Beautiful Scambodia: Seam Reep (Angkor Wat) – Phnom Penh – Kratie

Siem Reap – Phnom Penh – Kratie

Dec. 31, 2014 – Jan. 3, 2015

I want to leave the beaten tracks and book a boat ticket to Kompong Chhnang which is on the way to Phnom Penh. When I went to the ticket counter I had two more options but was told getting off there was no problem. Once on a boat full of tourists (no stories about this one just DON’T DO IT) I start checking internet for onward transport to the east and find out it will be impossible to go further east without passing Phnom Penh. Half an hour later the boat doesn’t stop at my destination (means I was cheated with the Kompong Chhnang no problem story) so I have to go to the capitol anyway. Getting off the boat I run away from the tuk tuk drivers and get 2 very expensive coffee to digest the boat ride. Room is quickly found (too expensive, not very clean) and I take the chance to get some guitar strings. Receptionist offers me bus tickets for the next day (“same price like bus station) but the guitar shoo was next to the bus station and I got them way cheaper there. Not so much interested in Phnom Penh nightlife (alcohol and prostitution) so I spend New Year’s night sleeping.

Next day morning I have enough time to get proper breakfast (veg fried rice) and some of the real good Scambodian coffee. The bus journey leads thru an amazing landscape and I regret a lot not being on me own wheels. Still I am incredibly tired after that bus ride of 9 hours so I make an easy victim for the first guy after getting off the bus. He brings me to his hotel which is only a little filthy and cheap. I could fall asleep standing so I take the room and sleep nearly all of the next day.
In the late afternoon I take a look at town and find a nice little restaurant where I eat a lot and spend the evening – tomorrow I want to rent a scooter to go and see the famous Irrawaddy river dolphins. According to a counting in 2012 by WWF there are only 85 left and the Mekong is a huge river so I have to be very lucky to see one. Still some travelers on the way told me they had been successful so I give it a try. Before going to the boats to watch the dolphins I drink a coffee close to a swimming village about 1km river up of the dolphin place. If you come here just take a coffee in one of the restaurants where u have a perfect view of the village. Village itself is another expensive scam and sitting in the shadow in the restaurant u will get the better view including three amazing tasty iced coffees for the same price.

About two hours before sunset I approach the place for dolphin watching. There is a small queue at the ticket booth so I decide to drink something at the caffee offering a nice view of the river. As soon as I sit down the close the windows cutting my view claiming it is “too hot” (of course that is why you close 2 hours before sunset). I go back and get a ticket to be most welcome when coming back to have a drink at the open window – strange enough I didn’t notice the sudden drop of temperature. I go below the caffee next to where the boats stop and spend some time sitting and watching the river. I can see at least 6 dolphins from the bank which leaves me quite amazed. The boat ride (one hour nine dollar) takes about 40 minutes and then I have to start arguing with the driver to make it 50 minutes. Still the sight is worth it.

In the morning that day I was in need to change some money and the guest house owner offered to do so when I asked him for a bus ticket. “Same rate as bank 1,14 dollar for one euro” – dream on I think and check the rate online. There is a bank just around the corner and on my way there the guest house owner tells me it is closed “Saturday” and to better get the bus ticket soon otherwise the bus might be full. Well to make it a short story – bank was open and rate was 1,18 and the bus ticket was way cheaper in town and I got it without any problem in the evening. Bus ticket to Laos…. Finally leaving Scambodia today.

Angkor Wat II

only pictures today

Christmas in Angkor Wat

December 24

After sleeping very well I get up that christmas morning to enjoy a cute and amazing breakfast which is included in the room rate. When I finished eating I take one more coffee and go down to smoke a cigarette with it at the entrance to the hotel. Before I can even light my smoke a Tuktuk driver who is waiting there start talking to me. As I hadn’t even finished breakfast then he has an easy game and we arrange a temple tour for the next morning starting at 5 am. One think less I need to organize today and go out to get some real breakfast at the place where I take the pictures of the dragonfruit I posted already yesterday. On the way back to the hotel I buy a walking stick to make me feel a little saver after what had happened yesterday, Its already lunchtime then and I spend the hottest time (more than 35°C and humidity of more than 90% make me sweat from every pore) in the room writing my blog entry about the journey to Cambodia.

In the afternoon I get a sim to call my mother for Christmas. I believe to get the Cambodian word Hello – Huan dhalaa very quickly. Seam Reep is a tourist place and the only purpose for its existence are tourists. It lacks a little of authenticity as all restaurant serve food from all over the world – I even see one advertising Weiner Schnitzel – Vienna kitchen but dont feel tempted to test it. As I find out there are little tourist scams on every corner. The good thing is that tourist haven’t been coming here a long time and those who come are mostly of the “south east asia in two weeks” kind – easy victims. According to that the people here are not very skilled in scamming and with a little experience in thing like this easy to come by.

Evening time I go back to the barber/massage shop to get the shaved I had paid for yesterday. I get one of the most gentle shavings ever but when the face is done she says “finished!”. I ask about the head but she makes big eyes and says “OOoohhh this no possible!” I smile and tell her it is possible and we have a little very nice disdussion until she says she has never tried it before and she is afraid – “skin on head much more thin, I afraid hurt you”. The next customer is already waiting and I don’t want to make him wait much longer so I explain her its no problem, if she puts a knife on my throat she can put one on my head to where it is much less dangerous. The customer who is waiting agrees with me, I like her and so I tell her it is first time for everything one time. I give her one more day to prepare mentally telling her that she will do her first headshve tomorrow. She looks a little scared and smiles. I smile back more and she says ok. So I already have something to look forward for tomorrow.
When I get back its already pretty late. I downloaded “killing fields” – a movie about the youngest Cambodian history but fall asleep after ten minutes.
December 25

I get a cruel wake up call at 4.30 am. 20 minutes later I am downstairs meeting my Tuktuk driver. I tell him to go to the temples in a way so I am not in the middle of a million of tourists. He repeats it in his own words and tells me there is only one temple to go for sunrise because the others open later. We make a quick schedule for the day including sunset and of we go. Our first stop, Angkor Wat emple drowns in tourists but what to do if the other temples open later. Still I enjoy a stunning dawn and go back to the Tuktuk minutes before sunrise. My driver of course recognized me buying a 3 day ticket so I agree when he asks me to take me the other two days too. I stop the Tuktuk for one picture for sunrise and then hurry through Bayon temple to make some time good having the flood of tourists in my back, The temples are incredibly amazing.

I love symmetries so I adore these stunning temples in the middle of the jungle. Its possible to move pretty free and I feel really bad climbing around on the ancient buildings every now and then to get a good perspective. I take good care nobody sees me not to make any other tourists do the same. Again it gets incredibly hot during morning already. I had seen signs “temple opens at 5:30” all over the place and when we pass a place that looks great AND lonely for sunrise I stop him to tell him I want to be there for the next sunrise. He suddenly starts discussing the afternoon schedule – obviously he wants to move me exactly with the masses so he can chat with his friends when we stop.

He offers then to bring me to Angkor Wat at noon “all tourist go to town for lunch, nobody will be there” – I have seen him reading the lonely planet and exactly that sentence including a recommendation for the main temple (=Angkor Wat). After the main temple he suggests to bring me to the sunset temple which is the another flood of tourists if going there in the evening. He wants to be there earlier so it will be empty. In the same moment he asks me if we can go back little earlier tody because he wants to celebrate Christmas (…). I hardly believe that Christmas means anything but money to him but I am very respectful about religion so I tell him if he needs to celebrate with his family we can go back early (and miss the best light for taking pictures today ). I got a ticket for 3 dusks and three dawns which was not cheap. He does not want to go down with the price too because “only a little earlier, 3 or 4 clock”.

Next we stop at the Prea Khan temple which is another amazing site. I stop hurrying to run away from the masses as masses spread pretty well in between endless temples. I don’t go in the axes of symmetry like all the other tourists but a little more around. Inside the temples look like many I have seen anyway – outside and around its lonely, stunning and quiet! One time I nearly get lost because all the temples have to axes of symmetry which still mirror amazingly. I turned to the left and feel like I have turned around for some time. Everything looks extremely similar and makes me believe I suffer an ancient spell maybe because of climbing on the walls. But ten minutes later I totally impressed find out that it had just been the architecture playing a trick on me.

I come back to the Tuktuk and the driver says “one more temple, sunset point”. Its half past ten so what about main temple I think but smile and say ok. Its damn hot and I had thought about renting a motorbike to do this on my own already. GPS had been tracking all the way we went so I can easily find the way alone. I quickly visit Phnom Bakheng (sunset temple) and then we go back to town. When we stop in front of the hotel at quarter to 12 I give him 10 dhallaa instead of 15. He starts complaining then I tell him he had promised to go to the main temple at lunchtime because tourists would go to town for lunch at 12 (even though there are approximately 100 restaurant inside the temple area). Now it is 15 minutes before twelve and I turn around to go inside not listening to what he is saying. He seems to accept that he had been way too impudent to me. He gave up before the door had closed behind me which was pretty much what I had expected to happen the day before.

Nevermind, after finding out motorbike rental is illegal I rent a small electric scooter for the afternoon and go back to the temple to enjoy the amazing atmosphere around dusk. I even meet a tourist couple with a real scooter who tell me where they had rented it. The electro scooter is a funny toy but to be honest very dangerous – driving up to 40km/h making not much more noise than a bat, being extremely instable, small and insecure even though it is brandnew. I decide to get a motorbike tomorrow.

In the evening I get my head shaved and both of us are very proud she did not even cut me. Even though she had not expected any money (which here really means something – by the way Huan Dhallaa does not mean hello, in fact it means one dollar) I give her a nice tip and promise to come as soon as I regrow a little hair. All her colleagues know me by now and everybody is proud of her shaving my head so well.


Dangerous Border scam Thailand to Cambodia

Koh Chang (Thailand) to Seam Reep (Cambodia)

I leave independent Bo early in the morning to be in time for the mini bus to take me to the border. It’s a windy and cloudy day and feels like way below 20° when I have a quick breakfast at white sand beach around 7 am. The bus is a little late but empty, the ferry is a “seelenverkaeufer” as we say in german – more rust than steel kept together with strings at some places. I always wonder how floating catastrophes like this do not kill thousands of tourists each year in many countries….

The way to the border takes several hours and including a short coffee break we arrive there between 2 and 3pm being dropped off at a restaurant. A guy takes food orders, hands out visa forms and collects passports, pictures and money (1500 baht plus 100 baht tip). I have been asleep in the mini bus and by waking me up he has an easy game on me unfortunately. I get a visa for 3 months which costs 900 baht if applied for between the borders after leaving Thailand. Damn, but what to do. As we all had paid the trip all the way to Seam Reep we cross the 500m between the borders walking and wait together for thee promised bus on the other side while a guy who is obviously in charge and paid by our tour operator tells us where to change money for a horrendous rate and more things he wants us to do. But after the visa scam most of us don’t listen to him that much anymore.

A bus comes and takes us another 500m to a bus terminal where we are told the bus will come in an hour and arrive in seam reep around nine o clock which makes a ride of 3 hours for 150km plus waiting for an hour. We had heard that the bus will drop us at a busstation where we will be easy victims of commission hunting Tuk tuk drivers taking us to the hotels who pay them. A mini bus from the border takes only two hours and would leave immediately so we would be in seam reep center (no need for tuk tuks) at 7pm – for 150 Baht each which is around 3.5 Euro. The operator guy who is in charge arranges a mini van for us. A group of 10 people including a dutch couple, a few guys from Switzerland and me is quickly found so we leave. A little later we find out the operator guy is not only responsible for taking us aver the border but is also the boss of the taxi company. Very strange (/sarcasm).

5 minutes later we have to stop in a small traffic jam for 5 minutes. Passing an accident we see two obviously dead bodies on the street. At around half the way we ask the driver for a cigarette break – “10 minutes” he says and drives on. 20 minutes later and a little less than half an hour before seam reep he pulls over and stops at a big restaurant maybe 200 meters next to the street. He asks if we want food but so close to seam reep we agree we wouldn’t even need a cigarette. Driver wants to stop to make us eat there so what can we do. Seconds later two big buses with people who had crossed the border with us stop next to us. Do I need to write that they get commission from the restaurant? We have to wait for the driver who is eating for more than half an hour and then go on to Seam Reep. We agree not to pay him the full price because he is in no way faster than the buses and even wasting time at the restaurant to punish us for not eating – he even threatens “you want to sleep here? We can drive tomorrow morning too” when we complain.

He drives ridiculously fast on the last 50km in the dark so I have to think of the two dead bodies on the street we have seen before and become a little worried. The humor in the car is in the through when he turns right 5 km before town. We start asking him where he is going but he doesn’t answer and just accelerates the car. We become really worried about the situation. Some of the guys see their hotel and ask to stop which is being ignored. Minutes later we stop at a dark bus stop out of town where several bus drivers surround us quickly. I get out of the bus last and try to make pressure but the others had agreed to pay him full before I had recognized. Usually when I have a deal with local people wherever on this planet I stick to it so I try to make pressure to make him bring us to the center which he refuses to do.

While I draw the attention of the bus drivers on me the swiss guys silently disappear which leaves me alone with the dutch guy who is the only one to have enough cochones to stay. Seing the others run away the driver starts hitting me and as nearly all witnesses have gone the last of us including me quickly jump on a Tuk Tuk to get away. A little later I recognize my left hand bleeding so he obviously had something more than his hand with which he was hitting in my direction. I remember some cruel street arms I have seen in cars in Thailand and a warning about people using Crystal Meth here. I remember now the strange crazy laughing of our driver earlier and am even more happy all of us were able to escape the situation. It would have been less dangerous if not more than half of the guys (we are all at least a head taller than the locals) of our group would have ran away so quickly. But this is life.

When I get of the Tuk Tuk in town I ask the first guy in uniform I see for the police. He speaks not a single word english and ask a nice woman in front of a restaurant. She is extremely nice, obviously very very sorry for what happened and after she had given a first aid treatment to my hand she calls a friend who is the manager of a hotel. When I had left the bus stand the driver was shouting after me that he would find and kill me which somehow proves that he had been on drugs when driving us. This worries me a lot at that moment so I don’t want to take a hotel right where I had been dropped off. The lady tells me her friend has rooms vacant, 20$ per night and an employee of the hotel will come and pick me up in two minutes. The hotel is amazing! Neverending hot water, AC, TV, WIFI, very nice style for 20$ per night? I must be dreaming! Bravo, the manager is extremely kind, calms me down and makes sure that I feel save. He tells me that Seam Reep is save and that the border is another province – problems with drivers from there are well known.
I take a hot shower and get an amazing dinner at the hotel. I take a mango shake to the room and after making a quick look at the internet and having another shower I decide to make a little walk to the night market Bravo had recommended. Seam Reeps only purpose are tourists – obviously. But still the place is not wasted people are very friendly though you have to haggle hard (but friendly) for everything. Im in desperate need a shave so I stop at a massage/barber parlour. Seems to become interesting – I have never before been shaved by a woman. She starts at my head using a machine and when half the head is done I recognize feeling hear stubbles around my neck. When I ask if she could but a towel around my neck we both burst out laughing and she says sorry still laughing many times. When the machine work is done she starts searching for the knife for a while, while I start to like her. We talk as usually talking at the barber and she asks me in a totally innocent way if I am travelling alone. When I say yes she ask in a tiny little bit less innocent way if I enjoy it. I say “A lot!!” and we both burst out laughing again. I am as all of you hopefully know, not at all interested in prostitution – but I have to admit this was by far the most nice offer I ever got! Not at all distgusting for the first time but rather funny and likeable. Knife seems to be in the drawer in front of her of which the key was missing at the moment because her children had had it to play at daytime…. I am not the only one who hasn’t had his best day today. She says sorry again and makes me promise to come back to get shaved tomorrow. I do, and I will.

Conclusion of the day: Try to avoid the all inclusive trips from Koh Chang to Angkor Wat, but if you have to cross this border overland it still is better to go there in a group – the bigger the better. DO NOT take a minivan at the border if you do this trip. If you choose to take a taxi choose it yourself and judge the driver wisely. Amongst all the borders I have ever crossed this one is amongst the worst. Officials are cool and fast forward, no problem. But the scams on that border are never ending and can really become very dangerous quickly. If you want to cross this border try to arrange a hotel in Seam Reep before and ask them to send a taxi to the border to pick u up. This is probably the only safe way.

My hotel for example, the Bayon Shadow Villa, which I really really want to recommend a lot, will be happy to arrange this for you.
Contact for the Bayon Shadow villa:
Reservation: (+855)888 888 651
Booking: (+855) 63 756 443

Koh Chang

Looking for a room for a reasonable price I ended up at Independent Bo at the north end of white sand beach which is run by Scottish. Minimum stay which has to be paid in advance is 3 days there and the son of the owner has been in Austria before obviously not having very nice experience there. He did all he could to take revenge on me and make me feel like shit during my stay. Thai people are not welcome at their place and most of the people who stay there are drug addicts who drink, smoke and god knows what else starting as soon as they get up. In the evening when they are tilt you will have a hard time falling asleep because people are fighting loudly until late in the night around your hut.

The real nice, cheaper and better place is pens bungalows a little before them. I stood most of my time on the beach there as there are mostly very nice thai people running the place. Food is amazing there too and whenever even passing the place I got amazing smiles. I should have known when they told me about the 3 days minimum at independent Bo but I was just too tired and desperate for a bed. At town you can see lot of disgusting old white males with nice Thai girls walking hand in hand. The beach itself is really beautiful and I believe if you go there out of season and stay in another place than I did it can be really nice. If you happen to come around call the guys from pens (0819004993 or 0861513744) they will for sure pick u up at the bus stop and help you to carry your luggage down the beach. Co mpared to independent they really have amazing rooms and if there hadn’t been the minimum stay of 3 days (which is probably the only possible way to make people not run away after the first night) I would have moved there the first morning on the beach. Tomorrow I am leaving to Cambodia to enjoy Angkor Wat – one of the biggest shiva temples in the world. Foreigners really spoiled Thailand and I am so happy to have met “my” Bangkok family first when coming to Thailand so I experienced the amazing hospitality and kindness of Thailand before seeing what I saw here.