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)
MONEY: The currency is Riel (KHR). 1 Riel = 0.0017 DKK = €
0.0002. 1 DKK =573 Riel. 1€ = 4262 Riel.
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.
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 up with a car.
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
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.
On the way there, the boss' husband 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.
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, and it is real comfortable to drive.
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 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.
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.
After 150 kilometres and three hours, I reach Kampot at eleven. Thanks to the GPS and my preparations, I drive straight 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
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.
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 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.
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 walk a bit aimless around town, get some tea, which
can be found in Lipton bags a few places. Here are real clean
- at least compared to Myanmar. Apparently, private (and poor) people
drive round with trolleys, collecting the trash for nickels.
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.
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. The 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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
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 bye, the sun sets over
the mighty Mekong. Where I was surrounded by English- and Frenchmen
yesterday, Germans rules here.
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 and splashes, 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 bag have had sun enough - and then some.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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