Prey Veng Revisited
July 24, 2004
by Jim CA2
About a year ago I took a motorbike trip through Kandal and Prey Veng provinces with Matt Jacobson who was updating his next edition of Adventure Cambodia. We had traveled north on Highway 6 from Phnom Penh about 22k from the Japanese bridge then crossed the Mekong (500 riel for the ferry). Jake was in a cast for a broken foot but that was ok as this was expected to be a nice dry ride seeing as the rainy season ended two months earlier. Wrong. We traveled south through Vihear Suor on elevated hard pack road that was in pretty good condition then continued east to Pearing and Kancham on trails circumventing puddles and lakes with small bridges and rope tow ferries. We then cut north to a town coming up short on discovering an ancient prasat as what we found was nothing more than new wat construction on an old laterite base with a few carved stones laying around.
North out of Kancham, marked by a police outpost, we traversed rice field embankments and drove through more puddles - these the work of irrigation pumps. En-route to the prasat, prior to a dammed reservoir, we encountered a village adjacent to a few big ponds. A group of children were herding their water buffalo, parading them into the water. This is pretty commonplace in Cambodia. Mutual fascination developed in the sight of a cute little girl riding on top of one buffalo, leaving unanswered the question: was she more fascinated with us on our large motorcycles or were we more fascinated with her standing on the back of the buffalo in the pond? We snapped off some pictures before heading to the prasat. I ran her picture in the June ‘03 Bayon Pearnik and captioned it with "Surf Cambodia". I had an overwhelming amount of positive feedback regarding the advertisement and have had postcards of the image printed as well. This sweet little girl from some out of the way village in Prey Veng Province had become a celebrity.
Riding season came early this year due to the lack of rain we had in the region. One of the rides that I wanted to accomplish this season was to locate this little girl to give her pictures and insight as to her popularity. This dry season would be ideal for the ride. Just like National Geographic going back to Afghanistan to locate the cover girl with the exorcist eyes I had envisioned putting together a team of riders bent on finding the girl in the picture knowing that after we found her she wouldn’t at all resemble Monty Python’s Terry Jones who played Brian’s mother in the Life of Brian.
One year since the picture was taken, six of us set out to find this girl. It was a good mix of guys dead set on achieving my goal of finding this girl; and a chance for a couple of them to see some of the off the beaten path places Cambodia has to offer. My memories of a weaving trail bordered by large pools of water and fan palms cutting through illuminated green rice fields were quite the contrary this time. Drought has hit this region hard. Wide sandy paths bordered with brown rice fields beckoned us into a vast wasteland. We passed a few long boats land-locked high and dry as if they were out of planet of the apes. We made our turn north at Kancham to a town where a new sign had labeled the area as a reservoir project. You wouldn’t have thought it was a reservoir by the looks of things. I felt that I had stopped here before, but a new structure and the new sign had thrown me off. A couple of Khmers hanging around didn’t recognize the girl on the buffalo.
Just as we were ready to continue north I felt that the empty pits adjacent to the road looked familiar. These could have been full of water and possibly where the buffalos were herded. I looked towards the village and there were too many water buffalo in the village to pass up. I drove down the embankment through the empty pool where the little girl had stood tall on her buffalo and headed into the village. Good call. Showing her picture around we were told that yes this was her home town. A man on a motorcycle who recognized the girl joined our quest and led us to her house. An old man who said he was her father, but looked to be her grandfather, said she wasn’t home.
Still uncertain I broke out a framed 8x10 photograph, and a few issues of the June ’03 Bayon Pearnik and passed them around to the villagers who curiously swarmed upon this motorcade of barangs with uncertain business. An elderly lady with a shaved head examined the photo, ignoring the girl and instead naming the half dozen buffalo she recognized in the picture. Yes we were close. “Where was she?” we asked. “Out in the fields, she’ll be back at five.” we were told. We’ll we weren’t going to wait around two hours for her return and I wasn’t going to leave without seeing this girl. We bantered on with the villagers. What is her name? How old was she? Her name is Srey Yee-in, 12/13 years old, not sure. Ok how far away could she be? One, two kilometers? Ok anyone want to get on the bikes to go look for her? No way Jose!
Out of town we drove. About 100 meters from the village she appeared. Srey Yee-in your head of hair is gone, someone you know slap haowie (shaving one's head after the death of a relation is customary)? Ot te….lice! I pulled a few past issues of the Bayon Pearnik with her picture. Are you sure you are the one? “Yes that’s me. I remember the guys taking pictures of me and besides that’s my dress and blouse.” Ok I’m convinced. I broke out a few more past and current Bayon Pearniks and T-shirts and handed them out to the villagers. I gave one t-shirt to the guy on the moto who expedited our cause. While we spoke with Srey Yee-in a traffic jam of buffalo drawn carts ensued. Move your bike and let them by, one of my partners said. Why, they are in no rush and they haven’t had this much excitement in ….well ever. Srey Yee-in kindly passed out postcards to her friends as we clicked off more pictures.
Losing daylight a villager pointed the way to Prey Veng and off we went, leaving the village something to talk about for perhaps the next millennium. The buffalo carts in a trail of dust headed west and we headed east/south east on sandy terrain through a dry lake bed then through sugar palm plantations until we hit the 314 south. The 314 isn’t much of a road in the beginning but as we got closer to the 11 it became more defined and nice hard pack.
We made one stop for a sugar drink in Prey Pnov where the 314 becomes the 315, then on to the 11 to Prey Veng. Major road work on the 11 has been completed and the trip south to Neak Luong Ferry through Prey Veng (and all the way to Kampong Cham) is wide smooth asphalt. We arrived at the Neak Luong ferry by night fall and continued to Phnom Penh in the dark. During the rainy season Kampong Cham to Prey Veng will be very scenic and easily do able on vespas, larger road bikes and even land cruisers. I expect I will be returning to visit the village as now I have plenty more pictures to be delivered to my new found friends and potential celebrities, not to mention taking the time to ask the name of the village. If you want to pay them a visit yourselves, GPS coordinates N11’45.559 E105’ 18.191 or just look for all the huts decorated with past issues of the Bayon Pearnik! - Jim CA2
The three faces of Yee-in
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