We were a bit unlucky the first couple of days while entering and travelling in Cambodia. It already started at the border when a very grumpy and unpleasant officer at the border stopped us. He refused to let us into the country with the motorbikes and stubbornly insisted that we needed a Carnet De Passage, which we knew wasn’t needed for Cambodia. We first told him that Carnet De Passage is not required for Cambodia but he persistently told us that he wouldn’t let us in without it. Though we had a Carnet we kept saying that we didn’t as we heard it could be a problem getting it stamped when leaving the country. We thought he would eventually let us pass without a Carnet, but no way, he was grumpy and stubborn as hell. After some time we gave up and we decided to use the Carnet, as it looked that we wouldn’t have a choice. We made a quick decision that Anders would take the Carnet to the officer, as he is much at better keeping calm than I am when around idiots. He showed the officer the Carnet De Passage with the list of countries that require a Carnet and that Cambodia was not included. Instead of letting us in the country he told Anders that it was the wrong Carnet but as we were well aware, there is only one Carnet and it is the one we have. Anders had to beg, smile and beg again and eventually the grumpy guy, who was probably at this time very tired of Anders, stamped the Carnet and let us pass.
When passing the border’s gate we could see that he had gone back to his hammock and was nearly asleep. Honestly, I was so very close to giving him the finger (I know, very grown up… not) when riding past him but I could hear Anders saying repeatedly, don’t do it, don’t do it…. he knows me far too well 😉
The escape from the mob
Another incident that wasn’t very pleasant was when I ended up in a traffic accident. In a small village that we passed through, a girl on a small motorcycle ran into me from behind. She fell off her bike and hurt her leg. It only took a few seconds and we were surrounded by lots of men, probably close to 30. The only guy who seemed to speak a little bit of English told me, in a not very nice way that I had to pay 200 dollars. I tried to explain that it wasn’t my fault as the girl ran into me. I even showed them the small mark that her bike had made on my pannier. After a while it started to get really nasty and while a man tried to get my attention another one tried to remove the scratch on my pannier that could prove that the girl ran into me and not vice versa. I shouted “what the hell are you doing?” and the man stopped at once but then it was another man who tried to do the same. This time I used a language that is not for print… I guess this was not the cleverest thing to do while surrounded by all these aggressive men. As I looked for the girl I realised that she had disappeared but the men still wanted 200 dollars. At this moment I actually started to get a little bit worried, as the police hadn’t turned up, the girl was gone, the crowd was getting bigger and bigger and some of the men tried to put their hands on my bike. We made a quick decision to put on our helmets. We started the engines and since we were completely surrounded by the mob I remember that I shouted to Anders, go go go… I was giving the engine a lot of throttle and then let the clutch go a little bit too fast but I managed to keep the bike on two wheels. The men must have managed to throw themselves away from the bike, as I didn’t run anyone over. At this time I can assure you that I was very glad that I had my large BMW. With my heart pounding very hard we were riding too fast for the road conditions and trying to avoid the most hazardous potholes. We had also one guy following us for a while but again we were pleased to have our big bikes that were faster than his and luckily the traffic wasn’t too bad. The rest of the day we were terrified of being stopped by the police. I guess it would have been difficult convincing them that it wasn’t my fault, when about 30 men pleading the opposite…not sure how long the sentence would be for a hit and run in Cambodia… eek!!!
I’m still thinking of the girl and what happened to her. I guess and hope that she is all right. She must have been able to walk away from the place. Maybe she didn’t want to be involved in the hoax the men tried on us, I guess I will never know.
After our lucky escape from the mob we headed towards Cambodia’s capital city Phnom Penh on very dusty and bumpy roads. When approaching the city the traffic was getting worse and more intense. We soon became aware that Phnom Penh is a crazy city and the traffic is horrendous. We had to share the roads with thousands of Tuk-tuks, motorbikes, cars, enormous lorries, small children begging for money, dogs, you name it. Not only that, but there were also potholes in all sizes and shapes and some filled with water. This along with being surrounded by lots of vehicles made it impossible to avoid some of the potholes. We could only hope that the ones we went into weren’t too deep and didn’t have sharp edges. This together with bad pollution, dust and heat made the ride a very unpleasant one. However, we rode this road several times after that so we got used to it.
In Phnom Penh we visited Killing Fields, Choeung Ek and the Tuol Svay (More info with the photos). Of course these are not the most pleasant tourist attractions to visit but I felt obliged to visit the place to show my respect for the people who died in such an awful way. I have never been very interested in history, I’m more interested in the present but visiting these places in both Laos and Cambodia has made me realise that humanity need to be aware of the past so we can avoid future genocides. The most awful thing though is that it is still happening, as I write this, in several places in the world.
After Phnom Penh we headed down to Sihanoukville, in the south Cambodia where we at last saw the sea again. Sihanoukville is really a tourist place but we found a hotel (The Small Hotel) outside the tourist area, which was absolute fantastic. It was so good that instead of staying the two nights we had planned, we ended up staying for ten nights. Henrik, the owner of the hotel, was hilarious and we spent many hours laughing together and had many interesting discussions with him, his staff and some of the other guests in the hotel. The hotel felt much more like a person’s home than a hotel, except that it was cleaner and the food was to die for. This was the first time we actually had a proper lazy holiday and I managed to stay on the beach for two hours each day before getting bored. While in Sihanoukville Anders finally dared to go to the dentist to sort his tooth out, which he had cracked in Mongolia several months earlier. Anders got his crown and was happy as a clam at full tide.
After the ten days in Sihanoukville we headed north again, this time to Siem Reap. Anders wanted to see Anchor Vat. It certainly felt great to be on the road again and not knowing what’s ahead of you.
It took us two days to get to Siem Reap. We had to travel through Phnom Penh again which meant hours in traffic jams but we decided to not stop in the city, instead we went a bit further and stayed in a guesthouse in a small village.
Siem Reap is a lovely place but far too many tourists for my liking. In Siem Reap we visited Angkor Wat, which is a Buddhist temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world. We had heard that one of the main attractions is to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat from the east gate, so we booked a tuk-tuk for 4.30 in the morning and we were very excited when we took off. We thought that this early there wouldn’t be so many people, but we were completely wrong. The closer we got to the place the more crowded the roads become. When we finally arrived at the gate there were thousands of people with cameras waiting for the sun to rise, but it was a complete disappointment. I only took a couple of pictures of it, then I started to photograph the tourists instead who stood there lined up with their cameras, which was so much more fun.
After Siem Reap we went to the city Battang Bang, which felt so much more genuine. There were hardly any tourists and the city was so relaxed and with very friendly people. After a few days it was, after about four weeks, time to head for the border and Thailand.
After one night in a village we arrived at the border and I was pretty worried that I would see a picture of myself with the word WANTED underneath…. Probably not the way they do it nowadays but I get easily carried away…. However, we managed to get out of Cambodia and when we saw the sign for Thailand I must say that I was rather relieved.
Though we might not have had the best start when arriving to Cambodia it certainly changed after a few days. Cambodia is such a wonderful, chaotic and crazy country where the people have the most beautiful smiles. You quickly learn not to trust anyone but that seems to be the game and surprisingly I even liked that after a while.
Random photographs from Cambodia