Many towns and villages make pleasant day trips from Kratie, and chief among them is Chhlong, about an hour and a half south by motorbike. The town itself was once a bustling port for French and Chinese traders, and the beautiful, decaying colonial architecture lining the riverfront attests to this. The buildings are all occupied, so you can’t go in to explore, and there’s something terribly sad about seeing such grandeur being left to rot away surrounded by mountains of rubbish and the stench of fish.
On the edge of town, the classic colonial building Le Relais Hotel has been closed for more than five years now, but there were workmen beavering away inside when we visited in April 2016. Who knows what plans are afoot. Inside the hotel is a former prison where skulls of Khmer Rouge detainees remain. There’s not much here, although if you’re interested in Cambodian history and have a driver who doesn’t mind facilitating conversation with the locals it can be a very worthwhile sidetrip.
In Chhlong, you’ll also find a hilltop pagoda surrounded by war-era pillboxes, and a famous stilted home with 100 posts. It isn’t particularly impressive but the family that lives there is welcoming and likes to share stories from the “Pol Pot time”. Villagers were evicted from the town during the Khmer Rouge’s rule, and they occupied most of the town’s buildings.
For us, the journey down was as much a part of the excursion as the town itself. Handsome stilted villages line much of the route, including a Cham community as you get closer to Chhlong. A beautiful mosque on the east side of the road will let you know when you’re there. We visited at the height of the dry season, when it was lovely, but we imagine it must be even more so when the reaches underneath all those homes are filled with water.
On the way back, make sure to drop in to the Roka Kandal pagoda, which is on the southern outskirts of the city.
It’s one of the loveliest pagodas we’ve seen in Cambodia, an unusual example of restraint and simplicity, and also one of the oldest. A neighbouring family will be keeping an eye out for you, and your tip for opening the doors.
By Nicky Sullivan
Last updated on 22nd April, 2016.