Category Archives: Cambodia

Back to Bangkok to charge batteries.

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My last day in Cambodia, and as it turned out, the last day of my cycle tour of S.E. Asia. I passed through the most bombed area in Cambodia, which unsurprisingly has the highest proportion of land mine victims too. It was quite obvious by the mature scrub land which hasn’t been touched for 40 years.

I had a more than eventful drink stop in the morning – normally limited to basic sign language and smiles. This one involved a conversation with a soy sauce salesman as well as me saving a small child from blindness. OK, so perhaps she wasn’t going to go blind… She managed to squirt petrol in her eye and all three generations of family could think to do was to cover her eye with a dirty old rag. I managed to persuade them to pour water liberally into the girls eye, which at least stopped her from screaming, diluting it somewhat. I think they went off to a health center after that. It really showed me how little people know about basic medicine that westerners take for granted.

One of many signs showing an area has been cleared of mines.

One of many signs showing an area has been cleared of mines.

Tapioka drying on my cycle lane - pretty much the only safe place be.  Everywhere else is littered with mines.

Tapioka drying on my cycle lane – pretty much the only safe place be. Everywhere else is littered with mines.

Thank you Google!  One of many photos I took to help me find my pre-booked hotel

Thank you Google! One of many photos I took to help me find my pre-booked hotel


Good deed for the day done, I continued onto the Thailand border, which was a relatively simple affair, the only issue I had was forgetting that people drive on the other side of the road in Thailand. I managed to pass 3 vehicles before I thought it strange they were all on the wrong side of the road!!

I had not recovered fully from the illness a few days ago and felt really weak by mid morning. I could tell something was wrong when I found myself in bottom gear and I looked ahead to see the hill I was on was only slightly going uphill. I felt like a flat one of those cheap AA batteries you get in Aldi (yes, my mind works in strange ways). I decided to call it a day (didn’t have much of a choice) at the small town of Pong Nam Ron, which is 50km or so north of Chanthaburi. I caught the bus there and stayed the night before catching another bus to Bangkok this morning. So, Chiang Mai, Thailand > Laos > Vietnam > Cambodia > the little town of Pong Nam Ron, Thailand in 3742km. Not quite the landmark finish it could be!!

The bus to Bangkok this morning was a pleasure – I opted for the first class bus (with essential toilet given I wasn’t feeling 100%), which even provided everyone with airline style food. Upon reaching Bangkok bus station, I had 12km of Google map directions to follow on the many snapshots I took with my digital camera. Thankfully I only needed about 1km worth of directions as I managed to get my bike on the skytrain (just as well, as the battery was going flat). Getting my bike up to the skytrain on the escalator was an interesting experience, as was barging my way onto an already full train. At the other end, there were no escalators, nor lifts, so I had to bump down several sets of stairs. Just as well my battery was feeling a bit more charged by now!! The hotel was apparently just 50 M from the station, but it still took 20 minutes to find. Addresses are so complicated in Bangkok, many of the hotel websites actually give you their location by GPS/lat/long coordinate.

I’ve picked up my bag from self storage, cleaned my bike (not because I wanted to – apparently New Zealand has really strict bio-security and don’t fancy cleaning it with jetlag under the watchful eye of a kiwi inspector), and packed it up. I’m feeling a fair bit better tonight and managed to eat 3 meals for the first day in 5 days or so. Hope it’s the road to recovery!! I wandered around the area of my hotel – by Nana skytrain station – and stumbled upon the local girlie bar area. I think I saw where most of the Ladyboys of Bangkok work when they aren’t swinging from a big tent during the Edinburgh Festival. Not really my scene, so I’m having an early night taking full advantage of my (semi) luxury hotel!

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Don’t rock the boat!!

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So, Siem Reap. The tourist capital of Cambodia, and for good reason. I was initially struck by how western it appeared, though that’s hardly a surprise given what’s a few KM up the road – Angkor Wat and it’s neighboring temples. It’s such a big deal here, they have even named their national beer after it. There are so many temples in the complex that you can get tickets that last a week long.

It was well worth getting up before first light to see all this - I was one of about 5 people at Bayon at 6am

It was well worth getting up before first light to see all this – I was one of about 5 people at Bayon at 6am

Gate to one of the smaller temples

Gate to one of the smaller temples

Bayon face
Quite strange walking under an entire tree....

Quite strange walking under an entire tree….

The pinnacles have a face on each side, mostly at least 8 feet across.

The pinnacles have a face on each side, mostly at least 8 feet across.


Boat repairs on the river to Battambang

Boat repairs on the river to Battambang

Battambang river floating house hoats

Battambang river floating house hoats

Petrol station fire - I was amazed to see the police were actually enforcing an exclusion zone, even if it was only about 2m!

Petrol station fire – I was amazed to see the police were actually enforcing an exclusion zone, even if it was only about 2m!

I went for the 3 day option. I can honestly say this is the single most impressive tourist attraction I have ever seen. This place was lost to nature for several hundred years, and as a result humongous trees have taken over in places, sometimes destroying the temples, other times actually holding them up. At times, I was more impressed by how nature had put it’s stamp on the place than the temples themselves, as can be seen in the pictures. There were at least ten thousand tourists there, but if you timed your visits to the various temples well, it was not a problem given the massive scale of the place. In the end, I only managed to last a day and a half – initially I thought I was just ‘templed out’ though I found out a few hours later it was something I had eaten… 2 days in bed for me then! That’s the second time in 2 months I’ve fallen ill, which I don’t think is so bad really.

I caught the boat to Battambang, located across Tonel Sap lake, and up a tightly meandering river. Being the dry season, progress was very slow with the bottom of the boat scraping the riverbed often. The advertised 6 hours turned out to be 9 due to a broken propeller. Thankfully it didn’t totally fall off – the coupling just needed a bit of welding. The boat is quite a popular way to get to Battambang given that the boat passes through numerous communities of people living on the river on floating houses. There were floating health centres, police stations, provincial buildings – everything you would expect in a normal community. Other buildings tower 30 feet above them on stilts, showing how high the river gets in the monsoon season. Apparently there are many Vietnamese settlers here – not being Cambodian, they were not allowed to settle on dry land, but the river is fine! We stopped at many these villages to load even more people onto an already overloaded boat. This was made even more nerve wracking by the fact that one of the 2 drivers (the older and wiser of the two) started warning people on the roof – of which there were at least 20 – not to stand up as the boat may capsize! When even one extra person climbed on the roof to enjoy the sunset, the roll of the boat felt markedly different. I was very pleased when one particularly large French woman was refused access to the roof!

In Battambang, I meet up with Natalie, a friend of a friend (thanks Neish!) from home who is working for the Cambodian Children’s Trust which is a NGO working in Battambang to combat poverty. Even though I have been on the road for 2 months passing through seriously poor areas meeting locals, it was still surprising hearing some of the things people have to deal with in Cambodia from a westerner who lives there and is in daily contact with those in real need.

Natalie very kindly offered me a bed for the night which was much appreciated – having slept in many guesthouse beds over the last 2 months, it was great to be able to sleep in a REAL house as opposed to a guest house for a change!!

This morning, I headed west towards to Pailin, though was held up slightly on the outskirts of Battambang by a fire at a petrol station – never a boring day in Cambodia!! I’m planning on cycling to Pattaya before catching a train to Bangkok before flying onto New Zealand – it’s going to be tight – this is the first time in 2 months I have a deadline of any sort!!

PS. poor internet signal = no Angkor temple pictures 😦

Tuk-tuk sir? No thanks, I’ll take the infinitely more dangerous moped option thanks!

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As I was staying in Kompong Thom, I decided to take a trip to Sambor Prei Kuk, a temple complex 30km away. I was going to cycle it but decided to make it a day off the bike. Motorbike taxi it is then. There’s something about sitting on the back of a motorbike with a driver taking you by back roads, along sandy dirt tracks with the wheels squirming away, about to spit you off into the ditch at any moment.

Old tree holding up brickwork of an old temple

Old tree holding up brickwork of an old temple

Predates the much more popular Angkor Wat

Predates the much more popular Angkor Wat

Fish drying in the sun at Kompong Thom market

Fish drying in the sun at Kompong Thom market

Department of Cult & Religion - the only derelict government building I saw.  Next door was the 'Department of Woman's Issues' (which had a rather expensive 4x4 outside)

Department of Cult & Religion – the only derelict government building I saw. Next door was the ‘Department of Woman’s Issues’ (which had a rather expensive 4×4 outside)

I can’t quite put my finger on it.

I tried telling him that if he crashed he wouldn’t get paid, but he didn’t have any English, so that didn’t work. I think he took my gesticulating to mean ‘drive faster’. What the heck I’m still in one piece. I’ll say this though – you’ve not been to Cambodia until you’ve been on the back of a motorbike at speed, going along dirt roads that look like they haven’t been repaired since they were bombed several decades ago by the Americans.
Once there however, I was delighted to discover I had the entire site pretty much to myself – there can’t have been more than 10 tourists there that day. Wandering around the temples, which have all become overgrown with mature trees gave it a lost world sort of feeling. Stumbling upon old remains with trees roots wrapped round them (bearing in mind there was nobody around) made for quite the adventure. I loved the place.
The next day I headed onwards to Kompong Kday, which has an impressive bridge – impressive given it is almost 1000 years old and still used to this day.
I was wondering why I kept seeing men delivering car batteries to houses in the community – I found out when I was out getting dinner and all the lights went out. It turns out that the electrical network in this part of Cambodia isn’t so reliable. People have got used to it and simply use car batteries instead.
Today, I had an easy 60km to Siam Reap. Having spent 2 months on the road now, I was horrified how expensive everything is. Being the town for Angkor Wat, there are throngs of tourists, pushing the prices up. Still, I can’t complain – I got a cracking pizza and pineapple fruit shake for lunch!

On the road again.

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Torture room in an old classroom of the prison.

Torture room in an old classroom of the prison.

Makeshift cells in an old classroom.

Makeshift cells in an old classroom.

Rules of the prison

Rules of the prison

Tank disguised as a combine harvester?  Combine harvester children's fairground ride?  You decide.  I have no idea.

Tank disguised as a combine harvester? Combine harvester children’s fairground ride? You decide. I have no idea.

Duck anyone?

Duck anyone?

Cheeky kids

Cheeky kids

Coolest kid in Cambodia - Angelina Jolie eat your heart out! (she adopted a Cambodian child)

Coolest kid in Cambodia – Angelina Jolie eat your heart out! (she adopted a Cambodian child)

I spent new years eve visiting S-21 at Tuol Sleng (click here) – the notorious prison of the Khmer Rouge where an estimated 17,000 people were detained. Only 7 prisoners survived, the remaining having been tortured and executed. Located in an old school, it has been transformed into an informative and fascinating (yet very depressing) museum. It goes into the details of how people were made to confess to being spies as a result of waterboarding and finger nail extraction. A British man from Newcastle Upon Tyne even passed through there, though his name was not known. It was made all the more real by the fact that this happened within my own lifetime, and one of the 7 survivors was (amazingly) at the museum/prison/school selling his account of it all to the public in the form of a paperback.

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Following a quiet new year (couldn’t face another huge hangover like Christmas!) I headed up north towards Skun, as I decided to take the northern route through Cambodia towards Thailand. Skun is apparently the deep fried spider capital of Cambodia, as indicated when you enter the town by a pair of gigantic wooden spiders. It made me feel like I was in Australia! (they have numerous ‘giant’ objects ranging from sheep to pineapples) I didn’t find any spiders, though I did find a bunch of really friendly (and cheeky) kids at a drinks stall I was at.

I was thinking of going south to the coast before heading up north, but looking at the map and roughly counting the days I thought it would be a push to make my flight in Bangkok. Just as well I checked as well – there was me thinking I flew to N.Z. on 18 Jan – it’s actually the 16th!

Today, I started early once more to try beating the heat and made it up to Kampong Thom which is a bit of a trucker/bus stop on the road going up to Siem Reap. I may stay here a couple of days as there are apparently some very old temples worth seeing nearby.

“Do you want to blow up a cow?”

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I met a German couple in Kompong Cham who planned on taking a road less travelled along the Mekong to Phnom Penh, and given how busy the main road is I decided it was a good idea and took the same route. The 60km of unsealed roads was a real introduction to Cambodian roads. Dusty, bumpy, pot holes so big you struggle to get out of them – this road had it all. The dust is so fine, it gets absolutely everywhere.

Road to Phnom Penh - the  bridge offered a nice 5 seconds of smooth surface...

Road to Phnom Penh – the bridge offered a nice 5 seconds of smooth surface…

I thought it would improve when I got to the main road to Phnom Penh, however, the entire 45km section of road was being upgraded. The end result was a very dusty, dirty Johnny arriving in Phnom Penh. As a result, I got more than a couple of strange looks when I stopped at a smart looking cafe for a fruit shake at the end of the day…
Little village by the Mekong    with a rough road

Little village by the Mekong with a rough road


Phnom Penh is full of extremes. Poverty is apparent here more than anywhere else I have been in the last couple of months, yet at the same time, I have seen more $100,000 cars here than I have anywhere else. And I mean anywhere, not just Asia. It’s quite remarkable. Hummers seem to be a particular favorite.
Remains from the Khmer Rouge times

Remains from the Khmer Rouge times

I couldn’t help but notice that there didn’t seem to be a single car older than 3-4 years old on the roads here either. Lots of new money about that’s for sure. I won’t speculate where it is all coming from!!

The funniest thing I've seen all day!!

The funniest thing I’ve seen all day!!

Poverty, new money and pagodas.  Quite a mix.

Poverty, new money and pagodas. Quite a mix.


I spent a lot of time today wandering the streets soaking up the vibe – quite different from anywhere I’ve been before. There is a huge surplus of tuk-tuk drivers here, all wanting to get their slice of tourist $$. On the subject of dollars, all prices are quoted in dollars here, which makes things confusing – a beer costs $US 0.8, though there is nothing less than $1 in circulation, so your change is usually given in Cambodian riel.

The tuk-tuk drivers here are more pushy than I have experienced elsewhere. Admittedly, I probably looked like I needed a lift. Upon declining a lift, I was offered women (as is the norm for single blokes), drugs (of various types), then “you want to blow up a cow?” Well obviously if I’m not in a tuk-tuk, abusing drugs or sleeping with a prostitute, then I MUST want to blow up a cow. WHAT ON EARTH!! I asked him how much (out of intrigue just so you understand) and he said $600 (though I’m sure I could have got him down to $400). I won’t lower the tone and give you a link to a video of such a cruel mindless thing to do. Crazy, place. And I thought Vietnam was nuts…