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C A M B O D I A

08.07.2011, 16:30   ---   Everything’s new again  

New language, new currency, new food… welcome to Cambodia! Well, the food is pretty similar to that in the other parts of Southeast Asia . The traffic is way more relaxed than in Vietnam , language-wise I start at zero again, the writing is just as illegible as elsewhere in Asia and the currency… that’s a mix of US Dollars and the local Riel. I really don’t understand why it was such a big deal in Europe with the double currency at the time of the Euro-introduction… over here that’s everyday routine!

First of all I went to Kampot, only 40km from the border, to acclimatize – definitely a good choice! The Cambodians kinda remind me of the Lao people, extremely friendly and lots of happy kids! And Kampot is great as well!! A laid-back, small town full of French colonial architecture. Some buildings are very shabby and rundown, but others are beautifully restored. On a scooter I made it to neighbouring Kep, hiked through Kep National Park (note: hiking in sturdy shoes without socks will end up with blisters = bad idea!!) and had some fantastic fresh fish at the Crab Market before heading back facing the sunset.

Along with 3 other travellers – Hannah, Jean-Marie and Stuart (Jean-Marie and I totally agree upon his resemblance with the German actor Til Schweiger) – I went to Sihanoukville next, a characterless beach-town with heaps of Backpackers. We didn’t like it at all and left straight-away the next day for Koh Kong. Just in this moment I should be hiking through the Cardamom Mountains , one of the last untouched rainforests in Southeast Asia … instead I’m spending the day in bed to get over a food poisoning! I already felt sick and dizzy yesterday and last night I could hardly get any sleep due to horrible stomach cramps, hiking was obviously impossible! :-(


14.07.2011, 18:30   ---   Chillax

After a long day in bed with lots of sleep, painkillers and zero-diet I luckily got well very soon, when the others came back from the jungle the next day I was almost perfectly fit again and it seemed I didn’t even miss all that much… apart from a beautiful green python.
Sadly Hannah had to leave straight-away already and Jean-Marie, Stuart and I were stuck in the rain for the next 2 days… Chillax is the magic word and with movies, crappy TV and heaps of Pringles and Oreo one manages to kill the time somehow. When it finally cleared up again we took the chance to check out the mangrove forest around Koh Kong and then we took off.

12 hours on a bus to Battambang were awaiting us!! We didn’t expect it to be all too bad though… When buying the tickets we were promised that our seat numbers were those in the last row, so the three of us could sit together and we planned to watch some movies on my netbook during the entire ride… Bullshit!! The ticket guy apparently had mixed up the seat numbers and of course we did not sit together and when 5 minutes after we left that well-known karaoke-DVD was being played on full volume we could totally forget about watching movies either. ;-)
To recover from that ride we checked in to quite a fancy hotel in Battambang and the next day we explored the countryside on motorbikes again. Temples , villages, happy kids, muddy roads… we skipped the bamboo-train (the ultimate tourist attraction) and the city didn’t have much more on offer for us – so off we went! :-)

We decided to travel to Siem Reap by boat up the Tonlé Sap River , supposedly the most scenic boat trip in Cambodia . Well, scenic indeed, but nobody said it would be comfortable in any way! ;-) We had no idea what to expect and were quite surprised when we found that little boat which didn’t even look very seaworthy… but it was only a river cruise and in the worst case the shore won’t be too far away! The locals had already occupied all the seats inside and instead of squeezing in between them (it was extremely noisy and smelly inside anyway!) we rather arranged the luggage on the roof to some sort of backrest and made ourselves somewhat “comfortable” up there together with some other backpackers. And surprise surprise: It was indeed a very enjoyable ride!! For 8 perfectly sunny hours we cruised towards Siem Reap, winded our way through beautiful green scenery, briefly lost our steersman to the murky brown water of the river and waved to all those excited kids along the river until our arms got tired. And we also passed lots of floating villages – fabulous!! The houses are built on floats and seem to be tied together so they don’t drift away. Homes, shops, petrol stations (for the boats obviously), police stations… everything’s floating, so cool!
Despite our first scepticism it turned out to be a beautiful and relaxed day, next time I would just make sure to keep my sunscreen somewhere nearby – after 8 hours I painfully had to admit that I had caught the sunburn of my life!!! Ouch…  


19.07.2011, 17:00   ---   Templed out

Siem Reap is the gateway to the temples of Ankor, one of the big highlights of everybody’s Southeast-Asia trip! By far the best known one is Ankor Wat, the biggest of all the temples in this area and of a big importance for the Khmer people, so its silhouette even appears on the national flag and bank notes.
Highly motivated after all that laziness Stuart and I decided to rent some bicycles and simply cycle around the temples, located approx 10-20 km from town. We slept over the sunrise on our first day though (obviously not yet motivated enough for that, but we made up for it on another day!), but there was no need to do it all at once. We bought a 3-day-pass and so we could take it quite easy and relaxed. And as we slowly drove towards the temples I kinda wondered what all those policemen are doing along the street… slightly overacted for some old ruins. ;-) Eventually they pulled over the entire traffic, nobody really seemed to have a clue what was going on (and most definitely we didn’t) and together with a few moto-drivers we sneaked past all those cars and policemen and carried on driving. But 2 Policemen later we had to stop as well and were told that the King would come. Well, so let’s wait for the King, that’s no everyday-sight! And indeed: 5 minutes later a long parade of big black luxury cars showed up and who was sitting in car number 2? Right – the King! He stuck his head out of the window, waved heavily to the people and was happy like a little kid, a funny guy somehow! :-D
But after that it was finally temple-time!! First of all Ankor Wat was extremely crowded! In front of the entrance one gets hassled by hawkers and guides, inside it all those visitors are stepping each other on their feet and the sight of the temple is spoilt by scaffoldings. It’s still great to stand in front of this monument, well-known from lots of photos, but sadly it totally lacks the quiet temple-atmosphere. Many of the other temples were much more enjoyable in that matter and each one was in a way unique and different to the others. Ankor Thom is built on the largest area, but consists mainly of forest, at the Bayon one is being stared at by hundreds of carved faces from every angle and for Ta Keo one has to climb up seemingly endless steep stairs. Especially the small temples were some real oases of silence, sometimes there was not a single other person around.
Our favourite after all was Ta Prom. It seems the trees have taken over the temple, inexorably they are growing across the ruins, everything’s mossy green and many parts of the rambling place see only few visitors – a somewhat fascinating, mystic atmosphere!
I gotta admit though, that our motivation from the first day didn’t last all that long and we ended up in a tuk-tuk instead of the bicycles. ;-)

Meanwhile my sunburn turned out to be even way worse than first expected, my forehead and nose are literally falling apart… Day 1: Red like a lobster. Day 2: Brown and crusty like a roasted chicken. Day 3: The brown skin cracks open, bleeds, I can pull off large patches of skin, underneath it’s red like a lobster again. My face is some weird pattern of red and brown, not to forget the white marks around my eyes from my XXL-sunnys!! Stuart and Jean-Marie seem to have some good laughs about it and suggested I could just tell people I’ve had a road accident, everybody would believe it… thanks! And NO, I won’t show any photos of that! :-P


28.07.2011, 10:00   ---   From the city into the jungle

Phnom Penh is he cute little capital of Cambodia , Stuart headed back home from there and after 2 weeks I was back on my own again. Phnom Penh offers everything you’d expect from a city, but is still small enough to be easily walkable (even though all those tuk-tuks are indeed quite inviting and sometimes the laziness wins ;-) ), it’s crowded with Frenchs and there are surprisingly many (especially big and expensive) cars around. First of all I visited the Embassy of Myanmar (Burma) to apply for a visa, but I was seriously told that it would take 2 weeks to process it and there would be no way to speed things up!! I can hardly believe that issuing a simple tourist visa can take that long… seems to be just another attempt to keep foreigners out of the country. However, I couldn’t wait for that long unfortunately, as my Cambodian visa would expire in the meantime. So I couldn’t do anything else but leaving it for another try in Bangkok and using the next days to explore Phnom Penh . I thoroughly haggled my way through the markets, caught up with a friend from that trekking-trip in Thailand and did some sightseeing of course. The Royal Palace and its Silver Pagoda seem to me like a miniature version of Bangkok ’s Royal Palace . It was nice, but not by any means jaw-dropping and definitely not worth the overpriced admission fee.
Awfully emotional were the two memorials of the cruel Khmer Rouge regime – the S21 prison and the Killing Fields. S21 or Tuol Sleng used to be a school, was then converted into a torture prison for political convicts by the Khmer Rouge and nowadays it’s a museum with heaps of photos displaying the terrible cruelty. The Killing Fields in Cheoung Ek, about 10km outside Phnom Penh used to be a plain extermination camp. At this one place in particular about 17000 people got killed in the most horrible way and disposed into huge mass graves. Most of the human bones have been salvaged by now and are being kept in the memorial stupa, solely built for this purpose. But while walking between the emptied graves one still comes across bones sticking out of the ground every now and then. A total estimate of 1,7 million people fell victim to the genocide of the Khmer Rouge. All that reminds a lot of the German history, only way more recent, it has been just 30 years ago…

Next I took a detour to the remote town Sen Monorom in the province of Mondulkiri (eng. Meeting of the hills). Together with 4 French siblings I took off to a jungle trek. We left highly motivated in the morning until the jungle turned out to be rather average than impressive and on top of that it also started raining very soon. Hong, our guide, prophesised it would only last for an hour and since we got wet anyway we decided to use the time to swim at a waterfall. An hour later the rain hadn’t stopped, of course, but became rather heavier. So we had to carry on walking as we had to make it to the end of the trail by the end of the day. Naturally the track was completely soaked from the rain yet and while we had to cope with the muddy and slippery ground, Hong was busy collecting flowers and spices for our dinner along the way.
Exhausted and drenched we eventually arrived at our destination just before sunset: A tiny village of the ethnic minority of the Phnong people, where we stayed with our guide’s family for the night. We hadn’t had any idea what to expect and it turned out to be a unique experience in a whole different world! No electricity, no running water, no toilette and wrapped into a sarong one can take a shower at the village’s well (the only source of water for the entire village) under the curious eyes of the locals. Hong, his wife and their 5 kids live in a small traditional house along with dogs, cats, chicken and piglets and the cooking is being done in bamboo canes at the open fire on the ground. After dinner we drank some rice wine (not exactly tasty but heats you up from inside) and soon fell asleep in our hammocks. That sounds way more comfortable than it actually was, at some point a goat ran through the house and throughout the night I was woken by the grunting piglet under my hammock – good sleep is truly a different thing, but it was worth the experience!

Next day we went back to Sen Monorom, from there back to Phnom Penh for another day and currently I’m on a bus to Bangkok . My sunburn is still peeling off (I can’t tell how many layers of skin I’ve lost already), but at least it doesn’t look as funny any more. It seems to be coming to an end soon and I am now just as pale as after a German winter. :-(  

   

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