When I decided to take a tour through Cambodia in 2014, there were only a couple of places that I really knew of and wanted to see. I was interested in visiting the nation’s capital of Phnom Penh and of course, Angkor Wat. Part of the allure of taking the tour was being shown places I wouldn’t have gone to otherwise and it certainly delivered. One such place was the city of Kampong Cham.
Our next stop after Phnom Penh, Kampong Cham is a small city that lies by the Mekong River in Cambodia’s south-east. Given the developing state of tourism in Cambodia and it not being one of the few headline destinations, Kampong Cham is yet to see much in the way of tourists. Still, there are a handful of fun things to do here that really help you gain a better idea on Cambodia and its way of life. What follows is the sights we managed to see in just a day.
One thing I noted in Cambodia is that the markets are generally the centre of attention, which definitely applies in Kampong Cham. First thing, we made a beeline straight for the market in the middle of the city. Like a lot of similar places in Southeast Asia, it was a hive of activity with people, bikes and cars everywhere. Inside the covered market place, you found pretty typical wares and produce like you’d find anywhere else. However, I do distinctly remember all the skewers of barbecued meat and fish sitting out in the open catching my eye.
After we had explored the market, it was out into the city’s rather quiet streets. This was likely because of the intense midday heat bearing down on us, while the locals were at work. We wandered quite a way along the small waterfront path, passing another market area, an abandoned fair ground and other less memorable spots.
One noteworthy exception was the large Chroy Thma Pagoda temple complex. The temples here were quite ornate with bold colours and elegant pagoda roofs. We didn’t come across any information about the complex though as it was deserted and everything was in Cambodian.
Probably the most impressive landmark of Kampong Cham in my opinion is its Bamboo Bridge. This immense structure spans across part of the Mekong River to Koh Pen Island. While a bridge made of bamboo sounds simple enough, it’s anything but. This bridge is actually constructed each year after the monsoon season and was incomplete at the time of our visit. To allow people to cross when the bridge isn’t complete, a small and humble ferry makes up the difference and provides access to the island.
Our visit to the Bamboo bridge began with a bicycle ride that was easy enough until we reached the riverbank. I have to admit, I’m not much of a cyclist and found myself riding far more often in Asia than I had since I was a kid. One thing I didn’t have experience with was riding on bamboo which lined both banks of the river, not to mention the section of bridge where the ferry dropped us off at on the far side. The only thing harder than riding on the lumpy bamboo was the riding on the sandy trails on Koh Pen Island.
Koh Pen Island
Once we’d reached the far side of the bridge, we found ourselves on Koh Pen Island. While only a couple of kilometres wide, the island’s unusual shape follows the bends of the Mekong River. From the riverbank we rode inland along the quiet gravel roads, past humble village houses. It was so relaxing riding around the serene rural setting and getting an unadulterated view of village life.
After not too long we arrived at the Koh Pen Pagoda, an elegant temple with ornate towers. The interior of the temple was decorated with exquisite murals detailing historic stories. Also at the temple were a number of monks and plenty of monks in training. They weren’t particularly interested in interacting with us visitors but it gave us a better sense of the place. First time I saw a monk smoke a cigarette mind you.
We continued riding around the sleepy island roads until the sun started to go down and it was time to head back. This made for great timing as it meant we crossed back over the Mekong as the sun set downstream. Watching a colourful sunset on the Mekong River, what’s not to like?
Have you heard of Kampong Cham or its Bamboo Bridge? Would you be interested in adding Kampong Cham to your Cambodian itinerary?
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