Dec 27. It has been 4 days since I left Manila and I feel I had not really done anything yet other than eating and taking long bus rides. Mr. Korea (whom I had met at the bus to Kratie) and I were too stingy with our dollars to fork out the $26 required for the tuk-tuk and boat ride to see the dolphins. Much cheaper was taking the local boat across the Mekong to Koh Trong. We still have the entire morning to do something before we head to the Sorya office for my bus ride to Banlung and his to Pakse.
We head down to the dock behind some food stalls and on to the rickety boat with locals waiting for it to fill-up so it could leave. They move to make room for both of us. I like boat rides with the sun on my face so I stay near the deck. A couple of guys board and then we are chugging merrily across the Mekong to the sandy shore about 10 minutes away.
It is a surreal sight as we land on the other side leaving Kratie and its modern trappings behind. We are met by moto drivers, locals waiting to cross to the other side, and a couple of brown cows apparently used as transport for heavy goods. The sky is clear and the sun is out in full force as we make our way across the sand field up to the town. Wooden planks make it easier to walk.
A small information office on the left side is staffed by a friendly local and advertises transport. Since I couldn’t ride a bike, Mr. Korea and I agree to take a horse-cart to circuit the island. The staff apologizes as we have to wait around 15 minutes as the driver is still out on an errand. It’s okay with us as I need to go to the bathroom anyway. An old man escorts us to the grounds of the school and unlocks the rest room. It’s a squat toilet but I don’t mind as I just need to pee.
The school has a spacious playground where kids are playing some sort of tag game. They crowd around as I pass. Cheerful faces. Cambodian kids are really cute and a cheerful bunch albeit a little shy sometimes. Being granted permission to take snapshots and showing them your pics gets you on their good side. It always works.
The horse cart driver arrives and we sit on red cushions on the cart. Our driver is an English teacher in the village but sidelines as a horse cart driver/guide when needed. He owns the horse, by the way and at $20 for the trip, it’s good money. He does speak English quite well and he says he settled in Koh Trong when he married his wife in that village. He likes it as it is a world apart from Phnon Penh where he is from. He apologizes for the delay as he had to do some irrigation work for the rice field as there is no water.
We go to clickety-clack on the road. It’s slow going which is perfect for this slow village where life goes unhurriedly. It is a totally different world from Kratie with the only thing common being the ambling pace of everyday life. A road circuits the village and traditional Khmer style houses on wood and low stilts set in leafy yards and green rice fields line the road. At times, we can see the river, the sun shimmering on its rippling water. The ride is so peaceful and quiet it almost induces me to melancholy if it were not for the heat of the sun at portions of the unshaded road.
We make a stop at a wat that seems so lonely amidst the spacious grounds. A short path behind some monk quarters and leads to a field where a group of Caucasians are planting some trees. The field is dedicated to tree-planting to re-forest it. It costs $20to plant a sapling. We watch and turn a deaf ear when our driver asks us if we want to plant one. $20 is too steep for us! We go back to the wat.
A group of really young monks led by a middle-aged monk are trying to raise a flag pole. It interesting to watch them manage as there as so few of them and the young monks are a little frail. We help them pull pull the rope and we succeed!
The temple grounds are quite large for the not-so-big temple. It is so quiet except for the lone middle-aged monk giving instructions to the young monks. It is easy to lose yourself in the silence of the surroundings amidst the barren ground. It all seems to reflect the simple life these people in the temple live.
We continue the ride. The sun is out but the trees form a canopy overhead. Our guide brings us to his house so we can see what it looks like behind. Farmers are out in the fields. He shows us the irrigation system he had been working on that morning. At the front yard, I point out a tomb amidst some trees. He doesn’t know why but the people in the village bury their dead in the front yard.
The ride takes a little more than hour and we are back right where we started. We thank our driver/guide and head down to the sandy shore. The boat from the other side has just arrived and we take it back to cross to Kratie.