Khmer new year. Are you happy?

Trip Start Mar 03, 2005
Trip End Apr 08, 2006

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Flag of Cambodia  , Kâmpóng Cham,
Saturday, April 16, 2005

It was a bright and early start the next morning, with the bus for Kompong Cham leaving at 7:15am. I had time for some Chinese noodles with Lucky before we left. Hanging out with the Khmers, like Lucky and Sambot in Sen Monorom was really great. One learns a lot more about a country by talking to the locals. Now Kompong Cham, I must admit, is a city I new nothing about, and very few travellers seemed to know anything about. It was the site of the only bridge over the Mekong in the country, but other than that, according to the "Lonely Liar", it held nothing of interest. However one of my new Aussie friends in Phnom Penh, Carly, had a stint out there as part of her AYAD post, and suggested I spend a night there. Why not! it was on the way back to Phnom Penh, and it would break up an otherwise long 6 hour bus ride.

I arrived in Kompong Cham at 1pm, after a two hour stop back in Snuol because the bus managed to get a puncture. What was it with this town and me being stuck in it?! A local moto driver named Sarin met me off the bus, and took me to a guesthouse overlooking the river, and he offered to take me out to see some sites for $5 after I had lunch. Sounded alright. I had no idea what there was to see, and I figured $5 wouldn't hurt the pockets too much. So after some food and some downtime on my balcony, he took me out to Phnom Pros and Phnom Srei, two hills both home to pagoda's about 7km from the city. These names translate to "Man hill" and "Women hill", and legend has it that many years ago, the men and women had a race to construct a pagoda on each hill by sunrise. The women lit a fire, and the men on the opposite hill took the fire to be daylight, and thus gave up. The women no longer had to marry who they were chosen to marry, which was a big step forward for them. I love these local legends! Anyway, first stop was Phnom Pros, home to a large pagoda, and an even larger Khmer new years party! There were hundreds of young khmers here, all covering each other in...talcolm powder!!! I was the only barang there, and I was met with plenty of stares, and 2 serious talcs by some funny guys! Plenty of laughs to be had. "Are you happy?" everyone said to me, like it was the only English they knew! "Are you happy?!". When I got back to my moto, Sarin looked at me, covered in talc and laughed, saying "Ah khmer new year! You happy?!". Yeah I guess I was! "Ok now you play on Phnom Srei". That's another one that has me in tears, and Lucky used it the day before. "You can play in the rapids for 20 minutes before we see the dolphins!". Phnom Srei housed a smaller pagoda, but a steep climb of a few hundred stairs to the top. The view was great.

Next stop was Wat Nokor. Other than the name, I knew nothing! Well, I can't remember ever being so surprised by a historic site. This place was the exact reason why I've decided to leave Angkor Wat till last. Here was an 11th century Mahayana buddhist temple, and in the centre, a modern buddist temple, still in use! Amazing!!! I'd never seen anything like it (it was completely different to the Mayan temples in Central America)! I resisted the urge to take a thousand photos in the thought I'd need 20Gb worth of space for Angkor photos if I got that excited about a temple! Whilst here I had a group of 7 or 8 street kids run around me, and put flowers in my hair (and behind my ears, and in my ears, and up my nose...). They were lots of fun, and I managed to get a fantastic photo of one of the girls. After a while she asked me for some money, but I said no, and instead I offered to buy her a drink. Not good enough, she hit me and ran off, and that was the last I saw of her.

Arriving back in the Cham, I decided to catch the sunset over the city from the huge bridge over the Mekong. The Khmer new year celebrations were everywhere, and hundreds of guys on their motos carried buckets of water to drench the khmer girls standing on the side of the bridge! It was hilarious! And I was glad I did decide to stop here, as I'd considered heading straight back to Phnom Penh that morning on account of a sore throat and headache. At any other time, I may not have got much out of Kompong Cham, but the Khmer new year certainly added some spice!
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