My first days in Cambodia went fast. I spent the first night in Stung Treng, the closest town to the Lao border, and continued my trip to Ban Lung the day after. I went to Ban Lung in an attempt to come out off the beaten path, but it did not impress me much. So after a couple of nights I moved on to Kratie and Koh Trong, the first place I really enjoyed, and where I discovered the hospitality in Cambodia.
Kratie is a town by the Mekong river. It is small and quiet and I got the feeling of being in a seaside town. It is clean and has a lot of colonial architecture. In the evening people go to the riverside to see the sunset over the Mekong. There are also aerobic classes and local men play sey, a popular sport consisting on kicking a shuttlecock-like footbag only with their feet.
Most tourists go to Kratie to see the irrawaddy dolphins (the same ones that live in the 4000 islands in Laos), but I went for another reason: to visit Koh Trong, a small island in the Mekong which is right in front of the city.
Five minutes by motor boat in the Mekong river is all it takes to leave Kratie behind and reach Koh Trong, a totally different place. While Kratie is a town (beautilful and quiet, but still a town), Koh Trong is rural Cambodia. It reminded me a lot of the villages I had visited in northern Laos, as well as Don Khon in the 4000 islands.
There are no cars. There is a path of about 10-12km that encircles the island, which is used by bicycles and motorbikes. There are wooden houses, growing fields, chickens, dogs, cows and a couple of temples. And oh, yes, two home stays and a hotel resort.
One of the highlights of the island is that there is a floating village near the south western end. It consists of about 30-40 wooden houses constructed directly in the water. All houses have a canoe boat to go to/from the riverside.
I went a couple of times, one in the evening, one in the morning. There were children playing in the riverside or on the boats. There were men repairing a damaged boat. There were families coming back from the island. There were also a lot of chicks and hens on the island, that were picked up in the evening (a woman came by boat, put some grain in a basket to transport the chicks, and threw some grain directly into the boat to attract the hens).
The best of Koh Trong, though, was its people. When I arrived I was greeted by a smiling woman who – in a very limited English – asked me if I was going to the home stay. I nodded and she took me there by motorbike. She and her daughter (?) showed me the room and told me how much it was (later on I saw another woman and another girl in the house so I was not sure of the family relations, there seemed to be a lot of people passing by!).
In the evening, when I was coming back from the floating village, an old woman said hello to me and signaled me to approach her. I went to her house and sat next to her. She was very old and had black teeth from chewing a plant. She was all smiles and (by signals) invited me to sleep in her place.
I was touched. I had met nice people before, but never had anyone invited me to stay. If I had been in a big, impersonal hostel, I would have accepted. They would not have noticed my absence. But the homestay had only two rooms and I had ordered dinner, so I thought it would not be respectful to disappear. I thanked her for the invitation and explained that I had to go back to the home stay.
It was completely dark when I left the nice old woman. The path had no light, so I did not see the woman of my homestay until she talked to me. Oh, it is already here! I thought it was further… She went to the lower part of the house and I climbed up the stairs to go inside. The door was locked so I called her. She came, opened the door, invited me to go in, and switched on the light.
I was confused… it looked like before, but different. Same room, but was the table in that position before? And my room, did I not have a door instead of a curtain? Then it hit me: this was not the homestay. She was not the owner. She was probably a friend and that was her house. In the darkness both houses looked the same so I just went inside her house!
Oups! I felt embarrassed, but had no time to react because she just came from the kitchen… and gave me a bunch of bananas. ‘Homestay’ she said. ‘Bananas for the home stay?’. ‘No, for you. Homestay, moto’. Then I understood, she would take me to the homestay by motorbike (which is why she had gone to the lower part of the house while I tried to enter her place).
In one evening I got an invitation to stay in a house, I got a bunch of bananas and a free ride by motorbike in the night. It was magic, it was the hospitality of the wonderful people living in Koh Trong.
GOOD TO KNOW
- How to get to Kratie: there are daily buses to/from Stung Treng, Ban Lung and Phnom Penh.
- Boat from Kratie to Koh Trong: frequent (it goes when it is full), 1000 riel (0,25$)
- Bycicle rental 1 day: 1$
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