Sunday, January 1, 2012

Cambodia, 04-12-2011 - 16-12-2011

Cambodia today and in a few years
On our road through Cambodia we had a constant feeling that we were too late to visit this wonderful country or just on time to come there.
First of all we were disappointed to discover perfect asphalt roads in the areas where we expected to drive on gravel, if not on mud roads. In some places the nature is already dramatically replaced by concrete and asphalt. Chinese and Russian investors have found a perfect country for rich tourists - the new casinos and hotels are growing fast replacing the nature and changing the face of this charming country.
We were too late to discover a ghost town which was a former Hill Station. Hundred years ago this place was a popular French resort with hotel, church and school. It was abandoned two times and finally became a ghost town which attracted tourists who were not afraid of bad road conditions. But a good asphalt road guided us not to a mysterious abandoned place it once was, but to a new construction site where huge modern buildings are growing to fulfill soon the needs of rich tourists. Among those scary giant constructions we were still able to find a beautiful church which is now used as a shelter for construction workers. We could still walk around the remains of a school and a few other abandoned buildings searching for the traces of the glorious past. The ghost hotel, the biggest tourists attraction, was already under reconstruction and we were just on time to see from distance its ancient beauty hidden not only under the moss but also under scaffolds and fence. In a few years it will be just one of the fancy hotels in the area.
But we were just on time to discover a very pure and primitive island called Rabbit island. There were no roads and no vehicles, only a few fishing boats could be spotted next to the beach. There were no hotels, only a few huts built along the coast. There were no shops, banks or internet cafes, only a few primitive bars and massage tables. The generator was the only source of power and was running only from sunset to 11 or 12 pm, depending on when the last tourist would finish his beer. And there were almost no tourists on the island! We spent a great evening there with locals, having barbecue on the beach, drinking beer, chatting and playing beer games. We had a fire on the beach and were swimming among shining plankton.
Just before leaving this peaceful paradise we heard a sad rumour that the island is sold to Russian investors who are planning to transform it to a comfortable and modern resort with hotels and casinos!
We were also just on time to visit some still very remote areas in Northern Cambodia which contain many ancient temples and traces of ancient cities, but are not yet overcrowded by tourists. Maybe because the area is remote and just recently cleaned up from landmines.
Even thought Cambodia is changing fast, it will take some time for locals to change under the influence of booming tourism. We were very happy to meet one more warm and welcome nation in the world. Cambodians still have no tourists orientated smiles and keep pure and not money oriented interest in tourists which is different from the feeling we got in Thailand.

The nicest day in Cambodia
Even thought each day was nice in Cambodia, for an adventure seeker Johan the nicest day was the day when we fell with the bike for the first time during our trip.
It happened when we were visiting the sites related with Khmer Rouge era located in the Northern part of country. It was a very remote area and we ended up on a sandy road which doesn't see many tourists and has a lot of holes. After visiting the remains of the house of Pol Pot and his grave covered by garbage we fell on the most challenging part of the road. On the steepest part Johan lost his balance and couldn't reach the ground with his feet. The falling down was like in slow motion - first the bike, then Johan and only then Milda with the camera in her hand.
Of course nothing happened to us as we were almost standing still. Also the camera was instinctively saved. The bike and panniers didn't have damages either, just a few small scratches on the sides. But when we lifted the bike with the help of few locals Johan couldn't start it! Fortunately, there was a local man who guided us to Pol Pot's house, he went back to the town to bring a mechanic.
We fell next to the door of a poor family's house and our small accident was the biggest event of the year for them, their neighbours and especially their kids. While Johan was searching for a reason, reading the bike's manual and sending SOS messages to Holland for advices (thanks, Bjorn!), Milda could observe the family. Two small boys were so happy walking around the bike and touching it, impressed by its size and us, two blonds sitting on it. A very cute little girl was playing with twigs and leaves next to the bike. Once in a while she went to her mother who was sitting on the ground to be breastfed while the mother was searching for the bugs in the little girl's hair. Their world looked so different from ours - not worse or better, just totally different!

Everything went so smoothly on our trip, maybe even too smoothly, that finally it was nice to have our falling with the bike kind of story!

The country that touched Milda's heart
Despite its fast changes Cambodia is still a very pure and special country. Its charm is mainly based on local people and after a very short time Milda felt a big sympathy for Cambodians. This sympathy was influenced by every small detail we faced on our road.
It was impossible to hold the smile while seeing Cambodian ladies fashion to wear pajamas during the day. Their reason of wearing it because of cold mornings and too hot sun during the day sounds so innocent when you see their pajamas decorated with teddy bears and bunnies. Cambodian children are the cutest and the most natural creatures. We enjoyed so much seeing them running naked in the street, playing with wooden or plastic handmade toys or picking up the lilies in the lake.
Their chorus of "Hello" was the nicest music for our ears while driving through the villages! Less pleasant but still very charming was the music of cocks-alarms very early in the morning. We could hear it even in the big cities of Cambodia - the village life is so close to the city life!
But the most touching was the dramatic and so recent past of Cambodian people. We couldn't stay indifferent witnessing the cruelty of Khmer Rouge regime. Whenever we went we could hear or see the traces of this black spot in the country's history - somebody told us the story of all his family being killed, somebody begged for money because he was unable to work with one leg or arm lost in a landmine field.
Realising  that people who went through hell and back can be so friendly and warm touched our hearts the most!

Today is the right moment to visit changing Cambodia and fill your heart up with warmth and love, so hurry up!

Some numbers:
KMs driven in total: 23 600
KMs driven during this period: 2800
Money spent during this period: 510 euros


  1. Thanks for the story, guys :) Would love to visit Combodia one day, maybe after all this craziness ends at Samui island :) Miss you already!

  2. Hoi luitjes

    DE allerbeste wensen voor 2012
    een goeie reis
    groetjes uit rooy NOud will Kim Milou en Lars