If it’s Tuesday, this must be Sihanoukville

Cattle wander freely everywhere we’ve been in Cambodia. Mostly they are big white oxen with a small hump behind their shoulder blades, although we have seen red and brown cattle as well. Today as we drove to the coast, I saw a number of water buffalo, with their enormous crescent horns. Two of them were yoked to a plow steered by a man wearing a straw hat.

Oxen boarding a raft

Oxen boarding a raft: We rode on a motorized raft (with our bicycles) to an island along with this man and his two oxen.

We’ve seen a lot of the white oxen pulling plows and also sometimes pulling carts on the roads, but more often, two-wheeled carts are ingeniously fastened to the back of a motorbike seat. Most of these robust little motorbikes are 125cc Honda Dreams with an electric starter.

On Saturday we rode a motor-powered raft from Kampong Cham to a small island, where we saw a lot of wooden carts pulled by tiny brown ponies, each with a jaunty little plume above its ears. They were not quite miniature ponies, but they were definitely smaller than the ponies that you see at an American kid’s birthday party. Their strength is sufficent to carry some impressively heavy loads. They trot along briskly without any more encouragement than the reins slapping lightly on their backs.

Pony carts on the island

Pony carts: We were in motion on our bikes for all the good photo ops with loaded pony carts. The pony looks a lot smaller when the cart is fully loaded!

Our many hours traveling on buses have shown us an almost wholly agrarian country, lacking the hideous commercial oil palm plantations of East and West Malaysia, farmed mostly by human and animal labor. The so-called tractors we have seen are small and hand-driven, like an ox-drawn plow with a small motor replacing the oxen.

The picture of rural life that’s sure to stick with me is one I didn’t manage to capture with my camera. We were riding the bamboo train through the padi fields near Battambang — acres and acres of wet fields, with houses far off in the distance — and there was a boy, maybe 16 years old, wearing nothing but the krama (a ubiquitious checkered cotton cloth we see everywhere) wrapped around his hips, sarong-style. He held a thin stick and was surrounded by four of his cattle. His bare feet comfortably gripped the muddy grass slope leading down to the train tracks. As we came into view he watched us, maybe trying to figure out why a bunch of barang (foreigners) would want to ride the bamboo train. The big white oxen clustered around behind him, but he showed no concern about them, or about us.

Riding the bamboo train

On the bamboo train: This single-car platform is powered by a small motor and can be disassembled in about 90 seconds. It’s really jarring, because there’s a gap at most of the rail joins.

More photos here.

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