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
Check out the
Places visited in Cambodia:
- Koh Kong
- Phnom Penh
- Siam Reap / Angkor
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
I board the SAS flight to Copenhagen in the evening. The
flight is on time and I have a couple of hours to spend in
Copenhagen. I head to the city center to have a proper
dinner - my choice is a buffet in an Indian restaurant.
Definitely better than any inflight meal! The flight to
Bangkok is painful as usual - even though it is a night
flight it is pretty hard to get any sleep. In Bangkok I head
directly to Khao San Road and book a room from the same
hotel where I was staying last year. It is the usual chaos
on the streets but I'm too tired to stay out for long.
14.3.2005 Bangkok - Trat
I do some shopping on KSR and visit also the big shopping
mall MBK to buy some supplies including a new camera. I take
the skytrain to the northern bus station and catch the next
bus to Trat. I realize that it is too late to get to Ko
Chang today so I have to stay overnight in Trat. The bus
journey is a long and tedious one and there is lots of time
to do some thinking of the recent events. Trat is not the
most impressive city around so I book the first available
hotel room and after a quick dinner I go to sleep. I don't
sleep too well though...
15.3.2005 Trat - Ko
It is a cloudy day as I wake up. The first task is to find a
bank where I can change US dollars for the Cambodian leg of
the trip. This proves to be more challenging than expected
but after several tries I finally find a place where this is
possible. After that I fetch my backpack from the hotel and
take a sangthaew to the harbour area. The water looks
suspiciously green there - the reason seems to be the
dredging work that is going on nearby.
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
Apple was a terrible place - I did not manage to
sleep much as the bungalow is really hot and there was
constant noises coming from somewhere. I take a sangthaew
and continue south to the next beach. It proves to be
a lot more pleasant place than Hat Sai Khao and I also
manage to find a really nice bungalow further away from the
beach. There is even an inroom safe which is pretty rare in
the cheaper bungalows.
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
18.104.22.1685 Ko Chang
Time for a do-nothing-day. Any other activities than
lying on the beach, swimming, reading a book and listening
to music are forbidden. I'll snapper for dinner and decide
to continue to Cambodia tomorrow.
Chang - Koh Kong
The main objective is to get to Cambodia before end of day.
To get to Koh Kong I need three sangthaew rides, one ferry
and one minibus ride and finally a moto ride (with backpack)
to take me to my final destination. As I finally get to the
border crossing at four o'clock and there seems to be quite
a hassle going on. I get my first impressions of Cambodian
touts as there are dozens of people offering motos, taxis
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
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
I wake up early at 8 to catch the ferry. It is just a
200-meter walk so that is not a problem. Some local
youngster manages to get 20B from me as some sort of "baggage
fee" (which proves to be a scam later - the guy was not a
member of the crew!). Anyway the journey starts in time
without problems. It is not a particularly scenic one as the
ferry is actually a big speed boat (which means that
everybody sits inside in the cabin with fairly small windows).
Interestingly it was almost freezing inside because of the
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...
I booked an "island trip" from a local travel agency. It
proved to be an "island trip from Hell" - even though after
returning to mainland it felt somewhat funny afterall...
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 thought that I had seen most of Sihanoukville and the next
destination would be Kampot about 100km away. There were no
buses so it was the time to try the local method of
transportation known as "shared taxis". This means a normal
car (usually japanese sedans) that will be packed full of
people (meaning anything from six up to ten people in a car
that can comfortably carry five). If you paid a double fee
then you could have the whole front seat - otherwise you
would have to share the seat with somebody.
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 main activity today was a visit to Bokor Hill. It is a
national park with an old abandoned hotel on the top of a
high hill. It was a tour organized by some local company and
the method of transportation was a pick-up truck. Everybody
was "seated" outside. The most comfortable position seemed
to be stand up and take a firm grasp of the sides. Not the
safest way of travelling but definitely the scenery was
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
23.3.2005 Kampot - Phnom Penh
To get to Phnom Penh it was time for another shared taxi
ride. I played extra again ($5) to get the whole front seat
for me. It took almost one hour to locate the remaining
passengers. The road to PP was surprisingly good and as
expected the average speed was way above 100 km/h. The
first impression of PP was even more chaotic than I expected.
The driver left me somewhere on the outskirts of the town -
I quickly realized that I did not have a clue of my exact location!
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
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
I spend the morning at the Royal Palace. Not quite as
magnificent as in Bangkok but still impressive. There are
lots of similarities between these two sanctuaries - for
example the similar themes in the artwork. I also visit the
nearby national museum which is not too interesting. Lots of
buddha statues from various eras but not much else. I spend
the afternoon in a bus - because of poor roads there seems
to be little traffic after or before daylight.
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
25.3.2005 Siem Reap / Angkor
One of the most awaited days of the trip - the visit to
Angkor. I rent a bike from the guesthouse as it should be
pretty flat terrain there in the temple area. That was a
good choice as there was no need for the hassle with the
moto drivers. My plan was to do the "mini tour" of 17 km in
anti-clockwise direction to avoid the bigger crowds -
another recommend choice. I don't know how many temples I
actually visited during the day - anyway there must have
been at least a dozen.
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
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
Mixed feelings. After three flights and a stopover in Vienna
I return to home in one piece.