ជល់ មួយ aka Chôl Muŏy

ជល់ មួយ aka Chôl Muŏy

I bubble a few days in my little corner of paradise located in the 4000 islands in Laos. The hostel is located on the banks of the Mekong River on Don Som Island, far from the mass of tourists who often prefer Don Det Island. I camp in the garden and occupy my days and evenings with a few passing travelers.

But it's time for me to leave, my Laotian visa expiring. I reach the dreaded border post between Laos and Cambodia. Here corruption reigns: each visa application is increased by a small extra for the officer. It starts with the Laotian post asking for two dollars for the exit stamp. My refusal is clear and the officer does not insist. I take back my passport and go back illico. But it is the most complicated Cambodian side. I enter and give all of my papers to the officer. It stipulates that there is a shortage of money for stamping ($ 5). My answer is scathing; I do not have more money to give him than the official price of my visa, but what to camp 3 days at the border post and all the necessary time if need be. Short, it's up to him to see how he wants to play it. He throws my passport and slaps his hand with a falsely indignant air. But that does not take, I remain imperturbable and indifferent. Finally I leave fifteen minutes later with my visa. Where many travelers spent several hours in sometimes stormy negotiations or ended up abdicating.

The entry to Cambodia puts me immediately in the bath. The main environmental impact of the country is deforestation (one of the largest in the world) and I see it very quickly. The landscape has changed dramatically, offering low-lying, low-lying plains, which have not been much cultivated despite the proximity of the Mekong River.

The road is in a pretty dilapidated state and I'm eating the dust. The first city is sixty kilometers away. I decide to reach it before the end of the day. On the currency side, Cambodia uses a lot of US dollars, so I do not need to change money. Arrived at Stung Treng I land on the banks of the Mekong to drink a shot. I take the opportunity to look at the map and realize that I have not really scheduled my stay in Cambodia. I do not know which route to take. I procrastinate a moment before deciding to opt for the northern part of the country. A temple on the Thai border was highly recommended. I take the road and find camping not far from the road while the sun has become a red ball whose brightness is filtered by the Asian haze.

The next day I am still undecided on my itinerary. I finally decide to take the northernmost route, to go along the border with Laos and Thailand. An error at a crossing even makes me return to the banks of the Mekong that I thought I had left permanently. I have lunch on the banks of the river and discover that a boat makes crossings for the other shore. I'm a few kilometers from the border post that I left the day before but I traveled more than one hundred and twenty kilometers by bike. I feel the first effects of my lack of preparation. I am however satisfied with the panorama that offers me this detour. Indeed the Mekong is transformed into a multitude of rapids and waterfalls that spread over more than one kilometer. 

I am immediately approached by the staff of the only hotel on site. But they quickly understand that I am not a potential customer. However, they agree to keep an eye on my horse while I sting a head, and take advantage of the last light of the sun to have a drink. I camp in a small shelter that serves to shade passing visitors. I have the view directly on this fairy landscape, and can enjoy the first light of the day and the magic of the place.

My departure is early so. The road is now due west, straight for several tens of kilometers. Me who thought to have finished with the long straight lines. The vegetation became denser, I cross one of the natural reserves (and protected?) Of Cambodia. For the first time in a long time I can enjoy songs of birds that punctuate my progress. The few vehicles I come across raise a dense cloud of dust that stagnates over the road.

In the early afternoon I reach the first homes for over sixty kilometers. I take advantage of the stagnant water of a watercourse to cool off and dust off. I am quickly invited to share the food of a common kitchen of the village. A bowl of rice and spicy dried fish. I do not try to reward my hosts, maybe wrong. But remote places often offer more interaction with locals where the pecuniary side is sidelined. Even though the language barrier may be more complicated, the relationship is healthier. I continue my journey and camp in one of these many huts bordering rice paddies under the amused gaze of the few villagers who ride on a motorcycle. 

I find the asphalt the next day after a few kilometers and with him the devastated landscapes. I attend a concept that we often know only theoretically, that of deforestation.

I reach a village in the early afternoon and decide to spend the night. The next day I head for the north of the country and the famous temple of Preah Vihear which borders the Thai border. Khmer temple overlooking the northern Cambodian plain perched on a plateau. Access to bike is not easy in the middle of the afternoon and under the hot sun. The road does not crisscross the masses, straight on the slope, reaching tremendous stiffness of more than 20%.

The temple served as a refuge for the Khmer Rouge during their retreat. The area was then mined and the cleaning process is still ongoing. It is edifying to feel so insecure, and that every step off the road can be fatal. When looking for a place to camp I will have to go to trampled crops all day long to have peace of mind.

Danger! Mines
Another straight line of a hundred kilometers takes me to Siem Reap. In the middle of the afternoon I was stopped to have lunch with a family, the insistent mother. Then a few kilometers further it's a group of young people who invites me to join them for a beer. I spend a good time perfecting my rudimentary Cambodian. "Chol moy" is the local "health". Care must be taken to pronounce it properly at the risk of giving it a different meaning. What has the chic to trigger the hilarity of my friends. 

ជល់ មួយ aka Chôl Muŏy

The meetings punctuate and animate my trip, it is undeniable. But lately I have got tired of the contact (too) simplified (deep conversation **) with the locals. From China, contact is often difficult. On the one hand because of the language barrier, but also on the generally reserved character of the locals, who, even if they greet me warmly, rarely seek interaction and dialogue. The use of sign language can also be difficult, with difficulties in interpretation and therefore understanding. Also, Asians are usually used to answer politely in the affirmative, even if the message is absolutely not seized. A day earlier, I stopped for lunch in a restaurant serving "phở", a noodle soup with aromatic herbs. I order a bowl in the local language by pointing to the pot. The cook agrees, smiling, and I do not really worry because anyway everyone eats a "phở". But the dish that arrives is rice with chicken. This incident is naturally not dramatic, but it alone reflects the communication difficulties that I face and that have made me shut in my bubble in recent months, even at the risk of avoiding social interactions. 

I finally arrive in Siem Reap, the country's must. And yet, once again in this country, I do not feel in my place. The old stones interest me only when I have explanations of the context. But the prices posted at the temples of Angkor are relatively expensive and exclude for me the guided tour. Rates continue to climb which does not hold the crowd of tourists who grows each year (5 million in 2017, 10 million estimated in 2025, which poses serious problems of heritage conservation). I like to visit a temple for the quiet and contemplative side that I will probably find difficult to have here. And even the closeness I have with the place does not inspire me to begin an express visit. J ' 

For all these reasons I decided to skip this historic place. So why did you come to Siem Reap? This is one of the mysteries of my lack of preparation in organizing my stay in Cambodia. In addition, the physiotherapists of the pediatric hospital that I planned to meet are too busy to give me a little of their time.

I spend a day cycling around the area with other travelers from my hostel. I have the pleasure of seeing rice crops at the beginning of the season, offering green plains as far as the eye can see. Having traveled earlier in the season so far, the landscapes were generally arid and desert from Cambodia.

We will end our day near the entrance to Angkor Temple. Here it is possible to make a small balloon climb not far from the temple, which, for a price quite affordable, can give a good overview of the place. The view is indeed impregnable. On the way back, we even manage to enter the temple grounds. This one is about to close, the ticket controls are finished.

Then I take the bus route to Phnom Penh, the capital of the country. I managed to find an appointment with a physio, not without difficulty. The president of the national association of physio released me after long emails of negotiations. Jean Claude is a French physiotherapist. He arrived in Cambodia in the early 1990s as part of a mission with international disability in order to develop and adapt the curriculum vitae of the university of physiotherapy that had just opened. After several years he opened his own firm. He is now at the head of a physiotherapy and well-being center. Established in Cambodia for almost thirty years, he now has Cambodian nationality, speaks Khmer fluently, he is an interlocutor of choice for my project. He's me explains how physiotherapy works in Cambodia, which has only one school. The prospects for the future are still slim at the moment because, apart from the large cities, it is difficult to set up.

I do not linger in the city, the capital does not have much to offer on the cultural level. However, I take this opportunity to visit prison S21. Formerly a high school, its buildings were turned into detention and torture center during the terrible Khmer Rouge period. The visit is poignant, chilling even, thanks to a very well done audio guide. I did not take heart to take pictures during this macabre visit. For those who may be interested, a survivor's story: "First they killed my father" was adapted to the cinema recently, inspired by the eponymous autobiographical novel if you prefer reading. The first part of the film perfectly reflects the Cambodian rural life as I saw and lived, in terms of landscape, light, atmosphere... Before turning to hell naturally.

ជល់ មួយ aka Chôl Muŏy

I realized this visit with "Steph around the world", a cyclo-vagabond met in Kyrgyzstan a few months earlier. I am then invited to his hosts: Dominique, Violetta, and their son Pierre, expatriates in Phnom Penh. The atmosphere is jovial and good child, some bottles of wine helping ... 

I return to Siem Reap with Jean Claude and two of his colleagues, Marine, French chiropractor, and a Cambodian masseuse. The following Saturday is organized an ultra-Trail in the middle of the temples of Angkor. Jean Claude and his team act as a volunteer and I can join them. I take advantage of a pass to ride among the temples before the start of the day. A beautiful day in a sumptuous decor, a warm atmosphere. It is good to get some service. 

I leave the next day the city, direction Bangkok in Thailand. I have a meeting four days later at a university. With my departure back, I have to travel four hundred kilometers during this period. I will finally need only three days. I drive on the main road and the advance is fast. At the crossing of the border I have to change sides, in Thailand we roll to the left! It will take a little time to adapt to get back into the bath, especially at intersections where it is not always easy to know where to look. As I drive at full speed on two lanes, head on the handlebars and music to cover the noise of trucks, a car stopped on the emergency lane on which I drive forces me to shift dangerously in full traffic. I pester myself against this driver who, moreover, had just passed me. But arrived at his level, I realize that the poor guy just stopped to offer me water. Too risky, I finally spend without stopping, or even greet him. The misunderstanding of this situation could be anecdotal, but it reminds me of the feeling of being globally beside my trip since I entered Cambodia. 

I arrive at the Thai capital. I stay at Spinning Bear, a cyclos inn, which has the advantage of being quite out of the way and offering a maintenance service for our biclous. 

The next day is my appointment at Mahidol University. I will learn later that this is the first kinesi therapy school opened in Thailand, against sixteen currently. I had requested an interview for my project and offered a lecture on the Mckenzie method in which I specialize. The interview will be for later, for lack of time to organize it. But I am invited to give an intervention to the students. I arrive so dressed, shirt and pants to find me... in a practical course of sports physiotherapy. After a brief introduction, here I am demonstrating exercises and exchanging my experience with the students, despite not being particularly suited. I am then invited to participate in the following course, demonstrations of plyometric exercises for the whole body. I denote one more time with my outfit. But the atmosphere is electric, the students very enthusiastic and their teachers very involved. I am invited to add some exercises from my practice that have the chic to provoke the excitement of students who want to try it. The level of English is particularly good and the exchanges fruitful. The experience will remain rich and interesting.

Back in town, I make a stop in the hyper tourist center of Bangkok. I find Julia here, with whom I did a few years college / high school and I have not seen since. Chance has made our paths cross in Bangkok and we find ourselves for a night, social networks helping.

Back to the Spinning Bear, I find there some bicycle travelers, mainly French speaking. We have a group WhatsApp to exchange tips and addresses and it turns out that a few of us are in Bangkok at the same time. It's Leo's birthday and well, it's Leo's birthday! We must celebrate... The departure will certainly not be for the next morning!

The time for me to plan the rest of the journey, a little more serious so as not to find myself in the floating feeling of recent weeks.

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