After Phnom Penh we decided to take some time off. We travelled to the city of Kratie, located approx 200km north of Phnom Penh. We rent bicycles in Kratie and arranged our own 2-day trip to the nearby villages of Kampi and Sambor which is 35km away from Kratie. All these villages are located next to river Mekong so we got to enjoy great scenery all the way.
Local fisherman in Sambor took us and our bikes to an island of Koh Pdao which is the biggest island in Mekong. Koh Pdao seemed very remote island with only a few other tourists. Perfect! It’s funny how you start avoiding any pre-arranged tourist-tours after you have travelled for a couple of months. Success in doing something ‘on your own’ feels sometimes a great accomplishment. With this I mean something like buying your transportation ticket in stations instead of doing the easiest way and booking them in your hostel. Travelling in South-East Asia has been made very easy and every hostel offers you almost anything you can ask for from tours to transportation tickets and pick-ups. We enjoy when we have to search information ourselves and actually make an effort for getting things done.
Our own biking trip felt as an adventure – we didn’t have any reservation made of where we were going to sleep and didn’t have any maps with us either…we just wanted to believe that everything would sort out on the way. When arriving in Koh Pdao and seeing these dusty roads and only local people who didn’t speak a word of english, made us doubt the success of our trip for a while. Was it wise to come to a remote place like this in the late afternoon with no idea if there even was any guesthouses or homestays there? We knew that darkness would come after one hour so we started to make jokes about sleeping with chickens and pigs in a shed. Have to admit though – I was keeping an eye of some abandoned houses just in case…Since locals didn’t speak almost any english (if you don’t count those ‘hellos’ we often heard) we had to use bodylanguage to show that we were looking for a place to sleep. After some searching we found a sign of a homestay approx 4km away from where our boat had left us in the first place. We were so happy we didn’t have to sleep in any abandoned shed!
This homestay we found after several searching
Our homestay was a local cambodian house lifted up from the ground. Below the house the family stored their motorbikes, kept their animals and hung their hammocks. Floor was made of sparse bamboo braches and walls were made of bamboo panels. They warmed the house from below with open fire (never mind about fire safety…) For them it was cold (it was maybe 25 degrees in the evening and they were wearing woollen hats). They wondered how we could wore only t-shirts. Toilet and bathroom were separate buildings, also made of bamboo. We got to wash ourselves old fashioned way without running water. I washed my hair carefully, it felt so great. (We noticed that when trekking in Vietnam they had some ‘westernized’ standards to homestays. Places where we stayed at Sa Pa had running water and they were serving banana pancakes for breakfast.) To me this homestay in Koh Pdao felt more real, more authentic. There was 9 people of us sleeping in that house; the owner couple with their 4 months old baby, owner’s parents and her two brothers. They separated a ‘room’ for us with curtains from a bigger space. There was an own ‘room’ for owner couple which walls were made of plastic mat. We had rice for dinner served with vegetables and some meat. After, owner ‘Mom’ showed us her wedding photos. She had 8 different dresses in the pictures! It was completely dark after 6pm so we went to bed early. We were the only ones who were sleeping on a mattress, others had just tatamis. In the morning we were waken up by a rooster.
Our one-night-stay in Koh Pdao cost 16$ from 2 person including dinner and breakfast. Homestays in Koh Pdao are part of a Cambodian Rural Development project and can be booked also in Kratie’s Cambodian Rural Development Tours-office. Our food was cooked by another family and homestays actually have travellers in turns. They have a sign ‘My Turn’ if it’s that homestays turn to take travellers. This way more people benefit and money will spread more widely.
What was really funny to notice during our trip: almost anything can be carried here by motorbikes! On the way back from the island we travelled with a huge pig at the same boat. Pig was put inside a cage which was attached to a motorbike. It was interesting to observe how they got that carriage inside and out from the boat…