CAMBODIA – a complete travel guide

“…now you can go where people are one
Now you can go where they get things done
What you need my son:
Is a holiday in Cambodia
Where people dress in black
A holiday in Cambodia
Where you’ll kiss ass or crack…”

This is an excerpt from the song “Holiday in Cambodia” by the US band “The Dead Kennedys”. Being a punk band, the lyrics are meant to grate on you in their very cynical way; and as a matter of fact, Cambodia has always been a synonym for murder and destruction and by no means a holiday destination; apart from Angkor, Asia’s most important sanctuary, that has been a World Heritage Cultural site since 1992.

Two monks admiring the model of Angkor Wat at the Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot at Phnom Penh
Also, monks were prosecuted during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Only when my friend Philippe told me about his plans of travelling to Cambodia, I took into consideration that it might be an interesting destination and a country worth exploring. I decided following his example.

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PHNOM PENH – Cambodia’s provincial capital

Phnom Penh hasn’t much to impress – hence it surprises by being probably world’s most provincial city with more than two millions inhabitants.

Phnom Penh
One of the main streets of Phnom Penh – still having a certain provincial flair.

It’s rare to travel a country and not missing much by avoiding its capital. Actually there are tourists who do not make it to Phnom Penh: They go from Bangkok to Siem Reap and from there straight to Sihanoukville from where they cross the border to Vietnam via Kampot and Kep; and that’s it.

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Guide to SIHANOUKVILLE

Sihanoukville has no great reputation as a beach destination – particularly with European tourists and travellers.

Beach at Sihanoukville in the Sunset, Cambodia

The beach at Sihanoukville is great for a couple of relaxing days.

But I find that already this picture shows that Sihanoukville absolutely has its nice corners and can be the perfect gateway to various great locations.

 

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KOH RONG & KOH RONG SAMLOEM

While Sihanoukville has a rather bad reputation as a beach destination, travellers are raving about Koh Rong and mainly the much smaller Koh Rong Samloem, two islands off the coast of Sihanoukville.

Koh Rong

Truth of the matter is that it’s irrelevant which island you’re on, the right beach is key: While the area around Koah Touch – Koh Rong’s main jetty – and Saracen Beach on Koh Rong Samloem are terrible dumpsters, Sok San Beach on Koh Rong’s west side and Lazy Beach on Koh Rong Samloem are dreamy and Edenic.

 

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Guide to KEP

Kep is located about 20 km / 12.5 miles from the Vietnamese border and maybe that’s the reason why it isn’t as popular as it could be.

Kep Crab Statue
There is even a crab greeting the visitors in Kep.

Because Kep has much more to offer than many people think – especially those who just come here for the next leg of their journey.

I spent one day here and that was only because I didn’t have more time. Kep is absolutely worth a visit of three to four days, especially if you also go to the secluded Rabbit island.

 

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KAMPOT and THANSUR BOKOR

Actually Kampot was my favorite place in Cambodia. But that’s because it is exactly how I like cities when I travel: used to some tourism so that people don’t stare at me like the circus came to town. And not overrun by travellers so that people are oblivious or even annoyed.

Kampot in Cambodia

Kampot’s elegant promenade.

It’s the perfect mix, and one day was far too short.

But since I had only three weeks for Cambodia, I had to choose and divide my time square and fair.

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i am not a dark tourist, the world is a somber place

Arriving in Sri Lanka end of January this year, it struck me that over the past one and a half years, this was the third country with a really dreadful past that I was travelling.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Rijeka Croatia
Visiting a country and learning about its history can lead you to quite dark places. 

I’m not talking ’bout Stalingrad and WWII. No, here, dreadful past has been so recent that I do remember it being present, watching the news as a child.

How is that even possible? Am I subconsciously searching for terror and horror? Am I a dark tourist? Or is the world, sadly, just a quite somber place?

So between November 2017 and February 2019, I’ve been i. a. in Cambodia, Croatia, and now Sri Lanka. Albeit all three are beautiful countries with a rich cultural heritage, breathtaking sceneries, and very friendly people, I knew about them mainly from the news. Bad news. Civil wars. People slaughtering each other. Ethnic cleansing. Unspeakable things.
And actually, at least in the blogging community, I seem to be one of the very few travel writers mentioning these things – and explaining backgrounds in the measure they are explainable.

I wonder why that is. Isn’t also a somber side of a country still a side of that place? It certainly has an impact on the locals – I mean, I’m talking about conflicts that took place in the 1970s and even more recently.

The other day, a woman got defensive in a travel group on facebook: That specific page wouldn’t be about politics. How can a travel group possibly not be about politics? Even if you are an airhead who doesn’t really care on which beach you’re hanging out – already that is a political statement; and a very bold one.

Ex-Yugoslavia

When you go to Dubrovnik, you actually don’t need to take a Game of Thrones tour to get goosebumps: In 1991 and 1992, the city has been under siege for more than seven months – this is far more spine-tingling than any fiction.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Dubrovnik Croatia Dalmatia
The Graves of Croatian soldiers who died in the Croatian war between 1991 and 1994 shows that there has been more violence than GoT shows.


Although I was born in Czechoslovakia, I do have a German passport and I’m based in Germany; in a country that initiated two world wars and left a bloody trace throughout the European continent. Albeit WWII ended 74 years ago, Germany is packed with memorials and these Stolpersteine*, tripping stones, located in front of houses where Jewish people used to live – Germany seems to be in a neverending process of coming to terms with its past.

Stolpersteine vor der ehemaligen Villa der Familie Nussbaum
The “Stolpersteine” – tripping stones – remembering German painter Felix Nussbaum and his parents in front of their erstwhile villa at the Schlosstrasse 11 in Osnabrück. All three of them were murdered at the concentration camp in Auschwitz.

Maybe that’s the reason why I was so shocked that other countries like the former Yugoslavian people where ethnic cleansing took place, too, villages including their inhabitants were basically erased, people were put in camps….crimes very similar to those that German soldiers committed….they seem to have moved on so quickly and easily; and visitors seem to be totally unconcerned by this recent history.

Southeast Asia

In Sri Lanka, where the civil war ended only ten years ago so that many of the victims, as well as the perpetrators, must be around, you don’t notice anything if you don’t want to. You basically have to search for traces and scars – in books, in the media like for instance the award-winning documentary called Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, produced by the British TV station Channel 4. Before I opened this link on YouTube, I was asked twice if I wanted to continue due to the more than disturbing images this documentary contains.
This film shows events that happened where now package tourist groups are enjoying their vacation.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Nuwara Eliya Sri Lanka
Judging from these placards, picking tea is not the fanciest trade; a job mostly done by the Tamil minority.

What to me is far more irritating, though, is the fact that even individual travellers, backpackers, flashpacker – my peers – don’t seem to be aware – let alone care.

However, it’s a bit different in Viet Nam. You must be living under a gigantic rock if you haven’t heard about the Viet Nam war – respectively the American war, as the Vietnamese call it. And probably that’s exactly the point: This war has been covered by the media also because the United States were involved.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Dummies at Cu Chi tunnels Vietnam
Irritatingly, the Cu Chi memorial is a bit Disney Land-ish: Viet Cong dummies at your disposal. You can buy some of their attire at the gift shop.

So people know and most visitors are going to see the Cu Chi Tunnels which according to my experience is a farce – I wrote an entire post about how I perceived this theme park.

In Viet Nam’s neighboring country Cambodia, things are a bit different: No trip to Phnom Penh is complete without a visit to the Tuol Sleng prison and the Killing Fields. It’s good that here, the horrific genocide against the own people is documented – however, I found it more than disturbing that it is referred to as an attraction.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Choeung Ek Killing Fields Cambodia
Yes, there are still bones. And there are rags that the people were wearing when they were murdered.

When you advertise for an infamous place like this as if it was just another tourist attraction, you cannot be surprised that people treat it that way: Everyone takes pictures of the victims’ skulls that are stacked in a stupa.
Why?
While I understand that in a Buddhist country it has a meaning storing these remains in a stupa, I presume that no one needs to see a picture to understand that these people were killed. When you visit and you see the mass graves and the tree they smashed the babies and you listen to the audio guide, you really don’t need a picture of a tower of skulls.
I don’t like the idea that the remains of these poor victims are being used to get the creeps.
Whatever happened to R.I.P.?

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Choeung Ek Killing Fields Cambodia
Most people take pictures of the skulls that are on display at the Choeung Ek Pagoda as a memorial for those who were murdered there. To me, these pictures have something almost voyeuristic to it. Everybody knows that we have skulls and what they look like.
I find that a sign that stops you from trampling on mass graves underlines the horror in a much deeper way.

Colonial Heritage

Whether Viet Nam, Cambodia, or Sri Lanka, the internal differences that lead to conflicts and eventually to wars were seeded by colonialism: The Portuguese came, exploited, imposed their language and religion and what not on the people until the Dutch took over and later the Britons.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Galle Fort Sri Lanka
Agreed, colonial architecture – like this wall around the Galle Fort in Sri Lanka, built by the Dutch – is pretty. But the historical and political background is much less so.

Actually, there was little tension among Sri Lanka’s ethnic groups. The conflict between the Sinhalese and the Tamils was fueled by the British Governors of what used to be their crown colony Ceylon: They filled governmental positions with Tamil officials and a Tamil, Ponnambalam Arunachalam, was even appointed a representative in the national legislative council of both – the Tamils as well as the Sinhalese. Naturally, this lead to a counterblow by the Sinhalese who began to discriminate against the Tamils who then intended to establish an independent state on Sri Lankan grounds, Tamil Eelam. Point is, if the British didn’t mess things up in the first place, the mutual adversity wouldn’t have been there or at least not to the point of a civil war.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Foto Shoot in front of Notre Dame at HCMC Viet Nam - Vietnam - Ho Chi MInh City HCMC - Notre Dame
French colonial landmark Notre Dame cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City, once called Saigon.
that besides the name has nothing in common with the Parisian relative: instead of Gothic,
 this one is built in a neo-roman style from stones imported from Marseille.

Same goes for Indochine, i.e. what now is Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Laos: The French settled down, introduced what for them was the savoir vivre, brought their culture including Catholicism which divided the people. Some wanted to become some sort of an Asian version of Europe, others wanted to preserve local culture and heritage. Together with first European and later US-American economic and mostly political interests, it was an – literally – explosive mix.

Unfortunately, Europeans didn’t have the wish to explore, they felt the urge to conquer – and many Asian, African, and Latin American countries are still suffering from the ramifications.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Belem Lisbon Portugal
Monuments like this one in Belem heroize the brave men who set out to crusades but never mention how they behaved at their final destination. What happens in the colony stays in the colony.
Sad.

Conclusion

I do not want to botch things up for anybody and of course, nobody is obliged to dig in the past. It’s just that to me, every aspect of a country I’m visiting is relevant because I’m convinced that it has an impact on the locals – the locals I’m dealing with so obliquely also on me. And since I’m a travel blogger and do want to inform people as good as I can, these information are also part of my guides.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Statue of Leopold II at  Brussels
There are still voices claiming Leopold’s great deeds for Brussels. That’s a bit like when people are praising Adolf Hitler for construction of the Autobahn. Merits that are drowning in the blood of the people aren’t merits at all.

Being a traveller, I am responsible for where I’m going and how I travel.

Being a travel blogger takes this responsibility to a whole different level.

But do you know what’s nice?
In the countries I’m referring to in this post, the terror and the wars and the bloodshed are over.
Some of them could still work a bit on freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but now, in 2019, we can pay them touristy visits –
and that’s a silver lining on my personal horizon**.

* You can learn more about the historic, political art project Stolpersteine on this site.


** I’m very sad that by the time this post has been written, a terrible terrorist attack overshadowed the positive development on the beautiful island of Sri Lanka. I feel very deeply for all these wonderful people that I met on my recent trip.







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CAMBODIAN DIARY – 8th CHAPTER – Conclusion in Siem Reap

So this is the final chapter of my Cambodian Diary and I intended to call it ‘Climax in Siem Reap’ since I expected this stop to be this journey’s highlight – and because I was counting on the sexual connotation to rocket me up the search engines.

Angkor Wat
The world famous reflection can be captured as well at 7 a. m.

But as a matter of fact, Siem Reap was not this trip’s most memorable part; and even Angkor was only one of the highlights. But that’s definitely a personal story. Here’s a roundup of four days in Cambodia’s tourist hot spot.

Yesterday I felt bad. I felt ignorant: Contrary to expectations Angkor did not blow me away.
I think it’s because the expectations were too high after all the hype there is about it. I felt like such a jaded snob who thinks to have seen it all since I’ve remembered how enchanted I was by the temple site in Sukhothai. Was the spell broken? Will I never be mesmerized by temple ruins again?

Today, having been back to Angkor to do the long circuit, I realized that yesterday’s oblivion wasn’t on me. At least not totally.

(Note: This diary entry goes backwards)

Angkor – Day 2

“You should go to Machu Picchu.” I turn around and there is a very handsome guy, blasé latino type. “I’ve been to Machu Picchu”, I inform him, “and I was very impressed. Actually so impressed that I cried. But I think it’s because of the height: You can see the whole complex at once on these mist covered mountains – you feel so close to heaven. Where are you from, anyway?” “From Perú.” Ok, that explains it all.

Preah Khan
Just one example of the finest craftsmanship at Preah Khan, one of the most intriguing temples in Angkor and definitely the highlight of the long circuit.

And yes, here we have reason #1 why Angkor didn’t take me in storm and brought me to tears like Machu Picchu did: It’s a really, really vast area with lots of jungle-ish parts, rice paddies, rows of hawker shops and restaurants between the temples’ remnants, so that you are meandering from ruin to ruin – that are undoubtably all very nice and impressive, each and every one in its own way, but there is not the overwhelming effect of seeing it at once in all its glory. I sort of expected that.

Preah Khan
The Khmer’s architectural abilities were amazing:
Preah Khan consist of four absolutely symmetrical
hallways with countless doors.

Reason #2 were the masses of people – at least yesterday, when I did the so-called short circuit that everybody does since it includes i. a. the famous Angkor Wat. Everybody means hordes, especially Chinese performing stampedes, pushing people aside and occupying merciless the most beautiful spots with never ending shootings of the most ridiculous poses.

I mean, you are basically climbing very dusty rocks in a hellish heat. These chicks were wearing cute summer dresses with strappy sandals, using this rich heritage simply to stage themselves, spurred on by the directing yells of their photographing husbands. And they are always in big, very noisy crowds, so they are very hard to ignore.

That, my friends, has a very disenchanting impact.

Preah Khan
Miracles do happen at Preah Khan!
I don’t know how the guard did it – it’s just the light incidence in the building’s very center.

Today I did the long circuit which is more expensive, but less popular and much less crowded, and look at this, I was happily frolicking on moss covered rocks and under scarily fixed constructions. No groups! Just individual travellers like me – we all had a good time and I do not worry about my ability to appreciate beautiful things anymore.

Preah Khan Lake
Eventually did come the moment that I almost cried: When I saw the glittering lake at Preah Khan.

Angkor – Day 1

First Angkor-day – long anticipated, and that is probably reason #3 for my initial indifference: Angkor simply couldn’t meet my expectations that everybody had triggered so much. I expected I would be ready to faint; but I was not.

I arrived on the site at approximately 5:30 a. m. to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat. Great idea. Great idea that I had shared with a couple of hundreds other early birds who arrived from all sides mostly in tuk-tuks, but also in cars, vans, motorcycles and even bicycles. These hundreds of people crossed in the pitch dark a plastic bridge that felt like a bouncy castle towards Angkor Wat. And then we were standing there staring towards the temple while the eager hawkers were noisily advertising all sort of goods including the only reasonable one: hot coffee.

Angkor Wat
5:30 in the morning, and there were so many early birds – whole flocks of them.

Standing there staring for a while, it became evident that this day there would be no proper sunrise. Of course the sun did rise, it was not the end of the world after all, but it did its job bashfully hidden behind clouds.

Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat: Up where we belong.

As soon as I realized that, I left the crowds and went into the temple. Let me tell you, at 5:45 a. m. you find yourself even at Angkor Wat with about two handful of other pessimists who gave up the idea of a sunrise. It’s a perfect timing: No groups, no crowds. The central tower that now can be more or less comfortably climbed over wooden stairs (still very steep!) opens at 6:40 a. m., I was in line at 6:25 – about twenty people before me, perfect timing. Today I’ve met a guy who had had to wait for three hours since they let in a hundred people at a time max.

Angkor Wat
Temple with a view.

But Angkor Wat, although the largest and most of all best-preserved complex, is by far not my favorite temple.

Angkor Wat - Dancers
Even in the early morning the mood’s in full swing at Angkor Wat.

I liked Bayon with all these mellow, chubby Khmer-faces much better and also the Baphuon complex with the beautiful elephant-terrace is very alluring.

Wat Bayon
Wat Bayon – short before the Chinese tourist groups arrived.

Wat Buophon - Elephant terrace
Just two examples of the many, many elephants decorating this terrace – and they are all different.

The most enchanted, almost bewitched temple was today’s last stop: Ta Prohm, where nature really reconquered what men had wrested from earth.

Ta Prohm
A tree growing over Ta Prohm’s fence.
Please notice the exquisite reliefs on the wall.

Ta Prohm
These roots have a firm grip on the remains of Ta Prohm’s structures.

Ta Prohm
There is always room for shenanigans: squeezing myself into a hollow trunk.

Siem Reap – Day 2: Outing to the countryside

Since my guest house offers tours to all the points of interest at the same price like most of the tuk tuk-drivers (after what I’ve heard along the trip), I agreed with them on three tours: Angkor short circuit including sun rise, Angkor longe circuit and a trip to the Roluos temples and the Kompong Phluk floating village.

Angkor Wat - North Gate
This is adorable Mr. Syna who took good care
of me the entire three days.

8 a. m., Mr. Syna is waiting and ready to go and the first thing I do is I misbehave.

Yesterday I had cycled to the sales point for the Angkor tickets and told them I wanted to go on the 4th and 5th to Angkor Wat. The lady told me to buy my ticket from the 2nd of December since it’s valid for 10 days, but no, I knew it better and told her to make it work from the 4th.

You should know they are super-strict with the tickets, they even have your picture on it and if you falsify it, you pay 100 bucks penalty per day.

So I had a ticket but didn’t know that it was not exclusively for Angkor Wat, but for many other sites around Siem Reap, too. Too bad that since I hadn’t listen to the lady mine was not good yet.

Instead of getting a grip I was barking around how expensive everything is and that I had already paid for the Angkor Wat ticket and now I had to pay for the Roluos site, too, blablabla.

Anyway, luckily there came a moment when I understood that they didn’t try to rip me off, but that I’ve been a fool for not listening. Tough shit, now I had a ticket, only not for the day. What the heck, Mr. Syna, let’s go, we’ll manage.

Well, I wouldn’t say ‘we managed’ – I did one of my hysterical routines as the guy at the control point pointed out the date to me – which unfortunately was not the one on my ticket. I explained how the lady didn’t tell me that the ticket was good also for other sites and how sad I am now and there was a lot of talking and even more ‘pleasepleaseplease’ and he kept calling someone and repeating to me that the ticket wasn’t good.

And then his boss came and I repeated my hysterical ‘I will cry’ and ‘pleasepleaseplease’ routine and the boss – actually a young kid – said it was ok and punched a hole in the ‘3’ on my ticket and quoted his ID-number (which actually helped me the next day at Angkor Wat where of course they immediately noticed that the 3rd was validated although the ticket was valid only from the 4th) and I got to see the Roluos temples.

Roluos temples
You gotta fight for your right to see the Roluos temples.

Roluos Temples
The sarong is not an ethnic fashion statement: I was wearing shorts and although the temples are partly ruins, celebrations are still taking place so you are requested to dress decent, i. e. knees and shoulders covered.

Later Mr. Syna brought me to the gateway for the floating village rides where I got another fit when the teller demanded 40 bucks for the boat ride. Hm, we were driving quite a long way so that I couldn’t tell Mr. Syna that I had changed my mind; and I didn’t change my mind, I just didn’t expect to pay 40 bucks for a boat ride. I asked some ladies from Taiwan that I had met the the Roluos temples how much they paid: 20 $. Back to the teller, complaining that others had to pay only 20. Yes, but you are by yourself. Although he got that right, I don’t understand why they hire a boat per party (which in my case was 1, indeed) instead of putting people together on boats and charge let’s say 15 or even 20 bucks per person. But it doesn’t matter if I understand it or not – it’s their business and they can run it as they please and if I don’t like it, I don’t get to see the floating village. It’s not the teller telling me that, it’s my sense, but I’m sure the teller would tell me exactly that only his English is not good enough.

Kompong Phluk
I’m such a copy cat: Since I’ve learned that Martin Parr has a whole collection of these incredibly tacky souvenir pictures, I’m not that avert to buying them like I used to be.
This one is particularly carelessly cobbled together.
A word about my facial expression: I had just made the calculation in my head how much I’ve been duped when unexpectedly the guy with the camera showed up in my face. He was lucky that I didn’t punch him.

Anyway, the trip to the village was really nice, I’ve never seen anything like this before, and what I appreciated the most is that the visitors are really seeing the village and the real village life and it’s not some made up Disney Worldish nonsense like I’ve seen e. g. in Tunisia where they take you to fake villages in the desert and you see exactly that the whole thing is a charade for the tourists and not genuine at all. So I really liked floating through this legitimate area of Cambodian culture.

Later I’ve learned from an Italian couple who denied to fork over 40 bucks that there is a possibility to visit at least parts of the village by tuk tuk – they paid their driver 10 bucks extra for that. I remember having seen a dust-road behind the houses built on steles. Still, I find it more adequate to visit a village on water from the water.

Kompong Phluk
Real people really working – of course on the river.

Kompong Phluk
Kompong Phluk floating village.

Kompong Phluk village
The following rowing through the water ‘jungle’ was nice, but quite pointless.
I love the girl’s facial expression in this picture a lot.

Kompong Phluk
…and of course there were vendors waiting – and since we were on the water, their was no escape.
I’m afriad this permanent ‘Madame, buy something, only one Dollar’ – all with the same accent, all at an identical pitch will be haunting me for weeks.

Siem Reap – Day 1: City tour by bicycle

Honestly, I had been very nervous before the trip by night bus from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap. There are so many accidents reported – especially on night busses – and after my adventures on boats and ferries I felt like tickling my luck. Plus, it was my daughter’s birthday, so I’d found it particularly tragic if I had died because the bus collided with a cow (that a bus hits a cow seems to happen very often; the passengers don’t necessarily die from it, though). Hence, I was very happy having arrived safe and sound at Siem Reap after quite a long sleep.

Giant Ibis night bus
As long as the night bus doesn’t collide with a cow, it’s a great and reasonably priced way to travel (but be sure to pick the right bus company – recommendations will follow in the upcoming informative résumé of my trip) 

My guest house is somewhere in the outskirts of Siem Reap, supposedly about 2 miles from the center, but I think that’s as the crow flies, and I am no crow, I’m a cyclist.

Siem Reap could even be quite charming if there weren’t this Angkor overkill and all the locals that understood quite well that the Barang is just a cash cow. I don’t particularly like it here, but I don’t dislike it, either. It has its spots.

Wat Preah Prom Rath
Wat Preah Prom Rath downtown Siem Reap

What’s funny in Cambodia is how provincial even bigger cities deem – even Phnom Penh has something countrified to it – by no means comparable to Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. And Siem Reap, although being home to 175,000 inhabitants and therefore Cambodia’s fourth largest city, even has lots of dust roads as soon as you leave the mere center.

Siem Reap
Tuk tuk drivers waiting for customers.
Judging from his smile, I have the feeling the one to the right is winning.

There’s a river – that’s an asset, and there are a couple of Wats. There’s a big market where mainly tourists shop and therefore it’s a big rip off. I don’t even want to think about the amounts that I have overpaid – starting with the silk scarves in Koh Dach (by now I think that I’ve paid six times as much as they cost elsewhere!). Again: I only hope that all the money that I’m overpaying goes to some really needy families with old parents and young kids.

Little Girl at Preah Khan
This little girl was sitting all by herself at the entrance to Preah Khan. I assume that she’s the daughter or grand-daughter
of one of the musicians you can see in the background: At many temples there are little orchestras of handicapped people
that fell victim to the remaining land mines. In this case I don’t think twice to put some money in the collecting box:
Since already for young, strong and healthy people life isn’t easy in Cambodia, how hard must it be for a handicapped person!?

This said, I need to make a confession: I did a bad, bad thing today, I bought a pirated copy of a book. It’s the sequel to the truly fantastic story “First they killed my father” by Loung Ung. I was very hesitant because being a blogger I strongly believe in copyright. But I intended to buy it, anyway, and most probably I had ordered it from amazon, hence supported a pretty shady corporation, so that would be a bad thing, too, only legal. So I hope that Ms. Ung, whom I admire and respect a lot, forgives me that I’ve preferred to support this young man selling really badly made copies of her books – please, Ms. Ung, look at it as kind of a donation from both of us.

But now back to Siem Reap’s attractions: There is a ‘pub street’ which is meant for individual travellers like you and me, but it’s definitely not for me – for you, I don’t know since I don’t know your liking. I strongly dislike streets where tourists are supposed to let their hair hang down.

On the way to the airport I saw the alternative: Enormous hotel buildings catering to large groups – at present mainly from China and Korea. They sure are milking the Angkor-cow here. The city itself will lose the little charm that’s left over the next years.
And with that said, I’m afraid Siem Reap is lost for good.

Siem Reap
Actually, there is something very laid-back – or down, for that matter – about Siem Reap.

So this was it – you’ve reached the final chapter of my Cambodian Diary. Wanna know what happened before? Here are all the previous chapters:

CAMBODIAN DIARY – 1st CHAPTER – Commotion in Phnom Penh

CAMBODIAN DIARY – 2nd CHAPTER – Confusion in Sihanoukville

CAMBODIAN DIARY – 3rd CHAPTER – Calmness in Koh Rong

CAMBODIAN DIARY – 4th CHAPTER – Complete Chaos in Koh Rong Samloem

CAMBODIAN DIARY – 5th CHAPTER – Connecting in Kep

CAMBODIAN DIARY – 6th CHAPTER – Charming Kampot

CAMBODIAN DIARY – 7th CHAPTER – Couth on Thansur Bokor

And don’t forget: There will be a résumé of my trip with all information, addresses and links very shortly!


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Angkor Wat

going up!

CAMBODIAN DIARY – 7th CHAPTER – Couth on Thansur Bokor

It’s almost spooky: In my last post I’ve complained about too many options, too little time – and today I got stuck since noon at a wonderful place in a luxurious hotel room with oodles of time to get a lot of pleasurable things done.

Wat Sampov Pram - golden Buddha
The golden Buddha at Wat Sampov Pram. One of the many sights we were not able to see on the first day in the mist.

Again, the day started out quite active, but was clipped by the weather.

Someone up there must have read my last post where I was complaining about not having time to get everything done.
 So they sent heavy clouds and lots of mist.


Yin

But let me start from the beginning: Besides the pepper farms and salt fields a trip to the Thansur Bokor mountain is the tourists’ favorite activity. Up the mountain there are ruins of King Sihanouk’s summer residence, there used to be a casino for the French colonialists that today is in ruins, but being renovated. The French used to come to Thansur Bokor for the cooler climate, just like they did in Viet Nam in Đà Lạt.

It sure is high on Thansur Bokor.

There are the remnants of an old Catholic church, there is the beautiful Wat Sampov Pram and the ‘ghost town’, a settlement destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. And there is the Thansur Bokor Highland Resort, a huge hotel with an adjacent casino.

This is what it looks like when you can’t see…
….and that’s the next day.
This is what it looks like in heavy mist….
…and here with clear skies. The first day we didn’t even anticipate that there might be a fantastic view behind the building.

And the building itself deserves a little sunshine to present all its pretty red mold and moss.

Before I came to Cambodia, I had booked a room at the resort since it has five stars and I got it at an unbeatable price. But as everybody goes only on day trips, it’s either complicated or expensive to get there. They offer a really good deal including transportation, but we’ll get to that later. Anyway, I had to arrange my own transportation. At Kampot they offered me transportation for 12 Dollars, but a guided tour including all the above mentioned sights is only one Dollar more, so I obviously chose that. Plus it’s more fun to be with people from time to time and actually I met a nice German couple, a nice French couple and a cool Dutch single lady.

Cool is key, the higher we got, the colder it was. There was an ice-cold wind blowing and a damp mist came down on our lot – mostly dressed in shorts and little T-shirts. The mist did not cover only us, it covered actually everything and obstructed the view at things that were farther away than six feet max. That’s not so good when you go up a mountain for the views. Or to take pictures of picturesque ruins. Or both. The poor guide was so apologetic, I almost pitied him.

Since we couldn’t see anything, the trip that is advertised as an all-day-excursion (which is a teeny swindle, anyway) was over by 11:40 a. m.
To me, it didn’t matter since I had booked it as my mean of transportation, so I happily checked in at the hotel while the rest of the group headed downhill.

I was welcomed by the very nice Mr. Nam Sambath, the front office manager. He took his time to explain all the facilities, escorted me to my room and made sure I’d be perfectly comfortable here. Unfortunately the swimming pool and the Spa are undergoing renovation, but therefore I finally had the opportunity of limited choices: I couldn’t go out in the mist and williwaw again, it was far too cold. I couldn’t hang out at the Spa. Perfect, finally time to read my book, to write my blog, to share a thing or two on my social media channels, to take a bath, to enjoy an oil-cream-peeling, to book my flight to Brazil (yes, guys, I’m joining another language course – two weeks Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro – you’ll be the first to learn how that’s going). I’ve spent about eight hours in a bathrobe in bed (evidently apart from the bit when I took the bath) and was still so productive.

Since I had eaten only some fruits from the platter Mr. Nam Sambath had sent for me, at eight at night I decided to get dressed and have dinner. Of course they have a 24 hours room service and it’s even at the same price like the restaurant (which by the way is surprisingly reasonably priced), but I needed to leave the room for a bit.

Where is everybody? Having dinner bye:myself – at 8 p. m., the perfect dinner time.

The hotel is impressively big: long hallways between vast sitting areas. Super high ceilings over a huge reception and the adjacent bar. Waitresses and Maître D’ at every turn, all dressed in sleek uniforms. Everything seems to be prepared for large crowds from the high society. Instead they have me here, walking around in my sensible travel skirt and matching sensible sandals and a striped T-shirt. Then there are some scattered guests, but basically the staff have the joint to themselves.
The very nice guy at the bar told me that during Cambodian public holidays they are fully booked. Well, this is definitely not the Cambodian holiday season, I can tell you that.

Thansur Bokor Highland Resort - Room
This is where I’ve spent my day. You can even see the bathrobe I was wearing.

While everything is so perfect and nice, there is one thing that they have to improve: I mentioned above the really good deal they have. They pick you up at Sihanoukville at their other hotel (Sokha is a chain), take you to Thansur Bokor, give you a room with breakfast and dinner included, you get a 10$ voucher for the casino (I got that, too, but I cannot go in a bathrobe to the casino, neither in my sensible travel skirt and my matching sandals since I would freeze my but off) and a free 30 minutes tour on the lake (there must be a lake here, but since it’s misty, I can’t see it, the view is actually nil. Nil! I’m not exaggerating). Eventually they cart you back to Sihanoukville.

The Chinese Pagoda – located right next to the Thansur Bokor Highland Resort is another beautiful building not to be missed.

The whole package costs about 75 bucks per person, which is a great price. I inquired for this option before I came to Cambodia and they wrote me back that it’s based on two people and if I wanted to do it, I had to pay for two. Ok, I felt a bit discriminated and was a bit affronted, but now that I see that there’s nobody here, there are probably no groups to join. Understandable.
But today as I got here, I saw on the menu that they are offering high tea in the afternoon – for two people. I asked Mr. Nam about it and he told me, that the price is calculated for two and I had to pay the same price even so I am just one person.
After I’ve met i. a. the gentleman from Turkey – travelling by himself, the lady from Kyrgyzstan – travelling by herself, Vincent from Singapore – being here by himself, the cool woman from the Netherlands….just to mention a few. All people in my age and probably with an ok income who could easily afford this hotel – they definitely should adjust their policy to this apparently growing group of travelling people.

All in all, this forced break from all the wonderful travelling activities was so relaxing that I might make this part of my travel routine!

Yang

Same place, next morning: Gloriously blue sky – bright sunlight over the mountains. Aaaah, this is what this place looks like; beautiful!

Blue skies where there was a big white nothing just the day before.

After a generous breakfast I hop on a posh mountain bike with eight gears, they even put a complimentary bottle of water in the holder, and off I go exploring what our group missed in yesterday’s mist (pun intended).

They sure have a wide range of hot dishes like rice, noodles, veggies and meats already for breakfast.
Yes, it’s my reflection in the pot with French toast.

One of my favorite Asian breakfasts: steamed pork dumplings.

Well…’off I go’ is downhill, uphill it’s a drag, no matter how many gears. But that doesn’t matter, I’m so thrilled to see this majestic landscape, revisiting many of the spots we’ve been to. It’s amazing, yesterday there wasn’t even the slightest hint that there are these fantastic views all over Kampot and the ocean.

Old Catholic church on Thansur Bokor
My favorite building on Thansur Bokor: The old Catholic church – now almost in ruins.

Old Catholic church on Thansur Bokor
I love the morbid charm of the weathered facade covered with red mildew.

at the old Catholic church on Thansur Bokor
There are obviously still faithful going to the church – there are pictures of Jesus, crosses and flowers.
In this demolished building it deems almost like a cult.

I’m so thrilled that I forget to put on sun protection and in the evening – now back to Sihanoukville, I have not only a fire red nose, I also have red arms with light ‘sleeves’ where my shirt’s sleeves protected the arms against the sun.

Wat Sampov Pram
A last look back at wonderful Wat Sampov Pram.

However, Thansur Bokor was a great experience and I’ll make sure to let you know in the in below mentioned travel guide to Cambodia which will be published on December 23 how to get there and back and have a great time no matter how far you can see.

Sidenote

Interesting encounter on my way back to Sihanoukville: A lady and two teenage kids, a girl of maybe 14 and a gorgeous boy of about 12 – if I needed a 12 year old male model, him I would pick in a blink of an eye, speaking Russian to each other. Tourist, I thought, whereby I was puzzled when the lady asked the dispatcher if the bus was fully booked in Khmer. And the kids exchanged pleasantries with the other passengers in perfect American English. Turns out they are from Ukraine and have been living here for six years. The father is a medical doctor at the international clinic in Sihanoukville and the kids are going to the international school, hence the great command of English. The lady told me that live was so miserable in Ukraine that they needed to leave and picked Cambodia more or less by incident, he was not sent over by the red cross or an NGO or something alike. Interesting that for a group of people things seem to be worse in Ukraine than in Cambodia.

Wanna know what happened before? Here are the previous chapters of my Cambodian Diary:

CAMBODIAN DIARY – 1st CHAPTER – Commotion in Phnom Penh

CAMBODIAN DIARY – 2nd CHAPTER – Confusion in Sihanoukville

CAMBODIAN DIARY – 3rd CHAPTER – Calmness in Koh Rong

CAMBODIAN DIARY – 4th CHAPTER – Complete Chaos in Koh Rong Samloem

CAMBODIAN DIARY – 5th CHAPTER – Connecting in Kep

CAMBODIAN DIARY – 6th CHAPTER – Charming Kampot

Note to the curious reader: Like I did during my trip to Colombia earlier this year, in this Cambodian Diary I’m posting one chapter from every stop. At the end of the entire tour there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant travel information including addresses, links etc. 
Until then, just enjoy my narratives and reflections.


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going up!