A Travellerspoint blog

Journey to Bangkok

Another day on the road (followed by a night of mayhem)

sunny 30 °C

We got on the bus destined for Bangkok, Thailand around 7 am. The bus was kind of unsuited for this kind of travel, as it didn't really have any space for luggage, and with a bus full of backpackers this amounted to the center aisle being piled high with backpacks. The ride wasn't uncomfortable, but stops were tricky, as we had to manage to wade through all the bags to get off the bus (we of course were sitting in the very back). Heidi got freaked out in the beginning of the ride, because she hadn't seen her bag get loaded onto the bus, and she couldn't spot it among the other bags in the aisle when she got off the bus either. She was finally relieved when the bus driver showed her that it had been stowed under the bus in the only baggage locker, along with two other backpacks. Although the bus stopped a few times along the way, we didn't really stop anywhere to get a proper lunch, so we subsisted on some chips and cookies we bought at a small roadside shop. There really wasn't anything notable about the ride.

We exited through the Cambodian border with no problems, and then we had to walk a short distance to queue up for entry into Thailand. Entering Thailand was easy--we just had to fill in an entry form and get a stamp in our passport, no visa needed in advance. Nate made it through without a problem, but Heidi's customs officer was a bit of a stickler for the rules, and wasn't going to let Heidi into the country before she gave him her destination and the name of the guest house she would be staying in. At this point in the trip, we had become quite used to just showing up in the city's backpacker area and finding a place on arrival, so we didn't even know the name of one guest house. Heidi ended up just giving the name of some fictitious guest house, which seems to pacify the customs office., who let her pass through with a roll of his eyes.

We then had to wait on the Thai side of the border for an hour before minibuses came to split our group up into smaller groups. They gave us stickers to identify that we were part of the group, and although we didn't like feeling like we were being branded and herded around like cattle, we heeded their warning that the loss of the sticker would mean we would have to pay again, and took care not to lose them. We made some small talk with a Dutch guy during the wait, and after a while two minibuses finally pulled up. We watched as one minibus filled up and quickly took off, but then were told to first walk here and then go there to wait, and we didn't know what was going on--where was our minibus, and when were we going to leave? We stood around confused for a while, annoyed that we had to wait longer, but were finally directed to get into the sole minibus that had been waiting there the whole time. We finally hit the road, and after a short drive we stopped at...*drumroll*...a Seven Eleven! It was immediately apparent that Thailand was much more developed than the other countries we had seen thus far, and we enjoyed it as we grabbed a hotdog for a snack. We would later come to find that Seven Eleven is one of the biggest convenience store chains in Thailand, and they basically have them everywhere. After a few hours of driving, we made it into Bangkok. The city had a character of its own, and we noticed all the networks of tiny alleyways that snaked between the buildings. Our driver was a funny guy and he made a couple of jokes along the, once stopping in the middle of the freeway and stating with a blank face "OK, Bangkok, finish". At first, we didn't know if he was serious or joking, and we were all a bit confused, but after he started laughing we realized we weren't going to get screwed this day. We hit some heavy traffic--which the driver cursed in good humor--but finally made it to Khao Sanh Road, home to the backpacker mecca of Bangkok.

We wandered Khao Sanh Road a bit, and then ran into the Dutch guy we had seen earlier in the day, who told us where to find the cheap guest houses, just a short jog around the corner. He was a nice guy, and invited us to come out to drink with him and another Dutch friend later that night. We made our way over there, grabbing a delicious chicken satay from a street vendor on the way, and then found there was a whole alley dedicated to guest houses. It was no trouble finding a decent place to stay, although they were a bit more expensive than they had been in Vietnam and Cambodia. There would be no five dollar-a-night guesthouses here. After checking in, the first order of business was to get a ticket out of the city. Although we wanted to spend a bit of time in Bangkok, we were determined to get to some sunny beaches as soon as possible, so we decided to go to the South islands first. We booked a bus/ferry combination ticket to Koh Tao (Turtle Island), a tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand. We then went to one of the restaurants in the area and got a good Thai meal of spring rolls, spicy green curry, and a basil chicken stir-fry, all of which were delicious. After dinner we wandered back over to the Khao Sanh Road area, where we drank a couple of beers and looked around at all the souvenirs, T-shirts, and other touristy stuff they had on sale there. As the night wore on, many of the small souvenir stands were packed up, and more seating was brought out by the road for late night drinkers who flooded into the area. The partyers came out in strong force, and we joined in the fun after finding the Dutch guys sitting out in front of one of the many bars in the area. We shared a couple of cocktail buckets before Heidi wussed out and went back to the guest house early. Nate stayed out a bit later, but he and one of the Dutch guys headed back early after the other Dutch guy started schmoozing with one of the local "working girls" (of which there were many). Although it was quite early in the morning, there was still a lot of lights and activity, so Nate made it back safely.

Posted by heidigras 09:59 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

A Visit to the Mighty Temples of Angkor

sunny 36 °C

We got out of Kampot as soon as possible, catching the morning bus back to Phnom Penh, and we arrived there around lunch time. We grabbed some BBQ pork baguettes, and spent most of the day wandering around the city, trying to find a reliable dirt bike rental agency where we could get some information about routes through the rugged roads leading to the wilderness of Eastern Cambodia, a trip Nate had been talking about excitedly from our first day in Cambodia. Ultimately, it ended up being a waste of time, as things just didn't pan out. We found a few dirt bike shops, but we discovered that the staff at the shops were extremely unhelpful in providing us with any information as to where we could go, many of the bikes looked sketchy, and the they stated that there was no insurance or support for trips outside of the city of Phnom Penh (which seemed absurd, as what is the purpose of renting a dirt bike to ride on paved roads in a city?), all the while they obnoxiously pushed us to just sign a contract and take the bike away the same day. Frustrated and disappointed, we gave up (although honestly speaking, I have to admit that after seeing the size of those dirt bikes, I was secretly a bit relieved to find that we wouldn't be doing such an adventurous trip on our own). We ended up redeeming the day by visiting Wat Phnom, which is a small temple resting on the only hill in the city. There we saw some of the fattest, overfed monkeys we had ever seen in our life. Some of the older monkeys seemed barely able to waddle around, and it was a pretty funny sight to be seen. After the visit to the wat, we finished the day off with a couple beers as we watched the sun go down over Boeng Kak Lake. The crowd in the guest house was pretty subdued that night, and they were all silently zoned out while watching the super lame Adam Sandler movie "Zoran", so we opted to go to bed early that night rather than join the "party".

The next morning we got up bright and early to catch the bus to Siem Reap, home of the world-famous and archaeologically significant temples of Angkor. This bus was full of mostly locals, and we were happy to feel that we were traveling more like the locals for a change, rather than trapped in one of those isolated tourist bubbles that most of the tourist buses end up feeling like. However, the bus turned out to have some problems, as the air conditioning worked only half of the time, and the radiator was leaking water bad. We had to make several stops to fill the radiator tank with water, and one of the bus attendants eventually hauled a large reserve bucket to the back of the bus. After many frequent stops, we finally reached our destination a full hour and a half late. We were nonetheless happy to find that a tuk-tuk driver was there waiting to cheerfully greet us and bring us from the bus stop to the guest house of our choice. We simply told him to bring us to a cheap and clean place, and we were there after a few minutes drive. The tuk-tuk guy seemed really nice, so we agreed to let him give us a tour of the ruins of Angkor the next day. After the day spent on the road, we didn't have much daylight left, so we spent the evening wandering around town a bit, and got some street food at one of the many stalls that line the street around the pub street in the tourist center of town. The food wasn't very good, and Nate got food poisoning from it. So far a streak of three awesome days in a row, and counting...

We woke up the following day, and got what we needed--a break in the streak of disappointing days, as we really enjoyed touring the ruined temples and royal buildings that had once been the grand capital of the Angkor empire. Some of the highlights were as follows:

Ankor Wat - the most recognized symbol and icon of Cambodia (it's even proudly featured on their national flag!). This massive temple complex, set on a square kilometer of land surrounded by a wide moat, was the center of religious activities in the Angkor days, and was a really impressive sight. We took our time to explore the largely intact structures, which features detailed bas reliefs and carvings. The rear of the temple complex even contained an high stage designed as a docking station for elephants, which were the main mode of transportation for the king in those days.

Angkor Thom - an ancient royal citadel, which contained several interesting structures. The most impressive was Bayon, a very cool temple, and although it was not quite as well preserved and reconstructed as some of the other temples, it had a really unique (and eerie) feel to it, as there are hundreds of giant, slightly smiling, buddha-like faces carved into the exterior surfaces of the temple. Archaeologists are still uncertain as to the symbolic significance of the faces. Phimeanakas was also an interesting structure, shaped much like a Mayan-style pyramid, which we climbed up to and from the vantage point we watched monks wander around the area. In front of the citadel were a couple of terraces, the Terrace of Elephants and the Terrance of the Leper King which contained some interesting carvings.

Ta Prohm - this was one of the most atmospheric temples, as it was located in the jungle and could be reached by following a small dirt path. An example of nature overcoming obstacles, large trees have grown through various sections of this temple, accompanied by thick roots twisting over and through the walls. Mossy growth and moisture also gave the stone structures an exotic look, and even though this temple was well on the tourist trail, we couldn't help but feel a little bit like adventurers.

After exploring the temples of Angkor for several hours, we took a break and rested for a bit before heading back out to Pub Street where we got some good Khmer food (this time amok, a special Khmer curry). We then hit up the Temple Club, a cool bar that was decorated like the temples of Angkor, and sucked down a couple of cocktail buckets before turning in for the night.

The next day we went down to a small Chinese restaurant and got some OK Chinese food there. It was run by a nice Chinese guy and his Cambodian wife, and there was another Chinese couple dining there, which Nate enjoyed, as it gave him another chance to practice speaking Chinese. After lunch we wandered around the city, hoping to find a dirt bike shop, and although we were again unsuccessful, we had a really nice time taking in the sights of the city. The city is divided by a narrow river; and, like many places we had seen in Vietnam and Cambodia thus far, was full of kids splashing in the water at various points. In a place that is as hot and dusty as Cambodia, we can't blame them for appreciating the water. As we walked around the city, we were again struck by how quickly the city transformed from the highly developed tourist center, to very basic housing and narrow dirt roads. You could literally walk 10 minutes from a four- or five-star hotel to a dirt road containing simple stilt homes. We spent time walking along the river and the alleys outside of town before getting some Mexican food for dinner, which although still wasn't as good as the stuff back home, was probably the best Mexican we'd had in two years. We ended the night just hanging around the guest house and went to bed early, as we prepared to move on to Thailand the following day.

Posted by heidigras 10:12 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Sihanoukville & Kampot

Beaches & Boredom

We left for Sihanoukville from Phnom Penh on the 8am bus from our hotel. It was a big AC bus and it was quite nice and the ride was uneventful--it was just a bit bumpy, and really, really dusty. We arrived in Sihanoukville around 1pm and were bombarded by moto drivers when we stepped off the bus. We decided to go with one of the less annoying ones and bargained hard with him until they finally agreed to bring us to the GST guest house for a price that seemed reasonable to us. The guest thouse was quite large and was just a five minute walk from the beach, the rooms were nice and only $5 a night, so we were happy. Shortly after arriving, we headed out for some lunch and got some Khmer food at a nearby restaurant. The food was good, but not amazing (as we learned through experience would be a trend of the food in Cambodia).

We then headed to the beach to check out what was going on; it was a Sunday so the beach was filled with both locals and tourists alike. The Cambodians were easy to spot as they were the only ones swimming with all of their clothes on. Unfortunately, as we have found to be true in most countries we visit, the locals also treated the water like a trash can and in areas where they were swimming the water was quite dirty. The beach was quite nice, however, and was lined with restaurants and bars which also provided "free" lay-out chairs (you have to buy stuff from them while you are laying out, of course). After walking the length of the beach, we headed back to get cleaned up for dinner. We decided to try out one of those nice restaurants on the beach and had a delicious fish BBQ along with a couple of drinks. As the night wore on, quite a little dance party was started and we joined in the fun until we were too tired and went back to our room and crashed!

After the late night of the previous day, we decided to sleep in a bit and got up around lunch time. We had a leisurely lunch at our hotel and were getting ready to walk to the beach when it started raining! Our beach day was ruined, but luckily our room was nice and had satellite TV so we spent the afternoon watching National Geographic and Discovery, channels we haven't seen in a couple of years! Around 5, the rain let up and we took a walk through town, searching for some fruit but strangely finding none (the first city in SE Asia to NOT have a fruit stand every 20 yards!). We wandered back to our hotel and the rain started coming again and spent the rest of the night playing games and continuing out TV marathon.

The next morning was bright and sunny, and since we had had so much rest the day before, we got up early and were laying out by 10am, it was a little overcast but we were determined to have our beach day. Since it was cloudy, the regular hawkers who sell things on the beach didn't have many people bother, so after 10 minutes our lay out chairs were filled with kids selling friendship bracelets, men who could shine and fix shoes, and women offering to shave my legs (unfortunately, I had missed a 1 inch spot on my leg that morning and every women on the beach seemed to see that and offered to help me with my "hairy leg"). The kids were fun and there didn't seem to be as much tourism this year, so there wasn't as much work for anyone. The kids were bored so they sat around and chatted with us for about an hour. We ended up buying a few bracelets from them and goofed around while they made them. More and more kids kept coming telling us it "wasn't fair" to buy from one person and not from them. They did an excellent job of making me feel guilty but had I bought one from everyone, I would have had more bracelets than I have room on my arms for!

Just after noon, the clouds turned darker and there was a mad scramble by restaurant workers to get chairs inside, sure enough, the rain was coming again = ( We made it back to the hotel before the downpour came but we were left wondering--isn't this dry season?? The afternoon was spent much like the day before (TV & games) although this time it was less exciting, there was rumor of rain the next day as well so we decided that it was time to move on and bought tickets to Kampot. All was not lost however, we were able to have pizza delivered to our room that night and we ate it in bed while watching a crappy movie, and a bad movie night was actually kind of fun. Overall, our beach vacation was kind of a bust, but we managed to have a nice relaxing time anyway, we just didn't get tan...

The next morning we took the early bus to Kampot and arrived around 10am. We were both sleepy and decided to take a short nap before setting out for the day, we were excited to get some dirt bikes and check out the Bokor Hill Station, a part of the Bokor National Park, which, according to our guide book, contained only one solitary and largely unmaintained dirt road up to the top of the hill. Nate was really excited to take this challenging ride, as we had read that Cambodia was one of the best places to ride dirt bikes in Southeast Asia. When we woke up, we found a Kampot City Guide on our desk and started to read it, finding that the first line of the guide was "Bokor Hill Station is closed due to road construction". Our faces fell in disbelief--how could they close the road to the only interesting thing to do in the city? We decided we didn't really believe it and went to check with some tour agencies, but found that sure enough, the entire park area was closed. So our plans were shot, we had already missed the last bus out of the city, and we had no idea what to do with the day. We sat and had a glummy lunch, suddenly noticing that we were pretty much the only foreigners in town and now we understood why...

We booked the first bus to Phnom Penh for the next day but wanted to redeem this trip in some way. The tour agent recommended renting a motorbike and checking out a nearby cave temple and a city called Kep, just 17 kms away. The bike was cheap enough to rent and we had nothing else to do, so we followed his advice. We got near the cave and were approached by a very young-looking 17 year old boy who offered to be our guide to the cave. We were still a ways away so he decided to hop on the motorbike with us, squished between me and Nate, all three of us on a motorbike. This left me with nowhere to put my feet so I had to ride with them sticking straight out for the rest of the ride! To get to the cave, we had to go through a small village and down a narrow dirt path. We arrived and found that the cave was quite cool, with an eagle-shaped stalactite forming the temple where a carving of an image of the Buddha was located. We looked around for a bit and then our guide took us out of the cave the "fun way". It involved some crawling and grabbing vines while balancing on stones which led through a cavern down to a cave pool; this made the guided tour worth it as we would not have found that path had it not been for our friend! We drove our guide back to his village, passing his chuckling mother on the way back. He asked for $5, which seemed a little steep for the 40 minute guide--that was how much our room cost! But he was a nice kid and we settled on $4, all of the small change in our wallet.

We continued our ride to Kep, another beach town on the southwest coast. It seemed like an okay place, kind of spread out like Mui Ne had been, but the narrow, sandy beach outlined by trees and park benches, was really beautiful. The sun was starting to set and we wanted to get back before dark so we headed back and did some reading. Around 7pm we decided to check out the city. We discovered that it is a sleepy little town (probably due to the lack of things to do there at the moment!). The street along the river had a few Western restaurants and bars but that didn't really tickle our fancy, so we went back to the hotel. I got a banana pancake and coffee for "dessert". During dinner, Nate went back to the room to get bug spray, and while he was in the bathroom he chased a giant hissing cockroach out of the room--luckily he didn't tell me until the next morning as we were packing our bags to head to Phnom Penh!

Posted by heidigras 09:39 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Phnom Penh

sunny 35 °C

We had a lazy morning and after dragging ourselves out of bed, we decided to check what it costs to get around this city. We talked to some Cambodian guys who said they would give us a day tour for $15/person--which was ridiculous--so we left and found motorbike to rent from a really nice guy right around the corner for only $6/day. He was really helpful and told us the places that were worth checking out and the ones that weren't. He even gave us a brief historical run-down of the Cheong Ek killing fields which would be our first stop. Nate had a good time navigating through the thick and erratic traffic of the city, which was filled with swarms of motorbikes, tuk-tuks, and pickup trucks. This was our first time renting a bike in a crowded city, and weaving our way through the seemingly lawless roads presented a new challenge. I did some excellent navigating and we got to the killing fields with no problem. We spent a couple of hours at the museum and took time to look at all of the displays and the large memorial in the center that contains hundreds of skulls, bones and clothing that were exhumed in the 1980s after the Khmer Rouge lost power and the extent of their horrific reign was uncovered. We spent a lot of time looking around the displays. The mass graves were still around the center area, pock-marking the soil with hundreds of shallow graves. In this one area, they have disinterred 8,985 bodies of men, women, and children, and some experts estimate that the total number of people killed during this period for the country to be nearly two million. The areas surrounding the graves were well labeled and gave us a clear picture of the horror that had occurred. We were horrified to find that most of the victims had been killed by hand, first being clubbed unconscious with metal bars, hoes, and shovels, and then were strangled to death. Some that were not killed were buried alive and chemicals were dumped on the graves to insure they died and that the remains would decay quickly. There was even a tree labeled there that had originally held a speaker system used to drown out the noise of those being killed so as not to scare the remaining victims or draw attention from surrounding neighbors. Everything has been very well documented and it was truly overwhelming to learn about how many people had been killed there and in such a short time--only 2-3 years. And to thick that all of this happened only 25 years ago.

After visiting the Cheong Ek Killing Fields, we headed back into town to visit another museum but first stopped to get a bite to eat. We found a spot near the museum and got a couple of Khmer dishes (curry and a stir-fry) then walked over to the Tuol Sleng Museum. This museum, originally having been built to serve as a high school, had been notoriously known simply as "S-21" during the Khmer Rouge reign. It was here that thousands of people had been imprisoned, interrogated, processed, and the majority of them who were considered enemies to the regime and were (fortunate?) enough to have survived the interrogations, were sent to concentration-style hard labor camps and ultimately to be exterminated at the killing fields. These so-called enemies of the state, consisted of women, children, and men from all walks of life. When the Khmer Rouge fled the area, they left behind 13 bodies and photographic evidence as well as documentation of the horrors that had occurred there. Now the entire complex serves a memorial, and many of the rooms have been kept in their original condition, complete with the simple metal-framed beds with shackles which held the prisoners. On the walls in many of these rooms--which were used for the interrogations--hung gruesome pictures of prisoners who had been beaten or tortured to death, taken by Khmer Rouge soldiers. There were also several large rooms filled with massive boards containing thousands of prison line-up style pictures of all of the people who had been "processed" here (some of the evidence the Khmer Rouge had left behind), and there were also exhibits of pictures and painting of tortures that had been made while the prison was in use. Also very interesting was an exhibit from a Swedish group that had been given a tour during the Khmer Rouge reign. At that time, they thought Cambodia was a good example of an ideal communist state. After the Khmer Rouge's tactics were exposed however, they reevaluated how unbiased their tour had been and reflected on what they now see as a huge propaganda campaign. It was a very powerful museum and we both learned alot.

After the museum we needed a break from from the carnage of the Khmer Rogue. We headed to the Silver Pagoda and the Royal Palace, but were caught in really heavy traffic. We discovered that the cause of this traffic jam was a small parade for the Cambodian circus that was winding its way through town! We pulled over and watched the excitement and also waited for the traffic to clear a bit before continuing along. We dropped off the motorbike at the end of the day, got some dinner at an Indian restaurant, and then topped ourselves off with a banana split and a couple of beers before heading to bed =)

Posted by heidigras 03:55 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Crossing the Border

A Trip Up the Mekong

sunny 35 °C

The goal for today was to make it to the Vietnam/Cambodia border via a passenger boat on the Mekong River. We got up early and were crammed on the back of a cyclo by 6:45 AM and we were pedaled down to the riverside. We were transferred to a small row boat like the one we had taken the night before and a woman paddled us to a bigger boat where we unloaded our bags. There they told us to stay on her small boat, and our rowboat woman began to row us away from the larger boat. We were a little confused by all this as the woman rowing the boat couldn't really speak English, and thus couldn't answer any questions as to where she was going to take us, or what time we would return to our bags to continue the journey to the border. We were worried for a bit that we had gotten on the wrong boat, but soon we saw some other foreigners who told us they were also going to Cambodia, so we felt a bit relieved but were still confused as to what we were doing. The route the woman took as she rowed us looked quite familiar, and we sat patiently while she brought us down through the floating village, later arriving at the same fish farm that we had visited the day before. We got off the boat and there we finally spoke to an English-speaking guide who informed us that we would be taking the exact same tour (to visit the fish farm and the Muslim Cham Village) that we had done with Nam the night before! If we didn't want to do the tour again, he told us we could go back and wait for an hour on the boat which we decided to do. Although it was nice that this tour was included in the already comparatively inexpensive boat ticket price, we were a little annoyed that we had not been informed that the village tour would be part of the boat ride to Cambodia because if we had known in advance, we would have either skipped it the night before or slept in a bit. But since we were first on the small 10-seater boat, we claimed the best seats in the front where we could stretch our legs out and get some sun. We didn't have to wait too long before the other 6 people joined us on the boat, 8 of us all together and it was quite comfortable.

We really enjoyed the first two hours on the river ways to the border, as the small boat (smaller than we had anticipated, but still quite comfortable) weaved through narrow canals and past sleepy villages on stilts that rested on the banks of the river. The boat took us through a series of narrow canals and we really enjoyed observing the river life on the river. There was a lot of activity already that early in the morning- people bathing, fishing, washing clothes and as the day approached noon, we saw TONS of kids swimming. The kids were really fun to watch and they were excited to see us. They took every opportunity to interact with us as much as they could, with big smiles waving and shouting "hello", and putting on little shows for us by doing dives off the docks and splashing each other. Along the river there were also a whole network or small paths containing people on bicycles, water buffaloes, and the occasional motorbike. There were many small, simple bridges along the way that spanned the river ways.

Along the way we fill out the necessary paperwork for Vietnam exit and Cambodia entry. Although Nate had lost his exit form (required to exit the country), he was given a new one and it didn't seem to be a big deal. Two hours of touring the narrow river ways finally led us into the mighty Mekong River, from where we took a short ride upriver to the border crossing. Our boat operator took care of our exit visas and exit forms for Vietnam and obtained our visas for Cambodia. We broke for lunch while our paperwork was processed, and were a little disappointed--but not entirely surprised--that the food was expensive and not that great, but we were at least able to find a seat a short way up the bank from the river on a deck that overlooked the port. We observed many people transferring rice and produce from one boat to another, overseen by two bookkeepers--one from each boat so they could keep each other honest--who carefully watched the weighing of each load and marked it carefully in their log books. All of the loading and unloading was done by hand with big woven buckets. It was a slow process, and must have taken them all afternoon to finish the transfer.

We still had to wait for a bit after lunch, but another boat finally came that would stop at the Cambodia border and then bring us the rest of the way to Phnom Penh. We border the larger boat, and our group was joined by a few Cambodian people, and after border we were on the way without any further delay. The Cambodian border was just a few minutes farther upriver, and we just had to get off the boat to fill in an entry/exit form before getting our passports stamped. We got back on the boat and were really pleased there was no "extra charges" at any point of the trip, as we had worried about after hearing of others getting scammed with this kind of border crossing.

There was not much special to note about the following three hours of the journey upriver. The Mekong is quite wide all of the way up to Phnom Pehn, and there were not as many villages along the river, or as much activity. There was also not much to look at, so the ride was quite boring. The final hour of the ride became more interesting, as there were some villages along the river, where we could see more water buffalo, stacks of hay, and of course plenty of children playing and swimming in the water along the riverbanks. Everyone we saw along the river, but children and adults, seemed to be quite happy and extremely friendly, as they enthusiastically smiled and waved to us as we moved past along the river.

We finally made it to the boat docking station which was located about an hour outside of Phnom Penh, and we were to take a minibus the rest of the way into the city. We were happy to find that the minibus was nice, clean, and well air-conditioned, so the ride into the city was at least going to be a comfortable one. The beginning of the ride into the city was rough, as we moved along slowly on a bumpy dirt road past small rustic stilt houses and shops. Although we knew that the country had been ravaged by civil war, had suffered greatly under the hands of Pol Pot in the 1980s, and subsequently its roads and infrastructure were some of the worst in Asia, we didn't have a clear conception of what the country would look like. We sat quietly during the ride, conjecturing how developed Cambodia would be, as we were a bit shocked to see the lack of development so close to the center of the capital and largest city in the country. After about ten minutes of travel we already saw a drastic improvement in the development of the buildings along the road, and the road itself was significantly better as well, transitioning from a simple dirt road to pavement after a few kilometers. After a few more minutes of driving, we arrived near the city center where we were greeted by traffic lights, well-paved roads, and a modern-looking infrastructure, complete with gas stations and convenience stores that looked like they could have come straight off of any street corner in the US. It was really quite shocking to see such a drastic change in development in such a short time, but at the same time we were selfishly comforted by the fact that we would be able to enjoy the comforts of modernity.

We had the driver stop the minibus near Boeng Kak Lake, whose banks were surrounded by a network of narrow alleyways, shops, restaurants, and guest houses, and serves as the heart of the backpacker district in Phnom Penh. We were greeted there by a few hawkers, and we trusted them to bring us to a clean guest house with cheap rooms--which they did. We settled into our room, ordered some food and beer, and made conversation with a Swedish guy while eating. The atmosphere of the guest house there was really cool--we found that it was actually built out over the lake, with a nice open-air deck that stretched over the water and was filled with tables and chairs which were filled with a variety of different people who were eating, chatting, playing pool, and mingling freely. A good mix of music played all night, and the main common room had a large-screen TV with a DVD player and wide selection of DVDs that insured movies would be playing all day and night as well. We watched the movie "W" but afterwards felt tired after a whole day of traveling, so we turned in for the night.

Posted by heidigras 04:00 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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