Cambodia Travel Journal: the South

This travel journal is part of a series of journals, which are all written during a long trip between november 2007 and may 2009.

> First day in Cambodja

Packed Car23-02-2008 After a good night of sleep, following the borderstress of yesterday, we head into Cambodia full of good spirits today. At 8 we're expected to be at the office where we bought 2 bustickets to Sihanoukville yesterday. From here we will be taken to the bus station on the back of a motorbike-taxi, to make sure we're in the 8.15 bus heading out of town. Around eight more people are gathering here, allthough we see others on the back of motorbikes, heading to the bus station on their own. Well, we're not in a hurry and we don't care to wait a bit. At ten past eight there suddenly is a bus showing up after all and we're directed inside, along with some other travelers. O no, out again. No, we're supposed to sit down again. Uhm... or do we... no, NOW quick-quick on the motorbike-taxi, to the bus station after all. Chaos is complete now, whát a talent for organisation do these people have here, but a bit later we're still in the right bus.
Poverty just outside Koh Kong is huge. People are living in wooden huts, without any sanitary or water. Miraculously we're driving on a brand new road, which is less than 2 years old. The big, concrete bridge over a river has also just been completed and is a stark contrast with the sad circumstances in which people are living in this area. An hour later we reach a second bridge, but this one is still under construction, with financial support from Thailand. The bus is parked on a sidetrack, not more than a trail actually. And we're requested to leave the bus with all our luggage, to walk to the "ferry", a bit further on.

Ferry somewhere between Koh Kong and Sihanoukville Ferry somewhere between Koh Kong and Sihanoukville

Ferry is a bit too luxuriouas a word for what we see. It's a handmade raft of about 5 to 6 metres with two giant diesel engines at one side and large leaking cracks between the planks. Alongside 2 packed cars, 2 extremely bulging mini vans and some 100 other people we're urged on the structure. We find it a bit cramped, but well... we're able to swim. The ferry itself has different plans. It simply doensn't move carrying this load. Around 30 people have to get off and there we go. When the others also made it across we can move on in a new bus, which has been waiting for us here.
Some 50 kilometres further on there happens to be another river, with yet another nearly completed bridge. Nearly... So the entire circus has to be run all over again, with one obvious difference: the ferry now is a much smaller raft, balancing on two separate boats with an engine in the rear. We do make it with dry feet and there we go again. The fourth river is spanned by a another brand new and a perfectly drivable bridge and after we passed some western-like towns we arrive in Sihanoukville by the end of the afternoon. Unfortunately the weather is not quite what one should expect from a seaside resort, so we quickly find us a shelter.

> Sihanoukville

24-02-2008 Fortunately the sun is back today and we drive around on a motorbike. Apparently Lopburi is not the only place on earth with a monkey temple. We do find wild makaques walking around here as well, on a temple on a hill. The animals are quite as uppish as their Thai conspecifics. The laundry of one of the neighbours is taken from its drying place and tastily chewed. As Peter snaps his fingers to scare the felon away he exposes his teeth and wildly screeching he's coming after Peter. He needs to really run not to be bitten and next the rude monkey disappears with an orange t-shirt. The workers huts in front of the Luxurious New HotelWe now go for Petras advice: armed with a stick we check out the rest of the temple, but the monkies don't even look at us anymore.
We descend to sea level. The contradictions of what we see in the area around the beach are huge. Flashy, brand new resorts are alongside poor huts without water, power or whatever provision at all. A new concrete monster is raised next to some structures that don't even deserve the word shed: home to the Camdodian construction workers and their families. Soon tourists will be spending more in just one night than these families will earn in six months.
We go for a short stop at the beach, where dirty packages of food and drinks are floating in the surf, contrasting with the beautiful blue color of the water and the white sand. Kids are begging among fat, sunburned beer bellies (whether or not covered with a huge camera) to please buy a bunch of bananas from them.
Even before noon we realize: Sihanoukville is not a place for us. Tomorrow we leave and we book 2 tickets for the bus to Kampot. Yesterday we had a delicious Khmer soup at a street stall, today we are pleasantly surprised by the Khmer Amok and curry.

> To Kampot

A packed van25-02-2008 Early in the morning we make the 2 hour trip to Kampot. Astonished we wonder why the cars and vans in Cambodia accept the way they are abused. How do some of these, already long retired, brigs move forward?! On one van we count 15 people. On the roof. Various pairs of feet peek out of the tailgate and it looks like inside the van there are at least 15 more men, women and children. And luggage! Transport with horsecarts is also still normal here, or a bunch of cows pulling a wooden cart.
Slaughtering and picking chickens on the MarketIn Kampot we wander around at the market, where we see the most amazing products in a stall next to another stall where the recently slaughtered pig is hanging in pieces, waiting to be sold. On the other side there's a chicken stall, where chicken are slaughtered and picked. They've never heard of hygene and animal friendly is clearly not yet included in the Khmer dictionary.
We stroll through the center and slowly the unpleasant feeling that we need to watch our backs disappears. A feeling never far away since the many scams at the border, for instance because of the constant shouting from tuktuk drivers and sales- and beggartricks from all the people we met in Sihanoukville. But the people in Kampot seem sincerely curious and we're enjoying ourselves.
In the afternoon dark clouds gather and we find shelter for the rain in our nice room.

26-02-2008 We'd loved to make a trip to Bokor tomorrow, an abandoned ghost town from the 20's, high on a Kampong Trachhilltop and surrounded by thick jungle. Unfortunately the bad road over there has been closed, as there's a new road being constructed, leading to the near future's new 5-star resort of Bokor. The tour can still take place, but for double the rpice, as a slush fund for the road construction workers who have to open the gate. We don't feel much like paying double, as the weather persistantly stays less fine as well. So instead we buy bus tickets to Phnom Penh for tomorrow.
On motorbikes we visit some of the surrounding villages, en route waved and yelled at by the local youth and even some adults. Still it's a cheerless whole what we see, especially when it starts raining again.

> Phnom Penh

27-02-2008 We can add one more special experience to our list! 4 Hours on an extremely bumpy road without shock absorbers. When you add the assault of at least 10 kids selling fruit (at 9.45 am) to it you'll understand it wasn't a very convenient ride.
Traffic in Phnom PenhFortunately the sunshine tries its best and really: Phnom Penh is not that bad... as long as you keep your nose and mouth shut. That's definately the way to go on a moto-taxi (motorbike), truely Asian with three people through the chaotic traffic of the Cambodian capital. Afterwards we conclude that this was a bit too extraordinary an experience, but at least we're on time at the Lao embassy for a new visa.
In the national museum we admire the Khmer art of the past 10 centuries. We see many statues saved from Angkor, before they were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge.

28-02-2008 While enjoying breakfast in our favorite restaurant we see a placard of a newly founded orphanage, where English classes are given as well for the disadvantaged children of the village. We decide to go and have a look there later, but we start today at the Tuol Sleng museum, the former S-21 prison of the Khmer Rouge. It certainly Tuol Sleng Prison (S-21)isn't a museum for the fainthearted and we're extremely overwhelmed by the sadistic way thousands have been tortured and murdered here, including children.
Both Wat Phnom, where the history of Phnom Penh starts, and Psar Thmei, the new market, are pretty much disappointing. At the market we do buy a couple of kilograms of tangerines and we find ourselves a tuktuk driver who knows where the village of Phum Boeng Chhouk is. Fortunately we have a phone number of the orphanage with us and our guy is smart enough to ask a couple of times on his way, so eventually we approach a wooden house, whith some school furniture in the open room downstairs. From afar we're enthusiastically called by the kids who get their English classes here. As all of them finished their tangerines Yvonne teaches the children and one teacher an English song, while Peter speaks with the other teacher about what they do with the children, what materials there are available and especially what more is needed. They do need a lot, as we can see while taking a look inside the house. The foster mother of the orphans is sleeping in a wooden bed without a mattress, together with 4 girls and a little boy. The boys and the 2 teachers are sleeping on the porch, just on the wooden floor. We don't see any toys and cutlery is very limited as well. We make a list and agree to return in over a week to help and to deliver some goods.

29-02-2008 After a late breakfast we first go to the national palace. Whether we'd like to pay 6 dollars each. Well, rather not, but it's probably very special in there, so okay... we both donate a Cambodian week's wageNationaal Paleis in Phnom Penh to you. It's not that 6 Dollars is so spectacular, but the amount is kind of disproportionate compared to what other things cost here and definately compared to the Thai prices for tourist attractions we still have in mind. It is very nice inside, but it doesn't come close to its big example in Bangkok. Around 11 o'clock / 11.30 all the doors close and we're directed to the exit: lunch break.
We walk around a bit to find something to eat to take with us in the tuktuk, as we have plans to visit the Choeung Ek Killing Fields and those are situated outside the city. As we get deeper into the neighborhood people look more miserable. Some of them even lie on the street. Even kids are filthy and lonely sitting in the dirt. It's almost unimaginable that 300 metres down the road you need to pay 6 Dollars to look at some old stuff, while people here can eat at least a week from that amount. We'd definately like to do something to help them, but: who do you help and how? From time to time we do hand out bananas to them who seem to need it, especially kids. It seems hard to figure out what else, as we don't speak the language. We finally find some food and next a tuktuk driver who wants to take us along for a decent price.
While driving we see more misery: huge slums are hidden behind a line of pretty nice houses. And Choeung Ek is not a very cheerful place either. You get quiet as soon as you realise how badly people have suffered here, of how many people the remains are still out here. Fractions of bone are still found and pieces of moldy clothes are spread over the terrain. In a purpose-built tower the skulls of almost 9000 murdered people are piled up. Inconceivable!

> Further on to Battambang

01-03-2008 We've seen the few sights of Phnom Penh during the past couple of days, so we lift our bags on our back and in the 8 o'clock bus we slowly leave town in the morning traffic jam. Chicken TransportWe follow Tonlé Sap rivir in the direction of Battambang for quite a while when we suddenly stop. The bus makes a U-turn and returns in the same direction as where we came from. We have the wildest imaginations about the reason of the sudden return, but eventually we think it's due to a traffic jam through road constructions further on and as the driver is obviously looking for another route this seems the only logical explanation.
The streets we pass are getting smaller and smaller, because of the directions of the people on the roadside approached by our driver and we even puddle through dirt roads, untill eventually we can't go any further and we turn around. Fortunately all of this tour is accompanied by extremely loud Khmer-music from a karaoke video-cd, so we're more than happy to know that this 5 hour trip will now be extended by at least 1 hour. Eventually the other people in the bus also seem to understand the problem and it's getting a bit restless around us, but suddenly we seem to back on the highway. Soon we see this is exactly the same road as the one we left earlier, which means the entire detour was for nothing. Untill Battambang we don't see anything strange. Unfortunately the dvd-player crashes somewhere halfway, so we have to enjoy ourselves without the karaoke, but our Cambodian fellow passengers pretty much make up for the amount of noise.
The afternoon's almost over when we arrive at our new accommodation in Battambang, but we do like what we see from this town.

> More Info

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