Smiles all Around - Unchained Melody - CycleBlaze

December 10, 2023

Smiles all Around

Kampong Cham to Steung Trang

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Kristen ArnimPerfect first photo for this entry.
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Kristen ArnimSometimes you can't make this stuff up. They just happen!
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2 months ago

Smiles All Around

We were thinking about having a rest day in Kampong Cham but having seen nothing very exciting about the town last night we decided around 5AM to keep going but not as many miles.  The deciding factor was finding a guest house less than 30 miles upstream but we did in a town called Steung Trang only 22 miles.  It looks like a rather small town but surprisingly with at least a couple of options for accommodation.  

The lobby of our hotel in Kampong Cham. This super uncomfortable furniture is everywhere in SE Asia.
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Ready to roll out of Kampong Cham at 6AM.
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We rode down to the waterfront of Kampong Cham about 6:30AM to exit the town on the road along the Mekong River.  It was really beautiful and peaceful.  The waterfront road is actually quite a bit up a steep embankment from the river, exactly the way it is in Luang Prabang, Laos, which I mention only because Andrea and I were both feeling the similarity.   It was so beautiful with the morning sunshine that I felt a bit sad to be leaving.  But on the other side of the street were pretty decrepit buildings with zero character. If there could be many millions of investment along with some good, creative architects and city planners, the town could be gorgeous.  Often we see the potential of places in Asia and we wonder how many years it will take if ever.  Who are we but tourists!  We can't plan other people's towns.

The bridge over the Mekong at Kampong Cham, Cambodia. Sunrise.
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Kampong Cham Peace Park
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Kampong Cham, Cambodia.
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On the waterfront promenade at Kampong Cham, Cambodia.
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The waterfront promenade is lovely in Kampong Cham.
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The Mekong River at Kampong Cham, Cambodia.
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Kampong Cham, Cambodia
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A fake 7 - Eleven! Kampong Cham, Cambodia.
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On the other hand, I like down and out places because tourists have not arrived yet.  That was certainly the case with Kampong Cham (and later, Steung Trang).  We saw no foreigners.  And that is the norm for us.  

We rode on a road that went right along the Mekong's west side, high above it.  It was Sunday morning and we were feeling a more relaxed atmosphere with the locals.  Lots of families were eating breakfast together in their open-air dining rooms which it seems we breeze through.  Again, everyone was greeting us.  

As we left the town behind we immediately felt like we had made the right decision to keep going.  Riding only 22 miles would mean we could take our time and stop whenever I needed to take a photo.  We could get to a hotel easily by noon and stay out of the worst heat of the day which would again be 100 or over heat-indexwise.  

Besides being a more relaxed day for everyone on Sundays there is also more music coming from houses.  We hear a lot of music being played loudly from inside very old, rough, wooden houses but on Sundays there is even more.  It's such wonderful music that I want to stop in front of each house and record it.  I did at one especially humble wood house.  I just stood at the road and videoed the house as the music came forth.  I stopped when the music stopped but I wish I had kept the video recording because an old woman came out just then smiling at me.  She walked up to me and I indicated that her music was really nice and she understood and agreed.  Smiles all around.  It was that kind of day - smiles all around.

It's funny that I say it was smiles all around because it was one of the very worst roads we have ever ridden on.  As we bounced from pot hot to pot hole we recalled some of the unforgettable terrible roads in Burma, 'Unmettled Roads' as they called them, and this one was very similar.  But, again, we could tough it out for only 22 miles if there were smiles all around for every one of those miles.  

So,we were already high above the Mekong but a berm had been built up beyond that height for the road to be the highest point.  On our right we could see the Mekong most of the time and to our left were fields; a quiltwork of different crops.  There were lots of large watery squares full of lotus which must be a crop as well, for their edible roots.  We must have gone over ten little bridges high above little streams.  We could see at what level the streams flowed at during the rainy season and the difference was dramatic, but now those yearly enriched banks were dry and being planted with all sorts of vegetables.  They are always perfect little gardens, so green and beautiful.  

Mekong River. I have no idea what crop this is.
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Lotus
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There are lots of these Brahma type cows in Cambodia.
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These are rather large houses compared to most.
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Great fun for the kids to sit atop the hay stack as it moved down the road.
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Someone made these statues as a sideline hobby.
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John SolemThey like x-shaped donuts too.
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2 months ago
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Mekong River
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You see a lot of these sorts of van hauling everything all over Cambodia. They all drive way too fast too.
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Things get pretty used up in Cambodia.
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I like these blinds some people have to keep the intense afternoon sun off the porch.
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Stones from this part of the Mekong are curiously plaid and even more curiously lots of them are identical. Our bathroom floor is made up of these stones.
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Scott AndersonHa, ha. I’m not fooled.
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2 months ago
Mark LellmanYou have heat stroke - take a shower on them.
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1 month ago

Everywhere in SE Asia you will be riding along some road, any road anywhere, and eventually there will be roadside stand after roadside stand of some crop that is a specialty of that area.  It's always so interesting to see one stand after another selling the same thing.  In Thailand there was a campaign years ago to capitalize and advertise these dozens upon dozens of unique products in Thailand.  They don't have to be crops either but crafts that for a hundred years or more were unique to a certain tiny place in the country.  It's always fun to enter one of the zones.  In Thailand they are called OTOP - One Tambon (sub-district) One Product or, One Town One Product.  

I'm going to simply include what Wikipedia has to say about this because it's interesting.

"One Tambon One Product (OTOP) is a local entrepreneurship stimulus program started by the Thai government in 2001.  The program aimed to support locally made and marketed products of each of Thailand's 7255 sub-districts.  Drawing its inspiration from Japan's successful One Village One Product program, the OTOP program encourages village communities to improve the quality and marketing of local products, selecting one superior product from each tambon to receive formal branding as its "starred OTOP product".  It provides both a local and national stage to promote these products.  OTOP includes a large array of local products including traditional handicrafts, cotton and silk garments, pottery, household items and foods."

Today we passed through a small area of jicama stands on either side of the road.   Whenever we see something like this we say OTOP this or OTOP that to each other.  Today we had two OTOPs: the OTOP Jicama and then later OTOP Khao Lam which is sticky rice cooked inside of a segment of bamboo.  I love the stuff, mostly because it reminds me of my first trip to Thailand in 1974. Khao lam is old style.  

Here is how it is made.  They put the raw sticky rice inside a segment of bamboo with some coconut milk and maybe a few small beans.  The open end is stuffed with some loose pliable inner bark of a tree as a plug and then the segment is leaned at a 45 degree angle next to burning coals until the rice is cooked.   The outside, hardest part, of the bamboo is eventually stripped away leaving only the inner thin layer of bamboo holding the whole thing together.  So, when you buy them they are whitish segments of bamboo.  You peel away the bamboo and then the most interesting thing about khao lam is revealed.  There is a tissue paper thin layer on the innermost part of the bamboo and when you peel away the outer part of the bamboo that tissue thin layer sticks to the sticky rice because the rice is sticky.  That means that you can break off bite size pieces with your fingers and they don't get sticky because the bamboo tissue holding it all together is dry.  It's also edible. Whomever thought of doing this was a bit of a genius.  

I was surprised to find khao lam today because it's usually a Thai thing, and usually only a northern Thai thing because sticky rice is mostly grown in the north.  But they looked like high quality khao lam so I bought one from a nice man and it was quite delicious.  I love that the packaging is totally natural and can be thrown in the bushes by the side of the road.  It all returns to the earth wherever people throw them, like a banana peel.  After I bought my khao lam I strapped it to the top of my bags with bungee cords and as I rode past the other khao lam stands the people of course saw it and knew exactly from whom I had bought it.  They always know everything.  But they were not disappointed that I hadn't bought from them, they were happy I had bought one.

A khao lam roadside stand.
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This short little section of road really reminded us of Burma.
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So, it was a two OTOP day which is not all that unusual.  I like OTOP baskets but then I have to go through the agonizing process of letting go of desire to own a certain basket because I usually can't take it on my bike.  Being in a Buddhist country one would think the process of letting go - non-attachment - would be easier. 

Besides the awful road and the heat it was a lovely day to ride.  Temples dotted the landscape and enticed me to come see what's inside.  Dogs leave us alone in Cambodia.  I think they have seen it all and are very laid back.  It's nice to be riding next to the Mekong.  At one place we looked down and saw all sorts of floating homes, fisher people, who mostly always turn out to be Vietnamese in these parts.  I've been very surprised to discover all the Muslims living in this part of Cambodia.  I had no idea. It was so nice to see a Muslim girl pretty well covered except for her face, riding her bike to school carrying her friend on the back wearing her school uniform skirt, most likely a Buddhist. All the kids are so neat and clean as they ride or walk to school, every hair in place.  They all are so cute and smiley all wanting to look directly into our eyes and say hello.  A person has to enter into their happiness when they are so welcoming.  And then there were the two gorgeous butterflies that flew right next to my face for a time as I rode.  How could anyone not smile at that!  It was smiles all around today.  It was as if we were in the district that specializes in smiles - an OTOP for Smiles.

Steung Trang, Cambodia - not a place tourists visit. This is the street along the Mekong River. I love these sorts of places.
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lovebruce

Today's ride: 22 miles (35 km)
Total: 276 miles (444 km)

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Victa CalvoI love khao lam! It's always such a pleasant surprise when you roll past them.

Boof, your Smile OTOP is contagious. I'm going for a ride now and will do my best to pass it on.
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