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From Diary 3 The tour continues in the Northern Cambodia.
I try several restaurants to find some vegetarian breakfast of any kind. I end up with noodle soap, where I have to ask the cook to pick the pork away. Then I drive the 25 kilometres to Ko Mouy, where the tickets are bought for Prasat Preah Vihear.
It is through bush-land with some mirror ponds, and I do a few stops. It is another greyish day, but I hope it clears up, before I reach the top.

They ask for four wheel drive for the last part, and I figure I save the car, and spend five dollars on a chauffeured moped. It is a smooth drive the first part up a concrete road, but eventually, it does turn steep. I'm not sure my RAV4 with slicks could have made it.

The pathway leads up through several temples: Gopuras, are vide and impressive. It use to be a major pilgrim site, and the original 1085 stem stairs can still be walked. I plan to do a bit of them on the way back pass them, when I got my ticket.
The temples are partly tumbled apart, but the size are still easy to see, and the carvings too. It seems like they have partly been build on the sandstone-bedrock, but the terraces have been expanded by huge pyramid-like walls
Here are significantly more guards, soldiers, police officers and cleaning crew, than tourists. But it is on the boarder to Thailand, and Thailand claims one of the entrances.

I see each temple, some of the ponds, the fantastic, but slightly cloudy views over the lowlands and a few interesting plants.
The central temple have a Ganesh and a present monk. A small girl is standing next to the alter, and she is incredible quite. The style of the buildings are not like Angkor Wat, although they are from around 900 to 1150 AC. Only a few places, the trees are aloud to grow on the walls.

On my way back, I find some more interesting plants, and start wandering around. Unfortunately, I chose the northern trail, and ended up in, or at least close to; Thailand. They do not appreciate that! They radio my moped, and I get to drive down. Bit of a bummer, as it was the vegetation in special, which I came to here see. But crossing the border was not smart. I just wished they had marked it.
At least, I get some good photos on the way down, although the driver is speeding.

I get my car, and drive to the wrong side at the T-junction, hoping they don't notes. I saw a huge tank from the top, and it is close bye. Unfortunately, the light is not good, and the vegetation not that interesting. The road continues, although neither map or GPS have is. It is a nice sealed road, which leads thought the bush-land.
I do a few botanising stops, but without warning, I end up in a military camp. Not the most hospitable Cambodians I have bounced into. Though, I do get away without bullet-holes.

Due to my alternative roads, I misses the pilgrim staircase, but figures I better not return. Somehow, I think they will recognise me. I think I have seen enough of the northern part of Cambodia for now, and head east towards Preah Rumkel. My GPS have no clue how to get there, but I have a dot on my little map, and head towards Stung Treng at the Mekong.

Due to the mighty Mekong River, I have to do a rather big detour, but it is through Tmatboey; Asia's savannah. Although I do several botanising stops, I only find a few interesting plants. One of them being real interesting, as I can't even put a family on it. The area look like bush-land - or forest where the trees have been removed.

Then the road is partly lined with small huts, and the land partly farmed, although still rather dry. I catch-up with a Land Rover with British plates, and drive behind it for quite some time. That way, I can concentrate on the views, while he make the "hole".

We passes a few small limestone mountains in a else flat landscape. Then I reach the mighty river, and pass a huge bridge to pass the main stream and get to Stung Treng. From here, another bridge leads to the area I think I want to go into. Just in case, I ask some young, well-dressed men on mopeds. Good, thing, as this is defiantly NOT the right way.

Back over one bridge and into a posh hotel. It take some time to find one speaking a bit of English, but she is really helpful. Apparently, I have to go to the other side of the Mekong, and to get up there, it is a big U-detour. The road is not in my GPS, but she find it on Google-maps - as a dotted line.
It is only four, but I seem to be quite some ahead of plan, and call it a day.

Despite it look like a four-star hotel, they only charge fifteen dollars. And it is with hot water and their restaurant have tea: Real Lipton tea! It is almost impossible to find black tea anywhere - or coffee for that matter. Some places, the meals are accompanied by thin and free Chinese tea, but it is not the same!

I sit at their restaurant, overlooking the nature and start on the work of the day. Then I try their menu: I can choose between fried rice or fried noodles, and they exchange the meat with a fried egg. The vegetable is spinach.
It seems like I have to get use to this, unless I'm in a really touristed place.

The hilltop of Prasat Preah Vihear get a slideshow, while the rest goes into the general tour.
While I plan tomorrow, I realises; I'm running out of sights, way too fast. Due to the car, I have been able to connect the dots way more efficient, than I had anticipated. In 1/3 of the time, I have done over 2/3 of the tour: Gota slow down - somehow?

9/1 The day start with a real treat: Omelette with fresh bread. It could turn out to be a great day. Well, when I try to start the car, there is no ignition. It turns, but won't start. I tamper with everything in the engine compartment, but it does not help. I get the hotel manager to call some mechanics, and while we wait, I hear his story.

He was borne in Paris, and have worked as a programmer. Now he is married to the hotel owner's daughter, and have not really done anything the last four years. He rather live a simple life, and only work occidental, and I understand him fully!

The two young mechanics arrival on a moped with a big battery, and one of them have this rare ability to "feel" engines. He go through the engine, and end up under the glove-compartment. Here, he find some plugs on loose wires and tingle a bit with them. The engine starts like it is supposed to, and again, I appreciate I know what went wrong. Then I can fix it another time, when I'm in a remote, desolated place.

The last couple of days, a rattling have gone worse. It sounds like a big piece of metal is loose under the car, and I figure a lift in a garage, would be essential to determine the source. I have been looking for one, but now, when I'm heading out to a real remote place on a gravel road, I do a more intense effort to find that garage.

I manages, and the mechanic is eager to help. He take the car for a drive, and guesses on the rear suspension. I can only hear it, when I crosses bridges or drive close to walls, but it could be that.
As he tingles with the suspension, I have a look around under the car, as I use to in these rare occasions. I find the error: A bolt is missing in the right brake calibre, and the other one real loose. It make the calibre hammer against the rim of the wheel. I glad this was discovered before it gone loose!
He take his moped to a spare part centre, and return with a few parts, assemble it all, and I have a quiet car again.

I start heading out for Preah Rumkel, and the nature. At first, I think I have gas enough, but then I realises it is just 60 kilometres to the turn-of, and then perhaps 80 more? Back to a gas-station, just to be sure.
Then there is a turn-of quite early, and it even have a sign! The road is neither in Google-maps, nor my GPS, but as long as it is in Cambodia, I'm fine with it.

It is a red, dusty but smooth road, leading though forest - or use to be forest. I try to do a bit of walking, but due to the removal of canopy, the under-bushes are dense.  I end up in a corner, made by the Mekong River. On the other side lies Laos, but here are no indication of a border.
A short line of tin-roofs provide shelter for a few restaurants, and it seems like the families are living there as well.

I find, what appears to be the only English talking person around, and get a dish of fried rice with vegetables and a egg. Then he tells me about the sights of the area. River dolphins, a flooded forest and some water falls. Besides from that, here are kayaking and fishing. I find it all a bit expensive, and end up with a dolphin tour, and a hint to how to drive to the waterfalls myself. The Flooded Forest is so tempting, but $30 is a bit steep.

A young man sails me up the mighty river in a big wooden boat, of which here only seem to be a few. The tour is fantastic, leading through Laos and huge boulders with stubborn trees. It seems like it is real flooded now, but by the debris in the trees, it is clear it can get at least eight metres higher. The trees are bend and damaged, but they remain firm on their rocks.

The forest on the sides of the small mountains reaching the river are dense. But here are bananas and other crops within, and I guess they are not that undisturbed.
We stop at a wide area of the river, and quite soon after, I first hear, then see the dolphins. I get quite some pictures of where they have been, some real blurry ones and some with half a dolphin. Anyway, it is great to see them thrive here.

After half a hour. we are already back, and I feel a bit cheated, although I did see the dolphins. I do a walk along the river, almost to the dolphin-bay. The sandy shores are hard to penetrate, but the views to the river fantastic. Here are a few interesting plants and animals, and I do my best to record it all.

Back at base, I get a much deserved 7-Up and then my host for the night's homestay guides me home. It is NOT one of my $15 hotels, but cosy in its own way, and the people so nice.
I do some walking in the area. Small huts on posts, palm trees, the river out back, water buffalos, kapok trees, giant bamboo and forest in general. I even find a Fabaceae I'm unfamiliar with. The light is still fantastic, and any motive I can find, which include the sky, turn out great.

We drove a strange way to get here, but when I head back the straight line, I find the reason: A wooden bridge have seen better days. The sign say 5T, but I think that was before it lost to posts.
Back at the restaurant, I try one of the local sodas; Green Mate. Winter Melon Drink. Strange thing with a hint of cinnamon, I think. Then it is time for dinner; Fried noodles with vegetables and egg. I am so much longing for anything else but noodles and rice! I stock a few, sweet bananas for later.

The sun is setting, and Laos are lit in the soft, warm yellow light across the river. I figure I better head back before it get dark. A cold and fresh shower, and I start working on the porch. Here are surprisingly few annoying insects, although I can hear a lot. Ten geckoes are patrolling the single light bulb above me, and they look well fed.

The guy who sold me the rather short dolphin tour turns up, eager to get me on a Flooded Forest tour. When he show me a few pictures, it is sold! I will hate my self for NOT going, and these trees are so fascinating. Their ability to grow under water in periods and withstand the force of the water, and then, grow in a dry forest again. Have to be seen!

I sit and work to the sound of the crickets and other nightlife, and eventually have to get my T-shirt. I think the temperature have dropped below 25C.
The many Mekong photos along with the ones from the forest are gathered in a slideshow called Preah Rumkel, although there will be more tomorrow.
Right now, I just try to find words, allowing me to add the last picture of the little hut under the coconut palms.

10/1 I have to get up early to get breakfast and be ready for the boat-trip I have ordered to the Flooded Forest. I figure the light will be best in the morning, and get a real early start.
The captain cruises down stream, and it is a fabulous tour. The warm sunlight hit the sandy beaches and the green vegetation along the Mekong River perfect, and soon, the first flooded trees occurs.

The brinks are still covered in all kind of trees and bamboo, although some small gardens are getting down to the river. The few places huts are found along the river, the banks are home to numerous, small long-boats with long-tail engines. Only a few seems to be out sailing, and we are the only tourist boat on the river today.

Despite the river is around 500 metres wide, here are a lot of currents. A few places, whirlpools try to grab the boat, in other places, white splashes show the rapid waters movements. I guess it is a shallow river by now, as I can see small bushes sticking up many places. And the dolphins tend to stay in one pool, way upstream.
The brownish-green water hinder any investigation, unless I want to get wet.

This is the dry season, but the trees are still flooded. It take me a while to figure how they start life. I guess they are borne on sandbanks. After many ears, the river changes is course, and wash away the sand. The trees remain on their roods, and form new ones in the flooded season.

Here are way more species than I had expected, but especially the fig-trees have some fantastic rood-formations. A bit like a sail, going down stream. After almost a hour, we reach the main area, where we zigzag through the forest. Herons and other birds are seen everywhere, but when the captain cuts the engine, so many birds can be heard. It is a wall of birdsong, everything from larks, martins, snake-necks, many different herons, bee-eaters and many I only hear, and don't recognises.

We drift down stream for quite some time, and it is a great experience. I make way too many photos, but I can always delete. And the slideshow will be boring; you have to have been there.
The tour back is on the other side of the area and some islands. More motives, but the first of the day, with the low sun were the best.

After three hours, we are back at base, and I head straight on to the waterfalls by car. I hope I can find them, and the directions I were given was; drive north. I have no idea of what to expect, and after last years Victoria Falls, waterfalls tend to look small.

The road is a red gravel road, but nice and smooth. I meet a few mopeds and rice-tractors, and the dust is immense. And way worse for them, out in the open, and me driving faster in a bigger vehicle. I try to get into the forest several places, but it is impossible to penetrate without thick cloths and a machete.
Some of the trees are covered in vines, and it look great.

I reach the Sopheakmit Waterfall area, and it is NOT just a creek meting the river: It is the Mighty Mekong which falls over a five to eight meter stem, several hundred metre vide. I try desperately to capture it in one frame, but have to use six!
Again, I am here all by my self, and are free to roam around  - which I do.

I find some steps to the lower parts, and a natural bridge, leading out on the edge. This must be magnificent in the rainy season, if you can see it for mist and rain? Again, I make way too many photos before I head on - just to be sure.

The trail continues westwards along the Mekong, and I find some huts along the road several places. It seems like they are fare from use to foreigners, but despite they are a bit shy, the smiles and the kids doesn't cry, when they see me.

I do a long walk along the line of huts in one place, and the small gardens along the banks, the laundry, the huts and the people make great motives. It is a simple life, but they seems so happy and well fed. Here are dogs, cats, hens and ducks along with a few water buffalos. It seems like a paradise on earth to me.

I'm not really sure why, but I start to head back, although I do a detour on unexplored road. It leads through more forest and small settlements, and eventually, I have to turn back. I kind of hope to find Base-camp, but without map and in unfamiliar area, it is pure guessing.
Somehow, I manages, and they serve me the pre-paid lunch. Cold rice with warm green beans. I sit and enjoy the view over the river for some time, but I would like to be back in Stung Treng before dark.

I reach the city at four, and head down town to find an ATM. I find seven, but neither want to serve me - just do all the things leading up to paying out cash. Maybe later?
I drive back to the nice hotel with the friendly hosts. The staff give me a room, and I get a great hot shower, and do some laundry. A quick look through the photos, but I better try the ATMs again before dark.

I had expected a more modern city. Here are a line of fancy banks and mobile-phone operators, but in-between are still huts and tent-like constructions. I do a loop on the market and the entire main-street. One ATM I try pay out $500 to a local. Could it be my card? I have now drawn too much, and the car was paid with another card.

Back at the hotel, I check, but my card should be alive accordantly to the internet bank.
The friendly hosts have shifted me to what appears to be the honeymoon suite, but one can't complain. It is bigger and way more furniture than my home. All in mahogany and excellent work. But huge, immensely heavy and considering how small people are around her: Strange.
Then I do the usual work at the open porch, until seven and dinner. Fried noodles or rice? I hope they have bread in the morning!
The The Flooded Forest and Sopheakmit Waterfall get their own slideshows, while I finis the Northern Cambodia in General.

From here, I go into the Western Cambodia, starting in the very north - in Diary 5

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