The road to Chi Phat

We traveled quite out of our way to get to Chi Phat, a small village at the base of the Cardamom mountains which is the home of an expanding community based eco-tourism project. The journey there, like many of our journeys in Laos, was hampered somewhat by the necessity of finding places to stay. This meant breaking our journey into three inconveniently sized days; a 50 km day, an 87 km day, and a 17 km day. The last was supposed to be a boat trip, but the boat wasn’t running so we had to cycle 17 km along a dusty dirt track to get to Chi Phat village. We had been told that most of Cambodia was pancake flat. This is an outrageous lie. It was pretty tough going, and the sun here is very harsh. Our bodies have in no way got used to the scorching temperatures and unforgiving sun.

We stayed in some pretty crappy towns with even nastier guesthouses. The intense heat does at least mean we barely even miss the hot showers of Vietnam, and after Laos we have become adept at the old ‘water barrel and scoop’ style shower. Turns out the electricity supply is very unreliable in Cambodia, and also very expensive. 1 kWh of electricity can cost 10 times the amount it does in the US, according to the lonely planet. This explains why most of the guesthouses we have stayed at have electricity only in the evenings, and why it often costs about 20% extra to have air-con (where it is available at all).

The poverty of the rural population is still very apparent. We grumble sometimes about dirty and unpleasant guesthouses, but even the worst ones clearly provide better living conditions than most of the locals can hope for. Cambodia is not very urbanised, especially when compared to its neighbours Thailand and Vietnam, with only 20% of the population living in urban areas. This is sure to increase, as the standard of living in the cities seems much higher, although there are still some beggars, and pick-pocketing and scams are apparently rife.

Cambodia is our first non-communist country on the trip. From our perspective that is not immediately obvious, especially given China and Vietnam’s current capitalistic road, which prioritizes economic growth and development above all else. There is an absence of flags, which are proudly waving all over communist countries, and fewer people want to see our passports. According to Wikipedia, “Cambodia [is] the world’s only post-communist country which restored monarchy as the system of government”. Constitutional monarchy that is. Unlike the Communist countries, we see lots of political advertising and local party offices. As far as signage goes, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is definitely winning in the countryside, with Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsey Party coming in second, and the Cambodian Human Rights Party a sad fourth. Perhaps this will change as we see more of the country. I have heard that the Sam Rainsey party is more popular in urban areas. But Chi Phat is definitely not an urban area, and we are getting ready to trek in the jungle, so we won’t find out if that is true for some time.

Photos and maps will follow soon

Pages updated: food

~ by Elephants on January 28, 2011.

Leave a Reply