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 CAMBODIA        INFO and DIARY   2016-17

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Diary 1  2  3  4  5  6  7 
8

In an effort to be attached to a project dealing with Asian trees, I head out on an expedition through the three countries involved. My first stop was the challenging  Myanmar, and already in the planning of the Cambodia leg, it turned to be quite challenging as well. I can only obtain a visa for one month; significantly shorter than desired. Further more, I am having an unexpected difficulty finding the right areas for my exploration. The temples, stupas and other ancient and religious sights, on the other hand, are scatted all over the place and well documented. I will have to follow the main roads, looking out for the nature and other wonders along the route.

Some facts about the country. (Jump to diary)
Kingdom of Cambodia is bordered by Thailand to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, Vietnam to the east, and the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest. It covers 181,035 square kilometre, and is mainly lowland. Cambodia has a population of over 15 million. The official religion is Theravada Buddhism, practised by approximately 95 percent of the population. Two percent is Muslims and one Christians.
In 802 AD, Jayavarman II declared himself king, uniting the warring Khmer princes of Chenla under the name "Kambuja". This marked the beginning of the Khmer Empire which flourished for over 600 years. The Indianized kingdom built monumental temples including Angkor Wat, now a World Heritage Site, and facilitated the spread of first Hinduism, then Buddhism to much of Southeast Asia. After the fall of Angkor to Ayutthaya in the 15th century, a reduced and weakened Cambodia was then ruled as a vassal state by its neighbours. In 1863 Cambodia became a protectorate of France which doubled the size of the country by reclaiming the north and west from Thailand. Cambodia gained independence in 1953.

MONEY: The currency is Riel (KHR). 1 Riel = 0.0017 DKK = 0.0002. 1 DKK =573 Riel. 1 = 4262 Riel.
That said, it seems like they use US$ as bigger bills - over $1. 4000 Riel equals $1.

CLIMATE: It ought to be the dry time of year, and temperatures will be above 25C, except from the highlands in the south-west. It is considered the high tourist season in December and January. See more on the lover part of the Map-page.

ANIMALS and PLANTS: Cambodia has a wide variety of plants and animals. There are 212 mammal species, 536 bird species, 240 reptile species, 73 amphibian species, 850 freshwater fish species, and 435 marine fish species. Much of this biodiversity is contained around the Tonle Sap Lake and the surrounding biosphere. I would love to experience the legless amphibian; caecilian like Ichthyophis cardamomensis.
Forests cover 53 percent of Cambodia's land. The densest forests thrive in the mountains and along the south-western coast. Higher plains and plateaus contain savannas covered with high, sharp grass. There have never been made a complete survey of the plants of Cambodia, but it is estimated here are around 15.000 species, 5.000 being endemic. Considering the 12.000 species of the entire Europe, it sounds too good to be true.

DIARY
(Hoover over the photos, to enlarge them and see the text)

1/12 I start the day in Yangon in Myanmar. At noon, I fly to HoCheMinh City in Vietnam, just to catch a flight to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Somehow, the weird time changes of half hours have confused me, and I arrival several hours later, than I told the car agent.

I assumed, because they did not send me any other details, they would have an office in the airport. However, not even Avis, Budget or any of the other familiar have. And I have no address, phone number or anything means to contact them by. At least, they did not ask for a deposit, and I still think it could end with a car.
I try to find internet to email them, or find a phone number on-line, and finally, Burger King have Wi-Fy - but no internet. The young girl in the information desk find a number for me, but she have no office phone, and are out of time herself. I offers to buy some, but can't get the girl in the telephone desk to sell me just time. She will only sell me a SIM-card with time.
Bye an ATM, which  - like the entire line of ATMs, only pay out US dollars! I grab a bunch, and return to the phone operator. Get a SIM-card after having given the proper details and a copy of my passport. Back to the information-girl, who really give up on me now: I should NOT have bought a SIM-card! I tell her, it have five dollars on, and it is for her. But it is too big for her phone, and can't be altered.

While all this is happening, the dusk takes over, but the guys with the jack-hammers continues their work in the hall. I got a feeling of, I won't make it to my pre-booked hotel, 150 kilometres down the coast.
The lovely information-girl set my new SIM-card in my phone, and get it to work. She dials the number she found,  and after a long ringing, I get to talk with a woman. She ask me to take a taxi to their office. I end up finding a tuck-tuck-driver, and hand him my phone with the lady

We drive ten kilometres into the centre of Phnom Penh through quite intense evening rush-hour traffic. Here, my RAW-4 is ready, but when the lovely family learns I had planned to drive to the coast, and it is now pitch black, they strongly advises me to postpone that tour. I'm kind of tied, hungry and my stomach is still not really up for it.
They give me a ride in their own car to a hotel (I asked to let my car remain in their garage), and I get a luxurious room with everything, for $20.

On the way there, the boss tell me about how to drive here: Use every space you got, pay the corrupted cups five to ten dollars and smile while you do it. If you can get away with it, park in the middle of the road, when they pull you over. I could have done without corrupt cops, but it was a French colony...

I am in the famous Russia Market area, but at half pass seven, in the dark, I just head out for dinner, and back to re-organize after the flight. My bag are repacked for the flights, which is nice in the security checks, but real annoying afterwards. Computer, liquids, belt, batteries and other electronics can easily be presented, but now I use them, or hide them away thoroughly.
As I am re-organising, I discover I lack my passport. It is either at the telephone office at the airport, at the car-rental office, or I have lost it. Not the best way to go to bed! I unwrap my back-pack several times unsuccessful. To add to my insomnia, I got a huge mug of strong coffee, when I offered tea for my dinner.

30/12 I'm up at six - mainly because I can't sleep anyway. A moped driver make his first tour of the day, and bring me to the still closed garage. On the other side of the road, a little cafe have pains: The air wrapped in a delicate wheat dough. As this was a French colony, they have not only learned to appreciate, but also bake the boring French pastries. I get a bit of honey on, and some hot tea and a glass of ice to pour it in for free.

The employs start to turn up at the garage, and the office girl tell me, it is procedure for them to have my passport and driving license during the entire period. Guess I won't have to show the passport at every hotel then. I go through the car, which is seventeen years old, and quite well looking, except the tires. It is a RAV4; a wannabe 4WD, and it is real comfortable to drive.

I head straight through the rather hectic morning-rush-hour of central Phnom Penh, and find the right highway towards Kampot. The speed limits are 40 and 80, and I think others are a bit slow, till I notes the "MPH" on my speedometer. That could explain it...
The "way of right" is quite simple; First have the right. Then again; size does matter, and I get an avenges with the mopeds, with my sunglasses and apparently looking away attitude.

The traffic is pretty much as in Sri Lanka; organic. Though; her they mainly drive in the right side of the road, although 10-25% use the other side, if it look more vacant.
At least, I see very few cops - well, till I meat the railroad crossing. Apparently, some famous person use the train today, and cops in their finest uniforms and civilian in huge numbers, dressed up for the occasion as well, are gathered along the crossings.

I drive right through the first villages, but stop at number three. There is a market along the road, and I find a bunch of bananas and some great motives. Here are many butchers. They have the meat in the sun, but have shadow for their hammocks in the sheet.
Out on the countryside again, lotus ponds, white Indian oxen and rice patches form great motives with the distant and small mountains in the back.
One river is still wet, but is being used for a source of gravel. It is dug up by hand, within the water, and transported to the roadside by ox-wagons. The river is lined with mainly Australian eucalyptus trees.

After 150 kilometres and three hours, I reach Kampot at eleven. Thanks to the GPS and my preparations, I drive right to the hotel I have a reservation at. It is at the river side, real cosy, and my private room look great! I drop the bag, and head out to explore.

The sights are limited, but the description of the town was appealing. And here are truly many tourists! I think half of the faces I see are pale. I do a loop around the "Old Market", but it is now only fancy but small cafes and restaurants. With a bit of effort, I manages to find three souvenir shops (I have learned it the hard way; souvenirs does not necessarily turn up by them self. It is nice to have a back-up in the bag).

Then I see the Old French Bridge, which crosses the river 50 metres from the hotel. It was destructed, and have been rebuild. Apparently by stitching together four other bridges. It does look sordid, and at the same time kind of humorous in a pathetic way.
In the other end of town, the Lotus Pond takes up an entire block. Where there were flowers in those I passed on the way, this one is flowerless. Never the less; they have put a lot of effort into the banks and islands in concrete.

I have seen a lot of tuck-tucks today. They are not ordinarily trikes, but mopeds with a trailer, mounted behind the saddle. Some are huge like lorries!
I find what could be a Chinese temple, or it is the Cambodian Theravada Buddhist ones? I have only passed a few temples, and where Myanmar is dotted with Pagodas, here seem to be none around here. That is all right, I have had my doze.

I go through my guidebook once again, but still fails to find any mention of a present day market. I try to find it by following the road leading over the new bridge, and it works. It is large and pretty clean. Well, except in the areas fish are sold in.
Here are a huge area with gold- and silver smiths. Another area is partly covered in living ducks and hens, while they are dismantled all around in the same area. The live ones do look scared!
I do several loops, and when I think I have it covered, I head out in the fresh air. On the way, I get sucked in by the aroma of baking, French waffles. Wow, they taste good!

I have seen a few great looking mopeds, and in a shop, I find the hippest. I had not thought a moped cold look that cool!
I am actually looking for a barbershop, and when I finally find one, it is the first of around 40. Why is it always like that?
I get a hair- and beard trim for one dollar, and meanwhile, I get photographed quite a lot too. Does take off the else so "touristed" feeling of this town.

I walk a bit aimless around town, get some tea, which can be found in Lipton bags a few places.  for Here are real clean - at least compared to Myanmar. Apparently, private (and poor) people drive round with trolleys, collecting the trash for nickels.
At four, I hit the hotel, and start working. With a bit of luck, I can finish up early, and be a bit of social this evening.

I simply can't resist an offer for dinner: Viking Burger, Veggie style. Three words that should never stand together. Never the less, it is brilliant! I have to interrupt is, as the sunset on the other side of the river is astonishing.
The socialising is a bit hindered of the others being English veterans getting British pissed (and that is a lot!), or it  are Frenchmen, and they can only see themselves.

I sit and work in the bar, until I fear for the safety of my computer. I just enjoy a single passion/mango juice, but it is good. Then I retire to my room, and head the madras early. A good nights sleep for once would be appreciated!

31/12 And I get it! Ten hours of undisturbed sleep, until the craftsmen start hammering in the bar below. I'm not fully awake, and manages to lock my self out of the room with only a towel. It take some time to organise a spare key, but at least it is only the three girls working there, who is present.

At nine, I head out of town, and follow the coastal road northwards. The sun is absent, but the temperature do fine without. The traffic opens up quickly, and it is a almost smooth sealing. Only a few patches are pot-hole infested. Never the less, the speed is not high. Ten locals tend to do only around 60 kilometres a hour on the open stretches, although 80 is legal. Only the Range Rovers and Lexus' reach that. As I also intend to enjoy the surroundings, I do a bit of both.

Only few areas are occupied by rice patches in this costal lowland. It have been harvested, and only the dead stems are left on the flooded fields. A strange mix of huge, grey water buffalos with enormous horns, long-legged Indian oxen and tiny Jersey-like diary cattle are scattered around.

A few villages offers food and water, and I go for twelve half litters waters to have in the car. Along with the bananas, I only have to leave the car for adventures. And I do several stops on the 200 kilometre long tour. Some rivers offers great views, and some walks in the more remote and partly undisturbed areas some interesting plants.
I pass some of the bus-stop-restaurants, and am so pleased it no longer is my only source of photos and experiences.

As mentioned before, it is close to the sea, and some areas are covered in mangrove. Fishermen have small boats, filled with nets a bit up stream. Some areas seems to be rich in ousters to judge by the mounts of shells.
Several huge projects seems to create their own harbours and industrial areas in this, else so pristine area.

Halfway, I reach Kho Kong Conservation Corridor. It is one of two places in Asia, where the mountains and the coast are joined by nature, and I hope fore some interesting observations. The forest fills the low hills, vines and orchids covers the trees, although it is not true rainforest. Huge clusters of stag-horn-ferns are also visible on the stems.

A few times, the road passes a hill,  and despite the lack of sun, the views are fantastic. I do several walks into the dense forest, but it is real hard to penetrate it. And only a few patches leads into telephone masts, no settlements. Here are several flowering plants and some huge trees. Skinks flies from me, while butterflies don't, they just refuses to sit down for a photo.
I gas the car, just in case, and it seem to do twelve kilometres to the litter. That is all right for a 1999 RAV4. At first I was disappointed, but when I changed the miles to kilometres, it helped!

At two, I reach the little town of Kho Kong next to the Mekong River. I do the river-road by car, and return by foot to find a recently hotel. Rooms start at six dollars, but it seems like the hot water will cost me additional eighteen. I go for the cold, but a real nice room.

The area is known for its nature, and to see some of the best, I have to book a boat trip to Kho Kong Island. Several operators, and I end up at my hotel owner. My trusty old flip-flaps are starting to feel like they are made of hedgehogs leather, and I guess it is time to find a new pair. I succeed at the local market, which also offers some good motives.

Back at the hotel at four for a snack and some writing, while the sun start to set over the Mekong River. It just occurs to me: It is New Years eve. Perhaps a room NOT facing the restaurant would have been neat? Then again; New Year is nothing big around here.
At five, I get my cold shower, and fast it is too! Then I check the night-market on the other side of the road, along the river. Again, meat seems to be the main ingredients.

A restaurant offers pizza, and why not? I have to wait for a whole hour, but it is actually worth it. While I wait for it, I watch the entire city passes bye on the "promenade", mainly on mopeds, this Saturday evening. It seems five passengers is the limit for mopeds. Mainly because the mopeds are rather small, and the Cambodians a bit choppy.

While I watch the crowds pass by, the sun sets over the mighty Mekong. Where I was surrounded by English- and Frenchmen yesterday, Germans rules here.
I spend the evening on my home-work, and with that, I mean Christmas trees. I need to tie up a lot of loose ends, but at the same time, I discovers more. The potential of the project is immense, my role unclear for now.
At ten, I call it a day, and leave the celebration of the New Year be done by others. Around here, it is just another Saturday evening, and the restaurant closes as I leave it.

1/1 A great night's sleep, and at eight, I crosses the road and enter my boat for the the day. Two young Italians joins in, and where the one of the small engines of the boat cut out, from time to time, they don't. Both speak at the same time, and the only pause I record, is when they are in the middle of snorkelling.

I did not pay attention enough, when I bought this tour. I assumed Kho Kong Island would be close to the city of the same name. It is not! We had to sail for 20 kilometres to reach it, but we do not stop here; we go all along it, to the other end. Even with two engines - way too small for this boat - it is a two and a  half hour ride. 

The first little bit is interesting, as we passes post-houses and fishing boats. The sandy coast is home to lots of palms, and the water is real clear. The next two hours, I try to sleep away, but with two small engines and two Italians in combination with the wooden seat and waves, it is hard.

We enters the island through the crystal clear water. The sand is perfect, but I am here for the interior of the island. The vegetation is a bit hostile, with some of the palms having long and numerous thorns. I try to head up the hill, but my new, not that thorn-free flip-flops are still wet, and slippery as ice. I fall face-down several times, before I stop to let them dry.

The few trails I find, are only short ones to "the toilet" or to the next cove. I get an idea of the vegetation, where I find Araceaes, Convulvaceaes, Euphorbias and - other less interesting plants. Here is dry, but the plants don't seems to suffer so far. I give in before I hurt my self - worse, and return to the beach.

The crew have started preparing lunch on the fire, and I start exploring the coast. It is only narrow coves, and the sandstones, departing them is a challenge. Here are quite some plastic trash, both from beach-guests and the sea. The boulders are home to some crabs, and I figure a bit of snorkelling will reveal some fish around them too.

And here are! I see at least ten species of fish, most around hand-sized. The visibility is fantastic, but the sandy button are not interesting for the animals. The water is above 30C, and I should have put more effort in finding a dive-T-shirt last night! After half a hour, I guess my sun have had sun enough - and then some.
The crew are ready with the lunch: Packets of fish or vegetables, wrapped in aluminium foil, and steamed rice.
Desert is some fantastic pineapples and small, sweet bananas.

Still one hour to kill, and I play it safe, and stay in the shadows. Some pine-trees are offering their protection along the beach, along with the palms, even out in the water.
When I walk to the boat, I get my $100 T-shirt soaked anyway. Big wave on the wrong time. At least my camera remained dry - real high up in the air.

Two hours of eventless sailing - unless you count the constantly spray as a event. The crew want me to sit in the sun and spray, but as I sat in the sun all the way out, I don't on the return. The Italians have been lying on the beach, when they didn't swim. They sure have a strange colour by now.

We do a de-tour through Peam Krasoap Wildlife Sanctuary, which offers a board-walk through the mangrove. I have so much been looking forward for this - without any reason. It is high-tide, and the water too dark to see anything in. And it seems to be only one species of mangrove tree - look like the white-one. There are no epiphytes in them, and besides from a few snails, and the splashing from scared fish, I see nothing interesting.

We return to Kho Kong town at dusk, and I head for a quick and cold shower. The water was real salt, and the spraying added its part. Then dinner next door at a rather fancy restaurant. Fried vegetables, most must have been chilli. At seven, I start working, while I sip tea, and at ten, I have had enough. A slideshow: Kho Kong Island.

2/1 While I plan the day's adventure, the GPS acts up. Never mind how I try, it rather go a 550 kilometre detour through Phnom Penh, than just five kilometres out the way I want. And if the car had a saying, it would agree with the GPS, I'm sure. But I'm in charge, and we take the narrow road through the Central Cardamoms Protected Forest. It is a shortcut, but especially a great tour through a huge, undisturbed mountain forest.

Despite the GPS efforts to spoil it, I find the right way out of town - the second time around. It is a narrow but smooth concrete road, and I can't figure why the GPS dislike it. Well, not the first few kilometres. Then we (GPS, car and I) pass a hydro-power-plant, and the road turn gravel and badly maintained.

The lake behind the dam look like nature, and it is a great looking area. Where there are no lake, the forest covers the small mountains completely. I cross rivers which are a bit dry, but real clean. Stag-horn-ferns are huge in the trees while other ferns and a few orchids more discrete.
I still haven't figured out, if this a restricted road or not. Several places in the beginning of it, there were blockings, but unattended and easy to bye-pass. But here are no people at all. At first, I passed a few huts, but that ended with the power-plant. Could be a military area? I'm sure they will tell me, if I'm unwanted. The signs have not been helpful, as they are only in local and Chinese signs.

I reach a big, open plain witch are made up by white sand. Then it is back into the forest-overgrown rocks. I do a few stops, but I don't feel that comfortable walking around here. Further more, I'm still not sure I will be able to find a way through this waste area.
When I had the car "filled", I had my doubts about wherever it was filled. I now find out it was fare from. Considering I haven't seen a single other car for 150 kilometres and four hours, it is an issue.

The "bridges" are just a pile of stems and boards which I in some cases have to build my own bridge of. One have a sign; 10T. And a big hole in  the deck to prove wrong. Big trees have fallen over the road, and are just removed enough to let a car pass.

Just before noon, I reach a way-point: Ch Saom, where I hoped I could feed the hard working car. But they don't even have pavement on the single road leading cross town. The way people look at me, make me so much NOT want to stop. I head on towards the bigger Pramaoy, and hope for the best.
Here are some fruits like pineapples and mango, and I hope they drive it to the big town - by a good road. But I guess they sail it out?

Just out of "town", I meet the first hurdle: A giant lake. The road leads straight down into it, and I can see the telephone-poles head on. A long detour leads me around this large flooded area, just to meet the same problem again.
To add to the fun, black clouds are gathering in front of me, and I won't stand a chance, getting the car through these clay roads with its slick-tires, if it starts to rain.

I decide to stop any kind of botanising, and just concentrate about getting out of this beautiful but also dangerous area. Finally in Pramaoy, the broken up clay road meets the bigger - dirt road. But at least, they have a gas station, and this time I make sure the car is filled.
The GPS have an idea for a short-cut, directly to Battambang, but when I see the first part of the road, I don't challenge luck for another 120 kilometre "make believe road". I take the safe 200 around Pousaat.

Unfortunately, they are renovating the road from Pramaoy to Pousaat, which means there are no bridges and no sealing. Several stretches, there are no road! But it is only for around 50 kilometres. After 200 kilometre challenging gravel and clay roads with imaginary bridges, I meet sealed road in Pousaat.

I still have 100 kilometres to Battambang, but I better find a mechanic to work on the muffler, which have de-attached it self - with some help from the "roads". Then it is a long and stressful drive to Battambang. I have to keep the speed up, if I want to make it before dark, and I fail to find anywhere to sleep underway.
The road passes newly sown rice patches, which look great in the low sun - way too low sun.

I reach Battambang (or as my map say Baat Dambang) at six, just as the sun sets. I drive right to the centre of this rather large colonial city, figuring I find the hotels here. And I sure find a huge night-market. It is the city's new-year-marked, which last for a week, they say. Every thing is sold on the street. Even King-size mattresses!
I find a place to dump the car, and head on by foot. A rather posh hotel next to the river and the market have to be tested. $15 with hot shower and balcony: Sold!

Back in the street, I find some dinner, and do a short round in the night-market. But it have been a long day, I got photos, diary, laundry and home-work. And planning of the next days too. The huge speakers on the central square are real loud, but I'm told they will shout down at midnight. Central Cardamoms Protected Forest is the photos of the day, and The South-Western Cambodia is the selected from the first part.

From here, I head up to the north-western part in Diary 2

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