From Koh Kong (if I get in) I will take a boat for 4 hours to Sihanoukville. Spend some time and then a bus up to Phnom Penh, from there by speedboat up the Tonle Sap River across Tonle Sap lake to Siem Reap to visit the ruins of Angkor (heartland of the Khmer Empire). And then ...
Well things started in a rush. Had to get up early to catch the 5:30 bus down to Hat Lek. Of course that bus didn't leave until after 6, and then had to stop for gas. This didn't put me at the border until after 7:30. So I rushed through getting a Cambodian Visa and doing the usual stamps exiting and entering countries. Then caught a taxi from one of the shills to Koh Kong where the boat to Sihanouk Ville leaves at 8 sharp. Unfortunately the guy would only drive about 15 miles and hour because he had a tire going flat which he didn't want to prevent him from picking up my fare. Since we were already after 8 he tried to talk me into going to the bus station instead, but I insisted on a swing by the dock first. Sure enough the boat was running late and I was able to jump aboard with 30 seconds to spare. Took the 4 hour journey along the coast talking with a Belgium detective in the financial division. About 25% of the people got seasick enough to throw up, including both my seatmates, but not me. What fun!
I originally planned to stay in Sihanouk Ville only a day, but found that Visa's to Vietnam were quicker to get here than in the capital so hung around until Monday to pick up a Visa and then take the afternoon bus to Phnom Penh. Not much to do in Sihanouk Ville, took a mototaxi around to look at town and the nearby beaches. Basically no car taxi's or they are very expensive so everyone gets around on little moped scooters without helmets or any sense of right of way on the road :) Prices are very cheap if you bargain hard. No diving going on for the rest of the summer (low season). After heading to Phnom Penh checked into a guesthouse (capital) and booked a bus up to Siem Reap for early in the morning. Then took a walk that night across town to the riverfront where I walked along the promenade and saw the Royal Palace and some of the fancier eating places. Had a great lightning show off across the river with a storm threatening all night. I also don't think there is really much to do or see in the capital, although there is a shooting range where you can shoot M16's and AK47's. They will even take you out to a field where you can shoot a rocket launcher at a cow. Now there's a good time :)
On Tuesday, left early in the morning for a 9 hour ride across very bumpy unpaved roads. Just about 300Km. Highlight of trip was the large deep fried spiders sold as a snack at one of the roadside stops. Yumm! Siem Reap is just a small town with lots of guesthouses and bars and restaurants. A small night market and some tourist shops.
6 km out of town is Angkor Wat. This is the place to see in all of Cambodia. Not quite as tall as the ruins in Tikal, the temples are much newer (900 ad) and so much better preserved. In my view much more worth a visit. Of course none of you are likely to go to either place so why compare :) Hired a motorbike to take me out to Kbal Spean. A small waterfall with some old carvings in the river under the water. About 50km out. On the way stopped to see a small temple with better carvings than the main ones near Siem Reap. Since I don't have my Angkor map handy I can't list all the ruins we stopped at, but my favorite by far was Ta Phrom or the "Jungle" temple. A vast ruin with lots of passages to explore. Fallen rocks everywhere, with trees growing atop ruined walls. I recognized and latter confirmed with the guide that this is where a lot of "Tomb Raider" was filmed. A great place for any diehard gamers to wander around looking for treasure and monsters. I think with out a doubt the best set of ruins I have seen anywhere in the world, although many of the other temples were bigger or taller and some had huge moats and outer walls built around them. A place I will put on everyone's need to see in their life sometime list. Although after a full day I was templed out and didn't need any more. Hung out with my guide that night at the Ivy bar and talked about the guesthouse business in Siem Reap.
Next morning took the speedboat back to Phnom Penh. A early morning minibus ride with too many people for the bus, out to a river where we got on small little boats to go out into Tonle Sap lake to catch the big boat. While more expensive the boat was quicker, cooler, and far less bumpy than the bus. No fried spiders, but we did get some cool views of villages floating on stilts out in the lake and along the river as we went. Deep rural Cambodia, where the river is the transportation in and out and you would see little kids poling their way to school maybe, or someone with a canoe full of fruit on their way to a market. Back in the capital I decided not to stay a day hanging out by the lake (I doubt you would want to swim in the water anyway), and am catching the early morning bus to Ho Chi Ming City (Saigon). Spending this last evening in town motoring around trying to cash some travelers checks and sending out this update. Next stop Vietnam.
- Outward bound, June 13th 2002.
Cambodia update (part 2):
What's this? Another update! I was supposed to be outward bound in the morning.
Well after waking up early and catching a minibus to the Capital guesthouse where another minibus was being packed to the gills with too many people, I sat squeezed in with another guy up front and let my mind wander. What it eventually wandered around to, and luckily before we left was how quickly I went through Cambodia and when was my Visa for Vietnam valid. Sure enough a quick check showed it didn't start until the 15th (tomorrow). Now this would have been a much more exciting update if I had taken said bus only to be turned back at the border in the middle of nowhere. With the bus going on and nowhere to stay for the night. Unfortunately for you readers I realized my mistake in time to jump out, dig my bag out of the back of the bus and go have breakfast instead.
At breakfast I talked to some other travelers and learned that the 6 hour trip actually takes about 10 with a long wait at the border so I decided to switch routes and take a shorter bus (2 hr) to the Mekong river and then a boat along the river (4hrs) to Chao Doc in Vietnam. This doesn't get me all the way to Saigon (another story), but lets me see some of the famous Mekong delta. Back to the hotel to leave bags and then hired a scooter driver to take me around. Took a 1.5 hour ride out to Phenom Chisom. This is a hill in the middle of nowhere with a old ruined temple (I think to Vishnu). It does provide a nice view over the otherwise flat plains, but it was a long bumpy ride on a very small, slow scooter. I wound up with too much sun (or not enough sunscreen for you sticklers) by the time the day was over. On the way back stopped at Tonle Bati. A popular picnic spot with the locals on Sundays with lots of food vendors in little stalls along the river. Empty as a ghost town on Saturday however :) Also another set of ruins which cost 4$ and where disappointing after Angkor. On the plus side meet a couple of Aussies from Melbourne on scooters as well as we turned in. Mike runs a painting business and has kindly offered me some "cash under the table" work when I get down to Melbourne. As well as a place to hang. Back in town I scooter'ed around to some of the sights in town and took some pictures. Met up with Mike for dinner at Happy Herbs pizza and watched Korea beat Portugal in the world cup which let US advance to face Mexico in round two. A game they latter won 2-0 for those that don't follow soccer. Next day again took minibus to Capital guesthouse this time to board a nice big 44 seat bus which took 5 of us out to the river to board a boat for the ride down the river to the border where we had to exit and go through customs before boarding another boat on the Vietnam side for the ride to Chao Doc. Customs didn't even look at our bags which we just carried to leave on the new boat. In fact the guide took all our passports to have them stamped while we waited in a restaurant so the Vietnam officials never even saw us. Diffinetely the weirdest border crossing I've done. Talked travel with a girl from Germany most of the way on what was a smooth uneventful trip. Not so much to see on the Cambodia side and after the border belongs in the next update. And this time I am actually there so. The End.
---Written 6/17/02 from Saigon