Capitol, the name of the local local bus, leaves every day at 7h30, 8h30 and 11h30 from the Central Market. Luckily, our fantastic suitcases could be instantly transformed into comfortable backpacks making mobility a bit easier. We hopped on the crowed bus, quite rudimentary but luxurious as it had a TV just above the driver’s head. I silently prayed that he had seen the film a 100 times and was more interested in the road than the beautiful Cambodians dancing about. The seats were covered in a cheap plastic of various shades of blue and red but had the amazing ability to fold back into a semi reclining position which made sleep come easily. BA, Air France, AA and the rest of the airline companies could learn something about the importance of comfort for their passengers! The ride was quite painless. Three hours of occasional bumps, endless open fields of emerald green rice paddies, stilted makeshift huts of bamboo and palm, lots of horn honking and cell phone ringing. We overtook tuk tuks, water bulls pulling wooden carts, hoards of bicycles, Lexus, lots of motor cycles and vespas and even a few stray dogs.
The bus dropped us off on the main strip of Kompong Thom which runs through the town and continues on to Siem Reap. During the mid-70’s, this road was severed by heavy bombing in-order to eradicate all contact and mobility between Siem and PP. Surprisingly, we were the only passengers that descended from the bus, which one might consider as not such a good sign. Kampong Thum, is well, sans intérêt to say the least. Off the main-strip, there are a few unpaved roads cluttered with trash, an outside food market, a school or two, 2 enormous trees housing thousands of gigantic oversized bats, a few restaurants and two hotels. Zero charm and super eery especially as we were the ONLY tourists at that particular moment. All eyes were on us especially Noa and in fact his popularity sky rocketed making him the most intriguing girl/boy (they couldn’t quite make him out) in town. Even the mosquitos loved him!
Hot and overly spent, we found a hotel for 8USD a night. We were their ONLY guests in this huge concrete block which made the experience even more bizarre. Within 15 minutes we had ”done” the town and searched for a restaurant. On a small side street we found Larry, an American living in PP commuting every weekend to oversee his café serving 12 or so items varying from traditional amok to pizza which all needs to be pre-ordered hours in advance. Larry’s wife wrote down the ingredients for our order. We made it simple- 3 steamed rice and Khmer curry with fish. Different then anything that we had ever had. A fusion between Indian and Khmer with the sweet taste of licorice. Supposedly, this recipe had been passed down from her great great great grandmother from some faraway village.
As the sun made its descent, dusk fell quickly upon Kompong Thom creating a soft attractive glow. Groups of elderly women all dressed in boxy button-down pajamas set out on foot for their evening exercise. Marching with synchronized short determined steps their arms swayed exaggeratedly along their sides casting obscure shadows on the cracked pavement below. They innocently giggled as our gaze caught theirs but continued without wavering. Little did we know but these boxy button-down pajamas either in brightly colored prints of well known icons (Mickey Mouse, Spiderman, Tintin) or the poke-a-dotted ones in flowery pastels had become a real fashion statement here in Kompong Thom. From the very young to the respected old, at 10h00, midday or for their evening walk everyone was dressed in these stylish ensembles. It appeared that the only criteria in making them a true fashion statement was that the top and the bottom HAD to match. I hesitated on buying an ensemble but realized that Philippe and Noa would have certainly left me to die in Kompong Thom, not really the place that I wanted to be.
We must say that that night was far from enjoyable. Our 8$ room was worth no more than 2$. Actually, I think that it would have been more appropriate if they would have paid us to stay there! A square with no window and no air, we felt like we had been buried alive. The night was suffocating, uncomfortable, a bit scary with strange noises, calls of geckos and howls of dogs. I wished that I had now agreed for the upgraded room (10 USD) with air-con. We might have slept in bits but no more than 92 minutes total. All we could think of was morning.