Busses start departing Phnom Penh from 7am daily to various destinations throughout Cambodia. You will pay around $6 each for a 3hr bus ride from Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham. It is more of a large minivan than it is a bus, but it was not uncomfortable and everyone had their own seat. If you have ever taken a Cambodian Taxi then you can understand what a luxury that is.
When you get off the bus in Kampong Cham you will immediately be approached for tuk tuk rides. We declined in search for some lunch, but in hindsight we may have been better off accepting their offer. Kampong Cham is a small town that does not get a lot of tourists and finding a tuk tuk after we ate was almost impossible. (We ended up walking by a large Asian hotel and had their reception call us one).
Someone who works for the AMICA project will greet you when you arrive to the village of Cheung Kok. Aline was our guide, she lives in the village and welcomes new arriving guests. Her English is perfect and she was there to help communicate our needs with our host family since their English is not.
It would be smart to learn a few Khmer words or have a cheat sheet for the little things..
Some words I found useful were:
Good morning: Arunn Sous-dey
Thank you: Orkun
What is your Name?: Neak Chmuah Ay?
My name is…: Khñomm Chmuah…
How are you?: Sokh Sabbay Chea Teh?
Very yummy: Ch`Nganh Nah
Good night: Reatrey Sous-dey
I was a bit worried about the bathroom situation before arriving, and if you are too, it really wasn’t that bad. Homestays in Cheung Kok have a bucket flush and bucket shower system, but the water was the perfect temperature and you get used to pouring water all over yourself after the first shower. It was actually really refreshing. Bring a loofa if you are really worried about scrubbing dirt and all your problems will be solved.
AMICA is a French owned NGO that started in 1992. Thorn, a local from the village went to study in France and befriended a Frenchman by the name of Gen. During a visit home Thorn brought Gen along to meet his family and see how people from his village live.
Gen is the founder of AMICA and godfather to many of the children in the village. Since receiving the support of AMICA, the village has built a health center for women to safely give birth and installed a huge water tank that supplies the whole village with clean water.
The men of Cheung Kok are rice farmers and the amount of work they have depends on the amount of rainfall every year. AMICA’s influence within the village has provided new opportunities for families to make extra income from ecotourism. Cheung Kok has a small silkworm farm from which they weave scarfs to sell within their village. If you visit the village and buy a scarf from the boutique or your homestay family 100% of your money goes back into the village. Unlike buying souvenirs or gifts from markets where things are bought at a wholesale price and often money goes to neighboring countries such as Thailand or Vietnam, here you can actually directly see the impact of your dollars.
In the village they also produce other types of handicrafts such as bamboo utensils, coconut shell carvings, cotton scarfs (when the silk worms are not making enough silk), and miscellaneous jewelry. Any of which purchases benefits the economy of the village.
My experience staying at a homestay in Cheung Kok was nothing short of amazing. We were welcomed into the village with open arms, not only by our homestay family but also by all the neighbors and all the children.
After wandering into the rice fields knee deep in mud, a lovely grandma saw what a mess we had made of ourselves and invited us into her home and helped us wash the mud off our feet. She was not our homestay grandma, but lived in the closest house to the rice fields. We were a mess to be honest.
Every night we sat and had dinner with our homestay family, Mr. Hong, Mrs. Dip, and their youngest daughter Melanie. Aline would join us and help translate between Khmer and English to keep the conversation going. Even though there was a language barrier we never felt disconnected from them. Hand signals were used a lot in our communication.
Village life is slow and your days seem to be filled with more time. There is a small market by the main road every morning with cheap local food I recommend visiting. A bowl of noodles and gravy will set you back 50¢. Across the main road are two hills known as Phnom Srey and Phnom Pros, or Man and Woman Mountain. There is a temple at the top with spectacular views stretching across the whole Kampong Cham province. You can also rent bikes from $2 a day and ride to Kampong Cham from Cheung Kok (about 7km) to see the longest bamboo bridge in the world. They are building a more modern bridge to replace it because of the floods during rainy season and they are sick of having to restore it every year, so go soon before it is gone forever.
How to get there from Phnom Penh:
Book your bus ticket online at BookMeBus.com to Kampong Cham
Busses depart from Sorya Bus Station in Phnom Penh
Tuk Tuk from Kampong Cham to Cheung Kok $5
*We grabbed food in Kampong Cham at a local food court close to the bus drop off point before going to Cheung Kok*
Things to do inside village:
Arts and Crafts
Things to do outside village:
Man and Woman Mountain
Bike to Bamboo Bridge
Homestay: $5 per person, per night
Bike Rental: $2
Motorcycle Rental: $5
Man and Woman Temple Fee: $2