After Angkor Wat, we decided to spend the second day on some more prosaic activities. We booked our car for the next day and organized an afternoon outing by tuk tuk to the local reservoir. The reservoir is pretty but we both could have done without the trash on the beach. The highlight was tasting some reconstituted frog and something they called cheese. I am not often grossed out by food, but that substance was foul. If munched up, dried, fermented and then recooked fish is cheese in Cambodia, than the French didn't leave as much of an cultural mark as they probably think they did (mission civilisatrice and all that). The beer was pretty great though, went well with my admittedly bony but tasty frog meatballs on a stick. Afterwards we visited a legit local food market. Lots of smells, unidentifiable meat and dried fish. Pretty fascinating.
Onwards from Siem Reap. We left for a full day's ride across the north of the country. Cambodia is really flat, making it kind of ironic that their capital is called Penh's Hill (Phnom Penh), but maybe when you are this flat you notice the hills more. The landscape from Siem Reap to Ban Lung in Ratank Kiri province shows a Cambodia that is still very poor. Small villages are surrounded by localized small scale farming. Increasingly you see very large swaths of clear cutting for either logging or planting of cash crops like rubber, cashews, and other unidentified things. We stopped at Koh Ker, a somewhat forgotten Angkor Wat-like temple complex two hours from Siem Reap. It was, in my opinion, much more magical and enjoyable than Angkor because they have left in a state of near collapse, overgrown with trees and plants. It helped that we were alone.
The road we took is not a main road, that one runs south to Phnom Penh and back up the other side of the river, and was either pounded or under construction. All the major roads and large scale crops where clearly being built and run by the Chinese. That was interesting to see - China's economic imperialism in full swing. Once we crossed, we hit the main road from Phnom Penh and things changed. Not drastically, but enough to notice.
We, as you may have surmised reading above, had to cross the Mekong. What made it interesting is that we are about a year or so too early for the conclusion of the impressive bridge being built (probably by the Chinese) to span the river. Therefore we had to opt for the locals rickety "ferry" across to Strung Treng. We hadn't been told any of this when we booked the car, so to our surprised we were dropped off on the ferry and told to find our next driver on the other side. It was a great way to see the river, and after a starring contest with the dozen or so locals who don't usually get to see tourists in bright yellow dresses (poor sartorial choice, but then again I thought I was going to be in a car all day) we settled down to a nice chat with one of the guys. An hour or so later (waiting for the other ferry, just random waiting, and then the crossing) we made it to our next ride. Unfortunately the car stank of Durian. Camilla wouldn't believe me when I told her its a fruit and delicacy, but after an hour or so you kind of get used to the stench.