Phnom Penh is ground zero in a reawakening Cambodia. Gleaming SUVs navigate streams of tuc-tucs and motorcycles. Outside celestial Wats vendors hawk hats, sunglasses and “something special sir” on litter blighted streets. And in the riverfront bars, men reddened by too much Cambodia Beer and the fierce Cambodian sun, cavort like beasts freed from the confines of the zoo.
Yet this was not the wild we sought. We were simply passing through this feral borough of the global village, exchanging buses en route to what we’d heard was the least developed quarter of the country: Cambodia’s wild east.
Five hours traversing tarmac that had seemingly been smeared across the land like butter delivered us somewhat disquietingly to Kampong Cham – the so-called gateway to the eastern provinces. My travel companion Jack Bailey and I alighted the bus and resolved to stroll off the journey.
We walked past the bustling central market place, flanked by fading French architecture, towards the mighty Mekong River. Kompong Cham proved more of a provincial town than a city per se. Though I’d read that it was the biggest conurbation in the east of the country, it only took us ten minutes to traverse it on foot.