Thailand / Cambodia - 2005
After my second trip to South East Asia I wanted to experience more and this time I decided to visit one of the less developed countries in the area - Cambodia. One of the main reasons for this itinerary was also to experience the temples of Angkor. I arrived from Thailand via the "southern route" from Trat to Krong Koh Kong.
Check out the photo gallery.
Places visited in Cambodia:
This trip was the most unfortunate one so far. During my second night I got drugged and robbed. I lost quite a lot of money, camera and mobile phone. As the first thing I decided to fly back home but after some thinking I continued with my original itinerary. Fortunately I had still my credit cards. I won't share the unpleasant details of the robbery in this diary - therefore a couple of days are not covered in this diary.
Just when I had recovered from the first incident I heard some shocking news from back home (on the second last day of the trip). There had been a surprising and very unfortunate event in our family during my absence. I left Cambodia with mixed feelings...
Anyway despite these events Cambodia is definitely an unforgettable experience. It is a very controversial yet fascinating country with a tragic history that can still be seen almost everywhere. Regardless of the obvious poverty people still seem to be happy and hospitable. It was there where I experienced some of the most memorable moments in Asia.
10.3 - 11.3.2005 Helsinki - Copenhagen - Bangkok
14.3.2005 Bangkok - Trat
15.3.2005 Trat - Ko
I took a waterbus to Ko Chang - the ride is somewhat dodgy but uneventful. I took another sangthaew to Hat Sai Khao beach where I plan to stay overnight. The place is not very attractive compared to other similar spots in Thailand - the water is pretty shallow and because of high tide the stretch of sand is quite narrow. There is also lots of travellers and therefore finding a bungalow seems to be rather difficult. This reminds me of Phi Phi - also the price level of accommodation is really high. I finally find a vacancy from place called Apple - wouldn't recommend this place to anybody as the bungalow is really hot and the owners are surprisingly inhospitable by Thai standards.
Anyway I plan to move on tomorrow. I spend a couple of hours at the cloudy beach - the waves are quite high so it is not good for swimming. Not much activities for the rest of day apart from writing the diary and reading some books...
16.3 Ko Chang
I spent the rest of the day on the beach - a pretty good one even though it is also quite shallow for swimming. I have some chilli octopus for dinner and it is the spiciest meal so far. I later woke up in the middle of night with urgent need to visit toilet... Anyway apart from this incident the day was a pleasant one and I managed to sleep quite well.
184.108.40.2065 Ko Chang
Chang - Koh Kong
Getting a visa is not a problem (just pay the 1100B fee). The taxis seem to be vastly overpriced ($5) so I take a moto instead (I choose one of the less aggressive guys who is not trying to oversell his services). The driver keeps my big backpack between his legs which makes the ride somewhat dodgy...
In Koh Kong you quickly understand the main differences between Cambodia and Thailand: there are only a few paved roads and the buildings are at their worse wooden huts. On the contrary there are also several brand new hotels. I check in to a local guesthouse which is fairly decent place to stay. Moto driver sells me a ticket to the morning ferry (after openly admitting that he gets a commission for it). I do some sightseeing in the village just to realize that there is not really much to be seen. The poverty is obvious but there are so many smiling faces to be seen.
I have dinner at a guesthouse owned by some German guy - a tasty portion of "beef loc lac" and less tasty German meat balls as side order. There are also some older Germans in their fifties waiting for the ride back on their "visa run" (long term residents of Pattaya tend to come to Cambodia to renew their visas every three months). In addition to excessive drinking these guys also celebrate the evening by smoking a huge joint! A good example of Cambodia's more liberal drug policies. Before going to sleep the receptionist from my guesthouse asks if I'm interested in massage or other services from the local ladies...
19.3.2005 Koh Kong - Sihanoukville
After four hours I arrived in Sihanoukville where the usual hordes of touts and moto drivers were waiting. I shared a taxi with a british couple and followed them to the Occhectal Beach Side Bungalows that somebody had recommended to them. It turned out to be brand new and very comfortable so even though the expensive rates I decided to stay there. I spent the rest of day at the nearby beach, which was quite an experience: beach bars, street vendors, beggars and lots of local people. Not quite a chilled out place but lots of action going on. I had delightful and huge chicken meal at a beach bar and returned to my bungalow.
After dark I did not feel like wandering around so I stayed at the terrace of my bungalow. Seems that after the robbery I have become overly cautious in many ways...
There was a big longtail boat with two engines waiting for the group. It was really stormy weather and it soon became obvious that the boat was not meant for such a rough ride. The first activity was snorkeling which turned out to be hopeless because of the poor visibility as there was sand and seaweed everywhere in the water. We continued onwards and soon one couple was feeling badly seasick that I thought they would soon faint!
As sun started shining after a while the crew decided to remove the canvas roof - unfortunately at the same time they managed to hit a british guy with one of heavy wooden planks used to attach the canvas! The poor guy broke his sunglasses and some of the shards got stuck in his head.
The next destination was a small island with just a couple of primitive bungalows and a decent beach. Interestingly there were several pieces of Russian artillery from the 70s stored on the island. If you wanted to shoot a picture it would have cost $1. As we left the island after swimming and having lunch another accident happened. As we were leaving the island the crew managed to get the boat stuck on a big rock. After some struggling they managed to get the boat moving again but at the same time they broke the rudder which immediately started floating away! The only way to recover it was to send one of the crew members swimming after it as the others tried to somehow steer the boat with motors and anchor. After half an hour they finally got the rudder back and another half an hour was needed before it was in its original place!
Surprisingly the rest of the trip was uneventful and nobody was willing to try the second snorkeling spot. I was relieved to return to my bungalow and just to chill out...
21.3.2005 Sihanoukville - Kampot
I paid some extra and shared the backseat with a british couple. After some pointless driving around in Sihanoukville some locals packed themselves on the front seat and we finally got moving. As expected the driver was a madman and the road was anything from brand new to terrible. Anyway we got to Kampot unharmed...
Kampot is not the most beautiful city around but in its own way it is a pretty pleasant mixture old french buildings and newer concrete monstrosities. It was rather filthy on streets and there were mopeds everywhere. Only few roads were paved. I spent the afternoon by hiring a moto driver and visiting the nearby village of Kep. It was an interesting place with numerous old villas that had been looted and destroyed during the Khmer Rouge. The place had a kind of eerie feeling - especially when I visited the abandoned palace of the current king.
I returned to Kampot before dark and had dinner in place by the river where nobody spoke any English. After that I returned to the guesthouse that had a pleasant roof terrace where I stayed up till late chatting with a German guy called Martin and his companion Alex from the UK.
22.3.2005 Kampot / Bokor
The road up to the hill was the worst I've ever experienced - the average speed was not even 30 km/h. After a couple of hours we stopped at the first ruins - this time it was the king's old mansion where everything had been looted. We continued on foot and there was a forest hike of some 1,5 hours ahead. It was actually pretty comfortable temperature up on the hills so I did not really feel that hot. One of the attractions should have been a waterfall but for some reason it had dried entirely!
We continued by car to the summit and arrived just in time before the clouds covered the whole area half an hour later. Before that there was a splendid view to as far as Vietnam! The hotel was a sight in itself - as LP said it would be the perfect spot for shooting a horror movie. It was really rundown and ghostly place but you could still somehow feel the past splendor of the place easily. As the clouds came the place became even more eerie... Other interesting sights were an old church (looted completely as every building in the area) and water tower looking like an UFO. The journey back was equally slow.
As I returned to Kampot the sounds of a local karaoke club kept me amused while I was reading a book on the roof terrace.
23.3.2005 Kampot - Phnom Penh
As it proved to be impossible to locate myself I took a moto to the downtown area. There was a decently priced ($10) and clean hotel so I checked in. I spent the afternoon by doing the most shocking sightseeing tour I have ever taken - the monuments of the Khmer Rouge genocide. The first destination was the "Killing fields" where thousands of people were executed. Apart from the 10-meter high tower of real human skulls the place was not that bad but still overall feeling on the fields was somehow unpleasant.
My second destination was "S21" interogation center where people waiting for execution where being imprisoned and tortured. The place felt really scary and disgusting as there were lots of displays of the "equipment" and hundreds of photos of the victims. Most of the rooms were empty which still felt quite shocking.
The afternoon activities left a kind of empty feeling and all I could do was some pointless wandering on the streets of PP (and gradually getting totally pissed of by the overeager moto drivers).
24.3.2005 Phnom Penh - Siem Reap
In Siem Reap I'm greeted by the craziest hordes of touts so far. It really requires some violence to get rid of those annoying people trying to sell anything from motos to day trips to Angkor. I locate a moto driver that is calmly sitting alongside the road and ask him to take me to downtown area. It turns out that I end up in the wrong location and there is quite a lot of walking to the area where the hotels are. I'm feeling ripped of and refuse to take another moto. I check in at place called Mom's guesthouse. I check out the surrounding downtown area - which is surprisingly packed with various tourist-oriented businesses (everything from Irish bars to souvenir shops). I go to sleep early to get prepared for tomorrow's Angkor tour.
25.3.2005 Siem Reap / Angkor
The area as a whole is unbelievably large. The temples come in different styles and their condition varies from ruins taken over by jungle to the carefully restored beauty of Angkor Wat. My personal favourites where the ruins deeper in the jungle and Bayon with its hundreds of smiling buddha faces. Of course Angkor Wat is an unbelievable place but as it was my last destination and still pretty crowded I did just a brief tour there. It is hard to describe the Angkor with words, instead I recommend to have a look at the photo gallery. The major nuisance in the area is the countless touts and street vendors as everywhere in Cambodia. Many of them are just small children speaking really decent English who are selling pirate books and souvenirs for their living.
After returning I bought my souvenirs from the Siem Reap marketplace after some intensive bargaining. I had dinner and then decided to visit a local Internet cafe. I read my email and there was a message from my mom asking to call her. Soon she told me the shocking news: my dad had passed away after having a heart attack.
26.3.2005 Siem Reap - Bangkok -
Vienna - Helsinki
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