A private mini bus drove us 4 hours out of Phnom Pehn to Chambok, a small rural village community. The village is consists solely sustenance farmers, who after the war were cutting down vast areas of woodland to sell charcoal to the cities. Inevitable they ran out of trees and turned to eco tourism as a livelihood. The villagers appear very poor living in stilted shacks with very basic amenities, but you get a real sense of pride, from what they have achieved. The village has about 20 houses in the homestay programme and they alternate guest so as to share the income generated. In addition to the homestays there is a community hall, where the local women cook for the guests.
The community hall was a 30 minute walk out of the village in to the national park (the jungle). The setting was amazing two long tables in a jungle clearing, the sun had set, creating an orchestra of noises from the insects and animals that had come out to feast on my legs! The noise was phenomenal. The food served was a banquet of amok curry, fried vegetables, fried chicken and morning glory. Morning glory is a type of spinach, I can only imagine it was given the name as a result of what it does to your stomach the following morning, it bloody gets me every time!
When we got back to the homestay, our hosts had set a bonfire and laid out rugs to create what they called ‘the thousand star club’ – Pretty impressive, in the middle of nowhere not a cloud in the sky, the stars just filled the sky, wow!
After plying us with yet more rice wine and several creates of beer, we tried to start a game of ‘fuzzy duck’. There were 16 of us sitting round the fire and I think only 3 of us really understood the rules. So we moved on to another drinking game, and another, and another until we collectively agreed that we sucked at drinking games and should just drink!
We finally got to bed about midnight, split between two houses, my group got the short straw and had to walk 10 minutes in the pitch black to our beds. To our amusement the room was equipped with 4 double mattresses and mosquito nets, as there were 9 of us it was quite cozy! I was woken at 2:30am by a sodding cockerel, I dozed for a few hours but the heat was pretty intense so I didn’t manage to get much sleep. Adding to the sleep problem was the pillow I had been given, it had had a hundred sweaty heads on it before mine and had never seen hot soapy water, I tucked my sleeping bag liner over the top but it didn’t help much! So I was up and about at 5:30, although annoyed I was quite proud of myself! Until I went outside, the whole village was up and about making the most of the relatively cool temperatures before the sun rose. The village has no running water and one young lad had already done the 2 hour walk to the well and back, I wasn’t feeling quite so proud that I managed to crawl out of bed a sit on the steps six paces from where I had slept!
The other guys joined me one by one, all moaning about hangovers, cockerels, snoring etc. etc. Alex had brought some balloons with him, which went down a treat with the local kids who we played with until our bus picked us up at 7:30.
Before we left we went back to the community hall, where we were served a breakfast of banana pancakes and coffee, just what the doctor ordered! The next leg of the trip was a drive south to Sihanoukville, a fairly big coastal town on the south coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand. I was just happy to be on the air conditioned bus knowing I was only a few hours from a shower!