A Cambodians' story...

The blood red roads kick up plumes of dust wherever you go. Large trucks ache their way along the potholed surfaces, scooters flit between the gaps, and along these red routes line the smiles of a nation emerging from its past. Their faces still carry the scars of those dark times, and today they still suffer in their own way; however it is the people of Cambodia that will live long in my memory.

Farm girls on a bicycle near Kratie

Our trip routed from Phnom Penh south to Kampot, before heading north to Siem Reap and then up to Virachey National Park. We traveled on local buses and tuk-tuks mainly, exploring the sights, sounds and smells along the way. Of the various people we met, it was our jungle guides Bonta and Poba who struck a chord.

Bopa and Bonta, Cambodian jungle guides

Bonta is a local guide from Ban-lung. He is in his mid-thirties with a wife and two children. He received a basic education, and supports his family throughout the year. Ban-lung is an expanding town, with various tour agencies springing up to meet the demands of tourists looking to experience jungle adventures in the lush rain forests that survive in the northeast.

Jungle river barge

Mr. Smiley started one such company, and it was through him that Bonta became a guide. His English, despite his personal reservations about the competency level, is exceptional. He told us a story of his wife’s parents, and how they refused to accept him when they wanted to marry (instead urging their daughter to find a man from a wealthy family). Bonta’s wife stood by her husband, and eventually the tensions eased. He built their home on his fathers land, and he continues to work on their farm during the rainy season, and then work for Mr. Smiley during the summer.

Mr. Lao, one of the minority villagers we met.

Bopa on the other hand, is what the Cambodians call one of the ‘minority peoples’; a small community of families that life a subsistence way of life in the jungles of Cambodia. We met many of them on our treks, and their faces told a humble story of quiet contentment. Bopa did not speak English, but his knowledge of the jungle was incredible. He crafted a raft from bamboo, cooked beautiful soups in bamboo shoots, showed us animal traps and how to live from the fruits of the rain forest. This was primitive living in the purest form, yet it was amazing to see how in tune with their surroundings the minority people were, and made me think about how out of tune we have been led to become!

Bopa, preparing a bamboo raft

Through Bonta, Bopa explained that his machete had been given to him by his father. The tool is carried by him at all times, and plays an intrinsic role in everyday activities. The machete is for life, and when he eventually passes, it will be buried with him to look after his spirit in the afterlife.

Bunta and Bopa treated after us like we were their children, and it was fascinating to spend this time with them and to really understand a part of Cambodia that you can only find by really delving off the beaten path.

I asked Bonta about his dreams, and the future. He told me that he would like to have his own tuk-tuk and run it as a business. His wife, he elaborated, would have a little a little shop in town and look after his family.

A typical rural street scene in Cambodia

It was lovely to hear about these dream, however, looking at Cambodia’s busy streets, full of tuk-tuks and little shops....are they all having the same dream?

All images © Creative Sides Photography

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