How wonderful it was to wake up and amble out onto the balcony of Pan’s Guesthouse.
I took a look around “town”.
It was a lovely day today not in the sense of beautiful sunny weather but in the sense of cool weather that made it easy and comfortable to pedal around the island. I headed out of the little village, pedalling slowly and enjoying the panorama. It was a rough road and on either side were banana trees, bamboo trees, frangipani trees, chickens, water buffalo, rice paddies, and all manner of thick tropical vegetation. It was gorgeous and tranquil: laid back Laos at its best.
I first went to see the Li Phi waterfalls around which was a park and viewing station. I found it comical that they were in the process of constructing a rotunda which evidently was going to house cafes and maybe a souvenir shop but to access the waterfall viewing station there was only a narrow plank slapped down across a ditch.
The Mekong was browner that I expected but, as it was the end of rainy season, the swollen river gushed frantically over the rocks.
A path followed the river downstream for a bit.
I got back on the trail and biked down to the beach which was actually sandy and right along the Mekong River. Then it started to rain. So I hung out in a cafe which was on stilts along the beach.
Pretty soon a couple came along and we fell into conversation over a pretty good lunch of fried noodles. He turned out to be an American aid worker with his Cambodian wife, living in Phnom Penh and over here on a break.
They had a lot to say about the political scene in Cambodia all of which was bleak. The extravagantly corrupt Hun Sen and his cronies pillaged the country and have recently consolidated their power by banning the opposition party. It was a bold step and one that probably would not have happened under the Obama administration, according to my companions. Knowing that our current government can barely deal with North Korea and chew gum at the same time, Hun Sen seized the moment and turned Cambodia into an openly authoritarian state. “I have no hope now whatsoever”, David (not his real name) said.
I remarked on the extraordinary thinness of the Cambodians. They have a peculiar attitude towards food, his wife pointed out. It’s just not important to them. Many will go hungry in order to save money to buy a house. Their children are poorly nourished, not necessarily because they parents can’t afford to feed them but because they don’t see the importance of feeding them well. They know little about nutrition and care less. Hence, growth is stunted. Cambodians are short and extremely thin.
After a while I got back on my bike and pedalled down to the extreme southern part of the island. Somehow I wound up getting off the track and onto a narrow, rocky little path through the jungle, ducking under banana trees and bouncing over pits.
By late afternoon I reached the southern part of the island which the French had turned into a giant engineering scheme.
Intending to bypass the Li Phi waterfalls, they devised a plan to disassemble steamboats at this particular harbor and transport them by train across the island where they would be reassembled and put back into service on the Mekong River. It sounds wacky but transporting goods through Indochina was central to their colonial project.
By late afternoon I headed back . The bicycle was starting to become quite uncomfortable and I was glad to reach town. I had cocktails and dinner with an extremely interesting Danish woman who is staying next door to me. It started to rain in earnest at night but I couldn’t complain. It had been a very relaxing day.