so you'd need several people to help re-arrange the furniture. We saw a pig being made ready to be bar-be-qued and lots of other everyday life on the streets.
Lovely solid wood furniture

Lovely solid wood furniture

Getting the pig ready to cook

Getting the pig ready to cook


We then checked out and packed our luggage over to the Green House Homestay. A lovely building with very nice people running it. Dina is the manager(?) and is very friendly. She arranged a tuk tuk tour of some of the local attractions for the afternoon. We visited a waterfall, a viewpoint on the top of a mountain where you can see for miles (Sea Forest) and the Cultural Centre which is a small temple on top of a hill which gives you a view of the town. There were 3 little monkeys in the trees at the temple, but very quick moving and not cooperating with the photographer.
Green House Homestay

Green House Homestay

Waterfall

Waterfall


Dina and her husband and two sons took us with them at 5:00 PM out to their new place they're building. It is just a few minutes outside of the town, very quiet and beautiful. It's not open yet, but they are hoping to open it in a month. Lovely separate cabins with power and flush toilets. Very nice. She wanted some ideas from us on what she could charge for such accommodation. So we will do some research and see what we can find to help out.
Lovely new cabins

Lovely new cabins

Dina with her husband and other family

Dina with her husband and other family


We went for supper to the Hangout, a restaurant/homestay owned by an Australian which serves good food. It actually gets chilly here at nights, up in the hills. Quite a change from the coast!

Posted by katdill 05:38 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Journey to Sen Monorom

sunny 24 °C

We had arranged for a van to take us to Sen Monorom from Banlung which arrived right on time at 8:00 am. Don was still paying our bill, the staff at the Hotel were very slow this morning - Don had to wait about 45 minutes to get his Asian breakfast, although my scrambled eggs were very quick. We didn't actually leave town until 9:00 because we drove around and picked up many others at different spots in the city. For a large part of the trip there were 16 or 17 of us in a 15 passenger van. It didn't impact us too much, as I had grabbed a couple of front seats and we wouldn't squish over so there could be 4 people sitting where there was room for 3. This overcrowding of the vehicles is the main detraction of this kind of travel, but if you firmly maintain your space, it's OK.
Load of workers

Load of workers

Woman selling roasted snails

Woman selling roasted snails

Gas station in the market

Gas station in the market


We arrived around 11:30, although we had been told it would be a 4 hour trip. We walked to our accommodation, another backpacker hostel, and checked in. We had lunch in their restaurant although we unimpressed with the size/scope of their menu. After a bit of a rest and research, we walked around town and found the Green House Hotel. There was a very helpful girl on the desk and when she showed us the room we could have there for not much more than we are paying, we decided to move tomorrow morning. She also arranged a tour for us, and our transportation on to Kampong Cham.
We visited the market, which is always interesting to do. And I confess I succumbed to an Indonesian batik sarong (possibly a new blouse?) for about $3 US. There are so many gorgeous batiks I'm going to have to strengthen my will power!
Returning to our hostel, we had a rest and a beer(Don says I should tell you that we got ice cold beer in frosted glasses at the last place). The beer usually comes in cans and they get warm pretty fast. It encourages fast beer drinking!
We had supper here as well, as that was easier than going out to search out a different restaurant in the dark. The food is pretty good, even if there is not a lot of variety.
Here are some of the pictures of the kids from yesterday.
Innocence

Innocence

Lidor showing the kids pictures he took of them

Lidor showing the kids pictures he took of them

Very shy girls

Very shy girls

Posted by katdill 02:20 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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