The south coast of Cambodia is also known for its islands. I did have a hard time figuring out which island to visit, as the choice is so. Koh Rong was out of the question, as a party venue for 20-year-old backpackers, Koh Rong Sanloem would have been a choice, but I was not totally convinced. Then I got the tip of Koh Ta Kiev. This is an island without power, without WIFI / Internet and without mobile phone reception. However stunning with amn amazing beach and fluorescent plankton at night (more on that later 😉).
Looking briefly at pictures on Google, I was already convinced.
I booked a bed in 'Kactus Koh Ta Kiev'. The choice of accommodation on the island is very limited and Kactus had great reviews. As a precaution, I only booked 2 nights, as I did not know where exactly I would end up here 😅 In addition, I have recently read on TripAdvisor that the place was a total hippie place, where people just party all day and are constantly on some drugs. Wonderful 🙊 It has to be said, that the rating was written a year ago🧐
I took a boat at 12:00hrs from Otres Beach to Koh Ta Kiev. The boat was organized by the guesthouse. I did not really have any idea where it went, how long it took and so on. As
I was the only one on the boat, I could not ask anyone. The bot, however, was labelled with the name of the guesthouse, which was a comforting fact😁
The ride took about 45min. Past green, hilly islands. We first passed flat sea in bright sunshine. Once we turned around the island strong winds and waves picked up. Drenched by the waves, luckily only me and not my luggage, I arrived quite excited on the island.
The beach🙊 snow white. Climbing from the boat, I stood soaked on the beach not knowing where I should go.
But then the Lani came running towards me with a big smile. She explained the guesthouse to me and what activities were available to do (nothing much really 😁) and showed me my bed. The complex consists exclusively of tree houses (or houses on high stilts). All rooms are open. No doors. No walls.
The dorm was huge, with 12 single beds, in the middle the lockers, with a high thatched roof and open on the side. There is no electricity and no WIFI / Internet and cell phone reception. I immediately stowed my iPhone somewhere deep in the backpack. Wonderful.
First of all, I put on my sneakers and started walking. Along the endless white sandy beach. Unfortunately, it must be mentioned at this point that this is not unaffected. Here, too, one inevitably sees what bad traces humans leave behind. Yes the beach is full of trash. A sad and frustrating picture 😔 This is not even from the island itself, but is washed up from the ocean.
At the end of the beach I turned on a small trail that led me directly into the jungle. Was that hot in there. Well it’s not even the heat, it’s more the high humidity that knocks you right out. I just walked through the jungle. Armed with a stick to knock down existing cobwebs before I land in it. Apparently there are tarantulas here, after all. And snakes. And frogs. And whatever else there is in a jungle. After about 20min. I suddenly stood in front of a small cliff to the sea. I should have climbed down here, wading through the water to get to the next guesthouse. However, I discovered a centipede next to my foot that was as big as my hand. Yes, my hand is not huge, but it was the centipede 😱😂 I turned around and walked right back where I came from. Always the stick in front. Spider webs - remember😉
In the evening at dinner I met Snorre from Norway and Eva from Belgium. Since the both have not yet seen the glowing plankton, we went to the beach together after dinner. We were lucky that there is currently no moon in the sky (wherever it is 🤷🏼♀️😁). As there are only a few electric lights at the guesthouse, the island is otherwise pitch black. Slowly, we waded in the pitch dark into the sea. When we were about waist deep in the water, we moved with our arms and everything around us glowed. It was amazingly beautiful. Above us the endless stars and around us in the water a second 'stars’ glowing.
When illuminated by the sea, the seawater seems to luminesce blue to green. In fact, it is not the seawater itself that shines, but the microorganisms (ie. plankton) in the seawater send out more or less long-lasting light signals after touch stimulation.
That the glow is triggered by touch stimuli, can be observed on the beach. Marine lighting is only occasional, because the required microorganisms do not always occur in the required concentration in seawater. The exact conditions for the occurrence of microorganisms have not been completely clarified.
In the bay of Koh Ta Kiev, however, it seems, depending on the swell / moon level, etc. to be visible throughout the year.
Not so bad to end the day in this way 😉⭐️
I love pepper. And chili. And salt. Actually, I love all spices 😍 So it was quite convenient that I ended up in the region of the world’s best pepper. After a short and not very intense research, I decided to visit 'La Plantation' on my way to Kep.
'La Plantation' is a pepper farm, built by a Frenchwoman and a Belgian. On the farm
in addition to pepper, chili is grown and many different fruits or lemongrass.
But you really have to earn the experience. With the scooter the ride was only 21km long. BUT the ride did not go on a paved road, but again through a stream bed, so it felt 😅
I really cannot say how long the journey took. Felt like an eternity. But at some point, I came by the pretty Bateak Krola Lake, that was when I knew it could not be far anymore.
Luckily I was at the farm relatively early and therefore in the first group of the day. We were just 11 people present.
Once there were enough people for a tour (which was free!) together, it started. Dr. Pepper, a young, extremely enthusiastic Cambodian, was our guide.
First, Dr. Pepper told us the story of pepper, the differences of different varieties and the history of the farm. Next, we were allowed to try. Pepper with salt, white-red-green pepper, long pepper, turmeric, spice mixtures and Fleur de Sel.
Taste explosions. Never have I been able to enjoy such delicious pepper. We were all excited😍
Well, after tasting 11 different varieties, our taste buds were pretty overworked 🤭👅
Perfect time to discover the farm. With the expert and funny information of Dr. med. Pepper we were allowed to see where the pepper grows, literally.
The farm is beautifully landscaped, far from everything. I especially like that 'La Plantation' is a social as well as an ecological project.
When I had enough of the pepper, the drive continued towards Kep. Whist driving away from the farm on the bumpy gravel road, I had to constantly be careful not to be tossed of the scooter. I was just before Kep when suddenly on an ultra-wide, 6 lane mega road appeared. I was almost alone on the road. That was another funny picture 😁
Until the 1960s, Kep was the seaside resort for the rich and powerful until the civil war destroyed Kep. The town/village is full of old ruins, destroyed by the Civil War and emptied by the Vietnamese army on their retreat.
Today Kep has established itself as a popular destination for Cambodians and slowly international visitors are coming to Kep.
The charm of this coastal town lies in its tranquility, its national park, its seemingly delicious seafood (especially the crabs) and last but not least in the extremely friendly inhabitants, who often wave to the visitors, with a big smile on their faces.
First, I went to the famous crab market. A huge bustle was there. Locals haggling, bubbling pots on open fire, baskets filled with crabs and squid skewers ready to be enjoyed.
With braided baskets, the women stood knee-deep in the sea. They hoisted one basket after another filled with crabs directly from the sea to the market. From there, many of the crabs came directly into the steaming cooking pots.
Unfortunately, I do not eat seafood, I therefore cannot tell you how they taste😅
Since Kep is a really small place, rather a village, there was not much left to see here. That's why I took my scooter around the hill of Kep National Park before I heading back to Kampot passing by the salt fields.
Pictures here 📸
Ssssoooo. My first day in Kampot. The town of Kampot is located on the Teuk Chhou River in southern Cambodia, just 30 km from the Vietnamese border.
The environment Kampots is known for the production of the world's (!!) best pepper. In addition, the area is considered to be the main producer of Durian (an incredibly stinking fruit), while other agricultural products include rice, rambutan, grapefruit, pineapple and mangosteen, to the east of the city there are extensive sea salt fields for the extraction of sea salt (Fleur de Sel).
I rented a scooter for the next 2 days to be more flexible when exploring the region.
In the morning I went to the Bokor National Park. Without much knowledge of what to expect, I drove there.
The Bokor National Park is located in the highlands of the Dâmrei Mountains and forms the southeastern parts of the Cardamom Mountains. The largest part of the park is about 1,000 meters above sea level and the highest peak is Phnom Bokor with 1,081 meters, also called Bokor Mountain.
That being said, I had to drive with my scooter of about 3m above sea level up to 1,000m above sea level. The road was, for Cambodian standards, very very good.
First, I went to the Popokvil waterfall. However, this was anything but impressive due to the dry season 😅
Well, that was to be expected. So I drove further into the park. Somehow, however, the park kind of failed to impress me. Of course, the region is pretty. Green and hilly. But somehow the wow effect is missing.
But it was about to get super strange, when I came around a curve and in front of me this huge, gold-colored complex emerged. The 'Thansur Bokor Highland Resort'. A hotel / casino complex built, you guessed it, by the Chinese. This in a national park somewhere out in the nowhere. I found this so abstruse and weird that I decided to head back to Kampot.
It was only 2:00 pm by the time I got back, so I still had enough time to devote myself to a secret tip that was at the top of my bucket list.
In some blogs I had read about the so-called 'Green Cathedral'. This seemed to be quite an insider, which I did not want to miss.
By scooter about 15min. out of the city, into the pampa, I arrived at the 'Champa Lodge'. There I could rent a kayak to go paddling. A quick briefing of which river to paddle I was ready to go. The paddle fun was supposed to take about an hour.
From the main river I had to turn right after a short distance into a smaller stream. The stream was lined with small palm trees. Because the river was getting narrower, at certain spots only about 1.5m wide, the palms form a kind of tunnel or 'cathedral'. The afternoon sun, leaving a particularly nice light. It was really great to paddle through the palm trees. I was mostly alone in the palm jungle along the way. Only sometimes did I pass children who were playing in the water. Or paddled by astonished and giggling locals fishing. Countless cicadas seemed to be screaming. It was so loud🙊 And yes, I was a little bit scared that suddenly a crocodile or a giant anaconda would appear from nowhere. Obviously, that was not the case though 😁
After about 30min. I was suddenly not sure if I was still on the right path (or river). There were different river paths to turn. But fortunately, there's Google Maps 😅 And suddenly I discovered another kayak a bit behind me. I was not all alone. Phu. I was a little relieved 😁
For 1 hour I paddled through the beautiful palm jungle. The atmosphere is unique, almost magical. All this for me alone woopwoop. How cool 🙊😅
With my bum hurting and aching arms, I was on time for an epic sunset back in my hostel.
Pictures📸 Of course🤷🏼♀️ Just klick here.
Last night I visited the water festival in Siem Reap. The Water Festival (at least the main event) takes place in Phnom Penh. The Cambodian Water Festival is a festival celebrated in November praising the reversal of the Tonle Sap River. Visitors from all over the country travel to Phnom Penh to watch boat races along Sisowath Quay and attend free concerts in the evenings. For three days, people from all provinces celebrate day and night with the residents of the city. The festival commemorates the end of the country's rainy season and the reverse direction of the Tonle Sap River. It includes boat races, fireworks, concerts and attracts millions of people to Phnom Penh every year.
Since Siem Reap also has a river, the festival is also celebrated here, fortunately.
In the afternoon, the boat races are traditional, while in the evening the burning lotus blossoms are lowered down the river, fireworks are lit, music is played everywhere, and innumerable food stalls try to sell their food.
Visiting the festival was a unique experience to gain insight into the culture of the Khmers. Even if only for a short time. The impressions, sounds, smells, all the senses were quite challenged. All of Siem Reap seemed to have gathered by the river to cheer the boats.
However, since I started very early today, I did not stay too long.
As mentioned, I’ve had an early start today. At 06: 00hrs I was picked up by the TukTuk in the hostel. I had a flight at 07: 55hrs, which should fly me to Sihanoukville in the south of Cambodia.
Checked in punctually, I stood in line for a security check, when it suddenly occurred to me that I still had my beloved Victorinox Swiss army knife in my backpack. Nnnnoooooo 😫 Since I already have to survive without cheese, then I need at least my Victorinox 🤷🏼♀️ 😅
Quickly as possible I hid it in my document bag, deep down in my backpack. Having sweat pearls on my forehead, I made my way through the security check. Fortunately, for me, the young lad on the screen seemed to be a bit overwhelmed with the bustle. Thus, he did not notice my Swiss all-purpose- weapon. Woopwoop. Lucky me 😅
I flew with JC Airlines from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville (35min flight time instead of 11h sit on the bus .....). JC Airlines is a Cambodian airline that owns 5 planes. The flight was super cheap, the plane seemed relatively new, the crew nice and the flight was on time. What more could you ask for?!
Arriving at the airport in Sihanoukville is a bit strange. The airport is about 25km outside the city. Shuttle buses or other buses to the city do not exist. Hence, the only way getting to the city is, by hiring one of the rip-off taxis. The trip was, at $ 18, very expensive for Cambodia.
Once arrived in Sihanoukville city, it immediately made sense why everyone advised against a visit to this city. The city is awful. Some may call it .....crap hole. The name fits. I don’t want to be disrespectful at all, but even locals call it that. So, I guess it’s ok. The Chinese have sadly taken over the city and are now building one casino after another. The city consists of 2 things. Construction sites and garbage. Awful.
Well. I just left the hostel in the evening to have something to eat. Luckily my bus will be leaving early to Kampot tomorrow morning.
Pictures of this epic event in my pictues section here. 📸
Yesterday I visited the temples of Angkor by bicycle. It’s 6.5km from my hostel to the temple of Angkor Wat. BUT the crazy climate makes the bike ride quite an ordeal. At the moment there are around 34 degrees with a humidity of 60%, so the heat feels like 40 degrees. At least ?
Oh well. I wanted to experience something, right?! The bike ride was great. This is how I visited the unseen and further away Preah Kahn Temple. In the end I was out all day, made 32km with the bike and was completely exhausted in the evening. And slightly dehydrated? Although I drank 3 liters. Of water! ?
I found it a great way to explore the temples by bicycle. I was able to decide myself when to go where and how much time I wanted to spend there, without having to think about my TukTuk driver? But - it is by no means to be underestimated. I saw some people loading the bikes on the way back into a TukTuk.
To make today a bit more comfortable, I rented a scooter. Unlike other Asian countries, in Cambodia it is still quite uncommon for tourists to travel by scooter. However, I think that this is the best way to explore the landscape and have therefore dared to try it here ?
At $10 a day, the rent is twice as expensive as in Bali for example. At the bike rental of my confidence, or so?, I have rented the scooter and I took off on my trip by 10:00am. Of course only, after a short instruction on where the turn signal switch is and where to find the brake.
My destination was the 66km distant Ben Mealea temple. Not again a temple you think now. Hehe- sorry, but there are just so many beautiful temples here ?
First I drove through Siem Reap for a while, the traffic was dense, the noise level was high and the concentration had to be constantly at the highest level, as not to bang into anything. Since I was traveling on the main road, the traffic was only slightly lighter after I left the city. Something good, however, was that there is a separate track for scooters on the main road. This makes it a bit more enjoyable. Or so.
After about 40km I left the main road and turned onto a side street to continue north. And after about 2h of driving I had reached my destination. The temple of Beng Mealea.
Many of Beng Mealea's buildings have collapsed like card houses. Large stone blocks pile up in many places. This scene is almost more impressive than the temple area of Ta Prohm. Visitors enter the temple from the south. At the south gate of the second gallery-ring begins a wooden path (stairs, paths and bridges), which allows partially in lofty heights, the inspection of a large part of the temple. The view is really impressive. I was expecting Indiana Jones behind every stone block.
The temple was heavily mined until 2001, then it was for some years as an insider tip. But more and more tourists come here to admire the morbid beauty of the temple ruins in the jungle.
After my visit to Beng Mealea, I did not know exactly what to do during the rest of the day. Since I had rented the scooter for the whole day, I decided to drive back to Siem Reap via detours through the countryside. Via google maps I have chosen a route that should not be too far (heat!).
The road took me through the landscape of steppes, sweet little villages with their inhabitants, who watched me in astonishment ? At some point google- maps told me to turn right. Well, the road I was supposed to turn on, was no longer paved, but only red gravel stone. I thought this would only be a short way, as google said it should turn into a larger road. So I drove my scooter across the gravel road somewhere out in the nowhere in Cambodia. Past laughing children - or have they laughed at me ?? Missing trees which could have given some shade. A shower sounded like a huge luxury now. After about a 10min. ride, I realized that the gravel road would not be over soon. I had the feeling that the way back was too long by now. I told myself to just easy peasy drive on. Nice and slow. There were indeed a nice number of potholes, but I elegantly drove around them. My brother would be proud of my driving skills ??
More and more small groups of the impressive Asian water buffaloes feeding in the rice fields, appeared, guarded by the farmers with the Asian cone hats. Pictures like in a catalog.
The closer I got to Siem Reap, the more rice fields I passed. Suddenly I was standing in front of a street sign that read- “Right turn to Angkor Wat”. Say what?? I’ve had been driving that far already? From my research, I knew that the entry to Angkor Wat was prohibited to tourists riding scooters. However, as I still had one day left on my 3day pass, I thought I would give it a try. And behold, I was admitted to the park without any trouble ?
This is how I was able to complete the big tour at Angkor and visit the last temples.
At about 16:00hrs I passed by Phnom Bakeng. This is a temple built on top of a hill. This is also the most popular place in Siem Reap to admire sunsets. However, when I made the ascent, I was disappointed. For security reasons, only 300 people are allowed to enter the temple at one time. At 16:00hrs already 300 people were inside and in line in front of me were again around 80 people. In the 20min. during which I stood in line no one came down. Ofcourse everyone wanted to enjoy the sunset from up there and accepted to wait another hour. After 20min. waiting in line I gave up. I went to a small platform a little further down. Even from there you had a great view. Turned out that the sunset was not even that great tonight ?
For the last time today, the motto was to focus all concentration. Once again through the crazy evening traffic. Circling around cars, scooters, chickens, children and whatever else crosses the road in Asia. At 18:40hrs I was, quite exhausted, not very well smelling and thirsty as a camel back at the hostel.
I rode exactly 140km with my scooter in the region around Siem Reap today. It was a great experience and is highly recommended to anyone wanting to see as much as possible of Cambodia.
You know how it works-> pictures are here ??
What landmark attracts over 2 million people to Cambodia each year? Exactly- Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is the largest religious building in the world and therefore the world's largest temple complex. Falsely people only think of the Angkor Wat temple when relating to Angkor.
On a total area of more than 200km², several capitals were built in succession and in each of their centers a large main temple was constructed. To date, more than 1000 temples and sanctuaries of varying sizes have been discovered. There are speculations that up to a million people in the Greater Angkor area could have lived at around 1000km² at the pinnacle of the historic kingdom.
The Angkorian period spans more than 600 years from 802 to 1432 AD. During this time, the temples of Angkor were built, and the position of the Khmer empire was consolidated as one of the major powers in Southeast Asia.
The hundreds of temples that have survived to this day are just the sacred skeleton of the vast political, religious and social center of the ancient Khmer empire in Cambodia, a city that had one million inhabitants at its zenith, at the same time London being a small town of 50,000 Residents.
The temples of Angkor are a source of inspiration and national pride for all Khmer who, after years of horror and trauma, are seeking to rebuild their land.
Angkor is one of the oldest ancient sites in the world, with the epic proportions of the Great Wall of China, the details and complexity of the Taj Mahal and the symbolism and symmetry of the pyramids, all in one.
I was really looking forward to visiting Angkor. When researching and looking at pictures on the web, the pictures speak for themselves. I was all the more excited about my visit.
Originally, I had planned to ride to Angkor Wat by bike, but changed my plan last night. Since I wanted to drive for the sunrise, therefore would be dark on my departure, I found it better to take a TukTuk. That way I was also able to get an idea of the surroundings and the distances. The temple complex is supposedly huuuuge.
As the sunrise in Siem Reap is at 06:00, it meant for me to get up at 4:00 am 😖 When I got into the lounge room of the hostel, it became clear that watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat is THE highlight. The room was jam packed with sleepy backpackers at breakfast.
The ride on the TukTuk was set to leave at 04:30hrs. At 04:25hrs I figured, I should check once again if I packed everything. Admission ticket✓ water✓ money✓ camera✓ But was the battery of the camera still charged enough? No, she was not. It was completely empty 😫 I was sick, I had stomach aches and hot flashes all at once. THE highlight of my journey. And the battery of my camera was empty.
But luckily, I spent a lot of money on a solar power bank 😅 So I ran into the room and fumbled through my luggage.
The ride on the TukTuk could then start punctually at 04:35hrs and took about 30min. This was enough time to charge the camera on the way 😉
At 05:00hrs we arrived at Angkor Wat. Still dark, my driver told me I have to walk from here. Yes, but where to go? 'Angkor Wat is this way' my driver told me. I saw nothing. After a short walk through the darkness, I discovered a flow of people with flashlights. I was on the right track.
Over a bridge we first crossed the 190m wide moat. Next, we went to the west portal. It was really pitch black in there. Impossible to find your way without a flashlight.
The small cone of light ahead, I arrived in the first courtyard without stumbling.
Already at this early hour, a considerable stream of people was on the way to the temple. Everyone wanted to get one of the front row places at one of the two ponds.
From now on it took another hour until dawn.
The silhouette of the temple complex could only be guessed in the pale moonlight. The temple was barely visible, but the vibe evolving was intense. I let the minutes go by quietly and enjoyed the mysterious mood.
At 5:00 o'clock we were just a small group of about 20 people, the crowd grew by 06:00hrs to around 100 watchers. I had to vigorously defend my place in the front row.
Suddenly a murmur went through the crowd. The sun, which was slowly rising, made the towers of Angkor Wat recognizable. The sky turned blue and pink. An incredibly magical moment. And there was the temple before me in all its splendor.
After spending 2 hours at and in Angkor Wat, I continued with the TukTuk first to Srah Srang, then to Banteai Kdei and on to the Tah Prom Temple. The Tah Prom Temple gained worldwide fame through the movie 'Tomb Raider' in which Angelina Jolie plays 'Lara Croft'. The temple is known for its huge Tetramles trees that overgrow the ruins. He is also one of the most visited temples. But I was lucky. The first half hour there were not too many people there. After that, however, all the Asian travel groups stormed in 🙈
Time for me to move on.
The last temple on my list for today was 'Bayon'. From a distance, the temple looks like a pile of stones. Approaching the temple, one recognizes more and more of the 216 faces of King Jayavarman VII, which are carved in stone.
Unfortunately, there were countless Asian travel groups there too, so it felt quite cramped.
As I booked a half day tour this was my last stop for today. I was glad too. It's brutally hot in Angkor. Around 35 celsius with a humidity of 65%. At this climate climbing temples is really exhausting.
I was back at the hostel at around 11:00hrs and went straight to bed for about 3h 😅
Have here a look at the images of Angkor 📸
An adventure with a breathtaking backdrop: Taking a boat from Battambang to Siem Reap and spending a horrible night
The main reason why I visited Battambang was, that I wanted to take a boat from here to Siem Reap. In some travel blogs I have read about how unique and extraordinary the journey should be.
The ticket was rather expensive at $20, however was supposed to be worth the the 7-10h (!!) ride 😅 . I was curious and was looking forward to the adventure.
Yesterday I looked at where the jetty of the ship in Battambang is. Except for a small shed and a temporary staircase there was not much. Well ok then.
Departure by boat was set at 07: 00hrs. I left my Hostel at 06:15hrs with my luggage. The walk to the jetty took about 15 minutes.
Of course, when I arrived at the jetty, the Swiss was again the first one on the spot 🙄 One should stay true to the clichés.
At about 07:30hrs all were finally on board and the ship started. We were about 20 tourists and a little less locals on board. The journey by boat is still a secret amongst tourists. As the journey is not cheap, many backpackers choose to travel by bus. Which, however, is supposedly a lot less pretty.
At Battambang, the shore was still lined with normal huts. However, the longer the journey took, the more water villages we crossed. The scenery was almost surreal. To see how people live somewhere out in the nowhere, in a huge water landscape on the water in stilt houses is unbelievable. Where do people get their food from? Well, an option is via the ship we were traveling on. The ship had loaded a lot of food, which were unloaded repeatedly on along the way. One reason why the ride took so long.
On the way we were again and again cheered and called by the children with enthusiasm.
After about 3hours into the ride we stopped for lunch in one of those water villages. In a small kiosk-like raft there was rice with vegetables/sweet/sour.
Further along the ride, the captain suddenly headed for a very narrow river. Dar River was now only a few inches wider than the ship (which was 3m wide and 12m long). In addition, on both sides high dense bushes were now surrounding the boat. Completely unexpectedly us sitting on the roof, had to completely lie down on our backs, for us not to be wiped into the river by the branches. This ended in a fairly hectic situation and great laughter. Nobody expected something like that 😅. Apparently, the boat is above the bushes and trees during the rainy season, that’s how big is the difference in water level is depending on the season.
The hours passed, farther past water villages, countless lotus blossoms and surreal landscapes.
During the last hour of our journey we crossed Tonle Sap Lake.
The horizon was so flat, and the sky seemed endless. Tiny objects were blurred in the distance. Fishing boats shimmered, hard to grasp, as did the smooth fish they wanted to catch. I felt like I was somewhere far out in the ocean.
Slowly but surely the shore moved closer. A hill appeared on the horizon. A sign that we approached Siem Reap.
After an 8h boat ride we were sure happy to have reached Siem Reap. There was already a bunch of TukTuk drivers waiting for the new arrivals. The peace and reverie of the river were behind us, but by no means forgotten.
The TukTuk ride to my hostel took about 20 minutes. In order to save money, I had chosen a particularly cheap ($ 1.50 per night) hostel, which, however, seemed to shine through its great reviews. Seemed 🙄 The hostel is a family business. Very small. The owners’ babies playing in the yard. The little boy, without diapers and pants, peeing wherever it suited him.
Once I arrived in the hostel, I was just standing there a bit lost. Nobody seemed to care about my arrival. Somewhat reluctantly a lady (apparently the owner) did the check-in with me. When showing me the room I was again really put off. The room was incredibly stuffy and smelly. I had been assigned a bed upstairs in the bunk bed. Which was wonderful, because the heat rises 😣 The room was without air conditioning, which was ok at that price. However, all the fans in the room were broken too. The stinky stifling air made it almost impossible for me to fall asleep. Hardly in bed, I was drenched dripping wet. Sometime around 02:00hrs in the morning, I was on my phone watching some Netflix, I suddenly heard a bang. A biting smell rose in my nose and I noticed an orange light flickering beneath me. I got a bit freaked out. So, I lay over the bed and looked into the bed under me. The young man was sleeping while just above his head the fan was on fire. I jumped off the bed and shook the guy in bed and screamed 'Fire! Fire!'. This woke the other 5 people in the room with us. It was a big rush. We searched for water to extinguish the fire. Fortunately, we soon succeeded. But sleep was even more unthinkable. The biting smell, the heat, the many mosquitoes in the room and the agitated mood made this impossible.
Back in bed was the moment where I immediately looked for another hostel (I would have booked 2 more nights here). At this point I didn’t care anymore that the new hostel will cost a bit more. My life is worth it.
I'm going to move to Onederz in Siem Reap tomorrow. I have in a Hostel of the same chain back in Phnom Penh, which was great. And here I will stay now until the 22nd of November to visit thetemples of Angkor Wat.
Have a look at some impressions of this trip📸
Since this was my only day in Battambang today, I decided to take a stroll around the city. But I also heard about the bat cave, which I really did not want to miss. At the reception I met Paul, he had planned the day tour for today. Since I wanted to see the city in the morning and the tour is cheaper for two people, he has changed his plans and booked the half-day tour with me.
Battambang is located about 290km northwest of Phnom Penh. In 2008, the city had around 180,000 inhabitants. In the 19th century, the province of Battambang was temporarily part of neighboring Thailand. Only in 1907 it was returned to Cambodia under the pressure from the French colonial power. Economically, the province of Battambang is considered the "rice basket" of Cambodia. Due to the fertile soils, farmers sometimes earn two rice crops a year. The income in the province of Battambang is therefore higher than in other regions of Cambodia. Rice surpluses are marketed within Cambodia and exported abroad. In addition to rice cultivation, fruit (orange) and vegetable cultivation play a major role for the farmers. Tourism, unlike in Siem Reap, does not matter here (yet).
Around 10:00 am I set out to walk all over the city. Street up, next street down, etc. ☺️ As I said, the city is really not yet touristy. Even though, being quite different looking, but you are never stared at. Something that can be very exhausting in other Asian countries (as well as in Male, for example). Here in Cambodia, people do not care about it and I think that's great 😁
At 14:30hrs we went on our tour. What I found especially sweet was the reaction of our TukTuk driver when he learned that I'm from Switzerland. Immediately he began raving about Dr. Beat Richner. How much he has done for Cambodia. Hes considered like a god in the eyes of Cambodians. This is something I have heard a few times now during my time here. Cambodians idolize Beat Richner and seem therefore quite excited to meet Swiss.
After the short introductory round, we first visited the Bamboo Train (Norry). The rail taxis with the name Norry are an improvised means of transport in the area around Battambang. For tourists Norries are touted as "bamboo train", whose operation is now organized and supervised by the local tourist police. In the 1980s, the first wood-built self-built railroad taxi was used on the battered, former colonial route of farmers who earn a living as drivers of the Norries. The rail taxis resemble trolleys with a loading area of about 3.5 by 2 meters on a biaxial metal frame, driven by a 6-hp gasoline engine.
The rail taxis are necessary to transport people and loads in remote regions. A timetable and right of way rules exist meanwhile, was driven before always, if the rail taxi was busy. When two Norries meet on the single-track routes, the lighter of the two is unloaded and taken off the rail. Even a Norry that encounters two consecutive runners is taken off the rail. On parts of the train, the Norry closer to the last railway station will have to drive backwards when meeting another Norry on the way.
The experience was .... interesting. When we arrived at the Bamboo taxi, we were once again $ 5 buttoned off for the ride. We were told the ride would take 1h. Well, it was maybe 20min. 😏 The ride was loud. Very loud. The thing was chattering and rattling as if there was no tomorrow. 10-15min. in one direction, through rice fields which were quite nice. At the end of the track, a few small stalls waited for the tourists to sell souvenirs. Fortunately, this was not intrusive at all. There I also got my first ring from a man. An approximately 10 year old boy made me a ring of banana leaves. Really cute 😁 Yes, and then the ride went back the same way, with a big roar. That's it 😂 Well.
Next, we drove with the TukTuk to the bat cave. On the way, our driver stopped out in the nowhere at a small dining stand. We should look at the grill. There was something grilled on a stick and something curly beside it. 🤔 Barbecued rats on a stick and grilled snakes 🤤 Unfortunately, I was not hungry at the moment and so I cannot say how they taste🙈😂 He explained to us, that at the time of the Khmer Rouge, nothing more was available for food. So the people had to look for alternatives and found them in the rats. Understandable.
Because we were a bit too early at the 'Batman Cave', we climbed the hill there to enjoy the view. The country is incredibly flat. I had imagined that differently.
Yes, and at sunset, around 17.30hrs the 'Big Show' kicked off. Around 40 plastic chairs were lined up on the little lane facing the cave. Street vendors selling lemonade from their orange coolers and there was a certain amount of excitement in the air. You could already hear the screaming sounds of the bats. And suddenly you see them flying in the cave. A black spiral rose from the cave into the sky and swept over the viewers. An incredible spectacle. Everyone seemed enthusiastic about the magic of the bats. There are about 5 million (!!!) animals leaving the cave each evening at sunset (this takes about 40 minutes) to look for food in the fields. At about 5:00hrs in the morning the animals return to the darkness of the bat cave.
Once the show was over, we drove back to Battambang with stunning views of the sunset.
Have a look here at the pictures of this trip.
First a short conclusion before I leave Phnom Penh. As so often when you arrive in Asia, you are at first overwhelmed with all the impressions, the climate, etc.
However, once you get used to it, you discover a Phnom Penh which has its rough side but can also be charming at the same time. In addition, the city seems to have still escaped the mass tourism, which gives you the change of great encounters with the locals.
Of course, I have seen the shady streets with the contact bars and their western gentlemen with Cambodian young ladies on the arm, the poverty which unfortunately prevails, but also the beautiful waterfront promenade on the Mekong river where the locals meet for snacks and evening dances, the beautiful temples spread throughout the city and of course the delicious street food 😋
I like Phnom Penh somehow and find the city quite charming.
But it is time to leave Phnom Penh and travel further north. I really looked into thoroughly researching and planning my journey from Phnom Penh to Battambang (296km). Airplane was not an option for me because I want to see the countryside. Private transfer by car was an option first. But then turned out to be too expensive at $ 80. So, there was the option to travel by bus ($ 12). However, you can read a lot of horror stories (of totally crowded buses, buses catching fire, etc.) 😅 But I had to get there somehow and so the bus was the cheapest and most suitable option for me. I'll be okay 🙈 I decided on the company 'Mekong Express'.
The bus was scheduled to leave at 07:30hrs. Between 06:30hrs-07:30hrs I was supposed to be picked up at the Hostel. Hence I was ready at 06: 30hrs. The bus was there to pick me up at 07: 00hrs in front of the Hostel. From there we went to the bus terminal to pick up more guests. Other guests is exaggerated. There was only 1 other local men joining the bus. He sat down next to the driver. Which meant I’ve had the whole small bus (12 seats) to myself🙌🏼 I could hardly believe my luck. In addition, the bus (for Asian standards) was relatively new and air-conditioned. I could even stretch out my legs. Just great. We left at 08:00 in Phnom Penh and arrived at Battambang at 14:00hrs. 6h for 296km is ok. On the way we stopped briefly for lunch and a few more short times for pee breaks ☺️ The ride has indeed been a bit tiny bit scary at times. But I already know the Asian driving style 😅 The guys in front found my reactions in certain situations extremely funny.
In terms in scenery, the ride is not really worth it. The landscape is monotonous and not really exciting. Again and again you drive through small towns which, however, gives you a great insight into Cambodia.
Arrived in Battambang, I was lucky that the bus stopped 5m next to my Hostel. This was not even planned. So much luck in one day is scary 😅 I dropped my bag at the Hostel and headed out into the city. Anne, whom I met in Phnom Penh, told me about a great cooking class here in town. I really wanted to try that. I found 'Coconut Lyly' about 200m away from my Hostel. In the cooking group we were 5 'students'. We first went to the local market accompanied by Lyly (the young owner of the restaurant) to buy some of the ingredients. Lyly has done the buying, because he simply gets much better prices and can bargain far better than us tourists 😂 In the market Lyly has told us fascinating info's to local vegetables and fruits. One thing I did not know for example was, that watermelon is first a vegetable and only later becomes a fruit🤓 Once we’ve had all the ingredients together, we went back to the restaurant to cook (which also seems to be the living room of the family). There Lyly's sister has taken over (under the stern eyes of Mama😁). We cooked Amok (the national dish of Cambodia (a curry steamed with coconut milk in a banana leaf), raw green Mango salad, spring rolls and a coconut Lyly for dessert. God was that delicious. The cooking was great fun. From curry paste to dessert we made everything ourselves from scratch out of the fresh ingredients from the market. Just great. The course lasted 4 hours and this for $10 only. Just great.
That was enough of experiences for a day. I was pretty exhausted after that and in bed at 20:00hrs 🙈😁
And here are the pictures to this story📸
After exploring the city on foot yesterday and visiting some of the pretty sights such as Wat Phnom Temple, the Central Market and the King's Palace, the program was much more depressing today. To get more involved with the country's history, I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields in Choeung Ek.
The history of Cambodia is overshadowed by the regime of the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge was a Maoist-nationalist guerrilla movement that came to power in 1975 under the leadership of Pol Pot in Cambodia and until 1979 ruled the country as a totalitarian state party. The Khmer Rouge wanted to force society into agricultural communism. This process also included the near total displacement of the population from the capital, Phnom Penh, and culminated in the genocide in Cambodia, which gained worldwide renown. All educated people, wearers of glasses or, among other things, people with soft hands were brutally murdered. By the end of their rule in 1978, the Khmer Rouge fell victim to the most prevalent estimates of 1.7 to 2.2 million Cambodians.
The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
In 1975, Tuol Svay Prey High School was taken over by the security forces of Pol Pot and converted into a prison known as Security Prison 21 (S-21). It soon became the largest center for detention and torture in the country. The S-21 was converted into the Tuol Sleng Museum, which serves as proof of the Khmer Rouge crimes. The walk through the Tuol Sleng Museum is incredibly depressing and sad (sad is not even the right word for this).
I took the audio guide, which is highly recommended. The audio tour is complemented with the voices of survivors, which will let you completely step out from the outside world. However, it takes a lot of strength to cope with what you hear and see. Again and again I have caught myself standing in the room with goose bumps and tears in my eyes, taking a moment to take a deep breath. The pictures of the detainees, who are staring at one of the walls, the torture instruments and the traces of blood that still exist in some places, are not easy to put away.
I spent 1.5hrs in the museum. Where I find museum a misnomer for a place of such horror.
After that, my driver drove me to Choeung Ek, the most well-known of the many Killing Fields in Cambodia. The Killing Fields, as well as the newly-visited S-21, belong to the history of the Khmer Rouge. The ride on the TukTuk took about 40 minutes to the south, outside of Phnom Penh.
In this site, up to 17,000 people were killed who were brought here from the S-21 prison I visited earlier. Particularly memorable are the images of thousands of skulls and other human remains that littered the fields of Cambodia. The skulls are now kept in part in a stupa, which was built in memory of the dead on the grounds in Choeung Ek.
At this point, I do not want to go into the details of what exactly happened to the people here. This is too disturbing.
Due to heavy rain and erosion, remains of clothes and bones are still being collected every two to three months by the staff on the memorial grounds. During my walk over the terrain, I actually discovered clothes and teeth, which made themselves recognizable in the ground. A horrible feeling
Also in Choeung Ek one was accompanied by an audio. Again, a very depressing experience.
I was glad to have done the tour and recommend the experience to everyone. The whole thing leaves a concern for the Cambodian population, anger over what people are capable of and misunderstanding why no one from the West was able to stop it.
In the evening I went to the Royal Palace. Today, celebrations for the 65th Independence Day Cambodias from France took place there.
After the depressing day, it was nice to watch the local people being happy together with the family. In the end, the good will always win❤️.
At 19: 00hrs there was a nice firework display over the Mekong river. A great ending to an emotional day.