31.01.2013 Crossing the border and arriving in Kratie
We crossed the border between Laos and Cambodia. What sounds like a simple enough step was in fact an odyssey spanning a full day. Going to the border by bus was fine, but at the border we were completely ripped-off – everywhere we had to pay one or two dollars for this or that… Annoying!!! Having spent 2 hours waiting for who knows what, we were finally presented with a crammed minibus to take us on. However (and who knows why) it only ever went up to Stung Treng where we were dropped off at a small restaurant in the outskirts… and promised a connection within half an hour. Said bus connection then turned out to only have space for 4 out of 14 people, so we had to wait for another 2 hours. No information to be had from anybody, and at some point we were told that there was not going to be another minibus at all… exasperating. Luckily a bus turned up after all, we squeezed in and endured the next few hours.
Arriving in Kratie, we were happy to find a good guesthouse and food and to sleeeeeep for a long time… Apart from that, I didn’t see anything in Kratie, for the next day Mathijs and I continued to Kompong Cham.
01.02.-02.02.2013 Kompong Cham
Fortunately, we were spared a sequel to the minibus odyssey and made our way to Kompong Cham fairly quickly – a small town at the Mekong which I was very fond of.
The town is nicely situated at the river and the old French lighthouse is a good viewpoint for watching the sunset, even though the steps up are a little scary…!
The following day, we rented a motorcycle and cruised to the few sights of the area: Wat Nokor is a beautiful old temple, reminiscent of Angkor Wat in its style.
Men’s and Women’s Hill are two hills presenting a view all right, but one that will unlikely knock your socks off 😉 The temple on Women’s Hill is rather nice, though! We also went to Wat Hanchey – it wasn’t really worth the lengthy search for the right road, but the drive through villages was pretty enough. The bamboo bridge in the south of the town impressed us mightily, too:
And in the afternoon we travelled on again…
02.02.-04.02.2013 Phnom Penh
We had scheduled 2 days for Phnom Penh, which was enough. After very rural Laos it was nice to be in a big city again.
Having said that, I didn’t especially like the city. We visited the Wat Phnom temple, the Independence Monument and the two markets, Psar Thmei and the Russian Market – none of which could be called outstanding. The water front promenade was gigantic, but not very nicely made. I suppose I’m simply spoilt by how Europe does these kinds of things 😉 The King’s Palace and the Silver Pagoda weren’t accessible at the time, for the King of Cambodia had died 3 months before and was now being cremated and buried… But it was fascinating to see masses of Cambodians in mourning clothes!
I was most impressed by two historic museums treating the cruel past of the country (because of the force of the atrocities, I decided to only take black-and-white photographs here): Today’s Tuol Sleng Museum was a prison and a place of cruel torture under the Khmer Rouge regime.
In the end, prisoners were brought to the Killing Fields (Choeung Ek), where they were even more cruelly executed. In order to save bullets, people were killed with shovels, axes, hammers… A terrible place; the audio tour really helps you get to know the history.
It did feel a bit weird to go on to a shooting range directly afterwards – but how often do you get the chance to try out an AK-47!?!? It was real fun, too, although it was over within seconds… 😉
Kampot is a small town near Cambodia’s coast, but has no direct access to the sea. We only spent one day there, renting motorcycles. First, we went to a temple cave – but it could not equal the caves we had seen over the last few weeks… The scenery and villages on the way were definitely more of a sight! 🙂Afterwards, we went up to the Bokor Hill Station – a pretty long and windy road into the “mountains”. The old buildings up there reminded me of a ghost town and make quite pretty photo opportunities – and the view across the sea is truly spectacular!! Sadly, investors are already busy transforming the area into a resort of five star hotels (positively ugly concrete blocks) and casinos 😦Going down again, we soon realised we had a flat tyre… damn! With immense luck we were able to slowly go down all the hill and reach the next garage! Phewww… 🙂
Only a short bus trip separates Shianoukville from Kampot. On our agenda there: beach and scuba diving. I had high expectations for neither. And I was right: there are no particularly nice beaches in Sihanoukville. By motorcycle, we went to Occheutal Beach, Otres Beach, Sokha Beach and Hawaii Beach. The last one was by far the best for us!
For diving, we went to Koh Rong, an island which looks very beautiful but where we unfortunately had neither enough time nor money (everything was fully booked and very expensive at the time). The dives only went down 8-10m, and all those who know me will know that this is not up my alley at all 😉 Give me 20m at least, please! It was nice, though, to be under water again after so much time had passed since my last diving experience (July 2012)!!! I also saw my friend Squeeky from Honduras again. We did the dive instructors’ course together and she now works here. It’s always nice to meet friends again while travelling!
10.02.-13.02.2013 Siem Reap
A night bus then brought us to Siem Reap. Completely exhausted, we first needed a long sleep. Afterwards, we would have liked to visit Tonlé Sap Lake. However, all tours going there are either outrageously overpriced or painfully touristy. We were not going to gape at people as if they were animals in a zoo!! So we ended up only buying tickets for Angkor and soaked up our first sunset impressions…
The next 3 days were fully dedicated to Angkor. On our first day, we rented bicycles and went on the Small Circuit plus a few other temples. Highlights were of course the Bayon temple full of stone faces and the Ta Phrom jungle temple.
But smaller temples were a pleasant surprise, too, because they were less crowded! On the second day we had to get up early – to see the sunrise together with 1,000 other tourists. Oh yes: it was definitely worth it!! A wonderful sight… 🙂Afterwards, we took a tuk tuk to the Banteay Srei temple, situated a bit further away and adorned with beautiful stone wall carvings. One of my favourites!
We also went along the Big Circuit to see the remaining temples along that route. I was especially impressed by the Preah Khan temple – a gigantic temple unspoilt by tourists and parts of it magnificently overgrown by trees.
The third day was a bit more laid back. We took a tuk tuk to the Roluos Group, which basically consists of merely three main temples. They were not massively spectacular, but on the up side we finally had a brilliantly blue sky! 🙂
Plus, we went up the Phnom Krom hill, where we enjoyed a truly beautiful view of the area. We were especially taken by the rice fields, almost garish green in colour…
On this trip, I almost lost my camera: I accidentally left it at a temple, and it was an hour later before I could come back to look for it. Never would I have thought I’d ever see it again – what a lucky devil I am!!! 🙂
Our last stop in Cambodia! The town itself didn’t have much to impress us with – there isn’t really a lot to see here… But in any case we mostly came here to go on the Bamboo Train! It’s mostly a tourist attraction now – but this fact did not at all destroy the fun experience! You sit on an engine powered bamboo flatbed set on wheels on old rails, and you speed along for some 20mins. Fun, fun, fun!!! 🙂
When there is oncoming traffic, the vehicles are stopped and one of them is disassembled, quick and easy: take off the bamboo flatbed, get the wheels off the rail – done!
A very unusual and fun experience… a good conclusion for our travels through Cambodia, a country I wasn’t approaching with great expectations but which had many nice surprises in store for me!