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Published: February 20th 2014
Good lord I’m having problems jogging my memory. Everything seems such a long time ago when in fact it was a matter of weeks ago and vice versa.
Well all roads lead south as a rule for the last month or two. So from Pakse I found myself going south to a place called Champasak. Every lonely planet guide has what amounts to post it notes on the map of the particular country you are reading about. Well Champasak had one so its stands to reason it must be Top 7. It had a lovely little riverside location. Not just any river, bleedin Mekong in all its murky glory. Champasak is the site of a relatively well known temple ruin. To be honest for all I know it really could be the de facto place in Laos. I mean it charges to get in which adds to the gravitas and feeling of intrigue. I think the biggest problem is that all roads archeologically speaking are leading to Angkor Wat by this point. That’s a general rule and I don’t want to lump everyone together. Think more so than the actual ruins themselves it’s the setting that makes it a nice little treat,
climbing up a hill some fair distance. Champasak in itself was also a nice little place, nothing special going on just a spot of relaxation.
From Champasak I think all roads literally do lead to 4000 islands which is more or less on the border with Cambodia. Now 4000 islands could be a resort name but is in fact a collection of islands that inhabit the middle of Mekong. There are a few permantly inhabited year round. The rest are open to the lowering/rising water levels of the Mekong but seem to make pretty handy Vegetable allotments. Anyhow I arrived in Don Det which along with Don Khong is where folks generally go. I think it’s the only place to go unless you want to go native for a few days with a homestay. Nothing much of significance in Don Det. Then again there is nothing wrong with places where a sense of urgency isn’t a pre requisite or pre cursor for a jolly good time. I think it was here I came to the conclusion I’m a pretty crap tourist if ticking off the sites is what it is about. Here is a place you can whittle away the day
with a book, learn new card games and enjoy a couple of Lao Laos(local moonshine, varies in strength) I also wondered around Don Det a hell of a lot too. So I was forming a picture just without the show stopping fireworks to punctuate the trip with.
So that was Laos, what a place. Spent more time than I imagine I would. Prior to landing on Laos north eastern border I had very little idea about anything within the country. But I got to know it along the way which is nice and a luxury born of my circumstances (little bit of time)
Now every country has its little quirks. But a common factor so far on border crossings is that they all love a bit of money under the table! Cambodia was no different. It’s nothing malicious like, "here is a gun show me the money!" Just a gentle acceptance that this is the done thing. Even the locals pay their way at borders so it must be legit. From what I can garner the standard rate seems to be a dollar to oil the wheels, dollar at weekends and well god forbid if you come to the border on
a bus as the bribe market gets a little un regulated. Maybe it isn’t even a bribe; really need to check out the definition in the dictionary. I mean you don’t get anything special for your money, just get to enter. The biggest problem is I would say that everyone in official positions loves a bribe and because of this fact nothing changes with a bribe/corruption. So I guess if a few less people par took then it might as a catalyst for something better (I wonder out loud about that little quandary. It’s not something I believe in may I add, just a thought). Going to be a shock to the system when I come back to UK and marched into a photo booth to gain entry) an interesting question the other day (as all country’s visited thus far were in there present form founded via armed struggles) is what happens when the revolutionaries become the elite they deposed of originally?
So anyhow after sorting all the retainers out etc……. I rolled into Cambodia and promptly fell into a deep sleep. I was awoken from my sleep with my drool levee well and truly broken. I had arrived on the
outskirts of Stung Treng. Now I’m all for a little bit of adventure but buses very rarely seem to stop at an actual bus station. So with no clear landmarks or anything to tell where I was I thought the offer of $1 to get to the centre was kind of reasonable.
Arrived in Stung Treng, very little to do apart from withdraw some dollars and move on. I say nothing to do but the markets in these kind of places are a constant source of fascination. I mean you literally will see anything and everything.
From Stung Treng I got the bus to Ban Lung(wild east of Cambodia © Lonely Planet) This is one of those places that before going you realize you will have to comeback on yourself to get out of. Cambodia road system is akin to a spider with most legs emanating from Phnom Penh.
First off I have to give the driver high praise indeed for his ability to strap anything and everything to the minivan, motorbikes and a very solid wooden table which I helped shunt onto the top. In situations like this I think this is the most enjoyable aspect of travelling. The sites etc are
a given but it’s the un expected that remains in the consciousness the most.
Ban Lung is a place to go to if you want an organized trek. I just couldn’t quite bring myself to pay for a trek so i wondered why I really went. Yes my stubbornness has developed into full on rigormortess. It did have an amazing emerald lake just on the outskirts which was top dollar for a dip. Other than that an interesting coffee shop sprinkled with the odd expat trying to get as high as is humanely possible without dieing.
Prior to entering Cambodia I had no pre conceived ideas of what the place was like. Glitter and the killing fields are what came to mind, which is pretty sad if you think about it. So after referring to the trusty LP I decided not a great deal between Steng Treung and Phnom Penh appealed so to Phnom Penh I decided to go.
Hmm now Phnom Penh is an interesting one. I would say a good proportion of fellow travellers I had spoken to about Phnom Penh so far painted a pretty poor picture. Everyone seemed to know of someone who had been violently mugged, conned,ripped off
Now with Phnom Penh you can’t help but feel it has a bit of a seedy under current. I suppose most cities’ do in some shape or form. Certainly you can read a whole heap of books about Cambodia/Phnom Penh from back in the day. Generally feeling is that you didn’t have to be prudent with your vices. Anyhow they say the pearl of Asia is back after a few good decades of disaster and suffering. Think there are still a good few dissenting voices who would ask “back for whom?” but yeah on the face of it a nice somewhat gentrified riverfront which I can’t imagine holds out much interest for the average Cambodian. But rest assured there is a whisky club and you can buy a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc or an Italian Pinot Grigio by the glass! Go a few blocks back and there are fish flapping on the pavement, pots boiling with the various off shoots of carcass and hot coal bbqs everywhere. Ya know something you can really get your teeth and eyes into. Hanoi was chaotic. I think the chaos is somewhat “watered down” here due to the roads and streets been that little bit
wider. But with the heat the smells (good and bad) are here, there and everywhere.
Now I come to the most endearingly mental hostel owner I have perhaps ever met. This guy managed to alienate a good proportion of fellow hostel goers. A hurricane of information or abruptness dependent on very little. You can stay at some hostels and they just feel a little bit slick this was gloriously ram shackle! Not really a follower of trip advisor but I really couldn’t help having a post stay read up of the reviews for this place. They really did not disappoint! What’s better is he actually replies to most of the complaints which it could be said come from people who are just as mental in their own little way.
Now I’m not jumping on the bandwagon but Sihanoukville is unbelievably lairy. Which is kind of strange when most people in Cambodia seem to float about in a state of relative Zen. Now the whole place was pulled up by the fact it had an extremely budget friendly Middle Eastern restaurant. Sometimes it’s just those little things that can pull a place up from the depths of despair. All of this was inconsequential
though as I had come here to get to Koh Rong.
Forget the naysayers and there is the odd one, Koh Rong is great. I mean it has a whole heap of potential to ruin itself but as of know its keeping it under control. Now there is a 500metre strip where the accommodation is and where you can purchase a beer or quite frankly ruin yourself. After this though it could quite possibly be in contention for best beach/beaches ever visited. On either side of the island you could quite easily walk up a 7km stretch of beach or a 4km without ever been disturbed. Now less is more with this place as with many, but foresight is easy when you just have a little bit of cash in your back pocket. It shall be interesting to see what happens to the place in time.
The only dampener from the stay was that my hostel burnt down. It was all a bit hazy at 0500 after a night spent dancing with phosphorescence in the sea but all of a sudden there were manic screams. I could hear some kind of roar and I must admit on first impressions I thought ohhhh
bugger a tsunami! So it’s kind of sad to say I was “relieved” to see that the place was on fire. Well I don’t know if you have ever seen a large wooden structure thatched with palm trees catch fire? Well it doesn’t hang around.
Now I have heard a few people say Cambodians are lazy blab blab…… tell you what when it came to the crunch they weren’t found wanting! These guys were seriously brave /fearless. Straddling the roofs of exceedingly unstable structures with little more than a machete and what amounted to a garden hose connected to a water pump. I think if the wind had been going in another direction then a good proportion of Kohl Rung could well have been a goner. As it is/was my hostel partially burnt down and another restaurant and guest house was completely wiped out. Once the fire was out and everything had cooled down (not much) the same guys set to re building the structures, impressive stuff indeed!!!!
From Sinoukville I got the bus to Siem Reap which is essentially the gateway to Ankgor Wat and its set up for that. Angkor Wat is archeologically speaking premier league and with that come
the crowds, serious crowds. Angkor is made up of a number temples spreading far and wide and some of them were akin to a black Friday stampede. So the trick is to take yourself away from some of the more famous ones, as a good proportion of people are on day trips and get ferried just to the larger ones. If you’re lucky you will end up at temple which looks like it was designed by an architect who got bored halfway through and decided to start playing jenga. To me these were infinitely more interesting. You do look at some of these temples that were built way back in the day and wonder if some serious human rights abuses took place! But then again I can’t imagine that any man made wonders of the world that doesn’t raise such question. No pain, no game
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