Posts Tagged ‘Cambodia’

Barang on a motorcycle, day III

06/10/2016

It had been raining in the afternoons in Phnom Penh and rained the afternoon  travelling to Kratie so the thought was that an early start would get the travel out of the way by the time the rains came. Unfortunately breakfast took longer than intended as a result of slow service, getting cash etc it was well into the morning before the leaving of Kratie happened. I was not far out of it either when the rains started. Lightly at first, then the heavens opened and, despite taking shelter in a petrol station, I was soaked. I carried on and got to the morning’s destination.

The first thing I saw was the pictures of the dolphins on the sign in the big picture then the gateway in the smaller picture at the bottom. So I stopped and paid for my boat and a drizzle started almost immediately. Then it stopped then we headed into the rain you could see in the picture (top right) and I was wet through again. I even put on the life-jacket to have something for the rain to hit upon.

After about twenty minutes the rain, it stopped (Bottom top right) and then the boat stopped and things went very quiet. The driver indicated something but I could see nothing, then a fin, then the Mekong Dolphins in all their glory.

Everything I had hoped for, to see these rare, threatened, majestic creatures. On the way back we passed islands which were inhabited and being cultivated. People whose existence is said to be threatened, just like the dolphins, by proposals for dams on the river.

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Back on the road and it was pretty much as it had been the day before. On the left-hand side properties heading down to the river and on the right ones in the forest or heading out into paddies and cultivated fields. A paved road so danger was less. It was never possible to get up much speed as all the time you were keeping your eyes peeled for animals or children running into the road, slowing down when there was a dog or a chicken, or a child who insisted in remaining in the road. The biggest offenders in staying in the road and staring at you were cows.

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As you can see from the map above after a while I moved away from the riverside and traveled through a more rural route which had fewer homesteads alongside the road but more cows in the road. As also seen from the map, at Sangkum I joined National Highway 7 and the quality of the road improved significantly. Most houses were further back and when you went through built up areas people and animals were more aware of the traffic. If they weren’t the lorries screaming through would soon have made sure everyone else didn’t forget. The lorries added to the fun when a hilly stretch came and then they were to be overtaken,  then they would want to pass when heading downhill, and repeat. Then the rain came back.

I dived into the first place I found by the side of the road. Where the above film was taken from. The people running the shop must have been used to giving shelter from the storm to people, I bought some things from them then was offered some food. It was now into the afternoon and I had had nothing since breakfast so the noodles with salad and an omelet was most welcome. You can see how wet I was.

 

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The redcoats are coming! Once the rain stopped most of the journey was uneventful, apart from trying to start in neutral after asking the way in O’Pong Muon and being laughed at  by the local people. Closing in on Stung Treng it started to rain again so I opened the throttle and tried to get there as quickly as possible, finishing up in a pharmacists on the outskirts of town. My thumb on my left, inside just below the knuckle, had got blisters each day from the grip for the handlebars and using the clutch. I had bought the see-through plasters but they had fallen off in the rain and made things worse so I was looking for industrial strength elastoplast type (other plaster types are available) plasters which they had and I was able to put on. Whilst there I rang the guesthouse for directions and, after conversations with a few people, they said someone would come to collect me. Typical of the friendliness I found whilst travelling, the pharmacist brought out a chair for me to sit on whilst waiting and sheltering from the rain.

When the person from the guesthouse arrived the rain had diminished and I followed them to it only to find, coincidence or irony of the day, that there was no water. So, I got moved to their other one which was a result as it was in the centre of town and I could walk to restaurants etc from it. After a shower and change of clothes I walked down to Ponika’s Place, recommended in the guide, for a very nice meal. I was willlingly sold some carry-outs as the owner and partner wanted to get to a birthday party and went back to my room for a read, drink and then sleep.

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Barang on a motorcycle, day II

04/10/2016

So, yesterday was get going and recover from the evening before. As I said I have explored Kampong Cham and you can read about it here, here and here. Today I wanted to visit something I had not visited before and then get to Kratie, via Hanchey Hill, which I had not seen before either and the ferry at Steung Trenung.(222 on the map here and the interweb thingy is no better to it.)

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First was something I had wanted to see since pouring over the maps after my previous visit, the last surviving wooden temple in Cambodia (the Khmer Rouge had destroyed all the others but this survived thanks to being used as a hospital) at Wat Mohaleap. I was given a metaled route to follow by the fab people at Mekong Crossing Guest House, who also said the river was very high. Well, they were right as the river said I was not visiting the Wat:

So, I turned back, went back over the bridge into Kampong Cham and headed out of the city on the western side of the Mekong. I headed up route 220, which was just like any English country ‘C’ road passing though villages and with occasional glimpses of the mighty Mekong to Wat Hanchey and, as luck would have it, missed the entrance so had to go back to get to the entrance. As luck would also have it, many people talk about the walk up but, having found the road up, I was able to ride up in comfort to:

A few kilometres up the road I came to Steung Treung, which is a real place with a ferry crossing of the Mekong though the internet does not avow much of its existence. The ferry was on the other side and, on coming back it was clear how strong the river was. I took the obligatory photos and made the obligatory social media comment about the ‘ferry ‘cross the Mekong’:

So, according to the guide that was 31 kilometres done and it was around midday with another 78 to do. So I motored on. Initially it was like the bit before the ferry with largely riverside villages interspersed with areas of forest with fewer people. All the time though looking for someone, a child, an animal running out into the road. After a while the road became higher and the river had clearly broken its banks and the countryside on either side was flooded. Then there were herds of cows, goats, buffalo and other animals being taken back to the house over night. I had got used to avoiding most animals, then all of a sudden there was a commotion, people were running alongside the road and there were throngs of people. I came to a bridge, OK but nothing to see here then I got to the other side and:

The elephant on the left in the picture on the right clearly did not like me. I know people who have been around elephants in Africa and they said that you cannot beat elephants in a charge so I did not wait to find out so it was open throttle and high tail it outta there.

Someone at work had said to me “Why are you doing it in the rainy season” and I hadn’t really thought about it. I had the chance to think about it for the next tens of  kilometres through the drizzle that continued till I arrived in Kratie. It ceased raining enough to get these pictures of my accommodation for the night and then get something to eat.

Kratie mainly talked about the riverfront and the dolphins so, having seen the former I went to bed dreaming of the latter.

Barang on a motorcycle

03/10/2016

Day one. 13th September, school’s out so, with a few friends something to eat and a few drinks to celebrate which meant, unfortunately I was up late and half an hour late to collect the motorcycle. Bag strapped on the back and headed off out to Kampong Cham. A fairly uneventful ride and arrive in tine for lunch and then catch up on sleep from the night before. Something to eat in a nearby hostelry and sleep.

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I had previously been to Kampong Cham for a visit and wrote three posts about it starting here. The previous visit was at the end of the dry season/start of the rainy season in May and you can see how much higher the river is comparing the photos below taken from the same spot.

 

Architecture Tour of Phnom Penh by Cyclo II

13/09/2016

At the end of the first part I left people tantalised. (Well maybe I did, maybe you don’t give a toss, for the narrative I’ll continue believing I do) A whole piece about a tour of Phnom Penh by cyclo and no cyclos. What gives, eh? The last picture was the key to the tantalising with the back of our guide and some cyclos. So, to release the tension here are pictures of cyclos from the rest of the tour.

The first two pictures on the right show us mounting up, what other verb can I use for getting on/in a cyclo? The one on the left at the top shows us processing towards Wat Phnom and then they show, from the left, the author at repose in his cyclo, the convoy of cyclos turning left, in amongst the traffic and the start, sort of like the start of the Le Mans! (Wat Phnom is again in the background, we have traveled anti-clockwise from 3 to 6.)  So, now the lust for cyclos is sated I can move on with the narrative, our first stop was at a Chinese temple.

 

From the top, we see the outside of the temple which is in the grounds of s school. Our guide, Virak, said the King was pleased to have the Chinese in Cambodia and gave them the land on which the school and temple are built. It is possible to learn Madarin at the school for $100 a year he said. The people who worship at the temple are from southern China and Taiwan. Next picture down shows the detail of the window and on the right, at the top of the column a Khmer detail. Going in, on the right, we saw the dragon to protect people on the water, which is why the fish are in front of it. On the left was the tiger to protect people on the land and it has plants in front of it. Both have a small dragon and tiger pictured also to reflect continuity. I just like drums which is why that picture is there and the final, main, picture is of the altar.

Next stop was another Chinese temple. This time made of wood. In writing this I found another blog written about the tour (giving a different perspective of it) which also posted a picture (left) of the temple from three years ago. I think it makes an interesting comparison to what we saw.

Our guide said that before the Khmer Rouge there were no other buildings here but the price of land and the largely uncontrolled state of planning and building mean that people build something wherever they can. Obviously the temple has not been used for worship for a long time.

We walked further on and came to another religious building, a former Catholic Chapel which was used for Taikwando and as a school but is also now lived in and is very dark so people need to keep the lights on and I can’t imagine there’s too much ventilation for cooking smoke and fumes.

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We then got back in the cyclos and went to the National Library of Cambodia. Obviously built in the colonial period, we are back in the European quarter with very classical architecture, although the columns share the Khmer feature with the Chinese temple, the only nod to the location of the building. The Khmer Rouge used this as a kitchen and canteen with animals living in the grounds which were slaughtered and then cooked and eaten inside. Some of the books were used for the cooking. The library is in the centre with the stores and offices in the wings, which can just be seen, on the left and the right respectively. Back to the cyclos.

We then toured past the Hotel Raffles Le Royal. (Top right) Built in 1929, what the hotel’s biog doesn’t say is that after the coup in 1970, as part of the republicanisation of the country, it’s name was changed to Hotel Le Phnom and it is as that it features in the film ‘The Killing Fields‘.  After a five year renovation by the Raffles group it is one of the more high class hotels.  Then, bottom right, is the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications building. Another government office building – what’s so special about that? It is not what is there now that matters but what was there before. It is the site of the former Catholic Cathedral of Notre Dame. (Pictured, from a stamp, below) Building work on it started in 1951 financed by the, secular, French government, but it was dynamited in 1976 by the Khmer Rouge. The architect said he was not disappointed by its fate as it had been built on the same layout as the Wat Phnom at the other end of the boulevard and he had never been happy with the challenge to the primeval Budhist pagoda in the city. The final picture on the left is us passing the station built in the 30’s by the engineer who also worked on the architectural wonder that is the Central Market, and it was said that he learned how to work with reinforced concrete on this building before going on to use it so successfully on the market.

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Our last stop was at the former Hotel International which was originally built 1900-1910 On what was Phnom Penh’s busiest shopping streets as the Magasin Paris, the place to get your items fresh from France. It has been altered many times and no longer a hotel; the old signs are still readable on the entrance, i.e.’Horlogerie’, a clock store. The Hotel’s name, in Khmer, is still visible high up the building and you can see where people have built homes on the roof and like the hotel at the start of the tour it is now lived in by many families and the ground floor is given over to shops. Our guide said he had recently seen adverts for the hotel from the 1970’s when the hotel was heavily discounting the rooms, no doubt a function of the uncertainty as a result of the civil war taking place between the Lon Nol government and the Khmer Rouge. We got back into the cyclos and returned to the Post Office Square. If you are in Phnom Penh do take one of their tours, you learn not just about architecture but the history of the city and country, social history and so much more and the enthusiasm of the guide for the subject is contagious.

Architecture tour of Phnom Penh by Cyclo I

12/09/2016

Cyclo. You know those things with a seat in the front and a chap pedaling at the back. Well, the fab people at Khmer Architecture Tours do one of Phnom Penh by cyclo and Sunday morning I did it. Previously I had taken the “1960s Houses and Villas in Toul Kork + the White Building in Bassac” tour and found it interesting, not just in terms of the architecture, but also in terms of the Cambodia history and social history that was learnt. We met at the Post Office, which was a place I knew well from leaving there to travel to Sihanoukville by bus and, more recently, as the place to collect post from my PO Box. The lack of a functioning postal service, as would be understood in the West meant it was more visited by tourists than locals. It was 8:30 which meant I didn’t spend enough time the night before celebrating Manchester being blue. The Post Office, pictured below.

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The middle building with the three arched entrances was built at the beginning of the last century with additions of the red roofed wings in the 30’s and flat roofed wings at the edge in the 1990’s. On the top you’ll see are some loudspeakers which our guide said replaced a cupola when the Japanese were here in the 1940’s. However, they remind me so much of the civil defence system to be seen throughout France which is rehearsed at midday on the first Wednesday throughout the country. I asked the guide if he thought they could have been under the cupola and only discovered once the Japanese removed it but he demurred.

Across the street is a former hotel, (pictured top right) built in the first decade of the last century. After the Khmer Rouge left Vietnamese people lived in it until they left at the end of the 80’s when people working for the Post Office moved in and took over the premises. They kindly let us into the public areas on the first floor but residents on the second were not so keen to let us visit. We went up a stairway to the right of the door and onto the first floor where there were original features which came from France including tiles.(pictured left) In the last century Hotel Grand was built backing onto the building, facing onto the Tonle Sap River and after a time the owner bought this hotel and connected this to the other, the back of which can be seen in the bottom middle left picture.  They were joined together such that a corridor went at right angles at the end of the picture bottom middle right, which was taken from the same spot as looking out onto the courtyard and back of the hotel just after turning 90 degrees. The picture bottom right shows one of the room numbers, still visible and bottom left us with the guide on the landing.

The third of four buildings on the square was built as the Bank of Indochina and became 103702-730419the property of the Van family in the 1965. After the Khmer Rouge it became government buildings until around 2000 when the family got/bought it back from them and it has been fully renovated and is now quite a fancy restaurant, named Van’s. I was recommended the 17:00 – 19:00 ‘happy hour’ and was minded to investigate but rain throughout the time prevented it from happening, maybe another time.

We walked round to see the front of Hotel Grand, sometime called the Hotel Grand grand-hotelManolis after the eponymous owner, but I took no pictures of it.The guide had a picture of how it used to be, similar to the one on the right. The two arches on the left still house a small restaurant/cafe but the ones on the right have been removed to create a KFC. The website for Getty images, which features a similar photo, but not this one below,(for rights reasons) said “Phom Penh’s first KFC opened in a refurbished colonial building along the waterfront. Many older colonial buildings have been renovated in recent years, while others have been razed for new construction. p1110123Others limp on as shabby apartments and businesses..” Hmm, so lets obliterate the front of a classical piece of colonial architecture and replace it with something which looks just the same as if it was built in Dagenham or Delhi. The pictures the guide showed of the hotel lobby said even more what a loss this was to the city, for not much gain.

A proper example of a former colonial piece of architecture sympathetically restored is the coffee shop across the road, also on the quay.

Anyway, we walked back onto the square, across it and then round the back of the former p1170112Police Station. This building was built in the 1930’s to replace the previous police station built there in 1910. No-one knows why the previous one was replaced but the guide explained that this one had an external wall and then a corridor all around the building before the offices, cells etc inside. Allowing the outside wall to take the heat or the rain, air to circulate and the offices, cells etc to be cool without air-con. Intelligent building design in the tropics.

Anyway, the story from the guide was that the building was bought by a company who wanted to raise it and build a skyscraper but it has never happened. So, some people run a business in the courtyard and live, along with other people in the building. The number of trees growing on the building were pointed out and it was said that the roof leaked and that trees (As seen on the roof top right of this picture from the rear of the building) and water, two of the dangers to built structures, mean that unless something is done, it would eventually collapse.

The picture on the right, our guide argued, showed how the architect had designed the building as a coherent whole, the pattern below the window reflecting the arch at the top of the window, as well as the features for a building in the tropics already mentioned, which was reflect throughout the building and that was why this was actually more deserving of renovation than the Post Office and the KFC.

Anyway, I started by talking about a Cyclo tour and all it’s been so far is a trudging around the Post Office Square looking at buildings that used to be something, apart from the Post Office, obviously. So have I sold you short? Are there really any Cyclos? Well you’ll just have to wait for the next installment. Which may, or may not, involve Chinese temples, Catholic Chapels, a library, a destroyed Catholic Cathedral, apartments now shops and a former apartment store. As a hint, one last picture.

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I love the taste of Kampot pepper in the evening

23/06/2016

Saturday has been a day of work for me since starting this job last September, unless part of a general series of holidays. However Saturday 18th June was the sole public holiday as the King’s mother’s birthday. Thank you King for having a mother. Thank you mother for giving birth to the King. So, no work, and, as soon as I found out, a couple of days in Kampot organised.

The resumption of the train meant I could travel down by the train so 7:00 am saw me sat in my seat waiting to leave. A little later, as a result of connecting to the wagon carrying the cars down with us and one small boy was certainly excited to see us pass his father’s car, we set off.

A couple of hours after clearing Phnom Penh, having been offered nice fresh bread by the couple opposite which helped get me through, and picking up speed, we then came to Takeo and a stop. Nice as the couple opposite had been, the leg room in the blue train had not been so great, so it was good to get up and get away from them for a bit, after feeling cooped up. As before the station was lined with people selling all sorts of food and everyone got off for a 20 minute stop.

Arrived in Kampot in time for lunch and where else but the fish market, with great views out across the river to Bokor Mountain, as well as a cool breeze through the structure designed to make the most of it, the like of the breeze had not been experienced in Phnom Penh, and good food.

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After a brief siesta it was off to catch a boat. Whilst waiting for it to sail a couple of friends, who I take part in a weekly quiz with ran past, I knew they were in town with the Phnom Penh Hash House Harriers, but what a small world eh?

The cruise had been sold as a chance to see the sunset over Bokor Mountain so I looked to capture that, together with the scenery many people have become familiar with from photos of the region and then films, particularly Vietnam War films. The other thing after the boat set off was a parade of Cham fishermen off to work. The first picture captures the two with the fisherman off to work in front of the mountain:

For me that palm tree with the the different segments in a circle is just so iconic of the area.

Whilst pictures to the left, taken into the setting sun created the two like the ones above, taken to the right the dying light of the sun left enough to get pictures with the reflections of trees and buildings in the river and, against my expectations, of a flower that there had been lots of, floating down the river.

Well, finally a couple of pictures of a sunset, but no Bokor Mountain. A prize for someone who can say what extra there is in the big picture on the left. The second picture on the right (clockwise) is taken from the boat looking out and was when, after R & B and Khmer and K pop, Brown Sugar by the Rolling Stones came on. All of a sudden it felt like being on a boat travelling down the Mekong, up the Mekong or elsewhere in a Vietnam War film and I was just waiting for the whir of the helicopter blades and the opening up of the gunfire from the banks. Fortunately nether of those happened. The ultimate picture shows a reflection from a building under a pretty full moon. I left the boat and passed the fish market where the Hash House Harriers were esconced and loud singing could be heard on my way to get food and a drink.

Dinner was at the Bokor Mountain Lodge, below left, where they do a fantastic Red Snapper cooked with ginger and Kampot pepper. They also have a flag from Manchester City winning the FA Cup in 2011, the first trophy since the 1976 League Cup victory which saw us back to winning trophies, and I was told one of the partners in running the place is a City fan, so, if I go back to Kampot, that is where I would have to stay. It is always a must to eat it there when in the ‘pot’. Talking of which, afterwards I went to another must visit place, Oh Neils, where I ran into a large number of the Hash House Harriers at the end of a day running and drinking ,which started not long after they left Phnom Penh at 7:00 too. (Picture of Oh Neils was taken the morning after, it is usually very much more welcoming.)

First world problems in a developing country

31/05/2016

On the way home last night, despite purchasing a bottle of gin and a lime, I realised there 20160531_140226.jpgwas no tonic at home. No shop near me sells tonic, despite a frantic search, although the place I lived previously was more cosmopolitan and had it readily available. So, the gin remained unopened.

This morning then the dilemma. Could I justify going to the supermarket just to get tonic and a lemon? Heck yes. So I went to my local supermarket and, instead of a six pack of tonic at $2.80 I could get a slab at $8.90. Result. But, one step forward two steps back. No lemons for sale. Existential crisis, what to do? Lime it will have to be.

My other piece of shopping on the way home was a paintbrush. This is not because I have just developed a love of the fine-arts but because my chilli plant is flowering. I dot see many bees around the neighbourhood, despite there being more greenery than you would think in the centre of Phnom Penh. 20160531_141159.jpgSo, if I want chillis, which I most certainly do, then I am going to have to fertilise the plant myself, which has now been done to the two flowers showing so far. With more on the way it looks like I’m going to have to get more familiar with fertilising things than I previously thought I would.

Tuesday and Thursday I start work at 17:30 which kind of makes up for having to work five hours on Saturday morning. It allows me to get admin, studying, cleaning and other things done which do not then have to be done at the weekend. One thing I also have come to enjoy doing is 20160531_111914.jpggoing for a swim at the Olympic Pool in the Olympic Stadium. It was not built to host the Olympics but there was hope of getting the Asian Games in the 60’s which led to the construction of the stadium, pool etc. For $2 I usually get personal use of a 50 metre pool. This time I was not alone. A video was being shot, first the star lip-syncing then joined by a troupe of backing dancers. First with the diving board and pool as a backdrop, then through the fence. It entertained me as I made my way up and down to complete my 7 x 100 metres swim. On getting out I took the picture above of the ‘star’ does any reader know who it is?

Boys, girls, airfield, New temple in old, bamboo bridge and French lighthouse.

29/05/2016

The last full day in what was now being called ‘the Cham’ started leisurely enough with a lie-in followed by  breakfast at the Mekong Crossing. We got on our bikes and headed out of Kompong Cham on Route 7, the one we should have arrived on! All we knew was that we were looking for a bird statue. After a few kilometres we came to what seemed like a dragon with wings, our map had a dragon with wings before the bird so we went on for another 12 kilometres before deciding it wasn’t a dragon after all but a bird and went back to it. This took us to Phnom Pros, Man Hill.

The pictures above show the temple at the top of the hill, the view across to Women hill and scenes including me with my new pet and a woman respectively. The link above says that this was a site for detention and torturing in Kompong Cham province during the Khmer Rouge. Afterwards across to Phnom Srey, Woman Hill.

The pictures above showing the climb to the top, two pictures at the top and the view across to Phnom Pros. The temple at the top was not as big or ornate as the one at the top of Phnom Pros but the hill was taller and not accessible by road.

After the temples we set off in search of an old airport. We found the airport. There is nothing I could find on the internet which explained why there was an airport here and why it has fallen into disuse.

What I do know is that whilst I was trying to get closer to what we imagined was the control tower at the airfield (pictured below) someone’s motorbike ceased working. Initially we thought it had run out of fuel so I went off to a roadside stall we had passed on the way to the airfield to get supplies, making sure I filled up my tank too to avoid the same problem, and returned with two-thirds of a litre of fuel. The bike would still not move. Two hours later in the heat of the midday sun we still had not moved, apart from eventually pushing our bikes into the shade of a tree and me going off to get drinks. The guest house had been rung and there were stories about a mechanic coming but not finding us so going home for his lunch,  the guest house trying to ring but getting no reply as I had no signal and then then sending us a tuk-tuk to tow the bike back into town. Fortunately this was not necessary as, in the course of preparing to tow the bike, one of the people who came to attend to us discovered that the engine cut-off switch, pictured below in the correct position, had been pulled forward to cut-off the engine. What a stupid mistake. We had been told about it when hiring the bikes but had forgotten. Anyway, we could continue on our way, after rewarding the tuk-tuk drive and his mate for their troubles in helping us resolve our troubles.

Now we were mobile again it was back to town, stopping to fill the tanks right up, after I had eventually managed to open mine much to the amusement and chagrin, at the same time, of the attendant. So it was off to Wat Nokor, an 11th century temple with a new temple built inside. It has it’s own Oedipal  story.

After being out in the sun on the airfield a breeze and some shade were very welcome. I’m known to one person in particular as ‘grumpy’, I think we can see from the picture at the top on the right which of us is grumpy! After touring the site it was off to the final two destinations. The first of which was the Bamboo Bridge. It is said this is washed away each year and rebuilt again, a seemingly Sisyphean task. It was a bit worrying at first as it was approached through sand and the previous days experience with mud made us very wary of it and then there was always the fear of the bamboo giving way.

Once safely on the island on the other side of the river we could see the floating houses of the Cham community, which give the town part of its name, and their Mosque pictured above. The final stop of the day was the old colonial lighthouse. This was something of a race against time, to get there and back before the rain closed in, the dark skies showing on the picture above.

We finally crossed the Mekong to the Old French Lighthouse, although some dispute whether it was a lighthouse, or is French. You can’t really see the steepness of the steps on the ladder, which would not have been a problem ascending but would have been horrible coming back down, which were sufficiently discouraging to prevent us trying to get to the top.There was even time to take the photo of the tower from the Kizuna bridge before heading back to the guest-house just as the rains came. A nice fish and chips supper and a few beers before heading to bed and falling asleep from the rigours of the day.

 

On the streets of Kompong Cham

24/05/2016

Kompong Cham, Cambodia’s third largest city and, according to Travel North East Cambodia, “is the capital of Cambodia’s most populous province.”

Travelfish goes on to say, “It’s also remarkably pretty, not only in the landscape, but also in the architecture. If you want to get a feel for a real Cambodian city — Phnom Penh is predominantly Chinese or Sino-Khmer, and Siem Reap is… something else — then this offers an interesting glimpse. The city is large, though the central area hugging the Mekong is where you’ll likely spend most of your time. From there, explorers will be rewarded with an array of architecture styles from early French colonial buildings, typical Chinese shophouses, and buildings influenced by the New Khmer Architectural style developed during Cambodia’s “golden” years in the 1960s.”

Descriptions also go on to talk about Angkorian statues around the town. I don’t think Carlsberg do statues but you would have thought, if they did, they would probably be the best statues in the world…….

And, from early evening the river-front becomes busy as people promenade, play sports, eat street food and take exercise, or in the case of most of the men, wait and watch while the women take exercise.

Going up the country

23/05/2016

After the weekend two days holiday so finish work on Saturday, collect passport and hire two motorbikes. Sunday pick them off and head out of the city. I’ve not been on a bike with gears in more than 30 years, so is this just some  mid-life crisis chasing after lost youth? Who knows? What I do know is that I handled starting surprisingly well, enough for the hire place to say that I was a motorcyclist! My co-rider and I were on the road. Monnivong to be precise.

We stopped for petrol and then headed out of Phnom Penh over the Japanese Bridge where we promptly lost each other. The plan had been to stop for breakfast, got separated going over the bridge and then on the road to Siem Reap. There were now doubts, was this the correct road. So I headed back to the roundabout. A phone call later we met up again at the roundabout and while the co-rider joined me I checked google maps to find our route and we did want the road to Siem Reap then turn right off it. Heading out of the city I learnt more about the bike, got practice changing gear and got up to the frightening speed of 80 kilometres an hour (km/h).

After passing the Prek Tam Eak Bridge the traffic thinned out and then we came to the turning for Kampong Cham to the right so took it. The plan was to ride the National 20160522_104925.jpgHighway 7 straight there, nice metalled roads so good for someone who hasn’t ridden a motorised bike for a long time. The sign for the turn-off didn’t say National Highway 7 but, hey that’s just the Cambodians not being great at signs eh? The road also didn’t look like much of a National Highway, one lane in each direction, but hey it was metalled so everything was Ok? After 2 kilometres it was not metalled. Ah, the dirt track you see in the picture to the left. It was not the Cambodians not being great at signs but us, we had taken the wrong turning.

Another wrong turn off took us down a country lane and we had to go through puddles and very slippery mud, little did we know it but a portent of what was to come! Some kind locals told us, in English, that we should go back to a coffee shop and turn and we would be back on the road. Anyway, back on the road and we passed villages, some with weddings  where we knew if we stopped we would be asked to join, but we weren’t really dressed for it.

Along the ride we caught glimpses of the mighty Mekong River to our right which gave 20160522_110942.jpgcomfort that we were headed in the right direction as Kampong Cham is on the Mekong. The picture is taken from one of a number of bridges which were repaired, after flood damage, by the Asia Development Bank and the Australian Government. As you can see the river that should be flowing under the bridge to the Mekong is dry, as were all of the ones we crossed.

After a while we came to a stretch were the road surface was being renewed. Big machines were spreading out dirt and a roller was flattening it, whilst trucks loaded with dirt were 20160522_112327.jpgbringing up more dirt. We negotiated this fine and then came to a stretch where it was muddy. This was dealt with as well. But as we came into a village it was very wet and extremely slippery. Despite being in the lowest gear and not accelerating at all, just going at the tick-over, the back wheel went. The site is in the picture on the left. The colleague was right behind me and he went too. As we found out the exhaust fell on his leg burning it. What was concerning at the time the co-rider’s bike’s clutch lever was broken. We couldn’t even move it.What were we going to do, stuck in a village in Cambodia with a broken bike and covered in mud?

Well, we did, and got our bikes to the side of the road. After having a good laugh at the two foreigners (barang) falling over in the mud, the local people helped us clean ourselves up and pointed out a mechanic. My co-rider went off to get him whilst I minded the bikes.

When he joined us the mechanic showed us up by not only moving the bike, he rode it back 20160522_113805.jpgup the street. We trudged after him and chatted with family/colleagues etc whilst he repaired it. $2 later, for parts and labour, we were back on the road. The mechanic is pictured testing the bike on the right. In more of the sticky mud. We came to a metalled stretch and could speed up, Alas, it was just a stretch either side of a repaired bridge and we were soon back on the mud. I spotted on a milestone that Kampong Cham was 26 kilometres away, so was relieved we did not have so far to go.

The road was mainly dry and the mud compact so it was possible to get up to 40 – 50 km/h 20160522_161804.jpgbut then it would be wet mud and it was back down to the lowest gear and tick- over or there were more earth moving machines and they had to be navigated carefully. My back wheel went a few times but I managed to stay on and I saw my co-rider’s back wheel go but he stayed the bike. (Picture on our left is of our destination, The Mekong Crossing Guest House) A few adventures like having to jam the brakes on at a bridge as there was only one track and there was a lorry full of dirt coming the other way.

Then nirvana, we were back on metalled road. After a while of comfortable riding at a decent speed we stopped for a break and I was able to tell my co-rider we only had 4 kilometres to go. So, we rode into town, stopped to check where our destination was on google maps again, and then rode up to the guest house and parked up. After lunch we walked around town which seemed quite charming and then snoozed then showered before getting something to eat at Lazy Mekong Daze.

On arrival we found in Travel North East Cambodia that we should have stayed on Highway 6 to Siem Reap for another almost 40 kilometres before finding Highway 7. Oh well.

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View from the guest house at lunch. You can see how it got it’s name.


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