CAMBODIA WOWED US AND WE ARE REALLY EXCITED ABOUT RETURNING.
HAT LEK to SIHANOUKVILLE
As soon as we drove into Cambodia we were getting hustled– men with pens trying to fill out our forms etc. Dave had taken the carnet over to the booth to be filled out and whilst this was being done we went to the visa window where they tried to charge 1,200 baht per visa– that’s almost double the real price!!! We refused to pay and had the window slammed shut on us.
I hung around to see what a French backpacker was going to pay– he got absolute shit off the officials, they tried to snatch his passport from him and then refused him entry to the country– all for not paying double price! WOW– these guys were on a corruption roll! Meanwhile Dave, the clever boy that he is, was over at the carnet booth where the official asked what Dave’s job was- ‘ I work for the British government and have to go to the embassy at Phnom Penh although strictly speaking this is a holiday for me.’ A hustler was listening in and walked away. We announced loudly that we were going to make a cup of tea– how British– and were ready to settle in for the day when, suddenly, the hustler reappeared ‘inviting us to collect our visa’s- how predictable! We had to pay $25 each which is the price of a business visa but we couldn’t argue that point after what Dave had said! We were so hassled that we forgot to ask about insurance or changing money and it wasn’t ‘til we got to a toll booth that we realised we only had baht or dollar on us– luckily they accept baht! We called our friends to warn them of the problems.
Koh Kong is the first town you reach and it was here we exchanged our baht to riel and purchased a E-PHONE sim card. We got a BIG bargain with the sim card– in Cambodia they have sim cards especially for tourists and you need to hand over a copy of your passport, however, we were sold a Cambodian’s sim card for $10. We called home for 16 minutes and it only cost $7– normally you get charged $3-$4 dollars a minute!! We changed our money in a shop by the river and got the black market rate of 8,000 Riel per pound.
The road from the border to Highway 4 used to be dirt track and involved 4 ‘ferry’ crossings– now the road is sealed, smooth and 2 out of the 4 bridges have been completed. The ferry crossings are no longer 2 boats lashed together that hold a single car– they are now larger ferries that can hold up to 9 cars per crossing– by late afternoon we were settled on Otres beach in Sihanoukville after a rather boring days drive.
We have been shocked at how poor the Cambodian people are– it’s got to be the poorest country we’ve visited so far. We saw our first glue sniffing child today– he was 8yrs old.
Sihanoukville aka Snooky was not what we expected– it’s a spread out affair with several beaches, most of which are unsuitable for overlanders. The town has 3 supermarkets, a superb fruit and vegetable market and numerous cafes– we asked around about car insurance and were told we could only get it in Phnom Penh. We spent 5 days enjoying the clear waters of Otres, where the local pigs sit in the sea to cool themselves and the sunsets are lovely, before driving to Bokor.
SIHANOUKVILLE to PHNOM PENH
Bokor National Park sits in the wonderfully named Elephant Mountains and is home to a famous hill station that is full of abandoned bullet ridden buildings. We got as far as the turn off for the park and saw this sign, our backs are still bad even after our 2 week villa rest so, we decide that 30km’s on these roads are not worth it and drive onto Kep- stopping briefly to look at the shabby French colonial buildings in Kampot.
Kep is a seaside town that is famous for crab and, you guessed it– bullet ridden villa’s! Actually, it’s a rather nice place with plenty of camping choices by the sea and some grand looking ruined villa’s, just avoid the khmer karaoke shacks– they are LOUD!
We followed Highway 2 to Phnom Penh where the scenery improved slightly- rice fields dotted with palm trees and the karst dotted landscape around Kampong Trach. A quick visit to Wat Kirisehla resulted in Nessie getting completely covered with the infamous fine red Cambodian dust.
Thank God for our GPS as our maps are useless and there are NO road signs.
Phnom Penh traffic is pretty crazy and it’s not an easy place to find safe parking for your car– we have been warned by locals and expats alike that if it’s not locked on it will be stripped off. We stopped at the first hotel we found with secure parking but at $55 a night it was not an option. It was as we drove away 3 policemen stopped us stating we had driven the wrong way down a one way street- the fact that a local did exactly the same as us, at the same time, was of no apparent relevance! We pointed to the local and made it absolutely clear that there was NO WAY we were getting ‘involved’ in this situation and drove off. Avoiding all uniforms thereafter we found a suitable place to stay with safe parking. Nessie went into a local garage to get a thorough check over before our drive into China– we can’t afford any mechanical problems on that part of the trip.
Phnom Penh has plenty to offer– supermarkets, cafes, restaurants and some colonial French architecture, but every day you will come face to face will the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge– amputees, beggars, street children and unimaginable poverty. It’s a real heartbreak but you can help– go into the downstairs cafe of the Foreign Correspondents Club and pick up a ‘Stay another day Cambodia’ booklet, it lists all the charitable programs operating in the country that you can contribute to, volunteer for, or support in some way OR see www.stay-another-day.org
We went to the famous Russian Market, it’s meant to sell lots of North Face and Columbia outdoor clothing ( we didn’t find any) but it has a SUPERB parts area for motorbikes. We also visited the nearby S21 prison– genocide museum– a sobering time capsule to the torture of the Khmer Rouge. A quick shop at the excellent but expensive Lucky Supermarket before going to collect Nessie from the ‘landrover’ garage only to notice that some-one had ‘removed’ our air-con pipe!! See equipment up-date page for details.
PHNOM PENH to SIEM REAP
The drive north to Kampong Thom was busy with mad drivers and some Indian moments, before spending the night camping beside Tonle Sap with Frank and Sue– we’ve decided to travel together again for this part of Cambodia.
Next morning we were pleased to find the Highway 6 quiet and full of great sights, the road side fruit and vegetable markets are worth stopping at– they are really cheap and have a great selection. We continued toward Kbal Spean via Kampong Phhlok- a superb stilted fishing village that you can reach via road during the dry season. We visited Siem Reap 2 years ago, so for us this is familiar territory and we knew that we could probably sleep at Kbal Spean for the night– the police post welcomed us and we had a great nights sleep. The following day we drove right through the Angkor Heritage Site to get to Siem Reap, stopping along the way to take photo’s of Nessie– cheeky sods! We spent our second night at a Buddhist temple on the banks of West Baray, one of the temple complex lakes- the monks appreciate a packet of cigarettes and local children stop to say hello. The following day we struck lucky in Siem Reap when we found Earthwalkers guesthouse, the manager kindly prised open gates that had never been opened and let us park beside the pool– word soon spread around the overlander network and before we knew it we had five overlanders staying here, with 2 more vehicles looking– it was like a mini Agonda!
This local boy cycles past Earthwalkers every day, he collects paper, aluminium, tins and plastic bottles– one car bought him a bell and we taught him to ring his bell if he see’s a car, then we will bring out our rubbish for him– if other overlanders could continue this it would be great! Siem Reap has some outdoor clothing stalls so Dave got some new Columbia shirts-$14 each, and trousers- $18 and they are genuine. All too soon we have to say goodbye and leave Siem Reap– it’s a real tug as we’ve met some great people here, locals and overlanders.
SIEM REAP to KRATIE
Driving back down Highway 6 we pass motorbikes laden with pigs going to market, incredibly overloaded vehicles and the lovely miniature horses pulling carts. Cambodia is a unlike every other country we’ve driven through– the best sights seem to be on the main routes, we make the mistake of turning off and taking route 71, the drive was boring and the road was deeply rutted in the middle section. We try looking for a road that follows the Mekong from Phumi Tonle Bet but all we find is a muddy track, so we drive a little further east and stop at a Pagoda to ask if we can spend the night. What a superb experience! The Pagoda is surrounded by a small thatched village set amidst rice fields– the entire population came to see us. We prepare our food with an impromptu cooking lesson for the monks, then hand out small sample bowls for the children to share– spaghetti bolognaise was a big success. Rose went round giving each child a spoon of cold yoghurt– it received a mixed review, it confirms what we already suspected– kids here don’t like cold food, they’re not used to it. Another medical clinic session with a local child and everyone was satisfied. We settled in for the night with the monks for company, one speaks English and was delighted to entertain us with his karaoke video playing mobile phone. The following morning we woke to see a local villager droving his ducks across the paddy fields and the water buffalo being taken through the temple grounds to ‘bathe’ in the fields.
Just a few miles further on and we turn up the 75 to Chhlong where we finally meet up with the Mekong. The sealed road ends here but the drive is fabulous, passing by beautiful traditional villages clinging to the banks of the mighty river– it’s one of the loveliest drives we’ve done in a while and there is evidence of this road being upgraded, but we were in Kratie before seeing asphalt again.
We are hoping to see the rare Iriwaddy dolphins here but decide to continue north to Kampie, where the opportunities of seeing them are better. There is an area to park where you can take a boat trip but we continued 1km further on to a swimming spot and spend the night there instead. Dave woke up when he felt someone trying Nessies’s doors. Whenever we think someone is trying to break in we set off our alarm lights– hoping to fool the person into thinking their action has triggered the alarm system, then we get up to check. No-one was there but in the morning we could clearly see the hand marks on the doors!
I volunteer to stay with the cars while everyone else walks over to the island to watch the dolphins have their routine 7am play time– sure enough they were exactly where they were meant to be. This great drive ends all too soon when we reach the newly completed Chinese built road linking Laos to Cambodia-it’s another very boring drive all the way to Stung Treng where we encounter the friendship bridge. This bridge was completed in July 2007 and remains closed, apparently the Chinese hold the keys. So we have to take the $5 ferry over and hope that the friendship situation warms up soon!! If you plan to do any last minute shopping then don’t expect to get it here– there is very little to buy, even sourcing water is impossible. Even trying to find a bush camp spot is hard and after several attempts at finding a place near the Mekong we give up and settle for a disused quarry, there was a clear water pool for swimming, lots of birds and absolute silence. The border is just up the road, be sure you don’t drive past it– it’s easy to miss! Other than the carnet man muttering half heartedly ‘$5’, which we all ignored- all went well. They wanted us to open up the back of the car for a quick look which we suspect was down to our friends having an elephant painted on the side of their car– we got the impression they thought we were transporting animals!!
Siem Reap. Here’s our list of the top 5 temples to visit; Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Phrom, Banteay Sri and Kbal Spean.
Kamong Phhluk stilted village on Tonle Sap.
The drive from Chhlong to Kampie.
Our overnight stay at Vihear Kpos Pagoda.
Fellow road users on Highway 6.
Meeting the people and children of Cambodia.
ARRIVAL DATE: 17TH FEBRUARY 2008
NATIONAL MUSEUM, THE ROYAL PALACE COMPLEX & WAT PHNOM — PHNOM PENH
ANGKOR WAT LOCAL RECYCLING BOY KAMPONG PHHLUK
COOKING LESSON AT THE PAGODA LOCAL WOMAN AT KAMPIE THE UNFRIENDLY FRIENDSHIP BRIDGE
THIS LITTLE PIGGY WENT TO MARKET......... IT WAS FUN OVERTAKING THIS GUY!!!
There is a motorbike under here-but it
takes him 200 metres to stop!!
The drive to Sihanoukville.
THOUGHTS ON CAMBODIA:
You’ve got the official exchange and the ‘real exchange rate’- you will never ever pay the official rate anywhere. Everyone wants dollars but gives change in Riel and the exchange rate gets played in the favour of the vendor 2 times. Be prepared to have every last cent squeezed out of you.
© www.nessiesadventures.com, 2006, All rights reserved.
We took a while to settle into Cambodia but when we did we fell in love with a country and it’s people that are still trying to recover from a terrible past. It was great to be back in a country where the traffic entertained you, it was a mix of Pakistan and India all over again-superb. The people will stare but not in a slack jawed way, instead they will interact with you allowing both them and you the opportunity to have some fun.
Try giving something back; buy hair bands and French plait the beggar girls hair, help the poor children by offering a welcoming helping hand– clean filthy ears, treat minor conditions (if you can), swim with the kids and teach them some new games– anything to distract them from their everyday grind. It’s a wonderful country that deserves a bright future and will reward you in the simplest ways.
BUDGET: As usual we have not included the garage costs for Nessie or personal spending.
FUEL: Not so easy to find at times, try to keep your tank half full. Not sure about the quality. Costs 3,900 Riel a litre.
SHOPPING: Sihanoukville has three supermarkets, Phnom Penh has a few, the Lucky Supermarket off Monivong Street was excellent and Siem Reap has two: Angkor Market; best for meat, wine and bread—for all else go to the much cheaper Mini Market further up Sivatha street on the opposite side or buy from the fuel station mini markets.
WATER: Not easy to source. Caltex in Sihanoukville has good water as does Earthwalkers, elsewhere it’s hit and miss.
ROADS: The main highways are reasonably good sealed roads. If you turn off the conditions are pretty bumpy and VERY dusty.
POLICE: Very corrupt, especially in Phnom Penh where they target foreigners and countryside people.
SAFTEY: We had no big problems but it is common knowledge that the country is bad for theft and everyone official seems to be corrupt so you don’t want to get involved with officials. Bush camping is very difficult due to the high risk from landmines and driving standards are appallingly bad– almost as bad as India but not quite!
LANDY: You can source landrover parts in Phnom Penh or Battambang through Envo-tech. Or there is a landrover parts shop in Phnom Penh. See top tips page for details of this and the location for a insurance company.
ANGKOR THOM—BAYON GATE EARTHWALKERS– new overlander site in