10th June 2005 Left Thailand at Aranyaprathet, having successfully avoided visa scams, and had a smooth border crossing into Cambodia, entering at Poipet - a busy and dusty border town with the majority of transport being men pulling carts loaded sky-high with goods. 11th Jun - 19th Jun Based in Siem Reap, we spent a week exploring many of the temples and buildings of the Angkor complex from the old Khmer empire (IX to XV centuries). Some days we hired bicycles and braved the Siem Reap traffic. Other days we hired a Cambodian tuk-tuk and Poli chauffered us between sites in our horse-and-carriage of the modern world (replace horse with motorbike). On no days did we miss out on the best shakes in the world (in our considered opinion) at Sunien's Drinks Shop. On the rare occasion where the heat hadn't dehydrated us despite 4 litres of water each, Roger indulged in a beer (Angkor beer - what else?!), while Susana chose the coconut option.
The temples, starting at 4km from Siem Reap, were impressive: Angkor Wat is a huge structure - the main building is roughly 200m x 200m (taking over 15 mins to walk around it in the heat) and there's a 600m stone causeway leading up to it from the moat. Other temples we visited include: Bayon, which has loads of huge stone faces carved into the towers; Ta Phrom, which is particularly atmospheric as it has been left in a partially restored state, complete with trees and tree roots intertwined with the stone structure just like in those old "Tarzan and the Lost City" films (or for the more recently-inclined, it's where they filmed "Tomb-Raider"); Banteay Srei, which is further afield, but intricately carved and the Roulos Group which contains some of the earliest temples in the area.
Paid a visit to the Landmine Museum (www.cambodialandminemuseum.org) to see the various plastic and metal mines (still one of the biggest ! killers in Cambodia in certain provinces) dug up and deactivated by Aki Ra - a one man mission to clear Cambodia of mines. One of the many mine victims in this country (one of the lucky ones to have a prosthetic limb), having lost one leg, a brother and a sister at the age of 8, showed us round the mock (we hope) minefield. We also went to a cello concert by Beatocello (performed by a Swiss doctor "Beat") (www.beatocello.com) who runs the 3 independent children's hospitals in Cambodia. 20th June - 22nd June Headed to eastern Cambodia - reaching central Cambodia and discovered that the boat service up the Mekong has currently been replaced by buses (do they float?). Saw a few 8th-10th century Khmer temples on the outskirts of Kompong Thom. After admiring the old French colonial buildings in Kompong Cham, we took a 5 hour bus trip to Kratie with a driver who seemed to have an intimate relationship with the horn. Any excuse seemed okay to sound the horn - cars, bicycles, pedestrians, water buffalo, dogs, birds, in fact even an empty road seemed to suffice! 23rd June Click here for details of our epic car journey from Kratie to Ban Lung, Ratanakiri province. 24th June - 27th June Spent a few days exploring the area around Ban Lung by hired bicycles, visiting waterfalls, a beautiful crater lake, past cashew plantations, rubber plantations and all manner of weird and wacky vehicles cobbled together (or taken apart?). Given the frequency and strength of rainfall, we decided against our original plan of a trip to the Virachay National Park, but spent an informative time meeting up with some of the NGOs working for the national park (Stephane in particular). Roger took up an invitation to help the NGOs defeat the local side in their weekly football match at the airfield! His arrival at the, already started, match turned the game and he was unofficially awarded 'Man of the Match!'. A new career, perhaps? 28th June - 29th June Not-so-epic car journey from Ban Lung to Kratie. Now wiser, we ensured we went back in a pick-up (inside, still squashed). It was a reasonably uneventful trip, just the usual explosion (locals told us an unexploded US bomb uncovered during roadworks) to wait for and lack of Bridge Number Four. No problem. A short wait for the former, and a Cambodian improvised ferry for the latter (see pic). Just 10 hours for this trip! Went to see the endangered Irrawaddy freshwater dolphins (about 80 left in Cambodia) near Kratie (17 died last year from pollution and fishing nets) before they are no more. Feasted on miscellaneous tropical fruits (English names not known) whilst watching the rainy season progress. 30th June Boarded a decrepit minibus for Snuol, along a nice tarmac road, only to have the driveshaft (deja vu?) fall apart as we drove along. Fortunately, it must be a common occurrence, for the chap sitting on the roof leaped down, grabbed his toolkit and was instantly under the car bolting things back together again. Not as fatal as last time - nothing sheared, just bolts gone missing (surely not scrap value?). At Snuol we changed to a pickup (inside again) ready loaded with furniture, live catfish, chickens (dead and alive), eggs, tobacco, vegetables, and a backpacker. We had the fortune of witnessing the unofficial record for most people and goods possible to squeeze onto, into, around, and hanging-on-the-back-of a pickup (see pic). There was barely room for a credit card between the wheel and the wheel-arch. After an uneventful 3 hour trip past forested, and not-so-forested (logged) areas we arrived in Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri province, where we discovered that we were staying with a lady who had survived the harsh Khmer Rouge years (1975-1979), unlike the couple of million of Cambodians who died, by making their clothes. 1st July - 3rd July Saw a few more waterfalls, including the impressive Bou Sra waterfall with its double cascades, and visited the local Phnong people (currently in dispute with a Chinese company over land), and partook of some rice wine. 4th July - 6th July Squeezed into another pickup to Phnom Penh, arriving in the nation's capital in our dusty, as usual fully-laden, pickup seven hours later. Visited Tuol Sleng museum, previously a school and then the infamous centre for torture during the Khmer Rouge regime and then the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, where thousands of the Khmer Rouge's victims were discovered in mass graves. Susana observed that Phnom Penh has changed from sleepy, laid-back capital six years ago to the full-on hustle and bustle of a modern busy city (though not all roads are tarmac yet) with plenty of good bars and restaurants. 7th July - 8th July Took a spacious air-con'd bus to Sihanoukville for a relaxing couple of days in a bungalow overlooking the beach. 9th July Epic journey #3. Sihanoukville to Trat (Thailand). Started smoothly with tarmac road past picturesque paddy fields, but soon deteriorated once the dirt road began. Heavy rains had turned much of the road into thick mud (particularly where teenagers were operating those huge roadworking vehicles), which our skilled driver miraculously worked his way through (unlike one unfortunate car that was well and truly stuck). Even the wipers worked on this air-con'd minibus. We passed over fo! ur ferries (two were Cambodian improvised style, but bigger and two more 'normal') taking over seven hours to go 180km. Once across the border to Thailand and back on tarmac, we soon made it to Trat and a good night's sleep.