Andrea met Jenny in Munich in 2015. At that time she has never traveled by bike. But she seemed excited about it 🙂 After a couple of months she was in Cambodia and this is one of her first stories from her cycling trip. She is now cycling on her way back to Europe together with Rösi 🙂
I was cycling in Cambodia for almost three weeks already. The friendliness of the people there let me feel very confident and so I’ve cycled through the cardamom mountains, which was a great experience. As I came out of the mountains I’ve stayed the night in Pramaoy, a little village in Pursat Province. The next destination for me was Battambang, the third largest city in Cambodia. On the map there was no straight road visible, but I’ve talked to some cyclists I met before entering the mountains, which came the other way and they told me they’ve found a way from Battambang to Pramaoy. Their comment on the road was “it was a tough day, 120 kilometers”. So I thought I should give it a try.
Then I started cycling. The road got rougher and lonelier, every once in a while some people on a motorcycle passed me and seemed to be very surprised to see a “barang” (Khmer word for western foreigner) in that area. Good thing that I had a map from Cambodia on my phone, so I could see where I was (more or less), but anyway I got a little lost which had cost me surely 15 kilometers.
I arrived at a small rural village with a little market, Battambang was still 40 kilometers ahead and it was about dusk already. So I asked, if there was a Temple nearby and yes, just 5 kilometers down the road. I went that way with the idea in my head to put up my tent there.
I cycled into the temple side and an elderly man was sitting at a table with a monk, so I stopped in front of them and with the few words in Khmer I had learned, I explained the situation. “I come from mountains, now dark, Battambang far, have tent, sleep here?” This is more or less how it must have sounded for the two men. Both were staring at me and then the older guy said “What? I did not understand?” and started laughing. So again, me and my few words, which I was already proud of, trying to explain the case.
The guy sounded surprised, but it was ok for them. He even wanted me to sleep inside, but I refused and said, I am happy with my tent. Sitting with them and talking I found out, that he was the Chief of this “pum” (village), which had the name “Pai Lamp”. In that region, every village has a headman. One of the curious things on this day happened, when then this village chief showed me his Facebook profile on his very basic cellphone. It felt so weird, to be in the middle of nowhere, not able to talk properly with the people, a rural village that seems to be so far away from my life in Munich, but suddenly connecting through Facebook. He added me on that social media and questioned me about my profile pictures from a former trip to Mexico.
He also told me that he has to inform the police about my presence here. That was nothing new, I’ve experienced that in another temple. The people just want to make sure that you are safe, being a foreigner in those rural areas attracts a lot of attention and maybe there is a slight fear that it won’t be always good one.
We kept talking, the monk was smoking an enormous amount of cigarettes in that time and I catches myself thinking, that this is the first monk I’ve seen smoking. I got tired and so I went to my tent around 7.30 pm. Half an hour later the village chief yelled my name “Jenny! Jenny! The police is here!” Actually now I was really surprised, I had no idea that the police will show up. There were 4 police men standing and looking at me, maybe more or the same surprised of my presence that I was by seeing them.
So one started to ask me questions, where I am from, what’s my name what I am doing here and so on and on. He took a few pictures of me in front of my tent, with my bicycle and through the evening he seemed to send the pictures to all of his friends. Anyway I realized that almost every one was talking on the phone saying the few words I can understand like “white foreigner, woman, alone, tent, bicycle, from the mountains… yes, here in the temple”. It may have been a little sensation, like on my whole travel I did so far, the people are so surprised to see a woman cycling alone.
Then I was sitting there, with a smoking monk, the chief of the village, four police men and another village chief from a nearby village, who had also arrived. We talked and laughed, drank chocolate milk, which provided the monk for us. I had my little phrase book with me and they tried to say a few words in English and I tried to say he a few words in Khmer. It was a truly awesome experience.
Around 10 pm, I tried another attempt to go to “bed”, when I realized, that the police men were hanging out hammocks, because they were going to spend the night at the temple. “for your safety”, I heard as an explanation. Wow, that day really did not stop surprising me more and more.
The next day the police men were standing at the exit of the Tempel, waiting for me to leave and waving me goodbye and so I continued my way to Battambang.
The village chief still comments every picture I am uploading on Facebook with “Ok”, because that is the one word he remembers from me.