The Cambodian Excursion

Face at Angkor Thom

The Cambodian Excursion

Wherein

Jessica and Terry

Explore Ankgor Wat

Or

The Ride Goes On Forever

When the kids were small I used to read them bedtime stories of all types. One thing I read was the National Geographic much to the amusement of some folks. That was during the 80s about the time the Terracotta Warriors in China and Angkor Wat in Cambodia were getting dug out of their respective places. A couple of years ago Jessica, Bobbe, Nick and I visited the Terracotta Warriors and it was more than impressive. Last year we did Vietnam and it was also very impressive, so after much back and forth as to what to do this year we settled on Cambodia and Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is actually several different places, all different. This fellow on the right is actually from Angkor Thom which is the only one with faces. With the location decided we got busy finding a place to rent motorcycles and researching things to see and do. Again we were doing the trip during the Luna New Year’s celebration as Redbeard Burgers is closed during that time. As time progressed Nick decided he would rather go hiking in the mountains in Western China so it was only going to be Jessica and I on this one. I was sorry to hear that, but, to each his own. I flew into Phnom Penh arriving on Feb. 6th, either before or after I left, I am still not quite sure on that. I made it to the hotel with no problems and settled in. Jessica was not going to arrive until late on the 7th, we would pick up the bikes on the 8th, look around Phnom Penh for a day and then ride out for places unknown. So, I had almost a couple days to kill. The first day was dedicated mainly to sleeping and getting over jet lag and the next to walking around. As I expected, I was not in Oklahoma anymore. This is just Roast Duck, take your pickone of the normal things you could see on the street. These are roasted duck and are far from the strangest thing that was for sell along the street. I also saw a Monk shaking down a KFC joint. He walked up with his toga and umbrella and stood outside the door until a guy came out and put some money in the Monk’s bowl and then the Monk said a blessing. It turns out that the Cambodians do celebrate Lunar New Year, just not anywhere close to what the Chinese and Vietnamese do. In front of just about everyplace people were burning fake money, cars, motorcycles and about anything else you can think of in offering to their ancestors. There was also a (I thought) very large monastery just behind the hotel and I made a point of stopping by. You can go in and walk around, even in the Temple part, but you have to take off your shoes and hat to go in the Temple. I pretty much just wandered around and eventually wound up back at the motel. The hotel arranged for a cab to the airport. Jessica was scheduled in at 11:30 and the flight was on time, amazingly. So, it was back to the hotel, lots of talking and then, eventually to sleep. The guy at the bike shop had said that we were the only reason he was going to be open the 8th, so bright and early I walked to the shop. He was open and things more or less went as scheduled. He didn’t take credit cards or Cambodian currency, he forgot to tell me that, so he had one of his guys take me to an ATM. Riding on the back of a 125 ridden by a guy about ½ my size was an experience I won’t be repeating. I got the funds in dollars and walked back to the shop. One of the things you have to do is leave your passport for the deposit, same as last year. The only difference is last year one passport covered all three bikes. Not so this year. It was one passport per bike. So, back at the shop I made the deal for my bike then rode back to get Jessica then back to the shop. The bikes are tall and Jessica is somewhat vertically challenged so they had lowered the fork tubes on her bike. It made a bunch of difference as she could easily get a foot down. Similar to last year, the guy did not ask if we knew how to ride, had a drivers license, knew what we were doing or anything like that. Also similar is that you cannot operate a vehicle without a Cambodian license, something that we also didn’t have. Later on, when leaving Sihanoukville we did get waved over by the cops. Jessica handled that and with no loss of funds or anything else, we rode on. DSC01958Anyway, back in Phnom Penh the deal completed, we rode back to the hotel and locked up the bikes. We were going to spend the day looking around and would use Tuk-Tuks when not walking. This is a Tuk-Tuk and it is truly amazing the load these things can haul. For the most part these things are 125s of different brands and as near as I could tell, they are stock with one minor exception. Most have a 2-3 gallon water container affixed somewhere with a line running to the cylinder. When the going gets tough they run water onto the cylinder cooling in and keeping the bike from blowing up. The whole thing works very well and is all over Cambodia. Interestingly we did not see that many of them in Vietnam. Here is an interesting sign. It was on the side of a “Mr. Toilet Public”, it was down byDSC01937 the Mekong River. I did not even know that there was such a thing as a World Toilet Association although I have to admit it seems a good idea. This would be a good place to mention the facilities. Some were sitters, some were squatters. Most places we went had some type with the usual sign “WC” as in water closet. Some were cleaner than others but overall, still better than China. As a note, in one area it seemed that the toilets were squatters with the usual foot position on each side. However, they were raised off of the floor about six or so inches. Usually there was water available to flush with which meant that the floor and the toilet were usually wet. Wet porcelain is possibly slicker that the wet painted steel I have encountered loading onto ferries. There were no hand rails around these things, why you would want them elevated, other than a form of population control, I have no ideas. It was very enjoyable walking and looking around. This is a photo of one of the National Museums which is over by the Royal Palace Grounds. It DSC01952was very popular and very interesting. We spent quite a while looking at the displays. We came back later in the evening for a traditional dance show. This is an example of one of the dances. The whole thing was about an hour long and featured all types of dances from all areas of Cambodia with lots of colorful costumes and interesting music. After the show we loaded up on a Tuk-Tuk and went back to the hotel and settled in. The next morning, after a pleasant breakfast we loaded the bikes and headed for Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. According to Google Maps the street by our hotel was actually highway 6 and all we had to do was follow it and there we would be. We had appraised the traffic and decided that while it was indeed hectic it was not as bad as Vietnam. If we took it easy and kept our eyes open we should do ok. Just like Vietnam the people take the traffic laws as suggestions. If you want to stop at a red light, well good but that doesn't mean everyone will. They will pull out in front of anything except trucks and busses, go the wrong way into traffic, you name it. What saves the whole thing is that the traffic does not move quickly and people will yield and it sort of works, but you hDSC01965ave to pay attention. It turned out to be a fairly easy ride. Once we cleared the city the traffic was not all that bad. Parts of the road were under construction and the dust was a bummer but all in all it was a pleasant ride. This photo is a Mosque which was a bit different that the usual Buddhist Temples. There was even a school on the other side of the road. We arrived in Siem Reap with no problems and found it crawling with traffic. After riding through town and fussing with the traffic we pulled into a Guest House, unloaded, rested a bit and then took a Tuk-Tuk to the restaurant area of town and had a real nice meal of something, a drink and then back to the Guest House. The next couple of days were spectacular to say the least. We took a Tuk-Tuk to DSC01975Angkor Wat and started looking around, saying wow and taking a lot of photos. I could easily fill up several pages of just the first day’s photos. Suffice to say that neither of us had seen anything like it and it is difficult to even know where to start. We got there around 10 and it was already crowded. Angkor Wat is just one of several large temples in the area. Angkor Thom was actually a city with a bunch of temples and actual living areas. The building of all of this covered many hundreds of years and many episodes of rebuilding. All of it was quite complex with a lot of water control measures. The buildings are constructed mainly out of sandstone with each block individually fitted and nothing special as a foundation. They built with sandstone because that is what they had even though it is not the best. It is a weak stone, very porous and erodes easily, not the hot ticket for a tropical climate. Interestingly, unlike what I thought, Angkor Wat was never abandoned to the jungle it was always known, occupied and used as a temple. For some reason, they just did not take care of it and all of it came to be in very bad shape. Angkor Wat and Thom are in a continual process of restoration while Temple Ta Phrom and others are just being stabilized for now. They just let you crawl all over these things. There are some places they won’t let you go but not all that many. In this country there is no way the Park Service would let that happen. I have to agree that it is harmful to the sites, but the Cambodian government is trying to bring in tourist money so they just open them up. After several hot sweaty hours tramping up, down, and around Angkor Wat we took a Tuk-Tuk over to Temple Ta Phrom which is part of the complex. It is one that has not been restored, just stabilized and overall is in pretty rough shape. Temple Ta Phrom, tree rootsThis photo is Jessica among the roots of a very large tree. This type of tree is all over the place and, as you can see, can make a mess of a structure. There are many of them all over this temple. At some point they are going to have to do something about them but for now they use them for a tourist draw. Everyone wants to get their photo taken which is what they are doing here. There were a lot of places in Temple Ta Phrom where you could not go and if you had a lick of sense would not want to go. However, as the Angkor Wat, it was amazing where they would let you go. We were wandering around in places where the was very little light and it looked like it was going to fall down any minute. Raiders of the Lost Ark or Laura Croft Tomb Raider comes readily to mind. We wandered around all over the place, no tour guides so getting lost was a common thing. Eventually it was closing time so we flagged a Tuk-Tuk and headed back to Siem Reap. We headed down to Pub Street and quickly found a decent looking restaurant and had a nice meal and a couple of drinks then headed back to the Guest House. The next morning we took a Tuk-Tuk out to Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom is different than Angkor Wat or Temple Ta Phrom. It was an actual city which covered at least 3 square miles. It also contained a bunch of temples as well as administration building and a bunch of other stuff. It is also the only one that has the faces as seen in the above photo. It is also mostly surrounded by a wall. We stopped outside of the wall and had to walk about ½ mile to the fOld style fishingirst building. This is a neat photo. While we were walking across the bridge I saw this guy and realized what he was doing. I focused on him and shot just as he threw the net. It was fairly early still so the walk into the site was pleasant. After a bit we came to the site, and it was impressive. It is not as large as Angkor Wat and has not been as extensively restored. As with the others, you just walk up and start looking around. Well, not quite. To go through the sites you have to buy entrance passes. They sell them in day increments and we had purchased the three day pass. They had people all over the place who would ask for your pass. If you were so inclined you could take a ride on an elephant. That didn’t look all that much fun to me and Jessica is against exploitation of animals so we passed on that and went looking around. Angkor Thom is a very large site and there are many things to see. We started off with the main site, in the photo above and then started just wandering around. There are temples all over the place, most you can climb up and some you can’t. Jessica had a dress that was above her knee and due to that was not allowed up one. She took exception to that, but, what are you going to do. Angkor ThomThis is a photo of that Temple. We never did figure out what made the difference. Most they would just let anyone climb up but at selected ones someone would be stationed at the bottom and if you weren’t dressed correctly you could not enter. So, we just on this and continued walking and looking. After a bit we stopped in the concession area for a very nice lunch and a rest in the shade. After a bit we were both approaching overload. How many temples can you see? With that, we headed back to town and stopped off at another National Museum, this one being much newer and air conditioned and also very interesting. Then it was back over to Pub Street for dinner and a drink then back to the Guest House for a good night's sleep. The heat and all of the walking makes for a long day. The next morning it was time to move on. According to the plan we would head NW up Highway 6, make a left and see if we could get to Pursat. We were riding through a very much agricultural area with fallow rice fields all over the place. It seems that water buffalos are passe for farming. It seems that John Deere, Yanmar, Case and other brands are the thing now. Not the big things we see here but tailored to the local needs. The roads DSC02158were not bad and we made fairly good time. We stopped every now and then for a cool drink, had a nice meal and later in the day stopped to see what this young lady was selling. It turns out she was selling a mixture of rice, coconut and things stuffed into a bamboo tube. It was sort of funny, me trying to ask her what it was and how you did something with it. However, she was helpful and showed us how to eat it and we gave it a try. Like most things, it was tasty. Note the stools and what they are sitting in. Lots of creepy crawly things around here. We stopped for a nice lunch beside the river in Battambang then rode on to Pursat. We found a nice Guest House that was still under construction but open for business. The room was $6 without air conditioning and $13 with. We opted for with, settled in and later strolled out for a nice dinner and then called it good. The next day we headed off on what was one our most interesting and also most foolish day of our trip. When planning our route we wanted to get to Koh Kong which is to the SE of Pursat. Following the larger roads would have us riding a long way out of our way. Our road map indicated two roads that almost, but not quite, ran from Pursat to Koh Kong. Google maps indicated that the roads met and we should have no problems. Also, the area we would be riding through was a developing area. We were riding through the Cardamom Mountains, the last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge. With all that in mind, we hit the road. The first few miles were paved, and no problem. Then we hit the dirt and construction and we were glad we had knobby tires and small bikes. We proceeded along getting very dirty and at one time helping push a Camry that was hung up on a bridge. Not knowing what we would find, at one spot we stopped and filled up the bikes from a stand that sold gas in soda bottle amounts. They also sold cold drinks and if we understood correctly we could get a good deal on the granddaughter. This is the one and only highway in this areaAt Sre’ Tang we stopped for lunch and a cool drink and then headed south. Just south of town we crossed over a bridge and I took this photo, the folks were washing whatever they had in the river. We were headed into what the map called the “Cardamom Mountain Protected Area”. The further south we went, the worse the roads became. Fortunately things were dry as the road would be impassable in the wet. Eventually with some drama we topped a hill where there was a cable that was down. From there the road more or less slowly improved. It never got good, just less bad. On the plus side, the scenery was great, all sorts of bright colored birds and flowers all over. At one point we rode around a very scenic lake. We came to an area where they were burning the jungle so they could plant some sort of palm trees. At this point the road was still very dusty and so narrow we had to pull over to the side to let trucks by and the trucks had no problem cutting the clearance thin. We eventually came to an intersection where google maps indicated our road was to the south. We checked twice and started following the road which was clearly the less traveled. It very quickly went from poor to not much more than a cow, or in this case, a water buffalo path. We checked again and decided, no we were not going that way. We backtracked to the intersection and turned onto the more traveled road. As near as we know, this was a wise decision. It turned out that this road was built to facilitate the construction of several dams. It was mostly good, dirt and gravel and dusty. That was good, and after a few kilometers we came upon a dam with a guard that told us we were going in the right direction. All was not good however as we had no idea as to how far, it was getting dark and we were out of water. There was nothing in the way of towns or anything else out here, so with options few and far between we rode on, slowly. The bikes we were on had lights, sort of. On the plus side we didn’t have to worry about traffic, there was none. One part was a very steep downhill on gravel which was interesting and shortly after that we came to pavement. We were real happy about that and also for the two vehicles which passed us and confirmed we were heading in the right directions. At one of the dams there was an individual who told us it was 30 kilometers to Koh Kong, less that 20 miles which was good to hear. Eventually we made it into town and pulled into the first hotel we came to. They had a room, tired and dirty we checked in, cleaned up and called it good. It had been a long day and we were very glad it was done. In retrospect we should have taken the long way around. However, that is hindsight. We had some problems, Jessica checked out the soil on three occasions, and night riding behind the lights on those bikes was no fun, but we made it through and as is said, we built character and will have stories to tell. We decided to take a day and do some housekeeping and recuperate. The city is a real interesting place, with Thailand across the bay. I found a place to get the laundry done and get the bikes washed, both seriously needed doing. Mostly we just laid around. That evening we walked across the road and had dinner in a very nice restaurant on the bay. The sea bass was very good. On the beach at SihanoukvilleWith everything cleaned, more or less, our next stop was Sihanoukville, an easy day’s ride. The road was scenic and mostly in good shape. This was one of the warmer days of our ride but nothing serious. We stopped for a nice lunch at a roadside stand and made it into Sihanoukville in good order. We made a wrong turn coming into town but eventually found the beach and hotel area and checked into the Crystal Hotel, right across the road from the beach. After cooling off and cleaning up we walked to the beach just in time to catch the sunset, and a pretty one it was. While we were eating on the beach all sorts of folks walked by begging or selling something. One was selling cruises out to a couple of islands, a day long event. We took a brochure, talked it over and decided it sounded interesting. We had a Cambodian sim card in our phones so we called the number. After a bit the guy came back and we made the deal. The next morning, right on time a Tuk-Tuk picked us up and in short order we were on a boat heading off shore. The boat was not large and the waves were tall. Jessica and I concluded that we were not cut out to be pirates. At the first stop, snorkeling on a reef, Jessica was well enough to take a swim, I was not. At the second, I was surprised I was alive but eventually recovered enough to take a swim at a very clean and beautiful beach and lagoon. Jessica, bless her heart, scored some dramamine and we had a rough but mostly pleasant ride back. We got a Tuk-Tuk back to the hotel, rested a bit and again near sundown walked over to the beach for a pleasant meal and a toddy or two. We didn’t hurry the next morning, we were not going far, only over to Kampot. It seems that they grow a lot of pepper over there and for folks in the know, Cambodian pepper is the good stuff. Also, they produce a lot of salt which is, again, the good stuff. We don’t want to get into the argument that salt is salt, what do I know. Anyway, while leaving Sihanoukville we got waved over by the cops. It was obvious they wanted money. Jessica handled it, we played dumb, not hard, and after a short pause we went on our way without having to pay. After a pleasant ride over to Kampot Jessica saw the sign for the Tiki Guest House and we rode over. For some reason this tripped Jessica’s trigger and we settled in, no ac, very rustic, no visible bugs and a nice restaurant/bar right on the river. It appeared to be run by a bunch of French hippies but, it was cheap and very laid back. We took a pause for the cause, had lunch and decided we would take a Tuk-Tuk out to the pepper plantations. The folks at the guest house called a Tuk-Tuk and we took off. It was a long ride out into the country. All this on a 125 HondaThis we saw along the way. I have no idea as to what is in those bags, but it has to be a load with an adult sitting on top. Note, he does have on a hard hat. All this on a 125 cc bike. This type of thing was common. I am pretty sure they have exceeded the weight rating for the tires. After a bit we turned off the main road and according to the sign it was 10 kilometers to the pepper farm. It was a pleasant ride including the part by the lake where the driver stopped to fill up his water bottle. I was glad they he was driving as by now, I would have conclued we were lost and started to panic. Eventually we arrived and got a quick tour showing how they grew the pepper which was very interesting, then back to the gift shop for an actual glass of iced tea, sadly no refill. Little matter as I would cheerfully have killed someone for the one glass. Jessica bought a bunch of pepper for all of her Chinese friends then we loaded up and headed back to town. Nearer to town we cruised through the salt evaporation pans. They do it as people have done for thousands of years, mainly flood a field, let the sun do its work and harvest the salt. According to the driver, this salt is much superior to other salt and much preferred by Chefs. What do I know? NACL is NACL, sea salt or any other version. However, Mom and I fussed over this until her dying day. So, end result if you want sea salt this stuff is supposed to be the best. Eventually we wound up at the Tiki Guest House. We took a pause then rode back over to the restaurant area, had a nice dinner followed by a walk by the river and then back to the motel for a toddy. We now had to decide where we were going. Look at a map, and you can see we were just about out of country to see. If we headed south and east we would shortly come to Vietnam and even with that we would be riding through flat delta rice growing country. With the forcaste for increasing temperatures that was not very compelling. It seemed that our best bet would be to return to Phnom Penh and see what we could see there. The next morning not very early we were riding towards Phnom Penh and had just cleared town when I noticed I had left my camera at the Guest Roadside drink standHouse. A quick ride back secured the camera and then it was back on the road, and as advertised it warmed up nicely. This a roadside stop where you can get a soda, water, or chilled coconut and a hammock to stretch out in. Jessica likes the coconut, I do not, but the water was good and we took a nice long pause for the cause. As a side note Nick had been texting about his hike, talking about how cold it was and how he had to sleep in his clothes, including coat to stay warm. We had no such problem. By now I had my full farmers tan on the arms and we certainly didn’t need a coat. We were heading for a animal rescue facility Jessica had found online. They rescue all sort of animals, birds, snakes, elephants, bears, gibbons and such. We eventually found the place, they could have put up a larger sign. As this was a week day the place was not crowded to say the least. We had one of our worst meals at an in park concession. They actually used ramen noodles in the dish. Anyway, we looked around at everything, they had lots of birds and bears. The elephants were put up but we did get to see them. After looking around it was time to get back on the road. We were not far from Phnom Penh but it took a while to get there. The road was narrow and apparently the truck route into town. We took our time and only got lost three or four times, one going the wrong way down a one way street. The amazing part of that was that no one paid any attention to us and many others were doing the same thing. We did get turned around and eventually found the right road and arrived at our hotel with no problems. We checked in took a pause and then walked over to a nice restaurant then it was back to the hotel with evening drinks by the pool. The next few days were going to be mainly taking it easy and looking around the city. After sleeping in and taking a nice breakfast on the patio we rode over and turned in the bikes. Again this year we were very lucky with the bikes. We had no trouble, not even a flat. We did have to pay for one mirror ($6) due to Jessica’s soil inspection episodes. So if you are going to rent a bike it Phnom Penh I can put you in touch with these guys. If you want to ride double they have Honda Transalps for rent. Those also come with saddlebags. DSC02218The next days were spent looking around the city. We hit all of the tourist spots, the Royal Palace, Central Market, a dinner cruise on the Mekong and just in general wandering around looking at things. We did a lot of walking and Tuk-Tuk riding and a lot of lying around drinking iced tea, swimming in the pool, eating all sorts of things at the central market. One evening we had dinner on the terrace of the Foreign Correspondence Club, which if you believe their press, has been in continual operation longer than any other place in the country. Don’t know about that, but the food was good and the atmosphere pleasant. The last day we were there was Jessica’s 32 birthday and for a present she took in a class on Khmer cooking. I didn’t take the class but I did take aDSC02226 bunch of photos. She ate her homework and said it was good so that worked out. So ends another good ride. We saw a lot of interesting things, Angkor Wat more than lived up to its billing. We had some problems but nothing serious and they will make good stories in the years to come. I have posted a whole bunch more photos on my facebook page if you are interested give them a look. Now to get busy planning the next ride. One of the saddest things in the world is a person with no curiosity. The Ride Goes On Forever