Wed Dec 14 2016: Final Days of the Old Bamboo Bridge
We've spent three amazing days in Siem Reap visiting the temples at Angkor Wat but now the countdown on how long we can stay out of Thailand is slowly ticking down menacingly. We're feeling like there's just so much to see, and not nearly enough time to see it all.
Ugh, I thought we came to SE Asia to get away from FOMO, but it followed us all the way here!
Leaving our hotel in Siem Reap
We're riding further south into the country. The scenery alternates between rural - the odd rusty tin-shacked house on stilts overlooking the road - and then every so often it opens up into a larger town. The water levels must rise fairly high that every house needs to be on stilts!
Speaking of which, we stop for a water break
We've seen so many of these colourful tents on our way through Cambodia
People in formal attire file into the tent, and we figure it out: it's a wedding! We've timed our arrival in SE Asia for the dry season, which is also the peak season for weddings in Cambodia. All those tents were people getting married! It's like June in North America!
And just when that thought crossed our minds, you know, the idea that we arrived in time for dry season... it started raining.
Argh. Back into our sausage suits! :(
A couple of hours into our rain ride, we stopped in Kampong Thom for lunch
Saw someone familiar at the booth. The sign above reads, "Psychiatric Help: 5¢"
Had some yummy fried rice as we waited out the rains from inside the restaurant
The rains continue as we hop back on our motorcycles and continue southwards.
It's another two hours of wet roads till we arrive at our destination for the evening. The tiny town of Kampong Cham.
We are actually staying on the outskirts of Kampong Cham
The hostel where we've booked lets us park next to their scooters and their Christmas tree, which is right next to their Buddhist altar! :)
The view from the rooftop terrace of our hostel
I really liked staying in this rural village far from the big cities. In fact, I am liking Cambodia a lot more than Thailand. It's a lot less touristy here, and I like observing local people going about their day-to-day life, without feeling that everything was centered around accommodating the tourism industry.
Kampong Cham is right next to the Mekong River. We watch fishermen out on their wooden work boats.
Not to say that there is no tourism here. Just in this area alone, Mekong River cruises are a very popular tourist attraction, from day excursions on simple sampans to week-long holidays on huge, modern luxury liners.
Watching the neighbourhood kids play with some balloons
Neda liked the bright co-ordinated pyjamas that all the ladies wore when they were out shopping in the market
Then I looked at our mud-stained riding suits and wondered how these ladies didn't get their pyjamas dirty while scootering through the wet roads?!?
Not the most people I've seen on a scooter at one time... By far...
Getting ready to leave Kampong Cham the next morning. Roads are still a bit wet.
On our ride out of town, we see more houses on stilts
I didn't know what crops these were until I did some Internet research. These are water hyacinths, and they're not a crop, they're a weed.
Although they look quite pretty, this fast-growing species are everywhere, invading the waterways and making it difficult for boats to pass. The oars of passing boats chop up the plants, propagating them further. Water hyacinth harvesting is mainly like plucking weeds from your garden, but there are some companies that pay Cambodian women for the stems of the plant. They dry them and make wicker-like handbags and other accessories.
Invasion of the water hyacinths!
South of Kampong Cham is an odd structure. A bridge stretching across the Mekong River made entirely out of bamboo!
We have stopped in Kampong Cham specifically to see and ride this bridge.
Every year, at the start of the dry season, villagers construct this 1km long bridge entirely out of bamboo to cross the calm waters of the Mekong River to the island of Koh Paen. From scratch! Since we're here at the start of dry season, this bridge is probably only a couple of weeks old. It is quite a marvel of engineering.
Bamboo is quite plentiful in Cambodia and is very strong.
Here, a horse draws a heavy load across the bridge, but we saw cars and even large trucks crossing!
Our turn! I follow Neda as she slowly descends down the muddy path (because of all the recent rains) to the shore where the bamboo bridge begins
Holy crap, what an experience! The minute our wheels hit the bamboo, it felt like we were riding on a waterbed. There's two distinct sensations as you make your way across the narrow pathway: 1) the clackety sound as the bamboo creaks under your bike and 2) an undulating sensation as the bridge sags underneath you, and you can feel the same sag when other vehicles pass by you as well. Very unsettling!
At several points in the bridge, they've built pull-outs to allow larger vehicles to get by
The bridge is not only for transportation. We have to dodge scooters parked haphazardly along the length of the bridge, it's owners just abandoned them to go fishing off the side of the bridge or to go diving into the Mekong, hunting for cockels.
Is it safe? *shrug* There are no guardrails. And I've read reports of some less skilled riders who've lost control and dumped their scooters and motorcycles into the Mekong River. But it seems to be fairly sturdy and if you're going slow enough, no reason to go over the edge by accident...
Totally enjoying such a unique way of crossing the river
This bridge is not a permanent fixture. In June, when the rainy season arrives, the waters of the Mekong River will rise and become more turbulent. Either the villagers will dismantle the bridge, or more often than not, the Mekong will do the job for them, washing it away. Hopefully there will be nobody on the bridge when that happens. However, I've read that by June, six months of wear and tear on the bamboo will make it a risky proposition to cross anyway, turbulent river or not! :)
And then another six month wait, until construction will begin anew on the next Bamboo Bridge of Kampong Cham.
What's it like riding on a bridge made entirely out of bamboo? Here's a short video of the obstacles you'll face
2018 Addendum: We've just found out that the time we visited was the final year for the bamboo bridge. They've just completed construction on a permanent concrete bridge about 2 kms north of the bamboo bridge. A Google Maps picture shows the site of the old bridge vs the new one:
The annual construction of the bamboo bridge has been going on for decades, but now it looks like modern times have caught up to Kampong Cham and have won out over the old ways. It's a shame because I think the bridge brought a lot of curious visitors to the area, and now hotels and restaurants in town will suffer for it.
Normally the Mekong River washes away the bamboo bridge every June. We're so glad to have gotten a chance to ride on it before the tides of history washed it away for good.