Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cambodian Commute

From Monday to Friday, we volunteer at Honour Village, which is located in a rural area several kilometers outside the city of Siem Reap, so we hire a tuk-tuk to take us there, (a 'sort-of rickshaw', pulled behind a moto-bike) and sit back and enjoy a leisurely open-air ride to work. 

Some volunteers are brave (and fit) enough to ride a bicycle to & from the orphanage each day, but this old gal's knees (and butt) probably couldn't hack it.  Our guesthouse gives us free use of bicycles as part of our room package, and once or twice, in a moment of temporary insanity, I've casually entertained the idea of cycling, but it only takes a couple of close shaves by passing moto-bikes while I'm walking to jolt me back to reality.  Trust me, the way that traffic flows moves here, I could never manage to maneuver a bicycle even one block, because half the time, I'd probably have my eyes closed! (See my earlier blog on Transportation

Riding in a tuk-tuk is really a lovely way to go.  Each time we go out, there always seems to be something new and interesting that catches my eye.  Most of the time we travel at speeds between 20 and 25 miles per hour (30 to 40 Km per hour), and often at lower speeds through the bustling traffic of the city, so it's easy to take in all the sights and snap a few pics along the way.  There's a coolness to the air that breezes by, and the noise levels are low enough that you can carry on a conversation with ease.  In fact, most times in the city limits, you are close enough to the next vehicle to catch snippets of conversations, or even pass a greeting or two when the traffic slows.  When we stop momentarily alongside another moto or tuk-tuk, it's not uncommon that I'll make eye contact with someone, and for a brief moment, we exchange a nod, and more often a broad smile.  The locals are so open and friendly here.

I wish there was a way to describe the amazing sights and sounds we encounter on our commute. I'm hoping I can give you some insight through the following photos. The one thing I can't begin to show in photos (let alone put into words), is the overwhelming serenity and quiet awe I experience when we get out into the countryside.  For as far as the eye can see, everything seems calm, peaceful, easy.  Unhurried.  Untouched by time and progress.  Unfettered.  Blissful.  And on that stretch of road, I am in a world where the only thing that matters or exists is the moment, and the cares and worries of the world are gone......

Although our guesthouse is in the middle of the city, it's situated off a dirt road.
There's a sort-of rural feel to it, with chickens and dogs that run in front of you at random.
The road is full of pot-holes, and this part of the commute is very bumpy -
Not good if your stomach is unsettled or if you happen to be hung over....

When we get out onto the main roads, there are street vendors galore.
Many people buy their breakfast or lunch from these roadside carts.

We pass many road-side shops.
These fruit sellers also sell cold drinks,
and often have a mini-restaurant set up in behind.
Many of the motos we meet are carrying loads.
This driver has purchased produce at the market
which may be destined for one of those small restaurants.
There are four crates of fresh eggs stacked on top of that large sack!

Another driver pulling a trailer with coolers and chairs
and at least one passenger

We pass many small laundry businesses like this one.
The dirt laneway to the left probably leads to more homes and shops

Crates of noodles stacked high.
We passed four motos in a row like this one.
Must have been a big feast somewhere!

'Cambodian car pool'
Twenty or more people in the back of a pick-up

This driver is taking his colourful balloons out to his 'store location'
He probably sits on that chair all day, somewhere by the roadside.
Tanks of compressed air are strapped onto either side of his moto.

A man selling brushes and baskets on a bicycle
followed by a trailer load of coconuts

Nearer to the airport, we pass many large modern hotels

There are many new impressive-looking buildings in the city

But once we pass the big hotels, we begin to get into the countryside
Here are a couple of roadside restaurants

A wagonful of branches being pulled by a diesel tractor.
Two or three monks are getting a ride into town on top of the load

Almost every day we pass these men
bringing coconuts to town on their bicycles
I can't imagine trying to balance that load!

We are still on paved road, but well off the main highway,
and now we begin to see the vast open fields,
This is where my bliss begins........

Tall palms reach high up to the sky

We've turned off the paved road now.
The fields are dotted with scrubby growth and tall palms
Occasionally we see a grove of palm trees like this one,
but mostly the palms stand alone or in groups of two or three

The road to Honour Village is not paved

The red dust from the road coats everything......
It chokes the plants, and forms a thick red film on every available surface
Huge clouds of red dust billow up when someone passes us
and we cover our mouth & nose to keep from choking.
The Cambodians call the dust 'red snow'. 

Occasionally a herd of cattle graze near the road, or cross in front of our tuk-tuk
Even the cattle have a red haze to their coats

Lately we've been seeing a lot of water buffalo in the area

......Herds of them, more than a hundred, which is a rare sight

A few days ago, they began to cross the stream next to the road

....And then they crossed the road,
right in front of our tuk-tuk

This poor little calf was straggling behind

Just when we thought the road was clear, another herd came barrelling through!
We almost hit them!  We came this close!!!

In the past year,  a few new buildings have been starting to go up
 along the road to Honour Village
They're very large structures, much larger than single family dwellings.
We suspect there's 'big money' moving into the area.

This is another big 'villa'.
 A similar one is under construction directly behind it.

Another huge structure going up.
Further down the road there is another big wall,
which we've heard is the perimeter for a (future) new hospital.

Each week when we ride out to Honour Village there seems to be more and more construction under way in the fields.  I suppose it's only a matter of time before progress pushes into this part of the countryside, and in years to come, it may become just an extension of the city of Siem Reap. 

I rue the day when we will ride out and the fields and palm trees and water buffalo are gone forever.  For now, at least, I can still gaze far out across the reddish fields to that unbroken horizon, and for those few moments, as far as my eyes can see, it's still a little piece of heaven.


  1. Terrific photojournalism! - Andrew B

    1. I agree! I would also like to see more pictures of the photojournalist herself and of her boon companion ;)

  2. So glad to get this glorious glimpse into your home-away-from-home. Great pictures! Great descriptives! Is there a book in your future? There should be. Love ya.

  3. What wonderful photos enhanced by the colorful descriptions! It reminded my so much of my past travels in your part of the world. Thank you very much!
    Linda A - friend of Sandy H