After Phnom Penh, I caught a bus to Andoung Tuek in the Cardamon Mountains, where I then boarded a long tail boat for a 2 hour journey to Chi Phat, a community-based eco-tourism project based in a tiny village in beautiful surroundings which was established to provide alternative livelihoods to poaching and tree felling to the local communities. I shared a boat with Joni and Louisa, from Wigan and Bolton respectively. A lovely couple that I have seen a lot of since. It was so refreshing to hear their broad northern accents – made me feel at home, even though I am not from the north myself.
The boat trip was spectacularly beautiful – we heard birds singing, saw them flying by, and saw barely another person the whole 2 hour trip. The only movement in the water was from the motor of our own boat.
When we got to Chi Phat, I managed to bag a bamboo hut in the eco-lodge – basically a collection of small huts on an island in the middle of the lake. It was definitely ‘back to nature’ and sleeping under the mosquito net that night I felt all Meryl Streep Óut of Africa’.
The following day I took a boat trip with Joni and Louise and another couple – we left at 6.30am and spent our day being navigated along the river first in a motor boat and then in a paddle boat. We stopped for our packed breakfast…
…and on the way back I had the chance to swim in a river – very happy indeed
Later that day, I sat on my veranda playing guitar and a couple of local girls came to ask if they could sit and listen to me play and sing. Of course, I obliged, and tried to teach one of them a couple of chords, too. Through broken English and non-existent Cambodian, we managed to make ourselves understood. One was 21 the other 22. Both had left school at 12, and one couldnt read but told me that her boyfriend could. They were both lovely, full of life and giggles. You always wonder how life might be different for people but for the lottery of birth place.
A wierd coincidence happened on the boat. One of the guys was reading a book and, having done a spot of over shoulder snooping I thought it might be a book my someone I know. Sure enough, it was Cloud Mountain by Tom Hart-Dyke, who was kidnapped in Colombia in 2000 and whose mother used to be a trustee of Hostage UK. If that weren’t coincidence enough I had met another guy in Yangon who had recently read the same book. The guy in Chi Phat was blown away – he said he’d never met anyone who knew a published author before – and I promised to pass on his high praise for the book to Tom. Small world.