15 Apr 2020
Kampong Chhnang, once bustling with activities thanks to an abundance of tourist visits has taken a turn for the worst, no thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The smiles of the villagers here have long gone. They used to beam with happiness as they welcomed visitors and people to the Kampong Tralach Leu community. They were happy to provide transportation for tourists who arrived through river cruises.
A highlight of tourist visits was the experience of travelling on oxcarts as they visited century-old temples. But all that is now a distant memory.
The port has gone quiet. Cruise boats don’t dock at Kampong Chhnang anymore. The oxcarts are just left under their houses built on stilts. Many have sold their oxen or cows as the tourist dollars have dried up.
The tourist transportation activities completely stopped after the government announced the temporary closure of the border between Cambodia and Vietnam to stem the Covid-19 outbreak after Cambodia found cruise passengers infected with the novel coronavirus.
Kampong Tralach Leu’s Oxcart Association director Teuk Troeung tells The Post that after the closure of waterway between the two countries, some 140 cows in the community were left in their sheds.
“Villagers now sell their cows to slaughterhouses because, aside from transporting tourists, the animals had long not been used to plough farmland,” said Troeung, who used to lead his community in transporting tourists by oxcart at least three times a day.
Siem Reap’s Chhreav Agro-tourism Cambodia used to have as many as 350-400 visitors a day under various programmes.
Activities included shopping at the local market, visiting local schools, buying some local vegetables, learning to cook Khmer cuisine, bird-watching, enjoying food with local families and riding on oxcarts to experience village life.
But all these have also come to a standstill.
Krouch Ly, the president of the Information Centre for Cambodia at the Chhreav Agro-tourism Cambodia says: “From dawn, tourists used to catch amazing sights and take pictures of beautiful birds flying in from various places to land on green rice fields in Chhreav and Pea Reang Lake.
“After this, waiting oxcarts transported them to explore the villages. As part of the routine, the oxcarts parked next to the people’s backyard plantations to get a glimpse of how they farmed their land.”
Each day, between 20 and 30 pairs of oxcarts worked to offer tourists such experiences they couldn’t get anywhere else. And the villagers in Chhreav’s community enjoyed their company too.
But now, with tourism practically non-existent, the animals are sold for their meat.