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Cambodians seem happy and quick to greet us with a smile

Life on the river systems

A picture at every turn

The road is built above these stilt houses that are in the water most of the year, hard to imagine in the dry season.

How many Kids get to ride a buffalo?

 

 

These poor chickens were still alive - to keep them fresh...

Happiness is a successful days fishing and food on the plate.

The local school bus. The bikes work so hard they dribble water over the engine to cool it.

Life on the water...

and in the fields.

 

 

Anyone for some grubs

We started our cooking class at the local markets,

Along side the Lake north of Phnom Penh on the way to Battambang

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Monks calling for food.

 

 

Silk weavers

 

 

 

Cambodia

17/12/06
The Thai border crossing was straight forward even without the Carnet but still took 30 min. On the Cambodian side they were helpful and spoke English but asked for 1200 Baht PP for an entry permit. I had read that the fee should be 800 Baht and that the officials will try for whatever they can get so I stood my ground and refused. There is always a delicate balancing act when dealing with border officials. We subtly expose their scam but give them an out to save face and eventually we all agree on 1000 Baht. Haydn used the Carnet at Customs for Jack as it was just simpler, although we had to wait 20 minutes while they sent someone to get the appropriate stamp.
Krong Kaoh Kong is the border town on the Cambodian side and it has some new fancy hotels in anticipation of the completion of the road. When the road is complete this will become a major crossing point between Cambodia and Thailand and the Cambodians seem to be gearing up for this while the Thai's seem unaware of the significance. We expected gravel roads as soon as we entered Cambodia but were initially greeted with a wide new paved road. This only lasted a few kays though before the infamous gravel road began. Despite doing as much research as possible, we were still a little apprehensive about our and Jacks ability to handle what some have described as a diabolical road. The thing is though, when reading other riders reports we noted the time of year of their trip. In the wet season I'm sure it would be near impossible, and we also know that road work is on going at a fast pace, but for us the road was fun and easy going provided you watched out for the numerous potholes and washaways. Some sections were fairly rough but as long as we slowed down the three of us handled it without problems.

The biggest issue was the dust and the 4 ferry crossings slowed our progress but we still made it into the seaside town of Sihanoukville about 6 and a half hours later (could be less if you catch the ferry on its return trip and if you don't take so many photos!). All up there is probably only about 160 kays before the paved road between Phnom Pehn and the coast. Most of this is dirt with serious construction taking place but it is a wonderful introduction to small Khmer communities and rural life here, we would encourage other travellers to consider this crossing point.
We booked into a fancy hotel with A/C and cable for $10.00 a night, seems the going rate. Only trouble was that there is no secure parking for Jack. We're not too concerned though as he is just too big for the locals to ride. We have heard though that smaller bikes are a popular target for thieves. A short run into town and we located the 'Gday' Hotel. Run by an Australian ex pat, we were welcomed and invited to stay for Sunday roast. Shameful I know but hard to pass up as we hadn't eaten anything all day except for a few mouthfuls of something suspicious for breakfast.
Rode back to our hotel and two of the staff are concerned about security for Jack. One gets a piece of concrete with a pole attached and chains Jack to it. Haydn locks the steering, puts the disc lock on and the bike cover and we feel Jack will be fine, but later in the evening Haydn looks out from our first floor balcony and sees the other hotel staff member setting up his bed beside Jack. Up went the make shift bed, over it went the mozi net, quite a set up. Now I know Haydn sometimes wants to sleep with his bikes but not out in the street. Anyway, this young man spent the night at the side of the street beside our bike, just to make sure nothing happens. How's that for customer service, I am not sure if anyone has put themselves out for us to this extent before.

We're liking Cambodia and the people already!


18/12/06
A lazy day today as we need to do some planning for our time in Cambodia. We decide to try a local beachside spot for breakfast but are disapointed with the brown syrup they call coffee. We struggled through the vegetable noodles but wished we hadn't then took a ride up the coast to check out the other stunning beaches. Late morning we found another beach and stopped for a proper cup of coffee at one of the many beach front restaurants.

Inviting deserted beaches

It was so comfortable there we stayed for several hours and read up and planned our next two weeks. Now that we have a Laos Visa we may attempt the border crossing from Cambodia to Laos in the north, but we need to check on a few details first. It's not a popular crossing so there is not much information on the condition of the roads.
It's only day one in Cambodia for us and already we are finding it difficult to deal with the many beggers, particularly the amputees. We saw several today with one or both legs amputated and also one with both arms amputated just below the elbow. Many of these are probably the result of anti-personal mine incidents but we suspect that some are retribution acts committed by political forces to discourage dissidents.


19/12/06

A 'proper' breakfast this morning at the Oasis and a quick debrief from Dave and Ziggy who run the Oasis. A few details on a day ride I've planned to Kampot and Kep.
Kampot is a bit run down but nevertheless has some interesting colonial architecture and the centre for pepper production is not far away.

We had a great Khmer green curry with a pepper and lime source, very different.
Kep is renowned for the buskers who sell BBQ crab and prawn with a pepper dressing alongside the beach. A brand new flash hotel had just opened right on the deserted beach front with rooms with a spa for just $20.00 a night. This building stands out amongst the burnt out ruins of huge old colonial mansions, evidence of the destrction of the Pol Pot regeme. Wish we could stay but we can't, we must return to our hotel in Sihanoukville before dark as crazy bike riders don't have lights and the roads are not the best. We enjoy the ride home with setting sun and I get some great photos of the locals relaxing at the end of a hard day.


20/12/06
Up early for an early morning swim before meeting up with Ziggy and Brian at the Oasis for breakfast and a chat. It's always good to chat to fellow bikers and they gave us some good info. not to mention another great breakfast. It's about a 5 hour run on a good road to the capital Phnom Pehn. Not a bad run but some of the traffic made things interesting. We entered the city about 4.30pm and checked into the Kambui Inn, which Brian and Ziggy had pre-booked for us. A great place with secure parking just a couple of blocks from the river and Hub of Phnom Pehn.


21/12/06
One of the biggest mysteries and atrocities of our modern era is the inhumanity to man carried out by Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge. From 1975 to 1979 an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians were executed by the Khmer Rouge regime. One of the most infamous places of torture and death was S21 or Toul Sleng Museum where an estimated 17000 men women and children were tortured and killed.
We got a guide and she showed us all the torture rooms and cells and we got to watch a documentary on life under Pol Pot. A moving experience that changes one's outlook on the meaning and reason of life. Enough said.

We needed a walk through a huge market near by and a stroll along the attractive river front before doing the tourist thing and taking a look at the palace. Not any pics from inside as photography is not permitted unless you pay extra.


22/12/06
We were going to go to the 'Killing Fields' today, but frankly after seeing S21, we felt we'd seen enough of the atrocities of the Pol Pot era. By pure coincidence I stumbled onto the only cooking school in the city and decided that I would like to learn about Khmer food and Haydn had some admin stuff to take care of. The cooking school was $20.00 for a full day and we started off going to the markets, buying local produce and learning about it, then preparing and making 4 traditional dishes. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and learnt a lot about a very different cuisine.


23/12/06
Uploaded the website this morning at the hotel. Always takes longer than we expect and it was about 10.00am before we left town. No hassles with the traffic or the roads - perhaps we're just getting used to them, then on route 5 north to Battambang on a busy road with lots of small villages south of Tonle Sap Lake. Lots to see and lots of great photos to take. At one stage we turned right and headed into a village on the shores of the lake for about 10km on a narrow dirt track through the village and 'burbs. More photo opportunities and friendly locals smile and seem quite keen to get their picture taken.
Arrived in dusty Battanbang and quickly found a clean hotel with good security for Jack for $10.00. Always good to find a comfortable place at the end of a long day.


24/12/06
Left the hotel in Battanbang around 8.00am and headed into what we thought would be an interesting town, apparently lined with remnants of French buildings. All we saw though was dust and broken potholed roads. I wanted to try to contact our son Gareth so we hunted down an internet café, (actually delete the café bit). Haydn waited outside with the bike while I tried to make contact and when I came out, about 15 minutes later, he was surrounded with locals asking the usual questions. How much does it cost? We answer $10 000.00 and even then they can't comprehend that anyone, in the right state of mind, would pay that much for a motorcycle. If they knew the real cost they would think we were from Loony Ville!! The next question always is 'how much fuel does it use'?, then 'how fast does it go'? After those short questions and a visual assessment they usually conclude that Haydn must be the King, especially as he rides with the headlight and spotlights on.
While a bit of adornment is always appreciated it's time now for a bit of humbleness and not long after leaving Battanbang, we encounter our first truck spewing black smoke and clouds of dust all over our clean faces. Surely that's no way to treat a King and his Queen, but it is a reality check for what we can expect today.
The road to Siem Reap is notoriously bad. It's rumoured that a Thai airline company pays the Cambodian Government not to improve the road and it certainly seems that way. We only had to endure half of the 260km route from the Thai border, but that was bad enough. Jack is generally pretty comfortable with lots of suspension travel but these roads really tested him. They were stony. They were bumpy. They were sandy. They were dusty and they had big dips and whoops. (that's what you say when you go down and then up one). Did I say they were dusty and busy with lots of taxies and trucks generating plumes of choking dust. For most of the way were could only manage about 50 or 60kph and at one stop, to liquify the dust in our throats with some water, Haydn felt the rear shock and spittle sizzled on it. Apparently that's pretty hot for a shock.
The worst thing with this road is the potholes. They are so numerous and huge and Haydn has to be careful of oncoming traffic which suddenly swerves into our path to miss a pothole on their side of the road. As we near Siem Reap, the dirt becomes sealed but the potholes become worse and the traffic becomes heavier and the dashing and darting between potholes becomes more of a challenge for us and the other traffic.
I must admit that for both Haydn and I, we have had many more 'eye widening' experiences with the traffic here in Cambodia than at any other time in our travels, and that includes Colombia. The car drivers in particular seem to have a very poor sense of distance, time, speed and judgement. On an almost continuous basis they pull out to pass a truck right in front of us and we are forced to brake heavily and pull over to the verge or even at times right off the road. It happens so often now we actually expect it so it's not a problem. I suppose driving on the right doesn't help especially as many of the cars are right hand drive.

We did our best to continue to enjoy the daily activities around us and the very busy harvesting time on the land and in the water.

We arrived in Siem Reap hot dusty and tired and needed to find somewhere to ensconce ourselves and freshen up (a lot). (A steam cleaner would be useful) There is no shortage of hotels here and we settled on a comfortable place for $12.00 a night. Really this place is a bit like Las Vegas with lots of huge flash hotels. Seems a bit out of context for the ruins of Angkor Wat.


25/12/06
Xmas day, although you wouldn't know it in this Buddhist nation. Here the 25th of December is just another day. It was a special day for us though as we have an opportunity to think about family and friends. We started the day off with a good breakfast as you do and then some internet stuff to send emails to friends and Skype the family, all good stuff. For lunch we had arranged to meet Daniel. We first met Daniel in Phnom Pehn. We were having a drink and he stopped to perve on Jack. We started talking and then visited the Palace together. The next night by chance we saw him walking along the river-front and invited him in for a chat. Then last night in Siem Reap, we were walking along and spotted him having a drink. It's really amazing how often this sort of thing just happens. If you tried to arrange to meet someone in one of these places I'm sure it would be a challenge. Anyway, we had a great Khmer lunch of Amok and banana pancake before Daniel had to rush off to catch a flight to Laos. We hope to catch up with him in 2008 in Switzerland.
The rest of the afternoon we spent at the Red Piano across the road, slurping on a bottle of cheap French Red, (no Australian reds available unfortunately, but beggars can't be choosers!!) We moved to the upstairs balcony and dreamily watched the activities going on below and I decided to take the opportunity to write some stuff and do some research for our visit tomorrow to Angkor Wat.


26/12/06 - 28/12/06
I was determined to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat so we were up at 5.00am and away by 6.00am. $40.00US each for a 3 day pass and we were off to see these amazing wonders of the world. First stop was the largest and most famous temple, Angkor Wat itself and we marvelled at the amazing sight of the sun rising over this ancient temple. You have to be there to fully appreciate what a magical experience this is. See the pics and it has been described thus. 'Angkor Wat, in it's beauty and state of preservaration, is unrivalled. It's mightiness and magnificence bespeak a pomp luxury surpassing that of a Pharaoh or a Shah Jahan, an impressiveness greater than that of the Pyramids, an artistic distinctiveness as fine as that of the Taj Mahal'.

Angkor Wat is dated in the first half of the 12th century and is based on Hindu religion. It is also the largest monument in the Angkor group and one of the most intact. The temple apparently is 'an expression of Khmer art at its highest point'.

Three hours later and we moved on to the ancient city of Angkor Thom. Again the guide book does a better job of describing it that me, 'Angkor Thom is undeniabley an expression of the highest genius. It is in three dimentions and on a scale worthy of an entire nation, the materialization of Buddhist cosmology, representing ideas that only a great painter would dare to portray... Angkor Thom is not an architectural miricle... it is in reality the world of the gods springing up from the heat of ancient Cambodia'. There, I told you they'd do a better job than me. It's claimed that in it's time it was 'grander than any city in Europe'. Pretty impressive stuff. Again check out the pics, as they speak louder than words.

The following two days were spent visiting the many other Wats in the area. Having the bike gave us mobility and independence and we made the most of it. I thought Haydn would get a little bored with all this ancient stuff but it is so engrossing that he enjoyed it as much as I did. Getting up early enabled us to beat the heat and also most of the tourists. Some Wats simply become overrun with visitors (constantly wanting to have their picture taken) by about 10.00am.
We enjoyed our time in Siem Reap. It is quite a buzzy place with a mixture of grand hotels and comfortable guest houses. There are lots of street side eating places, markets and small shops. There are also a couple of 'Artisan' workshops and the silk making one in particular was most impressive. We were taken on a tour from the growing of the Mulberry leaves, to the growth of the worms, to extracting (all by hand) the silk from the cacoon to the weaving processes. The silk thread from the cacoon is 4 metres long and they tie and dye strands to weave the traditional Combodian patterns. The quality is exceptional and the skill and patience of the weavers amazing.


29/12/06
Three days and we were Watted out so it was time to move on heading south on route 6 then 7 to Kompong Chan where we spent the night. An interesting ride on a good road passing lots of small villages. We turned off the highway at one point and roamed the narrow roads into the 'suburbs' to again enjoy all the activities of rural subsistence living. These hard working people toil each day just to provide the next meal. It is harvest time and all efforts go into gathering and drying the food in preparation for the wet season. We have to dodge the rice and turnips drying at the side of the road as well as the trucks, bikes, pigs, chooks, ducks and water buffalo!
Today is a Friday and a good day, it would seem, for getting married. Riding along we occasionally hear loud music blaring from the roadside and find a very colourful mass of people, decorated tables and chairs all decked out for this special occasion. We met a few bride and grooms in their silk finery as they greeted their guests, also dressed up in silk.

The bride and groom welcoming thier guests...

Wedding guests from all around the neighbourhood,
notice the silk skirt

All seemed out of context in these most primitive, simple and basic villages.
In the evening large families gather on their wooden verhandas to enjoy a meal together and young kids play ball games in the dust and dirt at the side of the road. Everyone is always quick to smile and wave at the Star Ship Enterprise as we pass.

Odd I know but snooker is a favourite with the teenagers and they crowd around the few snooker tables out front that seem to be nearly as big as the house.


30/12/06
Continued on heading north now into North Eastern Cambodia on the 7 to Kratie. It was only about 200km from Kompong Chan but we felt like a break and found a hotel with restaurant on the river front. The Hotel looked good but the food was very average and we were in two minds whether to stay or not. This part of Cambodia is not on the 'tourist trail' and information on the roads and possible places to stay is scant and unreliable. When asking the locals for advice we have to be careful how we phrase the question. If we asked 'is there a good hotel in ....?', the response would probably be 'yes', as they usually like to agree with or please us. 'Is the road to ... good? would likewise get a 'yes'. We need to remember that in most cases they simply don't know because they've probably never been there. Sometimes we show the map to get information, but they can't read maps or the roman characters so again we'll usually get a 'yes'.
Feeling the need to make up a bit of time we elected to continue on to Stung Treng and followed the Mekong river for about 16km to the park where we could take a small boat ($US10.00) to see the fresh water Irrawaddy Dolphins. Quite an experience and we were fortunate to see several pods close up.
There were sections of good tar and fairly good dirt for most of the remaining way to Stung Treng and we made it just before sunset and quickly found a clean hotel for $US7.00. They even let Jack spend the night in the foyer. Stung Treng has been described as a real outpost town on the banks of the San and Mekong rivers and that about sums it up.


31/12/06
A quick ride around town in the morning then a short ferry ride across the San river and onto the Laos border crossing at Voen Khan.

Haydn had woken up this morning with a really sore left eye, scratchy, as if there was a hair or something in it. I looked and looked but couldn't see anything, decided it was an infection and put some salty water and drops in. We had hoped to get into the forested highlands to the west and enjoy a different Cambodia, but a days ride on a bad dusty road was not going to help Haydn's eye which was causing him so much discomfort. It was the right decision to head north and move into Laos on a surfaced road.

Did I say surfaced road? Well some of it was, but the really dry winds and dust weren't helping and at times he was forced to hold a cotton pad over the eye whilst riding. Riding with only one eye is not recommended so I had my time cut out spotting for him.

No hassles with immigration, just a $1.00 pp 'extra' charge on the Cambodian side and again on the Laos side. A new country to welcome the new year, how fitting, anyone would think we planned it this way!

We leave Cambodia with lots of red dust and with an aching bum and heart. These people have had to endure the Cambodian genocide, are still living with a corrupt government and millions of unexploded anti personal mines. Such poor people whose only assistance comes from foreigners, yet foreiners too are taking from them by buying investment properties for an expected boom in the tourist market. Travel is easy as there are many new hotels and guest houses springing up in bigger centres. A big problem is the filth and litter especially round the markets, particularly plastic bags and bottles that are strewn everywhere. When a local opens a bag for instance, they will remove the contents and just drop the bag on the ground. In some areas the wind blows this litter into huge mounds where it remains - perhaps for years.

We have enjoyed these people immensley, always helpful with a keen sense of humour. Enjoy the pics, though it was sometimes diffficult taking photographs of kids as they are frightened of us and the camera mainly due, we believe, to the very real fear of been kidnapped for the sex trade. It had to be a quick unaware shot or we had to make sure the parents were there. Only then was it all smiles.

In summary

Petrol = $0.80/litre

Room = $10.00

Food = $15.00/day (for 2) cheap food laced with MSG is available at local markets but we found to get the Kmer flavours from coconut, garlic, lemongrass, lime and pepper we had to spend a bit more. We always enjoyed the local dish – Amoc.

 

Images of the Cambodian people, the faces that greeted us each day as we travel through 'their place...'

cambodian 1

cambodian 2

 

Next page will take you on to Laos.

 

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