Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The people you meet

Vannat and myself on the riverfront at Kompong Cham. The Kizuna Bridge is in the background.
As always on my trips into the countryside of Cambodia, it's the people that I meet that make my time so worthwhile and enjoyable. For example, take a couple of people that I encountered on my visit to Kompong Cham this weekend. I was walking along the riverfront, cursing silently that both the western-run cafes, Mekong Crossing and Lazy Mekong Daze were closed, when a moto pulled up alongside me and a voice said, "can I help you?' It turned out to be none other than Vannat, a local tour guide that I'd wanted to meet for a few years but never managed it! Recommended to me by Nick Ray and mentioned in the Lonely Planet as 'the man to meet in Kompong Cham,' it was like meeting an old friend as we chatted for half an hour about the secret places to visit in the province and the people that we both knew. He's been a teacher for many years but makes himself available as a guide, speaking both English and French fluently and knows his province inside out. He was due to be the fixer for some architects the next day, who were looking to renovate an old wooden pagoda on an island in the Mekong, whilst also taking another group of VSO workers on a visit to the best-preserved of the wooden pagodas, at Wat Moha Leap. This man is seriously busy, but next time you want the services of the best guide in Kompong Cham, call him on 012 995 890.
Yesterday morning I was passing the French-built Kompong Cham tourism office - which used to be a sports centre and still boasts a swimming pool and diving board, though the only swimming done now is by the fish in the fish-farm - when my friend Sophoin said she recognised the man standing on the steps, so we stopped to chat. His name is Pong Yen and he's been the city's Director of Tourism for the last twenty years but still recognised one of his former students even though they hadn't seen each other for a decade. Some officials bask in their title and position, but not Pong Yen. He immediately invited us to a tourism event later this week (which I had to decline), was down to earth and jovial and we talked about how the profile of the province had risen in recent years with easier access and the emergence of popular sites like Han Chey, Teuk Cha and so on. He also reminded me that the city has a museum which I still haven't seen for myself but will on my next visit. A genuinely nice guy.
Pong Yen and myself on the steps of the Tourism office at Kompong Cham

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