Bridging a Divide on the Backroads of Cambodia’s Takeo Province

It was on the dusty backroads in Cambodia’s Takeo Province that a well-travelled toy fish found its way to a new home. To get there, the little fish literally had to bridge a divide.

One morning, we packed our borrowed bikes’ baskets with bottles of water and a purple plush toy. The toy fish, with its big eyes and soft fur, had travelled with us for two months in our limited and cramped luggage space – from Germany, to Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and finally, Cambodia.

For weeks, we had been waiting to find the perfect young recipient. This morning, we were sure we would find him or her on the provincial back roads. Eighty percent of Cambodians live in the rural provinces.

As we wove through the dusty back roads, we saw primary school children pedaling bicycles fitted for their parents or teenage siblings. They were not unlike the mammoth-sized bikes we’d seen other pint-sized children pedaling elsewhere throughout Cambodia. The girls’ uniform navy blue and black skirts flitted in the wind. They flashed smiles of epic proportions our way.

Dogs guarded their territory but usually approached us with wagging tails. Some adults led cream-colored thin cows through the fields. Others trimmed rice fields with a scythe, or gathered sticks. As the locals greeted us, they removed the kromas – a traditional Cambodian checked scarf – from their heads as a sign of respect.

We chanted Sua s’dei – one of two Khmer phrases we knew – to them. In response to this hello they smiled and stared. Each party was curious about the other but didn’t have the words to express themselves.

With the sun beating down upon us, we decided to make the broken bridge we had just happened upon our turn-around point. We were not certain what had happened to the bridge, which had collapsed over a now mostly dry stream. Perhaps heavy water during the rainy season had caused it to buckle over.

Locals of all ages on the other side of the bank stared at us in a curious fashion. We exchanged smiles. A teenage boy walked down into the empty streambed, past the broken bridge and up the bank’s edge to approach us. He spoke limited English, but motioned to another intact bridge not far away from our current spot, encouraging us to come across. We thanked him, but tried to explain that we our hosts were waiting for us back at the guesthouse.

As the boy started to cross back to the family’s side of the stream, we motioned for him to take the purple fish, which had been riding in my husband’s bike basket. The boy smiled and returned to the other side of the stream’s bank. When he’d reached his family members, he handed the well-travelled fish to one of the young girls. She and the other little ones smiled happily, the fish now the object of their attention, and scurried off towards home. Their elders continued to look at us intently and smile. They sent us off on our journey to our home away from home with kind waves.

The little fish had finally found its perfect home. It seems fitting that it had to bridge a divide in order to get there.

Where in the World?

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All rights reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

16 thoughts on “Bridging a Divide on the Backroads of Cambodia’s Takeo Province

    1. Andrew, thanks for the New Year’s greetings & I wish you all the best for 2012 too! Despite the fact that I love Asia, I sometimes miss Europe. So, it’s wonderful seeing some images from ‘home’ via your posts of your current, and now vintage travels. :)

    1. What were your favorite travel memories from your SE Asian trip? Thus far, Cambodia has offered some really touching ones for us but each country has so much to offer! We really enjoyed the serene atmosphere out in the provinces. And, the Cambodian smiles make you feel exceptionally welcome! Happy New Year to you, and thanks for dropping in!

    1. So glad you enjoyed it, Marina! After we pedaled away, my hubby said what a great moment it was. We’re so very lucky to be crossing paths with such kind people. I’m happy to think of the fish at its new home now.

    1. Thank you, Lynne, for such a kind comment. Our week in Takeo was easily one of the highlights of our Cambodia trip, perhaps even of Southeast Asia. Such wonderful people we met; we’re thrilled to still be in touch with many of them.

  1. I have just found your blog and am returning to Cambodia this Christmas, Lived in Kratie for a year and this time,taking my family. Do you remember where you stayed in Takeo? I look forward to reading more of your posts. Happy travels, Cheryl

    1. Hi Cheryl, how lovely that you’re Cambodia-bound soon! We coincidentally spent Christmas Day in Takeo, threshing rice, and sharing a wonderful meal with our hosts and the Cambodian students at their homestay.

      If you choose to stay in Takeo, Mach and Siphen will take good care of you! We’re still in touch with them via Facebook, and sincerely hope to return soon. Here is the link to their website:

      Happy travels to you too, and be sure to ask Mach to make his homemade coconut shakes! Siphen also made some delightful dishes, and even showed us how to whip up some of them.

  2. Beautiful post! We spent a lot of time in Takeo working with NFO, its hard to describe the rural setting to people who have only been to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Some lovely pictures here, keep up the great work!

    1. Hi Wandering Wives, and thank you for your kind words about the post. I had to research what NFO was, but it sounds as though you were doing rewarding work in Takeo! Our experience in Takeo was certainly one of the highlights of our time in Cambodia. To think – we almost left the country after exploring Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and what a pity that would have been! What year were you there, and by chance, did you meet Siphen and Mach who own the well-known homestay there? Wish you enjoyable continued travels. Thank you for reading. :)

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