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From Diary 4 and the northern Cambodia, I now head out east to the the wild frontier. (Or, I will soon)
The plan is to take the dirt road up north to Siem Pang, next to the Tonle Kong River. On the other side of the river, the sealed 301 leads to Ban Lung. I can not find a mention of a ferry, nor a bridge on maps and Google-maps, and I might have to return.
Never the less, the 100 kilometres tour might be interesting, and it is into the Siem Pang Protected Forest. And I have days to spend - and as my Visa card is closed, no hurry to head into anything wilder, like the Virachey National Park, without sufficient financial support.
My bank say it is closed do the the complaint about the hotel-reservation in Myanmar. Thanks!

The first little bit is sealed, then the next 50 kilometres are 30% sealed. There seems to be no system in, what is sealed and what not. Just patches like on a cow.
The road is lined with small huts and their dusty gardens. I can't figure why they all don't move 20 metres into their fields, and thereby avoiding the dust? The few fast cars make huge clouds of dust, and even the slow rice-tractors make quite some.

Here are hens, a few water buffalos along with a few jersey-like cows. Some of the farmers have pigs tied up in the shade under their hut. There are fences around some of the small fields, perhaps to keep the buffalos out?
I stop several times, but it is hard to find a way out back, behind the huts, without walking through their gardens. Where the bushland takes over in the dryer areas, it is impossible to penetrate without a machete.

I reach the rural and dusty Siem Pang around ten, and park the car in the middle of the line of pot-holes, they have for a main street. Besides from the bank and the cell-phone company, they houses are classic wooden constructions. The trash is thrown down the banks to the river. Apparently, they have not figured; it won't disintegrate, Ann, the school teacher told me.

I find the ferry - or what they use as such. It is just a partly floating platform, capable of transporting a few people and their mopeds. I try to ask around, but despite my efforts, I fail to find anyone figuring, what I'm all about. When ordering a cup of warm tea, I end up with a ice coffee - and I consider that a success, after all.

I have avoided temples and alike for quite some time, but their old one lours me in. In the yard, two Muslim girls are using the water pump, and the few monks are assembled to lunch.
I head further out the road, but it seems like this is the end of the line for the car: A bridge have been repaired, but I don't dare driving over it. Further more, I am not sure the car can cope with the hump.

As I walk back to the car, I find some bananas for lunch, and start the tour home. I do several stops again, and find an interesting meadow. The trees have been cut down years ago, and now, the last small one are cut. On their branches, several species of dormant orchids are found, and a few of the herbs, in-between the grass, are flowering.

I find the local water buffalos in their favourite mud hols, but they are real jumpy. They remind me too much of the Caffer Buffalos, and I keep my distance. I don't mind walking here, where the cobras live, but an angry buffalo can spoil my day!

On the other side of the road, I find a narrow trail, made by rice-tractors. It leads into a rather undisturbed forest, and I think I have found the Protected Forest of Siem Pang. Well; undisturbed might not be the right word, the trail is made by loggers, but for now, they have only picked the most valued trees.

I find quite some interesting plants like orchids (4-6 species), Asclepediaceas, Vitaceas, Cucurbitaceas and some I haven't a clue to. Here are two types of red ants. Some live in the leaves, and attack aggressively, and it hurts. The other, slightly smaller species, live on the forest floor, and attack aggressively, and it hurts.

The lianas have made deep marks on some of the trees, while annual vines are more gentle. But here are surprisingly many vines, and some are even flowering, despite the dry conditions. Then again, I even find a large Selaginella in growth. One of the orchids have a young inflorescence, but else, they are deep dormant.

I walk for a long time, and check several of the trails, leading deep into the forest. When I think I have seen, what the forest can offer, I find my way back to the road and the boiling car. The rest of the tour is dominated by dust, and when I return to my usual Stung Treng base, I have to wash the windows.

I get a new, great room, and the towels are arranged beautifully, in a forth way! Actually, all four rooms have been in slightly different styles. They all have massive mahogany furniture, and I'm only able to lift the footstool!
The girls are able to serve me tea by now, and I start working on the porch.

A German tour bus with sleeping facilities turn up, and I have to listen to a bunch of 50-60 years old Germans, while they drink beer. Well, could be worse for sure. 
I get a great idea: Let the Germans have their dinner to them self, while I get a shower. And guess what I get for dinner? Wrong: I got steamed rice with vegetables.

The pictures of the day is in Siem Pang village and nature. I have some spare time in the evening, and go through the accounts. So far, I have spend the same amount of money here, as I did in Myanmar, but in half that number of days.
My bank now tells me, the visa card in NOT closed, the internal chip just stopped working, accordantly to the geeks in the back. I could try the magnet-stripe, but it will most likely stop working soon. Why on earth with these two things have an influence on each other?
I find a few more sights along the route: A green lake and three waterfalls along with a market where the tribes come, all around Ban Lung, which I hope to reach tomorrow. 

12/1 After breakfast, I start to driving slowly up towards Ban Lung. I have the entire day to do 150 kilometres, but it is not that interesting landscape I passes through. It is mainly large plantations of bananas, mangos, sweet potatoes and other fruit-baring trees.
A few small farm-huts are fund in the dryer stretches. Despite the landscape seems so dry, many of the artificial ponds are filled. I pass through a few villages along the road, but the 30 huts and small houses are not that interesting looking.

The police have blocked the road, and it takes me some time to get through, without my driving license. I end up shoving him a copy of my passport, and as the queue behind me is getting restless, I get bye. I actually though it was a copy of my international driving license I gave him. I better get that sorted out.
Actually, I get right through the next two police checks. I have not experienced them active before.
The teacher Ann told me, she had asked 60 students about driving license. All had mopeds, six had also car. None had a driving license. The fine is $5 to drive moped without, and $10 for car. She asked; "What if you kill someone?", and they all knew that would cost $4000. Simple rules, why bother to have a license?

I do a few stops and walks, but I find only one new plant, which I fails to get a sharp photo of. The last bit before Ban Lung is more hilly, but only up to 300 metres. I find a nice hotel behind the main boulevard. It seems like a very young city, with a grit of vide boulevards. Each with either flowering plants in the middle, or nicely pruned bushes. Far from all the houses along them matches this standard!

I try to pay the hotel with a $100 bill, but they bounces it, as it is wrinkled. I had the same problem with a $50, but paid at a gas-station. Old trick! They ask me to change it in a bank. I find a bank with an ATM, clean the contact-spots on my Visa card, and it works! Now I just hope my bank don't issue a new card, and stop this one!
I get one $100 in the ATM, and go inside to get it, and its wrinkled brother, changed into smaller notes. But not without my passport - which is in Phnom Penh, till I return the car. I get them to change the straighten bill I got from their machine, but only after some talking.

I have a longer shopping list in town, and start looking for a zipper. My back-pack could do with another one, and this is the place to find it, and get it sown in. Somehow, I find my way through the broad boulevards, straight to the huge market. It seems to be fairly new like the rest of town, but the vegetables and fish area is a mess like always. One area is just under parasols, and it seems a bit wrong in front of the new, brightly coloured houses.

I find a good zipper, and the forth seamstress are up for the task. She want half a hour, and despite I got a bad feeling about being able to find her again, I head on through the market. Her are all the usual butchers, fishmongers, vegetable pushers, gold smiths, textile shops and those who sell things in plastic or wrapped in plastic.

Up in this corner of the country, ice coffee with sweet milk is the thing you drink. No chance I can find tea. Well, it does taste great, and if I keep the number down, I might avoid the migraine. The back-pack is made beautifully - although not like I wanted it. It can be used, and one can't expect miracles for one dollar!
While I'm in the area, I get the $100 bill ironed. It sure improve its appearance. The woman who do it, don't even smile.

Next on my list is super-glue. The magnets on my GPS gave up last evening, and I need it in the windshield. As none speak any English, I just walk around, and look for it in the market. It don't take long before I have it. Then it is time for a hair- and beard trim. All the beauty-saloons within the market are for women, but outside, I find a male barber.
He have to finish his dinner, and then he do my hair. Well, not like I wanted it, but kind of. The beard, on the other hand, seems to be a brand new experience for him. He haven't a clue how to do it. I say it is fine, and head home to sort it out myself. Somehow, he have managed to cut around four centimetres of my right moustache. It sit at least ten centimetres from my face!

Trimmed way too much, I head out in the town again. I find a baguette with honey for lunch, and then I find the Virachey National Park office. The two rangers are out some days, and apparently, they only do multi-days tours around to the tribes. Bit of a bummer, but I have heard private entrepreneurs have other offers in the nearby village. 

I still have quite some day to spend, and I get back to get the car, and drive out to the green Boeng Yeak Lom crater lake, just out of town. Well, not that close, that the police can't block the road once again. And my back-pack with my copies is at the hotel. Luckily, I let through on the way out.

The huge lake is a picnic and swimming site for the locals. They pay 1000 Riel (c25), foreigners 8000 Riel ($2). They ask me; is am a resident foreigner, and I get away with 4000 Riel ($1). I only figures it out later, but as they charge 5000 Riel for the car, I don't feel that bad.

Here is not that much to see. Some shops selling mainly women's dressing and cold drinks, and then a long line of canopy roofs with hammocks in, for rent, a small boardwalk and a little temple. The sun have vanished, and I only get a black line between the sky and the lake.
I find a small path, leading around the lake. It leads through mainly different species of bamboo and over them; massive trees. In some of the trees, huge clusters of orchids are found.

The golden skinks are numerous, but I only find a few insects; one is a nice caterpillar. A bush have some lovely flowers, but else, I see only a few. Some of the leaves are interesting, and I think I recognises them from potting plants at home. Strangler figs are doing their worse, and it look great from outside. The lianas are huge, and some have grown into trees by them self. It is real hard to get to the lake side, due to the bamboo.

As I returns, the sun is back, and I do a few more, desperate trials. This lake is not mended for photo! I sit on the boardwalk and enjoy a local soda: Grassy Jelly Bean. It sure have pieces of jelly in! I have tried a few of the others, but not the Durian. Neither as icecrème with Durian. I think I pass the Jack-fruits too.

A sign show of to a hill-top restaurant, and I give it a try. It is a red dirt-road, and pretty soon, four-wheel drive would have been nice - and additional clearance too. I try several of the side-roads, but all end up at small farmers huts. Well, I know where there is a city - although I failed to find a interesting restaurant earlier. 

I get through the police control once again, and do a loop in the centre of town, looking for non-"fried noodle/rice dinner". One little joint have a photo of a pizza, and after I have parked at the hotel, I give it a try. Small, pre-baked bottoms, and after quite some talking, I get two without meat. They are great!

Back to work several hours, but then I figure the five star hotel on the other side of the road might have something interesting to the coffee? In the backroad intersection, two roads from the main-road, eight police men are found. Some hidden in the shadows, some in bright colours in the light. It might just be a crash-helmet raid, but I have seen to many cops for one day.

The fancy hotel have only banana-pancakes, and the tea is just Chinese tea. It does not matter at all: The light is out at the pool, and a full-moon up-lights the area. I'm in no hurry back to work.
The photos of the day, from town and crater lake, are in one slideshow: Ben Lung & Boeng Yeak Lom.

13/1 Last evening, I saw the five stared hotel had a large breakfast menu, and I return. With glasses on, it turn out to be all Asian noodles and rice breakfasts. I find the one without meat, but before I get it, I have to have my photo taken many times. A company of Koreans have finished their breakfast, and on their way out, they all want a photo of them self and me. Thinking about it, it is mainly Koreans that have that weird request. I'm not that sure I have the energy for Korea after all.
The breakfast is not only some strange sort of noodles, it is a soup - not my thing. But after quite some people have been involved, I get a mug of Lipton tea. This is a five-star hotel, but they only ask for $1,60!Considering I won't find anything more delicious tomorrow, I might as well eat here, and enjoy the pool and garden view.

The plan for the day is waterfalls and their surrounding nature. Soon after I leave town it turn into a dusty gravel road. Here are huge rubber plantations and little undisturbed land. Many small  huts aliens the road, and they are all so red by dust.
The last bit is more desolated, but a poor guy sits in a shed, waiting to get his $0,50 for the visit at Cha Ung Waterfall (Chaa Ong) . Here are actually several falls. The first are not impressive, but at least in the sun.

The next one is 25 metres straight down, and it must be impressive in the rainy season. Well, it is pretty nice now, and I figure the sun will reach it in two hours.
I spend the time botanising around in the area. Here are huge trees, lianas and bushes along with quit some vines. I find a single, flowering terrestrial orchid, but nothing else interesting. 

The fall comes over a huge horse shoe, and there is an easy walk behind it. I start following the stream downwards, but that is fare from as easy. Huge boulders, deep ponds and dense bushes and bamboos. The rocks are volcanic. Some porous, some more like basalt.
I do some bigger loops in the area, and wonder why I have it all to myself?

Some trees have been removed, even with the major roots. Others remain, but cut up in thick boards. In a small pond within the mainstream, I find two species of small frogs. Jumpy little buggers!
The sun finally lightens up the fall, and I get a few more hundreds photos. Then I head on to the next fall, fourteen kilometres gravel road away.

It is on the other side of the sealed road, but the guidebooks road descriptions are worthless, and Google map tend to place all the falls in one location.
I drive pass some deep-red bushes. The fine dust is in a thick layer on them. Somehow, I end up at a river, and around the corner, a little girl is selling tickets to Katieng (Ka Tieng) Waterfall - but later, I learn this is actually Kinchaan Waterfall.

Again, I'm here all by my self, and the poor elephant that give rides, have the day off. I find the fall, which is lover and wider. Again, it is a horse shoe with a deep cave behind the fall. The sun is right into it, and I try every possible angle and setting on the camera. Due to the deep shadows and bright sunlight, it is impossible to get it all right - unless you stitch together several photos - and I don't.

From the back of the cave, I get some great motives, a bit like an eye. Some of the walls are covered in colourful deposits - and a bit of graffiti. The vegetation are the same, and I don't use that much effort to discover anything new.
I walk pass the huts and the elephant, and try to get the locals to tell, where the third waterfall is. I fail completely. My guidebook say it is 200 metres back, and then 2500 metre up another bad gravel/clay road.
Here are several trails, leading out into the plantations and forest, and I can't figure which one is the right. I ask several locals I meet, but none have a clue about what I'm all about.

I cross a river - within the river, and find some roads which the RAV4 is defiantly not up for. It have a ground clearance as a mole, when it comes to it. I end up where the pepper grows (Danish description of Hell), and I'm sure the car agrees.

Finally, when I have given up, and are heading home, I get it. The ticket I got at the second fall was with a wrong name on. That means I have to go 2500 metres back, and then just 200 out again. I'm sure the car could have done without these detours, but I enjoyed them.

The true Katieng Waterfall is used by a few locals for swimming. It is around eight metres tall in one straight stem, and without any cave. A suspension bridge leads over it, and a bright orange monk is in front of me. When he first photo the fall, them me with his I-phone, I have no scruples taking photos of him!
The sun have left the major part of the fall, and I should have started here. I do a bit of walking in the area, but the locals are so eager to get my attention, and I head home.

I have ripped a hole in my trousers, and I head straight to my usual seamstress. Then it is time for a real late snack and a tour in the ATM. Back to work until six, where I find my pizzeria - I can always get noodles... Just as great as yesterday.

While working on the photos of the day, I see my worse fear have come through: It is mainly pictures of falling water, pretty much similar to each other. That don't stop me from making a slideshow with Waterfalls of Cha Ung, Kinchaan and Katieng.
Spend the last part of the evening, desperately trying to find some sights in the remaining part of Cambodia.

14/1 The goal for the day is the waste Virachey National Park - or at least the edges of it. It seems like a eight day track is the thing to do, but I'm too lazy for that. Just to get to where the interesting parts are found, is a day and a half each way, and by boat and foot.

I have talked myself into accepting the entrance village; Ta Veng, and what I can find from there within some days. The road to Ta Veng should go through some fantastic nature, and offer some of the province's best views.
The first 20 kilometres are sealed, and besides from a lake, it does not offer that much.

The better part of the forest have been cut down, and it is mainly rubber and macadamia nut plantations to both sides of the road. A few, ten-huts-villages with a lot of hens and fat little pigs. I actually think I see more pigs than people during the entire day! A few cows are found along the road too, roaming around free.

Then the unsealed road starts. It is made of what seems to be talcum of flour - just way finer. In most stretches, it is dark red, and the plants are covered in a thick layer. When I walk through it, I sink five centimetres.
I can only guess what it will turn into when it starts to rain, and that is grease. And some parts of the road is real steep.

I do many stops, but here are not that much interesting. It seems like the forest only stretches 30 metres in from the road. Then it is sweet potatoes or macadamia nuts that take over. I find a few flowers, some epiphytic orchids and a lot of dust. Some of the bushes are covered in Silk-plants.
The few trails, leading away from the road soon end in a field or a timber zone. I see a lot of butterflies, many are swallow-tailed. One is especially nice, but it refuses to sit. It is a tiny swallow-tailed with real long "tail", black with blue bands. I have never seen anything close to it.

Here are a lot of bird voices, but I only recognises the parrots and doves. I see a few starlings, martins, finches and fly-catchers - I think. Here are golden skinks and Calothes, but I don't bother to make photos of the animals.
When I once returns to the car, an entire family is gathered around a moped, next to it. It turns out they have a flat back-tire. I offers them a ride, and the mother and two small girls are grateful. The father have to push the moped home, and the little son refuses to get into the car.

After dropping them off at their hut, I find a longer trail, leading into the forest. I pass a huge stem which have been cut into boards by chain-saw - the usual around here. It is amassing how much timber they can load on a moped! I have seen one with a three meter long stem, at least half a meter in diameter. And it is heavy wood.

The trail crosses a dry creek, and eventually end at a sweet potatoes field with a hut in the corner. I walk back, and choose another path. It leads across the creek again, but at a pond in a rock. A calabash is standing next to the pond, used to transport water in. 

I pass more of these small settlements. They are said to be hill-tribes, but I think that is years ago. However, I do see women smoking small pipes, some of the older women have naked torsos and some have baskets on their backs. They do not appreciate getting their photos taken, and I respect that. I try to get a few photos of their pigs and huts, but here are people sitting in the shadow everywhere.
For once, I get a response to my "So-sjo-di", which I have learned should be the normal greeting. However, most prefer "hallo", it seems.

The forest is still only a few remaining pockets, and despite my efforts, I end up in Ta Veng way too early. I drive right through it, looking for a guest house or alike. It is a real open village, and it is hard to say, where the centre is.
I end out at the little river, at a suspension bridge - or what use to be one. Considering how much timber they are cutting, one would think they could spare some for the bridge.

I walk over, but I have to confess; I do hold the cables in some of the more dubious sections. On the other side, another village is found, but even more primitive.
As I try to find a bed for the night, I head back, and walk down to the Tonlee Saan River. It is not lined by houses at all, and I head back to the car, and drive into the middle of the village - or where I feel it is.

Here are apparently no hotels, guesthouses of someone eager to offer me a bed. Then I try to get lunch, but the few "restaurants" have only 5-10 different pre-cooked dishes, and they all contain at least 50% meat or fish.
The last in line have small bags with egg-noodles, radish and bean sproughts.
I get them to make a meal of that, and it works. Unfortunately, the last thing she do, is to throw a handful of pork in. She have to pick it out again.

I see the entire village, and get pictures of most of the huts and houses. And quite some of the small, fat pigs too.
Then it is time to find some nature. The entire village is getting its dirt-roads renewed, and it is a bit tricky to find out. I finally find the road I think will lead to Virachey National Park. Then they can bounce me at the entrance.

The road soon turn narrow and bad. Small, partly disassembled bridges crosses deep canyons, and every time, I'm wondering if it will last. The trail follows the big river, and I do several walks along it, and into the forest.
Here are some huge termite mounts, some more that two metres high.

After fifteen kilometres, the road kind of fade out. It end in what use to be a mud hole, and the moped tracks zigzags through. I don't.
Considering the difficulties with finding a bed, food and the clouds pulling in, and getting darker, I think I head back. I would hate to be trapped out here by some rain. And I will, given the road, the car and the tires.

I do another stop in Ta Veng to get some ice coffee, realising tea is no option. I try at the same place I got lunch, but the women have gathered in two groups on blankets in the back. It is Saturday afternoon, and the playing-cards have been found. No chance they are going to serve me anything, or as much as cleaning the tables.

I find another place, and here are entertainment too. A ten year old boy is working the huge road-grader, and he is good at it. I think I have seen what here is to see, unless I find a ranger to take me on a eight day tour, visiting hill-tribes within the Virachey National Park  - and I don't. I sure hope I find something that is worse several days, and I would hate to have a week in Phnom Penh!

I drive slowly back, and do a few, breath stops. The clouds are getting darker, and it is a relief to get to the sealed road.
I find the usual Ban Lung hotel, and as I wash the front windows with half a litre of water, the parking buy tell me, I get a free carwash on the other side of the road. I don't care the car being dirty, but I think I have done the last dirt-road, and I would like to return it just recently clean. "What you don't know, can't piss you off". They even go into the grave to wash it underneath!

I am considering eating some noodles or fried rice, but the pizzas are just too tempting. I say "two, please", and sit at the table. After 45 minutes, I check up on the pizzas, and he seems a bit baffled. "Did I want pizzas?". The plan was to eat early, and get my trousers washed. The kind of need after three weeks...
I wait fifteen minutes more, while sipping on a Black Soya Bean Milk soda. Then he excuses; he only have garlic. That won't make a pizza, and after it have turned dark, I just head back to the five-stared hotel. Here, it seems like the only one, out of around 60 dishes without meat, is steamed rice and steamed vegetables. At least, they come with a spoonful delicious pepper sauce.

On the way back at the hotel, I once again passes the guesthouse I won't be staying at: "Mean Mean Guest House". Way too late for laundry, but I might use the sun in the morning, as the plan is only to drive 170 kilometres tomorrow.
While I sit and work, a guy comes bye to "help" me with the air-con. I have set it for 26C, and he put is down to 16C. I thank him, and put it back, after letting him out. If I wanted to freeze, I would have stayed home. It is only on, because I dry my laundry.
I made a slideshow with Ta Veng - and back, and finish the Eastern Cambodia, and somehow, it is passed midnight once again.


It is time for Diary 6 and the South-Eastern corner.

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