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Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Cambodia, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Transportation, Travel, Wet Season

Transportation Woes in Cambodia


From Siem Reap, we were making our way to a northeastern province of Cambodia called, Ratanakiri. Now, Cambodia is not a huge country, and on the map, a straight line from Siem Reap to Ratanakiri doesn’t look that far. The only problem is, there aren’t yet roads that go from point A to point B, so we had a bit of a journey ahead of us.

We decided to break our stay up in Kratie, but had to go via Kampong Cham to get there, so we booked tickets in Siem Reap for the entire journey, and boarded our first bus. We made it to Kampong Cham with no problems, but once we arrived there, we were told there were no other buses going to Kratie that day. We were getting mixed stories- some people told us the bus had left earlier that day, others said the bus was broken, so after making a few phonecalls and haggling with some locals, we were told that someone would drive us to Kratie for free.

We spotted an English couple, who were in the same predicament as us, and they had paid the same driver to take them to Kratie too. So, it was a bit of a squeeze, with three in the back and one up front and our bags, but I guess our driver didn’t think so. As we were pulling away, a lady ran over and asked for a ride, and he obliged, so she jumped in the back too. Ok, this was really a squeeze! Then, wouldn’t you know, about 20 minutes into the 2-hour drive, a man standing on the side of the road flagged us down and he jumped in too. So we now had four people in the back seat, and two in the front along with the driver. And we were in a very old Nissan Altima, or something of the like.

We were making our way to Kratie, and just hoping to get there quickly, but we were also noticing that the roads were getting progressively worse. Wet season was wreaking havoc on the unpaved, red muddy roads. We were beginning to slide around a lot, but so far nothing had set us back too much. Oh, did I speak too soon?? As we made our way to an upcoming bridge, we saw that traffic had come to a standstill, due to the fact that a truck was stuck in the mud, literally on the bridge itself. There was no getting around it, so we began to wait.

After about an hour of waiting, and no immediate help in sight, our driver was ingenious enough to find someone on the other side of the bridge who was going to Kampong Chum, so he could basically switch passengers with him. Great idea, but this entailed a ½-mile walk across the bridge in red mud that was coming up to our ankles. With each step, I lost more footing, so I decided to lose the flip flops- I could get more traction that way. Now with each step, this gooey red mud was seeping between my toes and I was just praying I would make it to the other side without falling over.

We all made it to the next taxi without toppling over, tried to rinse our feet in rain puddles and got into the car just as more rain was beginning to fall. By the time we reached Kratie, it was monsooning. We checked into a guesthouse and learned that the only ATMs in Kratie (and most of Northern Cambodia for that matter) were only Visa friendly. That was a bit unfortunate seeing as we both had Mastercards. We had enough money for our guesthouse, dinner and bus tickets to Ratanakiri, and we rose early the next morning to organize a Western Union transfer- Phew, dodged that bullet.

Kratie was just a stopping over point to break up the journey, and to scrub our feet! We left the next afternoon bound for Ratanakiri, with a short stopover in Stung Treng. Kratie to Stung Treng was no more than an hour journey, on a half empty bus. We then waited for the second bus, which arrived looking a little worse for wear. We boarded and got the first two seats behind the driver. We drove on a paved road for about 30 minutes and then it was back to red mud roads.

Our driver proceeded to drive as fast on these roads as he did on the paved roads, despite the mud and numerous pot holes, and every time we hit a pot hole, the bus sounded like a tin can that was about to collapse.

This journey seemed to be taking forever. After about two hours in, we reached a flooded town, where we proceeded to literally cross a river.(I was learning just what engines can handle!) Not to mention, we were sliding all over these roads. After about 6 hours into the journey that was supposed to take 4 hours, I was getting antsy. Surely, we had to be close, right? The roads were getting worse, and we came upon another bus that was stuck in the mud, so after maneuvering around that, I was also wondering if we were going to make it.

Shortly after this thought entered my head, we got stuck, and as we tried to get unstuck, the driver managed to reverse the bus off the road at an incline. It wasn’t a pretty site. Everyone got off the bus, as he attempted to get the right side of the bus back on the road, but it wasn’t working. We found out we were literally 10 kilometers from town. Ah, to be so close, but with no help…this could take all night.

After about 30 minutes, a tractor pulled up, and the drivers chained it to the front of the bus, and after a few attempts, we had success! We finally arrived in Ratanakiri at 11:00 that night, only about four hours later than scheduled. Thank you wet season!

Angkor Wat, Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Cambodia, long term travel, Siem Reap, Southeast Asia, Temples, Travel

Temples and Ruins and Wats, Oh My!

We ended up spending about five days in Siem Reap. On our second day, we purchased a 3-day pass to visit the Angkor temples, and we averaged about 4-5 temples a day. It was HOT, and by the end of each day, I had about 300 photographs, sore feet and a new found appreciation for architecture. On our second day on the temple circuit, we joined the masses for sunrise at Angkor Wat. This entailed a 4am wake up call, and our tuk tuk driver, Laosang, was a gem and all about making sure we saw what we wanted to. I overheard a tour guide tell his group that the sunrises were hit or miss, but this was one of the best he’d seen in a long time. That made the early wakeup call much less painful in hindsight.

My advice to anyone planning a trip to Siem Reap is to get up early, catch the sunrise and see another three to four temples before it gets too unbearably hot. Also, we found that most of the bad weather we experienced rolled in during the afternoons, so we tried to work around that too. After a 4am wake up call, an afternoon nap was in order, but I woke up with just enough time to run across the street and rent a bike to go back for sunset. It was only about a 2-mile ride back, followed by a short hike and I caught a beautiful sunset before biking it back to town under star light.

On our last day, we didn’t get such an early start, and we were getting a little “templed out” truth be told. We saw a couple of temples in the morning, and we then opted for an afternoon boat ride to the floating village on Lake Tonle Sap. This was such a cool excursion. We took Cambodia’s equivalent of a longtail boat through flooded land, where only the tops of the trees stuck out through the water. The ride took about an hour, and eventually we came to a town, literally floating on water. All of the houses, schools and temples are built on stilts to account for the rising water levels during wet season. By the end of wet season, the lake ends up being about 5 meters deep.

We stopped in at someone’s home for lunch, and sampled more authentic Cambodian food, including freshly caught white fish from the lake. We watched as the vendors rode by in their boats, selling that days produce and as children played in the water, jumping from the steps of their home into the lake, and floating along in anything that would float, including buckets and garbage pail lids.

We made our way back to land and decided to try to make it to Angkor Wat in time for sunset. We couldn’t tell if we were going to get one or not because the sky was starting to look a little threatening, but as we got closer to the main entrance of the wat, a rainbow began to appear in the sky. Then, a few steps on, another rainbow appeared. How lucky were we? Not only did the rainstorm hold off, but we got not only one, but two rainbows, as well as an amazing sunset! What a way to end our tour of the Angkor Temple Circuit.

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Cambodia, long term travel, Siem Reap, Southeast Asia, Travel

Discovering Siem Reap, Cambodia

We travelled by bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and had an uneventful journey, but stopped for some great street food on the way. I’m really not sure what it was, but it was good, and sometimes, it’s best not to know. I also discovered freshly juiced sugar cane, that they pour into little plastic bags, which then serve as your to-go cup. Handy!

Our first afternoon in Siem Reap was spent just getting our bearings and making plans to see the wats, temples and ruins over the following days. We made our way into town to stroll around, and I have to say this was by far the most surprising city I’d been to. It was just the opposite of what I expected. Based on my time in Phnom Penhm, and from what I had seen by travelling through Cambodia, I expected Siem Reap to be like any other Cambodian city- dusty, crowded and a little run down. But what we discovered was this small metropolitan city, with a ton of restaurants, cafes and bars, as well as galleries, boutiques, museums and markets. It didn’t feel like Cambodia at all. We were thrilled to find that every restaurant and bar seemed to have a never-ending happy hour of $0.50 Angkor beer so we decided to chill out and have a couple of cold ones before dinner.

After that, we made our way to a small restaurant we had passed on the way into town. What can I say? We liked the man who we had been talking to there, so it was an easy decision. I had banana flower salad with shrimp which was all tucked neatly into a banana leaf. The spices were perfect. The lemongrass and chilis used in each dish ensure your meal is never bland. We also sampled some Amok, which is a Cambodian curry made from chilis, coconut milk, kaffir limes and served most commonly with white fish, although you can choose chicken, pork or beef. I was quickly transported back to India, and knew Siem Reap was going to be a culinary highlight.

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Cambodia, Khmer Rouge, long term travel, Phnom Penh, Southeast Asia, Travel

A Whirlwind Tour of Phnom Penh

I had read about a one day tour from the hostel that hit all the main sites in Phnom Penh, so I decided to try to get on it, but found out the next morning that it wasn’t going, but the guesthouse organized a rickshaw for the day that was going to take me to all of the main sites for $ 12. Even better, I could take as much time as I wanted at each place, and I had a private tour guide.

I hit up the ATM before the day began, and was surprised when dollars were dispensed. How nice to not have to do the currency translation? I knew what I was working with here. My tuk tuk driver was waiting for me as I finished breakfast , and he asked me where I was from when I jumped in the back seat, and I said “England.” His response: “lovely jubbly.” I knew we were going to get along.

The city of Phnom Penh is seething with traffic and dust and it’s crazy and disorderly, but I actually enjoyed my short stay there. It was another part of my journey where I learned a lot about the Cambodian people and the not so distant struggles that have shaped who they are today.

My first stop was at the Choeng Ek Genocidal Center, which is about 15k from the city center. This is the site of just one of the killing fields used during Pol Pot’s regime. There were rumored to be upwards of 183 killing fields all over Cambodia where people were taken to await their death.

Pol Pot’s mission was to return Cambodia to an agrarian society, so he set out to rid Cambodia of everyone who threatened his mission (outwardly or not). Any educated person, teacher, son or daughter of a teacher or government official, a college educated person, even people who wore glasses were viewed as a threat to the Khmer Rouge and what they intended to do. Between 1975 and 1979, 20,000 people were taken to Choeng Ek to be executed, and most passed through S21 prison in Phnom Penh before being taken to the killing field, where they were being promised a new life.

It’s hard to believe that something like this happened so recently, but what is even more disturbing is that Pol Pot died under house arrest and was never properly tried for these crimes. People worked under him out of fear of their own lives, and only one man has come forward and told the truth about his work at the killing fields. Many members of the Khmer Rouge are still alive and have yet to go to trial for these murderous crimes. To this day, many of those people are still involved in political parties and government issues, which is another reason why a fair trial has not taken place.

What is also sad is to see how much of the country’s history and heritage was destroyed during this time. Temples and Wats were ruined, because Pol Pot believed practicing religion was a form ofeducation. The damage that was done was irreparable and has left the country far less advanced than its surrounding neighbors. Still the spirit of the people is high, and they are willing to talk about their personal experiences during this time, which is important in ensuring something like this never happens again.