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Published: April 19th 2012
It's wild to think that its been almost four months on road out here in South East Asia. Each country I've been to has been incredible. Burma was full of adventure, Thailand a gluttonous vacation, Laos a bumpy ride, and Cambodia a land of smiles and hope. It was always a region of the world that I never had much interest in until this past year, and I couldn't be happier with my travels.
I entered Cambodia through its northern border with Laos. I was coming from Si Phan Don, Laos. Si Phan Don in English translates to The 4,000 Islands. It was a gorgeous, and tranquil place set on the Mekong a few kilometers north of the Cambodian border. Most of the areas inhabitants live on Don Kong, Don Det, and Don Khon. The river opens its wide mouth here here and gives way to thousands of little islands set for exploring.
I left Si Phan Don by bus knowing that the Cambodians borders were notorious for their corrupt security officers and con artists. Arriving at the border a man came onto the bus claiming to be a medical officer with the Cambodian government. He took our temperatures,
handed us an “official” notice from the government then proceeded to ask us each for $5. Every one of us refused.
Setup along the border are what can best be described as fake customs desks. Areas where locals try to scam you out of getting a visa from them when in fact you are merely handing over money to a random person who does not have any power to grant you one. In the end, you finally get to the official office realizing you are now paying for a second visa. Lucky for me, I had heard about this whole situation and was only overcharged $3 on top of the $25 visa. Some people I spoke with shelled out more than $50.
The borders here can leave a bit of a bad taste in your mouth, but I tried not to let it. You just have to laugh at just how ridiculous it is, and move on.
My first stop in Cambodia was the town of Kratie in the north. Arriving there at night, I found a guesthouse and hunkered down with some new friends for a beer. It was another long day on a bus. My
time in Kratie was filled with torrential thunderstorms. I don't think I have ever experienced rain as heavy as I've seen and felt there.
It rained nonstop for two days finally clearing up on the third. I had met two girls from Fance who wanted to go for a motorbike ride around the area. We had heard of a nearby beach on the river, and wanted to explore the country side as well. Setting out on our motorbikes we found the beach which was lined with locals swimming and relaxing in hammocks. It was a great afternoon basking in the sun and attempting to swim in the river. The current was so strong that it was really just us holding on trying to not be swept down stream.
As the sun began to set we separated as I realized I needed to find some petrol. As I filled up my bike with what I hoped would be enough gas to get me back to town, a lightning bolt struck in the distance. I had failed to notice the massive thunderstorm approaching from the direction of Kratie.
My heart began to race knowing it would soon be dark
and that this storm would probably be just as bad as the storm just a day before. Let me paint a picture for you of what I was about to experience. Narrow winding roads riddled with potholes, wandering cows, dogs, trucks, howling winds, and crazy Cambodian motorists. I kicked it into fourth gear and road faster than anybody else on the road trying to make as much progress as I could before the rain. Darkness fell and the sky opened up. With the wind blowing me left and right I slowed my bike down to a crawl. Before I knew it I couldn't see the road as it was covered in water. I have never seen water accumulate so fast. I could no longer see the potholes. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. There was no use in pulling over as the storm had no intention of letting up anytime soon.
After a strenuous twenty minutes driving in unimaginable conditions I made it back to my guesthouse and patted myself on the back to a job well done. I went straight to the bar and celebrated life with a cold Angkor beer.
I left Kratie
the next day and headed Kompang Cham. Another town set on the Mekong. Kompang Cham is known for a massive bamboo bridge that is built and rebuilt after every rain season. It's a massive bridge that motorists cross, cars drive over and people walk across. My second day in Kompang Cham I decided to explore the island by bicycle. It surprised me just how many people lived there. I thought to myself this was a gorgeous place, though I then remembered it rains so hard here that the bridge washes away every year isolating the island from the mainland. Not exactly a place I would want to live.
Riding around the island I saw families laying around trying to stay cool in the baking heat. Turning a corner some locals yelled out to me to come eat and drink with them. Really though, they just yelled something in Khmer as they didn't speak any English. How could I say no? In most of South East Asia since there are language barriers stopping you from communicating, locals best form of communication is through alcohol. They love to watch westerners drink. They handed me beer after beer, toasting to me again
and again. I drank down five beers before I realized it was just 10:30AM. They laughed at me, I laughed at them. It was another great show of Cambodian hospitality.
After three days in Kompang Cham it was time to move on. Siem Reap and the great temples of Angkor Wat were next on my places to see. While Angkor was filled with some amazing temples, to me, the quantity of tourists took away from the purity of the place. Unlike Bagan in Burma where we were alone to explore the temples, there were just too many tourists. Still, it is amazing to think that these temples were built between the years 1113 and 1150. The artistic details in the carvings, and the craftsmanship of the temples is unbelievable.
For the past week I've found myself here in Phnom Penh. I've gotten a bit tired of busing around from place to place and decided to settle down for a week or two. Phnom Penh is a major city in South East Asia filled with ex-pats from all over the world. Riding around the city on a motorbike here is an adrenaline rush in itself. Little to no traffic
lights, no adherence to lines in the road or rules of the road, and thousands of drivers makes it a daily adventure.
The city comes alive after sunset with everyone flocking out to the parks. Organized group aerobic dancing is a big thing here and the squares are filled with dance groups working out to hip hop, electronic music, and rock. As a westerner, Phnom Penh is a city that is easy to live in. It's cheap, filled with nightlife, great food, and great people. Sometimes I've found myself thinking I could even live here.
I have four more days here in Cambodia until I head out to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I'll be in KL for two days before I head onwards to Europe. It will be my first time in the EU. Five days in London, five days in Paris, and a month in Spain. For now, I've had my share of Asia and look forward to the culture shock I'm about to experience. It's been a great ride over the past four months and I look forward to what lays ahead.
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