Besides the Portrait of Cambodia that I’m writing, I promised before a post about things to do as a tourist in Cambodia. I’ve spent more than two weeks working full-time on it, but hopefully it will be worth. About my opinions of tourist places you can be sure I’m not going to tell you that something is awesome if I think it’s a fucking shit. I really hate those websites that say how impressive and wonderful is a touristy place just because everybody says that. When anybody talks exaggeratedly about how amazing is anything we use to nod and confirm what was said. So even when we think that it’s not so special, we’ll enhance those virtues up to the point of convince ourselves that what in other moment we thought it was silly it’s indeed amazing and we must recommend it to everybody.
And following this line of thoughts I repeat what I’ve already said once about the tourism: we don’t live our own experiences, but a commercialized copy of other people’s experiences.
Warning: No, it’s not a short post, it’s a tourist guide about Cambodia adorned with my Navarradas, that is with my own feelings and experiences. The main objective is not only that you read it (maybe in several days) to know more about what I’ve done here, but you also keep it as a reference and share it with your contacts and in the social networks. So with your permission I’ll elaborate on it
In order to make it easier for reading I let you here an interactive index/summary. You can click on the links to go wherever you want and at the end of every section there is another link to come back to the index:
What to see in Cambodia?
6 places you must visit in Cambodia
It couldn’t be other way. When we talk about tourism in Cambodia the first thing that comes to our mind is the Angkor complex, near Siem Reap city, and its most famous temple, Angkor Wat (or Nokor Wat). It’s about a huge area riddled with temples of the Khmer Empire built between 9th and 15th centuries. The complex is an UNESCO World Heritage site and an essential visit in Cambodia.
However I must say it didn’t amaze me. Yeah, it’s an amazing complex which has remained for centuries and whose temples are really interesting, but… I was not impressed. During my trip I’ve found out many things about myself and one of them is that I’m not easy to impress at all (several people have told me that already ). Nevertheless, what could make me feel not amazed by such a wonder? I’ve figured out 3 reasons, in order from most to least important:
- It’s massively touristy. I visited the temples in March, peak tourist season, but as far as I know in low season it’s not much better. These temples receive 1 million of visitors every year and there is not any kind of control, except the one to ensure that all tourists pay, so the temples are always crowded, as a mall in sales. Nobody cares if the friction of hundreds of thousands people degrades ruins of incalculable value, the only important thing is to make good dough. Who is taking care of the complex is the company Sokimex whom the Cambodian Government has already sold other public lands like Bokor Mountain in Kampot (and while I was in Koh Rong I saw them there probably collaborating with Royal Group, company belonging to Kith Meng, president of Cambodian Chamber of Commerce – oh, such a coincidence! –, and whom the Cambodian Government has also sold the island to destroy it with resorts, golf fields, roads and even an airport). Probably nobody gets bribes.
- Pictures in Internet are better than the reality. And that’s a common mistake. We use to enjoy checking all of those pictures in Internet about amazing places and when we arrive there neither the light nor the colors nor the ambient are the same as the image we’ve created in our mind, what’s actually disappointing. As meeting face-to-face an Internet contact who has very-good-taken pictures on her/his profile
- Before going to Angkor I had already visited other ancient temples like Prasat Preah Vihear or the Koh Ker complex. Somehow I was already amazed and even when Angkor temples are more impressive, they weren’t something new anymore. As those who watch too much porn before having sex (I’m on fire with the comparisons )
Does that mean I don’t have good memories from Angkor? No, not exactly. It’s just that I don’t have the same memories that most of the people, but I don’t regret the visit at all and, in fact, that’s why I recommend it here.
My advice to visit Angkor:
- Don’t be in a rush. Do it calmly, enjoy the unknown corners of the complex, the small ways and the forests which go to nowhere and don’t rush even in the big temples like Angkor Wat (the largest religious monument in the world).
- There are tickets (the website is not updated related to the consecutive days) of 1 day by 20$, 3 days (not necessarily in a raw and valid for 7 days) by 40$ or 7 days (not necessarily in a raw and valid for 1 month) by 60$. In my opinion, unless you’re a freak of these things, 1 day is enough. In one day you can see calmly and with no headhache the 3 main temples (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom [the faces temple] and Ta Prohm [the Tomb Raider temple]) and some more on the way, what’s named as small circuit.
If you need a second day then you can always pay a second 1-day ticket. The third day is completely unnecessary in my opinion (I got the 3-days ticket and the third one I did almost nothing), unless you want to see the farer temples (be careful because some of them need a different ticket). So honestly I think you’ll have enough about temples with one day and if you spend more time there you’ll finally have it up to here. You can romantically interpret that as the Stendhal’s syndrome, but the reality is that when we see a lot of the same stuff, even if that’s awesome, we finally get sick to the back teeth of watching art.
- Visit Ta Prohm and Bayon (main temple in Angkor Thom, the one of the faces) before 8-9AM (from that time more tourists start to appear) and Angkor Wat (Nokor Wat) between 12:00 and 13:00 (lunch time). As you see there is a lot of free time to fill with other smaller temples (the complex is open from 5:00 AM and normally you would enter at that time to see the sunrise, around 6:00 AM).
- If you have not money, rent a bike, but don’t underestimate the size of the complex. It’s really big so although it seems very bohemian to wander around Angkor by bike your bottom will end up quite fucked up (and I won’t make a comparison this time ); and if you rent a bike of 1$ don’t expect a good stuff…
The minimum price for a tuk-tuk established by the tuk-tuk mafia is 15$ (after bargain). That mafia also blocks any shop to rent motorbikes to tourists in Siem Reap so your only possibility is to get it from the outskirts. Nevertheless, if there are several of you a tuk-tuk is probably the best option. Remember he’s YOUR tuk-tuk so don’t let him to decide how fast do you go; if you want to visit anything, go. The price is for the whole day, don’t let him cheating you. Don’t pay him until the end and agree with him the places to visit, especially if it’s far away because if you want to do circuits other than the normal ones (or if you make him go round and round) you’ll probably have to pay extra (remember they have to pay the gas).
- If you bargain well you can eat inside the complex. Knowing the price of the food you’ll eat at the same price that in the city. Otherwise take your own food with you from Siem Reap, it will be cheaper. And water! Although knowing how to bargain that’s not a problem at all (Hint: the big bottle of 1,5L costs 2000 riel, 0,5$).
- When I told Anya about how little impressed by Angkor I was, she told me: if you turn sightseeing into adventure, you will be impressed. Don’t do what everybody does, look for your own experience. And that’s what I did the last day. I was thinking about doing the touristy activity of watching the sunrise in Angkor Wat, it would be a pathetic experience to go where tens of people crowd together every day to take the same picture repeated indefinitely all around. So instead of going with the mass towards Angkor Wat I drove under the moonlight towards Ta Prohm. The day before I visited it but there were so many tourist that I couldn’t really enjoy this wonderful temple. Only strolling at night without tourist around the complex is a nice experience (I already had that feeling the first day when I went to non-touristy parts around Angkor Thom), but enjoying the sunrise in the temple was stunning. Of course one cannot see the sun rising like from Angkor Wat, but imagine yourselves alone in that ancient temple with that mystic and grayish light some minutes before the sunrise, surrounded by walls which in other time towered powerful but now they succumb under the demolishing strength of the Nature. What we see around us is a frozen instant of a fight that has been centuries happening. This way the Nature claims that place for her and snatch it from the men who abandoned it. That moment when one is surrounded by all that power and can observe that slow and ancient battle is simply exceptional, spiritual, refreshing. Unfortunately neither my phone’s camera nor my GoPro are good enough to capture that light, but here you have some pictures of “a bit after”:
At last I let you a map with the Angkor region and the 2 main circuits (you’ll find this map in guesthouses and agencies, done by CanBy Publications), as well as my recommended circuit:
And of course, photos by the load:
CHOEUNG EK (Killing Fields)
Choeung Ek well-known as Killing Fields, was one of the main death camps during the Cambodian genocide (by the Khmer Rouge) and probably the only worthy thing in Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia. Yes, I know that nobody wants sad things on vacations, but my friend, you have to do it. To avoid anybody forget it, to remember what happened here with the international consent, to understand Cambodian people; to respect them is your obligation to know their history and the Khmer Rouge’s genocide during the Pol Pot regime, is an unavoidable part of it. The Killing Fields is a death camp in the outskirts of Phnom Penh used by the Khmer Rouge. Phnom Penh, as any other city in Cambodia during this time, was completely emptied and all its population sent to the rice fields to work with almost no food to survive and with the main aim of selling the rice to China and Thailand in exchange of weapons. You’ve maybe been before in a nazi concentration camp, really horrible, but what you’re going to see here is even more impressive: you’ll literally walk over bones and clothes of people who were massively killed here, you’ll closely see the skulls of many of them with the impacts of the weapons which killed them, you’ll appalled contemplate the tree where hundreds of kids and babies were simply smashed to death. Come prepared to feel a terrible loathing towards the humans, but come.
The entrance is 3$ but they’ll tell you directly 6$ because they give you an audio-guide, very recomendable since it tells you part of the history of the Genocide. If you want to know more I recommend you the documental Year Zero: the silent death of Cambodia by John Pilger and the film The Killing Fields by Roland Joffé. And googling
If you take a tuk-tuk you can probably bargain to 7-10$ (it’s quite far away from the city) or if you take a motorbike then around 5-7$. Don’t pay them until you’re back, so they won’t leave before you come out. I rented a motorbike (4$+2$ of gas) and visit the rest of the city in the same day. If you drive, be careful with the police, here they just want money and they’ll try to stop you with any excuse, try to skip them. Don’t pay bribes, tell them to take you to the police station, although our “wonderful” international driving licenses are not valid here so we’re technically undocumented. If you don’t give in or you say you have not money they’ll ask for less money as a bribe until 1$ or so and maybe they even let you go; behave as if you are not in a rush.
KAMPOT and KEP
In Southern Cambodia, on the border with Vietnam, are sited the provinces of Kampot and Kep very recommendable to chill and enjoy a relaxed tourism. I advise you to stay around that region a couple of days to slow down a bit in what’s for sure a very tight travel schedule without breaks
Kampot city itself has not much (well, it actually has nothing), but it’s cheap and relaxing what makes it a perfect operations hub for traveling around. Here you can rent a motorbike for a couple of days and visit some nice spots around, and that includes Kep, a small province created 7 years ago (before was part of Kampot) in order to give the opportunity to some fucking politicians to get more money doing less since it’s a touristy region and it gives a lot of money. Kep city was, in colonial times, a French resort.
All this region was one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge who were here until 1994.
What to see and what to do in Kampot and Kep?
As my first recommendation, look for the “Coastal” magazine in guesthouses and travel agencies, it will give you a good idea about what to do.
- Kep National Park. A perfect place to hike a bit and enjoy the nature. The paths are very well signaled and maintained thanks to Squirrel Association.
- Kampot Pepper Farms. Kampot Pepper is considered one of the finest peppers in the world and, in fact, it has Protected Geographical Indication. The smell and the taste are amazing, and that’s told by somebody who doesn’t like much the spicy food, nothing to do with the pepper we normally use. I DON’T recommend you to go to distribution companies like FarmLink or Starling because they only buy and sell pepper, don’t produce it and don’t have farms. However in the farms you’ll get firsthand information about how it is produced and processed and your money will go directly to the farmers (if you buy anything). I was indeed working as a volunteer in Sothy’s Pepper Farm and of course I recommend you the visit and the tour, totally free (although you won’t want to leave without buying some pepper, hehehe). WARNING: don’t buy “Kampot Pepper” in the local markets, it’s not real. Normally it’s Vietnamese pepper or from other regions of Cambodia where they use chemicals to make it growing faster or don’t dry it properly or even mix with other things that are not pepper. The smell and the taste are completely different and it will expire very soon. The original Kampot Pepper has not chemicals at all, it’s organic. As soon as possible I’ll write a post just about pepper
- Salt Fields. All around the coast we can find several plains where one can observe people working on the salt gathering, visible over the fields when the sea water dries. If it’s very hot you won’t see anybody, so try to choose a not very hot day, otherwise it’s a bit boring (and you will melt).
- Eat crab with green pepper. Around 7$ both in the Crab Market and in the guesthouses and restaurants of Kep (not always Kampot Pepper). Delicious.
- Chill in Koh Tonsáy (Rabbit Island). When I was there the main beach was clean and quiet although the other ones were quite dirty. One can also hike through the paths around the island (not very challenging). There is electricity only from 18:00 to 22:00.
- Enjoy Kep Beach. Although it’s artificial, with sand coming from Sihanoukville, and the restaurants around are expensive. In general all the restaurants and guesthouses in the city are expensive.
- Eat dog. Yeah, I eat everything and dog is not an exception (and I’ve already done several times). Although Kep is not famous for it, I add this non-touristy at all attraction so you can have a different experience. Takeo or Preah Vihear are regions more common to eat dog, but not many people go there. In Vietnam you’ll find it in the menu but that means going to other country. I let you here a map with the place where you can find a completely local restaurant where they only serve dog. It costs 5000 riel (1,25$) and comes with sauce, vegetables and rice.
What’s not important to see in Kampot or Kep?
- Angkul Beach. Well, the views are nice and so on, but the water is full of seaweed and trash. Nevertheless the path between Kep city and the beach is nice, but not easy to find.
- Caves and lakes. There are some around. I’ve not visited any cave because I’ve already visited enough in Laos, so here it was going to be the same thing. The Secret Lake is exactly that, a lake, don’t even bother.
- Bokor Mountain? And I let this to the end and with interrogation sign. It’s a hill belonging to the Preah Monivon National Park. On the top there are some ruins of what was a resort in the French colonial times including an old church and an old casino. The Cambodian Government sold that hill to Sokimex (yeah, inside the National Park) who is going to turn it into a touristy nonsense. In fact, the destructing project has already started, that’s why several people recommend me not to bother with the visit, so I didn’t. But the most pathetic thing is the description of the project that the own company advertise in their website and that I copy and paste here for you. A historic cool getaway spot during the colonial French era.
Bokor Mountain majestically overlook the coastal town of Kampot like a sleeping giant, 1079 meters above sea level.
We not for long because Sokimex Group will transform this unique 5 square kilometer picturesque mountain plateau into a resort for international and local tourist alike.
Plans for hotels, entertainment parks, golf resorts and casino are in the plan. In addition to the cool lush forest surroundings, vegetable & fruit plantations, we will have villas for people who treasure the tranquility and serenity of this unique sanctuary.
Koh Ker is other big set of temples sited around 120km Northeast of Siem Reap, in Preah Vihear province. I really liked this remote complex that almost nobody visit. Just a few temples are open to the visitors but there are many more hidden in the jungle. About the open ones many are small buildings whose center is a lingam, a representation of the Hindu deity Shiva (remember that the Khmer Empire was Hindu); but there are some of them really beautiful, like Prasat Thom, the biggest and most singular temple. One could feel like Indiana Jones between the ruins at the entrance of such a wonder. Those ruins don’t let the visitors spot the temple until they go completely through them.
The complex is still not fully cleared of mines (Don’t ever leave the main paths! And be careful with Google Maps, there are some paths there that are not open!) and it has been plundered for many years. The second time I was in Thailand (I had to leave to renew my tourist visa in Cambodia with a business visa) I spent a couple of days with a former art dealer who guided me around some places in Isaan and hosted me with his family and friends. This character had there some stolen objects that he could keep after he was caught by the police and stopped the business. Those pieces probably were from Koh Ker or from Prasat Preah Vihear.
The closest village (from which one can enter the complex) is Srayang (I’ve seen other name, Xam Coong Thmay, but it’s wrong) and there are at least a couple of guesthouses so you always can sleep here. However normally you’ll do a day-trip from Siem Reap or visit it on the way to/from Prasat Preah Vihear. The entrance is supposedly 10$ but nobody was there when I went. As in Angkor, it’s possible to bargain to eat here, although there are restaurants only in the entrance to Prasat Thom and surroundings, the rest of temples don’t have business.
Here you have a map of the visitable temples (I have the official map but the one of CanBy Publications looks better although they call Prasat Andong Kuk to what in reality is Prasat Sralao) and I mark those who I liked the most:
And of course, more pictures:
Close to Battambang city (you’ll need a bicycle, a tuk-tuk or a motorbike to go from there) is sited the Phnom Sampeau temple (Phnom means Hill, and indeed it’s on the top). Neither the temple nor most of the caves around are worth but if you didn’t have enough with the Killing Fields and you still want to be more depressed you can visit the Killing Cave, in which the Khmer Rouge bludgeoned to death hundreds of thousands people. I didn’t visit it because the entrance was 3$ (I reckon) and I didn’t need to see more horror caused by the Pol Pot regime.
However I could get amazed by the Bat Cave (I think that for entering the area bellow the cave one has to pay an entrance, but nobody asked me for it): a cave where millions of bats live and which are a real spectacle of the Nature when they massively come out of the cave before sunset (around 17:30) forming a huge horizontal column that disappears into the distance. The phenomenon last around 30 minutes and all that time thousands of bats are coming out. When anybody claps or produces a strident noise the bats react and spread away of the noise source’s vertical getting together again afterwards. By the way, be careful when crossing to the other side, the bats shit!
I let you some pictures and a video :
MONDULKIRI and RATANAKIRI
Before visiting these two provinces in Northeast Cambodia, on the Vietnam border, my favorite part was Kep. But I’ve fallen in love with this area full of green hills, rivers, jungle, wildlife and ethnic minorities (most of Cambodians are Khmer). This region is very attractive to get lost and do nice trekking tours, although one must always go with some local guides because it’s still full of land-mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO).
Unfortunately both provinces are being destroyed by its own Government (Hun Sen, the Cambodian Prime Minister, and his henchmen), as every single thing the corrupted Cambodian system touch, and the forests are being replaced by rubber plantations (the same is happening in Kratie and Stung Treng). Supposedly the Government cannot give those lands to private companies without the permission of their inhabitants, but they do it anyway; totally illegal. The fact that those people belong to ethnic minorities, who don’t speak Khmer and therefore don’t have a large community supporting them, means that Mondulkiri and specially Ratanakiri are suffering the devastation of their territory and forests on which the indigenous people depends. The licenses are given through subsidiary enterprises to mainly two Vietnamese companies: Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) and Vietnam Rubber Group (VRG). I’ve been witness of the illegal lodging done all around the provinces and I’ve suffered the endless rubber plantations. Additionally the work for the plantations is not done by locals, but for Cambodians from other provinces or for Vietnamese.
On my trip around Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri I met two interesting people:
- A ranger gave me a lift in the road which goes through the northern forests in Mondulkiri. He told me that they [the rangers] had every time less and less forest to protect and never enough rangers to protect it. On one hand the locals cut the trees to sell the wood, not mainly because they need to eat but because they want to buy a TV or a motorbike. On the other hand the Government licenses illegally huge areas of forest to private companies in order to create rubber plantations, but after 2 or 3 years they had to abandon them because the soil was not good enough for that. The animal population is also being reduced and, in fact, there are not tigers anymore in Cambodia due to the poaching and the destruction of their habitats. Together with WWF the rangers are working in a reinsertion program for 2020. Regarding the elephants population, there are some wild still, but most of them are in captivity in “sanctuaries” used as a tourist attraction.
- A guy who works gathering the money of the credits conceded to the indigenous people by the bank he is working for took me some kilometers on his motorbike in East Ratanakiri. He told me it’s a pity what is happening because indigenous people cannot read Khmer so they don’t understand what they sign with the bank. They normally use the money for buying lands and farm them, but it’s very common in Cambodia to copy what your neighbor does even not knowing why he is successful, so many of them don’t really know how to make money and finally have to give back the land to the bank. Additionally, when several Khmer people arrive to settle down in indigenous villages (perhaps to work in the rubber plantations), the later end up leaving the place and moving somewhere else all together because they cannot do business with Khmer people not knowing the language. That’s why the tribes live always in groups.
You can find more information about this disaster on this webpage and some news here. Playing with the satellite imagery I’ve been able to create this picture (located between Andoung Meas and Ta Veng and showing around 350 km2) with some images from TerraServer. It’s just a small part of what is happening but I think it’s quite illustrative and sad. Check out how much forest has been destroyed in just one year and a half (and what was destroyed before that):
80% of the population in this province are Pnong (or Bunong), natives of the region and don’t have religion, they’re animist. It’s capital, Sean Monorom, is rather a village than a city, it’s totally integrated in the environment and it made me recall the beautiful landscapes of the north and northwest Spain arising inside me the dangerous feeling (for a traveler) of wanting to settle down in a place like that. There I met Andy, a Cambodian guy Siem Reap who has a English school. Immediately appeared the chemistry between us and I stayed at his place teaching English to the kids (who barely had seen a barang) in exchange of accommodation, food and a guided tour by the surroundings.
Regarding the mandatory tourist recommendations:
- Bou Sra Waterfall (with 2 levels) where the locals and national tourists like to do picnic. It’s around 30km away from Sean Monorom and the entrance fee is 5000 riel (1,25$).
On the way to that waterfall, or coming back, you can stop for a bath in a pool only known by locals where it’s possible to jump from a tree (at least in rainy season it’s around 3 meters deep). I’ve documented it in OpenStreetMap so you can find it next time the map in Maps with Me is updated. I’ve chosen the name “Bou Sra pool”.
- Sea Forest, a viewpoint in a hill north of Sean Monorom from which is possible to see the wonderful landscape of hectares and hectares of forest extending towards the north, towards Ratanakiri. Recommended just before sunset.
On the way to that viewpoint there is other one, Hill Top, from which one can see the whole town.
- In order to see the Bunong (Pnong) just go to the vegetables market they set every morning in the unused airstrip. Anyway you’ll see them every morning walking on the ditch with their baskets on the back.
There are some other waterfalls around the town but I don’t think they’re worth. The best to do here is just to chill.
In this province are mixed many kind of ethnic minorities, including Laotians (normally Cambodians who emigrated during the civil war and now they come back) and Chinese. The indigenous ethnic minorities are named as Khmer Leu or Chunchiet: Jaroi, Tampuan, Kachok, Kaveth, Kreung, Preuw…
In this province I performed my forth craziness Cambodia: from the creators Let’s walk 7 hours with the backpack to reach Phnom Penh, Let’s climb up [with the backpack] the 8km-hill of Prasat Preah Vihear and Let’s go [with the backpack] through the Cardamom Mountains between Battambang and Koh Kong it now comes Let’s go [with the backpack] over there region without road and shade between Andoung Meas and Ta Veng and the deep jungle between Ta Veng and Veun Sai.
My intention was to draw a path where the maps don’t show it and visit indigenous tribes. Indeed I got it (in fact I’ve updated OpenStreeMap and you’ll be able to check it with the next update of Maps with Me) but before my advice:
- Not even think about walking or hitchhiking between Andoung Meas and Ta Veng. From the small village Ta Lav all are endless rubber plantations, not even old enough to provide any shade and there are not cars there, only motorbikes of the workers who use to carry 2 people in short trips so they cannot take you. You can drive a motorbike or a car but the entrance to the plantation has a lift barrier where you could be stopped there, unless you cross fast since there barrier use to be lifted or use other entrance than the main one (there are several).
- From Ta Veng and until some small villages previous to Phak Nam village, only motorbikes with 2 people drive so there is no way to hitchhike. Some kilometers ahead of Ta Veng Krom commune the deep jungle begins. There it’s almost sure to get lost, the paths are sometimes totally invisible and the area is still not cleared of UXO. Scattered in the jungle live some Preuw families, an indigenous ethnic, and thanks to them I could survive and reach again the civilization. Advice: don’t try to go from Ta Veng to Veun Sai. If do it anyway, track your path with a GPS tracer as I did so you always can go back.
Once said that, my recommendations for Ratanakiri:
- Zircon Mines in Borkeo (also written as Bokheo or Bokeo). These mines are the main income of a settlement in the northwest of Borkeo town. Between rubber plantations are excavated dozens of vertical tunnels of 80 cm of diameter and around 15-20 meters deep in a red sandy soil where the miners go down without ropes or helmet using some small holes previously dug in the walls of the tunnel to support their feet and hands. Normally they work in groups of 3: one in the tunnel taking buckets of soil from the bottom (digging horizontally), other on the entrance of the hole taking out the buckets with a pulley and other searching into the extracted sand the small zircon stones (and amethyst) sold at low price. Kids also work.
Of course no company hires the miners in such conditions: it’s cheaper they work as “freelancers” and then buy the minerals from them than giving them decent work conditions.
Zircon can be used for jewelery (it changes the color when heating it up) or for getting zirconium, used mainly in nuclear power plants due to its low neutrons absorption, in reactors of planes and in alloys with steel or nickel due to its abrasive resistance.
I’ve uploaded the path and the position to OpenStreetMap.
- Jaroi Cemetery Dal. Not so easy to find as I thought, but I could reach it thanks to some Cambodian Christians who hosted me at their house in Andoung Meas and brought me there, where there is a modest protestant church built. Indigenous tribes as Jaroi bury their death into the jungle and put over their heads a wooden human-like figure representing what they were in life: farmer, policeman, hunter…
I’ve documented the position in OpenStreetMap.
- Kachok Cemetery of Kaoh Peak (also written as Kaoh Peah, Koh Peak, Koh Peah). On my journey between Ta Veng and Veun Sai I wanted to visit this cemetery (the entrance fee is 5000 riel, 1,25$). I knew it was somewhere around but it was not indicated in any map or website so I though once I reach Kachon (a village in-between) or Veun Sai I could find it. And indeed I found it when I arrived to Veun Sai, but I missed it many kilometers before when a motorbike was driving me through Phak Nam village! I was really tired after the jungle journey and the previous day through the rubber plantations so I decided not to go back but at least I let it well documented in OpenStreetMap for those who decide to visit the region.
- Ka Teang Waterfall (or Katieng). There are several waterfalls in the surroundings Banlung, Ratanakiri’s capital, but I only visited this one after researching about all of them. It was indeed beautiful and one could walk behind it, between the water and the wall. Be careful, the surface is slippery!
What IS NOT worth:
- Boeung Yeak Laom (Yeak Laom Lake). It’s a lake formed in the crater of an old volcano near Banlung, Ratanakiri’s capital. The views from the air are impressive but from inside, being quite beautiful, it’s just a lake and the entrance fee (6000 riel, 1,5$) is not worth at all; at least just to visit it and leave, it’s for spending there the whole day. Luckily for you I’ve uploaded to OpenStreetMap a path I found when I left the lake that you can use to avoid the entrance if don’t attract the attention. Once inside one can do picnic there, swim in the lake or walk around it.
- Chinese Village in Veun Sai. In the north riverside Tonlé San (San River) in Veun Sai there is a Chinese and Laotian community. For some reason I cannot understand (maybe because it appears in the Lonely Planet) this community is considered as an indispensable tourist visit. Honestly I don’t think are worth even the 1000 riel (0,25$) for each way of the boat that takes you there. Unless you want to do something else around, of course.
For the tribes lovers, a very rough distribution of where they live (on the regions I’ve visited) would be the following:
- Tampuan: northeast of Borkeo. Also Kachon village in Veun Sai.
- Kreung: between Veun Sai and Banlung
- Jaroi: around Andoung Meas and further East.
- Kachok: around Kaoh Peak.
- Preuw: between Ta Veng and Kaoh Peak, into the jungle.
- Kaveth: north of Veun Sai.
5 places you can visit in Cambodia
(if you have time and they are on the way)
KOH RONG & other SIHANOUKVILLE’s ISLANDS
I guess not everything must be cultural visits, right? I’m sure you have also time for a bit of night life and beach, we Spaniards know about that We might say that Koh Rong is the party island of Cambodia, although the party area consist in the beaches in the the south of the island: Koh Tuich and surroundings. It’s the second largest island in Cambodia and you’ll find here any kind of music until midnight, barbecues for dinner in several beach bars, happy hours and spectacular views from the SkyBar (where I was working 1 month and a half in exchange of accommodation and food). In Koh Tuich there is a large range of hosting options from 3$ for a bed in a dorm in low season (don’t expect much…) to 100$ for a bungalow in high season (isn’t worth at all in my opinion). High season is more or less from September-October to May. The island is expensive, so be aware.
Additionally I recommend you the following activities:
- To take one of the boat trips by 8$-10$ with all included: snorkeling (they take you to coral places but it’s nothing special and the water is not very clear), fishing, watching sunset, having dinner with the captured fish and swimming at night with the luminescent plankton.
- Hike to the Long Beach, 8km long. Nowadays it’s being destroyed by the construction machines of Royal Group, company belonging to Kith Meng, president of Cambodian Chamber of Commerce – oh, such a coincidence! –, and whom the Cambodian Government has sold the island to destroy it with resorts, golf fields, roads and even an airport. But the hike to the beach is quite nice (enjoy for a while on the Wind Rock) and at the end of the beach there is a village called Sok San and a waterfall. The way to the Long Beach can be started in the SkyBar. I’ve upload myself the path to OpenStreetMap (many people get lost, hahaha) so you can follow it with the GPS and Maps with Me (you’ll likely see it in the next update of Cambodia map).
- Walk to 4K Beach, a beach with 4 km of white sand very quiet to swim peacefully.
- Watch the sunrise from the SkyBar, although at that time it’s closed so you cannot buy drinks or food.
There are other activities like the zipline of High Point (managed by some crazy Russians ), kayaks, scuba diving, etc. And for the ones who love party, every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday there is late party until sunrise at Police Beach (Monday it’s free but Wednesday and Saturday it’s 10$ at door or 7.5$ if you buy the ticket to any bar or to the guys selling them on the beach).
If you want something more quiet you can go to the other beaches around the island like Coconut Beach or Lonely Beach, but you’ll need to get a expensive boat or walk several hours through jungle and beach. I’ve uploaded to OpenStreetMap other path that reach Coconut Beach going through Romdoul Resort (the last one is mainly oriented to Chinese and it has also water activities). You’ll need long-sleeve for the jungle but a good hat, solar cream and water for the the part of the on-construction road of Royal Group.
In order to reach Koh Rong (more concretely Koh Tuich) you can take one of the speed boats (20$ return ticket) which spend 45 minutes (you’ll find them on the pier of Serendipity Beach in Sihanoukville) or the slow boat (10$ return ticket) which spends 2-3 hours (you’ll find it on the Autonomous Port of Sihanoukville). There were 2 companies for speed boats, TBC and SpeedFerry (the last one have bigger and more stable boats), but now there’s a third one, Dragon Speed Boat, same price. I went on June and by chance there was a promotion of SpeedFerry that month so I paid half price
Koh Rong Sanloem
The third largest island in Cambodia is as it was its larger sister some years ago. Much more quiet, without places for partying hard. M’Pay Bay is the visible bay just in front of Koh Tuich and the slow boat at 8:00AM is free if you get off there. But the most beautiful beaches are in other parts of the island like Saracen Beach (by 5$ each way), tourist paradise and fucking expensive (around 60$ a bungalow in low season). From there it’s possible to walk to other parts of the island, but I didn’t have time.
Although I’ve not been to them, many of the Sihanoukville province islands are a good place to enjoy some days just chilling: Koh Ta Kiev, with an absinthe distillery; Koh Sdach, in its waters (more concretely in Condor Reef) there’s a 500 years-old sunken ship so probably you can find a scuba diving company to go there; Koh Tang, for diving lovers; or if you’re filthy rich (alms for the traveler?) you can go to Song Saa islands (in front of the northeastern coast of Koh Rong) where a night costs between 900$ and 4000$ (if you can spend this in one night and on this way I want to meet you and beat the shit out of you, I’m pretty sure you deserve it, please, let me be the one who enjoy with the revenge).
I like the beach, but I’m not a lover, so going from island to island it’s not by best plan; but if you like it, here you have a good opportunity!
PRASAT PREAH VIHEAR
A temple in conflict. Prasat Preah Vihear is a Hindu temple from the Khmer Empire era in a privileged position: over a 525m cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains controlling all the territory that extends southwards. Nowadays it’s on the borderline between Cambodia and Thailand and it’s a source of conflicts since 1954 when Thailand, following the withdrawal of French troops, occupied the temple to enforce their claim because it’s in the side of the mountains that “naturally” would indeed belongs to them. Cambodia protested and asked to rule to the International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ) who determined in 1962 that the temple belongs to Cambodia as per the maps drawn by France in 1904-1907 after the request of Thailand precisely. These maps clearly situated the temple in Cambodian territory (French colony at that time). In 2008, with the nomination and inscription of the temple as UNESCO World Heritage Site, the conflict broke out again. The problem lie on the ICJ’s verdict of 1962. On that trial the maps of 1907 are considered as accepted by Thailand (who didn’t claim until 1954) and the property of the temples is given to Cambodia but the maps are not explicitly enforced as the rule for the whole actual Thai-Cambodian border, so only the temple belonging is ruled. Given that some extremist Thai bright sparks reinterpreted the ICJ’s verdict of 1962 saying that the temple belongs to Cambodia but the territory around belongs to Thailand. That is, they accept the ICJ’s verdict based on the maps, but not the maps themselves. For that reason in 2008, 2009 and 2011 military clashes occurred in the region. On November 2013, at the request of Cambodia, the ICJ performed an interpretation of its own verdict of 1962 ruling that, not entering to evaluate the rest of the disputed territory, the promontory where the temple is sited belongs to Cambodia, therefore Thai forces still in that area must leave, which was accepted by Thailand.
I let you her a couple of maps: the one of 1907 with a zoom I’ve done so you can see that the borderline (with crosses) clearly let the temple and its promontory in Cambodian territory; and an explicative map of the conflict I got from ChiangRaiTimes.
Nowadays visiting the temple seems safe although normally is only possible to access from Cambodia (the entrance from Thailand is closed in many occasions). The region is heavily militarized although I have to say that the Cambodian soldiers were very nice to me. The entrance is free but one has to gather the ticket anyway. From there it’s possible to hire a motorbike (4-5$) or a big shared tuk-tuk (25$ for 6 people maximum) in order to drive up the hill (around 8km of road). No balls no glory, so I climbed up walking with my 15kg-backpack and a really hot sun. Almost at the end, the steepest part, I was a dog tired and I had to stop several times. The soldiers invited me to shots, water or a simple seat in the shade
Unfortunately the complex has been burgled and it’s quite ruined, although one can imagine the glory of ancient times. A long the temple, on the East side, there are several bunkers and trenches built by the Khmer Rouge in their war against Vietnam when the Vietnamese invaded the country and released Cambodian people. The last strongholds of the Khmer Rouges were mainly along the Thai border since Thailand supported them against Vietnam (the enemy of my enemy is my friend). In the southeastern part there are military shelters and a line of trenches along what was the beginning of an Ancient Staircase (just East side of Gopura V, see map below) which date back to Koh Ker times (beginning of 10th century), before the construction of the actual temple between 9th and 12th centuries. The staircase has been used also for the trenches and the 2 sacred snakes (Nagas), male and female, which gave access to the temple, as well as other animal sculptures, have been burgled. Nowadays one goes down (or comes up) through more than 2200 wooden stairs over the Ancient Staircase. The views are quite good. My legs were shaking when I reached the bottom due to all the weight I was carrying. The soldiers of the squad there offered me water for drink and a shower, as well as place to sleep if I wanted. But I preferred to go back to Sra Aem (nearby town where I was sleeping the night before in a health center) and one of them came with me and the dogs until the main road because there was a
tiger around (EDIT: I’ve later found out that there are not tigers in Cambodia anymore, so it probably was a leopard).
The map in the leaflet is original of the French archaeologist Jean Boisselier, but I think this one is more useful:
The history of the founding of the temple of Preah Vihear is known thanks for the five inscriptions. The first found at Angkor and the four others on the site of the Temple of Preah Vihear.
Inscription K583 (found at Angkor) teaches us that at the beginning of the ninth century, Indrayudha received the god Çiva order to bring to the site of Preah Vihear a “linga”, extracted from the large stone “linga” on the mountain Vat Phu (Indrapura).
This linga was named Çikhareçvara, “Lord of the SUMMIT”.
Inscription K380 affirm that “Çri Bhadreçvara of Lingapura (Wat Phu) has been reborn at Çri Çikhareçvara (Preah Vihear)… to show its power in a visible fashion, so that the world can admire”.
Built on a promontory on the Dangrek Range, 625m above the Sea level, PRASAT PREAH VIHEAR (the temple of the sacred mountain) as it is locally known represents a unique example of the integration of the temple complex with in the natural landscape. Like many Khmer temples in Angkor which were planned concentrically, Preah Vihear, responding to the natural context, is planned in a linear progression of levels. For all the grandeur of its site, the temple stretches more than 800 meter along a north-south axis on four levels and four courtyards which comprise of five Gopuras (entrance pavilions). Each level has a different architectural character and experiential quality while one progresses towards the inner temple sanctum.
Established earlier as a hermitage site by Prince Indrayudha, son of King Jayavarnam II, Preah Vihear gained stronger spiritual recognition and increased political prestige; clearing more than four centuries (9th-12th century) The Kings Yashovarman I (889-910), Suryavarman I (1002-1049) and his son Udayadityavarman II (1050-1066), Jayavarman VI (1080-1107), Dharanindravarman I (1107-1113) and Suryavarman II (1113-1145) changed the original small sanctuary into one of the greatest Khmer temples of all times.
Preah Vihear: A World Heritage Site
The temple of Preah Vihear, is a testimony of great architectural achievement and Khmer engineering which offers an unparallel symbiosis of building… and landscaping. Built in the 9th century, Preah Vihear stands as a unique architectural composition with symbolically. A pilgrim has to ascend the cliff of Preah Vihear through connected spiritual paths and gates (Gopura’a) to worship Shiva as the Lord of Peak (Shikharesvara): Preah Vihear as Mount Kailasha and the Dangrek range as the Himalayas. While Preah Vihear represents a court of Shiva, it also functions as an open-air theatre for the cosmic dance of Shiva. So when Shiva dances in the sky at the peak of the cliff, his followers and attendants dance vigorously at the tip of the gable.
This iconic pavilion is the smallest but perhaps the most elegant of all. Masterly designed and beautifully executed, Gopura V stands on a cruciform platform and opens to the four cardinal points with four ornamental doorframes. Four Pavel gate or Chaturmukhadvara each of the doorframes is attached with a staircase guarded by stone lions. At present, only the eastern and southern doorframes survive; the two others have collapsed in the course of time. It is believed that this Gopura was covered by lightweight roofing supported by rows of pillars (3.5 meters high). Two rows of pillars stand testifying to the original structure architectural features.
Connected to the earlier pavilion by a 275 meters-long sacred path (Preah Thnal) lined with 67 stone posts at either side, this Gopura emerges over the terrace in yet another cruciform feature. Interestingly enough, though shape as a cruciform, Gopura IV does not carry the character of Chaturmukhadvara as Gopura V. It has an entrance on each of its four sides, but a blind wall in the center dilutes its four-sided effect and serves as a curtain to the higher sanctuaries. The lintel over the southern doorframe of this Gopura depicts the creation of the Hindu myth. Depicted in this relief is Vishnu sleeping on the three-headed serpent in the midst of the ocean. It is believed that at the end of every cosmic period, the entire world is dissolved into water. On the pediment just above the scene of the sleeping Vishnu, the mythical scene of the churning of the ocean of milk emerges, depicting the rivalry between gods and demons for the elixir of immortality and material possessions in the newly created world.
The largest of its kind at Preah Vihear, Gopura III communicates with Gopura IV by a 150 meters-long sacred path (Preah Thnal) and 41 stone posts at each side. This Gopura is flanked by South-facing U-shaped structures, which are generally known as ‘palaces’. From the inscriptions on the eastern palace, it is confirmed that the structures were originally known as Virashrama, hermitage of Vira. It is believed that these Virashrama were built to facilitate the accommodation of some rare visit by the King of Angkor or some high dignitaries. Interestingly, some believe that the south-facing direction of the palaces was to allow the occupants to be in front of the divine being, residing at the upper level. The inscriptions also enable us to assume that these Virashrama were constructed in the reign of King Suryavarman I. At the front of the eastern palace a small stone tower is sitting quietly with a tree on top as a natural umbrella.
This Gopura provides gran access to two succeeding courts and the main sanctuary, the destined journey at Preah Vihear. In the outer court there are two libraries in a rectangular shape, measuring 6.5 meters by 11 meters, which stand open to the sky on the east-west axis. In the central room there are inscriptions dating from the reign of King Suryavarman I. From this inscription, we have learnt that King Suryavarman I chose Preah Vihear as one of the three places to install a linga bearing his name as SURYAVARMESHVARA (Lord of Suryavarman I). The inscription also mentioned of a rebellion by an outlawed group known as Pas Khmau who challenged King Suryavarman I’s authority. By the year 1038 A.D. the King declared that Shri Bhadreshvara has came to Preah Vihear and encouraged the people to pledge allegiance to Shiva, the protector of his earthly representative, King Suryavarman I.
Unlike the preceding four Gopuras, this pavilion is rectangular and 5.5 meters wide and 22 meters long. It is divided into three sections: a central hall and small square rooms at the east and west. On the southern outer enclosure of this rectangular pavilion is a blind wall which possesses a false Gopura. Along side the eastern and western galleries, at the inner enclosure there are 21 windows without baluster at both sides, and a single exit at both sides of the outer wall is attached. Inside the inner enclosure stands the main sanctuary, the abode of the Lord of the Peak and the final destination of the journey. This tower was built on a triple-tiered base, of which the first and second tiers are highly decorated. Engraved in the pediment over the northern door is Shiva dancing on top of an elephant’s head, a sculpture which may represent the powerful force of King Suryavarman I subduing the Pas Khmau rebellion.
Although the temple is UNESCO World Heritage Site I classify it as “Optional” because, honestly, it’s quite destroyed and one cannot say “Wow, what a wonder!” when arriving there. But if it wouldn’t be so destroyed it will be different. Wars NEVER bring good things.
You’ve probably heard about the Silk Island (Koh Dach) in Phnom Penh where one can visit family sewing factories. I’ve read in some places people paying 10$-15$ for a return ticket on boats that spend 1 hour to go there, so I bring you here a much cheaper an closer alternative: Arey Khsat. To reach the place one can take a ferry in the pier near the Independence Monument by 1000 riel (0,25$) each way and it spends 20 minutes. This region is exactly on the other side of the Mekhong and the boats are continuously going and coming. Once there one can get a motorbike or tuk-tuk for a ride of 5-10 minutes until the sewing factories. I could enjoy there a free guided tour where they explain how the silk is produced (of course they have their own silkworms), how it’s dyed and see how they sew it. Ask as much as you want! Of course they expect you to buy something afterwards, but it’s up to you
Among all the markets I’ve seen in Cambodia, the Orussey Market (Phsar Orussey), in Phnom Penh, is without a doubt my favorite. Non-touristy at all (you won’t see barangs there, the name for westerners in Cambodia) and very authentic: bustling, sloppy, with everything and everybody in the middle of the narrow halls, people selling street-food in every corner, chaotic… Here one can find anything (once oriented oneself and learned where is everything) and at a good price (haggling, of course). Forget about the Central Market and the Russian Market (Phsar Toul Tom Poung), completely touristy, and come here to absorb the local culture.
Unfortunately GoPro has not a good behavior in low light environments so the pictures I let you here have mainly bad quality but they’ll give you an idea about how is the place (although I recorded a bit soon and there’s not many people).
In the street 198 and neighboring, around the Orussey Market (1 minute away), one can enjoy the spectacle of the street markets, even cheaper and more crowded.
TUOL SLENG (S-21)
Tuol Sleng is the other name of the S-21 (Security Prison 21), the main prison of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh. The visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is other of those visits that is a must for every website/agency but I consider it as “Optional”. The main reason is that, besides the complex itself (a set of prison-like buildings which time ago was a prestigious school), most of the exposed stuff are hundreds of photographies of the thousands of people who were tortured and killed here. I missed some kind of support that explains about them and about the history of the Cambodian Genocide and its characters.
Nevertheless the visit is worth if we have time (and money), as complementary to the one to the Killing Fields. Besides the photographies there are some like-untouched rooms kept as a remind of the horror the Vietnamese found here when arrived, daily documentary projections (as per the Lonely Planet there are 2, one at 10:00 and other one at 15:00, but I remember a third one around 13:00), and some signs like the one showing the rules of the prison when it was working.
Regulation of the Security Agents
- You must answer accordingly to my questions. Don’t try to alter mines.
- Don’t try to excuse yourself under any pretext for you hypocrite ideas. It’s strictly forbidden to talk back me.
- Don’t play the fool because you’re the man who opposed the revolution.
- You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time reflecting.
- Don’t tell me about your small indecent incidents. Don’t tell me about the essence of the revolution.
- When receiving lashes or electroshocks it’s forbidden to yell.
- Sit quietly. Follow my orders, if there are no orders, do nothing. If I tell you to do anything, do it right away without protesting.
- Don’t use Kampuchea Krom as a pretext to hide your secret of traitor.
- If you don’t follow all the above rules, you will receive blows, lashes and electroshocks (you won’t be able to count the hits).
- If you disobey any point of my regulations you will receive either ten lashes or five electroshocks.
3 so-so places in Cambodia
It’s a town built around some road crosses. Here starts the new route to Siem Reap that is taken from Laos, for those who go directly there, as well as the road towards Ratanakiri.
Besides that, it’s not worth at all and if I put it here is because it’s not either overrated. So now you don’t have to wonder about: not worth stopping.
Coming from Laos and going towards Southern Cambodia, towards Phnom Penh, you maybe want to stop in Kratie, a place from which it’s possible to spot the rare Irrawaddy Dolphins of Mekhong. Locals offer tours by boat to the place where they use to be (around 6$ if several of you), near Kampi (a village 20km North from Kratie), or you can also get a kayak tour with that activity included (at least 20$). In any case be prepared to watch just a spot moving into the distance. Most of people don’t see them in a short distance, and actually it’s not allowed to go very close because they’re in danger. Indeed they’ll probably disappear after the new dams that the Mekhong’s countries are building in its tributaries reducing the water coming to the lowest part of the river and blocking the way to spawning points for the fishes. After that not only the dolphins will have a lack of food but also the people of those countries who very frequently find here their only nourishment and/or incomes source.
Other than that, Kratie has not much, although you can cross to Koh Trong, a Mekhong’s island in front of the city (0,5$ one way by boat) to drive a while with rented bikes in the island (1$); or drive to the flooding forest, some rapids in the Mekhong near Kampi, where locals use to go to spend the day (although you’ll need a motorbike to reach the place).
After Kratie, Kampong Cham is the next big city on the way to Phnom Penh. Here one can cross the Bamboo Bridge (0,5$ for locals or 1$ for foreigners, something you don’t know until you cross; of course I paid local price), which even the cars can cross, and go around Koh Paen, an island famous for its pomelos (somehow my pictures of this part of the city have disappeared, sorry, you’ll have to google them!).
The most known temple in Kampong Cham is Nokor Wat, Khmer temple of the 11th century. Supposedly in some mausoleums there are bones of the Cambodian Genocide, but I check almost all of them and I only saw a pig:
One can also go to Wat Phnom Bros and Srei, but besides the monkeys living there, nothing interesting. I was in the area taking some pictures but I didn’t enter the main temple because a policeman was asking me 3$ for the entrance (I reckon). I didn’t believe him. I think this guy just invented that ticket to scam the foreigners and try to get the dough; and the glances of the locals when the policeman asked me for the money confirmed that. I told him I was not going inside and left.
Other than that, Kampong Cham is a quiet place at the riverside to chill drinking something in its terraces.
3 overrated places in Cambodia
Although I’ve not visited the Royal Palace of Phnom Penh, as well as the one in Bangkok, I think they are unnecesary and expensive visits. The Royal Palace of Phnom Penh costs 6,25$ and it has basically what all of them have: temples. When one has been in dozens of Buddhist temples, seeing one more, even when it’s famous, it’s not worth. So if you’ve seen a lot of (modern) temples as me, not even bother. Now then, if you’re not used to them, go to see it! Inside is the Silver Pagoda with 2 main attractions: the Emerald Buddha (don’t confuse with the one of Bangkok ), a sculpture created supposedly in the 17th century but that’s said to be done with Baccarat Crystal (a fast research tells us that the material didn’t exist until 18th century; really? All webs repeat the same bullshit and nobody checked it before? I’ve actually edited myself the Wikipedia page [still under discussion], let’s see if other websites do the same: or it’s newer than the 17th century or it’s not Baccarat Crystal); and the Golden Buddha, a golden sculpture from beginning of 20th century encrusted with 9584 diamonds (or 2086? Some websites say 2086 and others 9856, the Lonely Planet even contradicts itself and use both numbers. Anybody has firsthand information? No official website), included a 25 caret one in the crown and a 20 caret one embedded in the chest.
Some friends visited the palace and, besides to be crowded, they couldn’t enter the Silver Pagoda because a VIP was inside, so it was closed; but nobody told them that in the entrance before buying the ticket. Welcome to Cambodia, Kingdom of Wonder.
Or also Preah Sihanouk. Main city of the province with the same name in South Cambodia, very frequented by Cambodians due to its beaches. Turned now into a black hole attracting a lot of westerners making it infamous for being a place full of mafias (mainly Russian), prostitution, pederasty, drugs and violence.
I think I’ve said enough.
You might be surprised knowing that in Cambodia there are not trains. Well, there are some freight trains, but very rare. The few railways the French built during the colonial era were destroyed and abandoned during the civil war (the one of the Khmer Rouge). For some years already is supposed to be rebuilt the line from Phnom Penh to Poipet, at the Thai-border, but the things go slow here and Cambodian people found a way to use the useful parts of the railway in order to transport people and goods in a one-way line: the Norry (from French lorry, trolley), the Bamboo Train. It’s about a metal and bamboo platform resting over two axels with wheels so that if two trains happen to coincide one of them can be easily disassembled aside while the other goes through. At the beginning it was moved manually but nowadays it has an engine which reaches 40km/h.
In the outskirts of Battambang the locals have turned this train into a touristy attraction and charge 5$ by person for a journey of 30 minutes. I went there with a bike and didn’t take a ride because I could foresee something wrong when I arrived. The place was not signaled and just after getting off the bike a policeman asked me 5$ just for being there:
– Let here the bike, I’ll take care of it, 5$.
+ 5$ just for letting my bike here? No thanks, I can keep it.
– It’s 5$ the short trip or 10$ the full one.
+ Don’t worry, I’m leaving.
I didn’t even bother to take a picture. This kind of places that try to take money from you from the very first moment without even explaining you what’s all about, use to be gold-digger for the tourists. And I was right, because apparently the train journey ends in a village where the people try to make you feel bad about them or intimidate you in order to make you buy something. The driver doesn’t move unless you give him a tip (after paying 5$ for the journey) or makes you wait there for half an hour. I hate those kind of behaviors. Although seems like some people enjoyed the trip.
6 places to discover in Cambodia
Tonlé Sap means large freshwater river and it’s a huge lake which occupies a big extension of the center of Cambodia. It’s fed by the Mekhong during the rainy season (from May/June to September/October) and the other way (it feeds the river) when the Mekhong reduces its level, keeping a complicated balance. The lake is UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and it hosts a large variety of species including the Mekhong giant catfish, the nearly extinct Siamese crocodile and the world’s largest population of freshwater snakes.
The regular flooding of the lake make it a natural place for rice fields so many families live with that. Nevertheless the largest industry is fishing, being the most important living means of the area.
Of course I’d like to travel around the lake, live with the locals for a while and try to spot some of its species, but won’t be this time.
Apparently the only worthy thing in Sihanoukville. It’s a beach away from the touristy center of the city and everybody recommends it. However, when I was in Sihanoukville I had been already one month and a half in an island, so I didn’t really see the point of going to any beach
I’ve visited Koh Kong province two times: the first one on mid-February on my way to Thailand in order to renew mi Cambodian visa; the second one, a month later, after coming back.
In the first visit I was only in Koh Kong city, in the Sothy’s uncle house (Sothy is the owner of the pepper farm where I volunteered in Kep). I could eat snake and visit Boeng Kayak, belonging to the Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary, a mangrove forest more in the South of the city. It’s more or less near (7km) so it’s possible to go with the bike. The entrance costs 5000 riel (1,25$) and there is a wooden platform for walking between the mangroves. But even being a a sanctuary, this is Cambodia, so the water is not clean, with trash the visitors throw away instead of using the bins, very bad Cambodian behave (well, Southeast Asian except, as far as I know, some honorable exceptions like Singapore).
In my second visit I did a craziness similar to the one I did in Prasat Preah Vihear: I crossed from Battambang to Koh Kong. You probably don’t know it, but there is not road from one city to other because the Cardamom Mountains are in between as well as some National Parks, probably the last ones where it’s still possible to find real wildlife in Indochina. And that was precisely my objective, cross through the jungle full of wildlife (well, with locals and being careful). Since there was not road I moved all the time through farmland tracks, and that’s exactly what I found. I expected to go through jungle and I only saw crops around the still smoky trunks of what was before a forest illegally burnt. How can the laws (which in Cambodia only affect to the ones who don’t have money) fight against the hungry? So that I was 3 days walking tens of kilometers and hitchhiking motorbikes and tractors in awful roads; with my backpack, of course. The second day I reached Oh Saom, a small village at the gates of the forest where I slept at home of a former forest ranger Lim. Nowadays he was trying to educate the local people and attract the eco-tourism to the region. And it’s there where I want to go back because Lim told me that he could organize some cheap tours with a local guide to camp and observe the wildlife in the jungle.
If I finally can contact him I’ll go there in a couple of weeks, just before leaving Cambodia, so I’ll update this section too. EDIT: I couldn’t find the time to go there so I’ll have to try the next time I visit Cambodia.
By the way, between Oh Saom and Koh Kong there is large road… through the middle of the jungle. That road was created by the Chinese who are building 5 dams and destroying the life in this region (in fact there are several companies in several parts of the Reserve doing that). Firstly because they’ve cut down a huge part of the forest to build the dams (the wood and the minerals extracted are sold so the Chinese company gets good money just with that); secondly because those dams block the flow of the fishes which go up the river to spawn, therefore the residents (poor families who basically live of the river) would lose their main food, the fish; thirdly because the electricity produced by those dams will be sold to the Cambodian Government and after 20, 30 or 40 years of use the property will become Cambodian (they forget to mention the life cycle of these dams but in any case here the maintenance will be almost nothing so the dams maybe last for 5 or 6 years and then the Cambodian Government will have to take care of the costs for disassembling). Accidentally I travel most of the road way in the car of one of the project managers of the dam who gave me a ride. He was very happy about the deportation of Álex, a Spanish activist who has been fighting for years in Cambodia for Cambodian people’s rights and for protecting its biosphere through its NGO Mother Nature. It’s funny, the Cambodian Government claims about the dams Laos is building in the Mekhong’s tributaries destroying part of the biosphere and the food of Cambodian people and at the same time it employs the Chinese to destroy one of its most important reserves and to let without means of life to its residents. Of course nobody has interests here. Cambodia is actually one of the most corrupted countries in the world.
Well, I think I’ve written about every interesting place in Cambodia, hehehe. This “What to see in Cambodia?” has been a lot of work and very time consuming so I hope it’s really useful for you. If so, please, share it (and click in the advertisements motherfuckers!).
Next post will be part of the series Portrait of Cambodia. Don’t miss it!