There was no evidence of the thunderstorm that had woken me up during the night. The sun was shining above me through a blue sky and the only clouds around were those nice white fluffy ones. I pushed my bicycle out onto the street and started slowly peddling along. To my left was the fast flowing muddy water of the Mekong River, a mighty body of water that splits mainland Southeast Asia in two. There’s an esplanade that separates the river from the road and locals were making the most of the space and the sunshine. A lady had set up a drinks stall under a big umbrella while other locals lazed around on the chairs nearby. A couple of kids stopped their game of tag to stare at me as I cycled past.
I was in the sleepy Mekong city of Kampong Cham in Cambodia – a place often skipped by travellers, and those that do stop there tend to only do so in transit to other places. I’m not even sure why I decided to stop there for a few days. I guess I was in no hurry to get anywhere. I had the time to just simply take my time.
I was already glad that I had made the decision. I instantly liked the place.
I continued cycling along the riverfront, stopping every now and then to take photos or look out over the river. I could see a fairly large island up ahead that looked inhabited and wondered if I could get over to it for a look. I seemed to be in a part of town where foreigners looked out of place and I had the attention of almost all of the people that I passed by. As usual it was the kids who were the least shy and waved at me and said hello. My smiles and waves were always greeted with more smiles and giggling.
My bike ride seemed to be taking me away from the river now as the road turned a corner and headed inland. I couldn’t see any sign of a bridge or ferry across to the island so I decided to turn around and head back. The chorus of chattering children that I had heard in a school that I had passed earlier had now spread out onto the street. The school day must have finished, or perhaps they were going home for lunch. I had no chance to try and ask amongst all of the hellos and yelling and waving that I was receiving. I couldn’t help but smile.
My legs now took me back to where I had started and beyond to a place with a shady tree by the river. I bought a can of Coke from a lady with a drinks stall nearby and sat under the tree while watching the brown muddy waters of the Mekong flow by. A local guy was snoozing on top of the short wall that separated the esplanade from the riverbank.
Kampong Cham is a city, but it really doesn’t feel like one. It’s more like a sleepy country town. Even when I returned my bicycle and went on foot into the busy central market area of the city, it still only felt like a town. Food stalls grilled up all kinds of meats on sticks while street side vendors sold fruit and veges to passers by. Most vendors were all napping or lazing in their chairs unless they had a customer. Tuk tuk drivers were asleep in the back of their tuk tuks. Even random locals were lounging on their motorbikes, not seeming to have anything much else to do or worry about.
Kampong Cham is just that sort of place. It’s a sleepy city on the Mekong with old crumbling colonial buildings and friendly care free locals. There’s nothing really to do there. It is a place to just enjoy the charm and atmosphere. It’s a place to just wander or sit while watching life go back. It’s a place to just be in, and that is the sort of place that I love.