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Just The Right Destination?
Thanks to the Covid outbreak of 20th February, for the past few months we’ve been riding a wave of restrictions, easing-ups lockdowns. Luckily our flat has plenty of space for us. We were never in a “red zone” and our food security was never in danger. We’ve been very fortunate.
But I’m not gonna lie, it still felt pretty tough for a while. I now understand what people mean by ‘lockdown fatigue’. Being stuck at home for a long time really wears you down.
Since returning to Cambodia in January 2021, we’ve only had the chance to travel as far as Koh Dach, which is only about 15km from Phnom Penh.
In the past month, things have been easing up (although case numbers are still high) and we’d recently gotten vaccinated.
Eager for an escape, we tried out a staycation for the first time a few weeks ago. It was a nice experience, but we still felt stifled by our surroundings and the lack of nature. We were ready to properly get out of the city.
But with cases spreading to the provinces, travelling out of the city still felt dangerous. We considered Kampot, but they had an outbreak and had to impose restrictions. We had to think of a place far enough out of the city get some peace, but not too far that we’d have to stay overnight, lest we get stuck there.
That place was Oudong, around 40km north of Phnom Penh. It took us about 1.5 hours of riding our moto to get there. We’d usually expect the trip to take around 1 hour, but we had to stop along the way for petrol and of course, some drone filming.
We arrived without the usual fanfare of crowds that we’d expect at a place like this. Covid had still done the job of keeping most people away.
Riding for a long time on a moto makes me feel tired. It’s really just mental fatigue, caused by driving a two-wheeled vehicle without any seatbelts. On Cambodian roads. We were keen to get some real exercise and clear our heads.
Grateful for the opportunity to stretch our legs, we powered up the stairs to reach the temples. It was perhaps a 300 metre climb, made difficult by the quickly rising temperature and muggy air. In contrast to 2019, this time there were no throngs of crowds standing in our way as we ascended.
As we reached the top, we had to take our shoes off to keep the marble clean. This wasn’t just a holy place, it was also fancy. The sun was quickly warming it up though, and before long it became searing hot. Suddenly I felt like I was back in Australia, running across the hot sand to the beach on a summer’s day.
The top of the hill wasn’t just one temple, but a collection of around 5 different buildings for worship to various gods. Only one, Wat Oudom, looked modern and was made of marble. This is the one we took our shoes off for. I’m not sure how old the other buildings were, but their appearance reminded me of the temples at Angkor Wat. I wonder if they were built in the same period.
We walked around at the top, passing temple after temple. It was a serene place. We could feel the wind as it rushed through the trees, carrying the sound of distant chanting. The smell of fresh leaves and incense hung in the air. Around us, we could see small roads and rice farms stretching into the distance. We were out of the city again. We had escaped the walls of concrete for now. I felt satisfied.
Unfortunately, because Covid dried up the tourist crowd, it took away the income for many people who live in the area. As a result, we noticed a lot more beggars than last time we visited. It was sad to see and we didn’t have enough small change to give everyone.
A Sweet Reward
The other thing we look forward to on our trips out of the city is the chance to dine at what Mel and I call a “hammock restuarant”. They’re more like a collection of huts placed side by side, with hammocks strung between all of the poles. The idea is to sit and eat on a raised platform and then roll yourself onto a nearby hammock afterwards.
I was feeling weary from the heat and hungry from not eating any breakfast. A hammock restaurant sounded like a great idea.
We turned up to the first hammock restaurant and I ordered (in broken Khmer) some stir-fried morning glory without meat and a pot of rice. He didn’t repeat it back to quite me the same, so I wasn’t sure if he understood my order.
When our food arrived, we had indeed received fried morning glory and rice. But, as it turned out there were bits of meat in it. Close enough. I had the feeling that these bits (I think it was pig intestine) may not be considered ‘meat’ in Khmer culture.
Strangely the morning glory dish itself tasted very sweet, as if someone had accidentally used a handful of sugar instead of a pinch. Nothing that can’t be remedied with added soy sauce and chilli. It was still a massive dish of food, and it also came with generous pot of rice. We only managed to finish about half the food, and felt really sad to waste the rest.
With our bellies full, we kicked back and took a quick snooze on the hammock and caught up on some reading.
While we were resting, a trio of young girls came to beg. They’d already come around to ask for money before, but we had to refuse. This time they asked for our leftovers and we happily gave them over. It warmed our hearts to see them sharing it and see that the food didn’t go to waste. It was, by far, the sweetest part of the meal.