I get up by 7:30 and have breakfast at 8 am. I meet Gabriel, a 22 years old American guy and a couple from France. We spend the noon talking in the guesthouses restaurant on the roof again. And we enjoy the sight of the surrounding mountains. Later the French people leave and I hang out with Gabe for some time. Both of us want to go to Bokor Mountain to joint the party. Ye we are both not sure how we want to get there and how we can spend the night. Gabe manages to persuade me to take him on my bike. So we assume we wonít be able to sleep at night anyway. So we leave our sleeping bags and stuff in the guesthouse. And we reserve a room for the next day.
People and guide books alike suggest that the road up the mountain is difficult to ride. Most people go by truck. So I am not very comfortable with traveling with two persons on the bike. Moreover, it is usually much more fun to do the bumpy stretches alone.
It is already 1:30 pm when we go to the market. We buy some food and water and have lunch. We leave at about 2:30 pm to Bokor, which is just about 35 km from here. The first part is paved road and easy traveling. We cross the river and follow National Road 3 through the picturesque landscape, following the coastline on one and the mountain range on the other side of the road. Then we turn right and get onto a rough, unpaved road up the mountain. After we pay $5 each to enter Bokor National Park. The road is mostly unpaved and sandy, covered with small and medium sized stones which make it a bumpy ride. I cannot pay much attention to the environment. We pass mostly through dense forest, while climbing up the road with many turns. While we get higher we recognize the beautiful surroundings, the coastline with a number of mountainous islands and the wooded mountain range along the mainland. Many birds make the forest a noisy place. Generally, it seems the road was improved on its worst stretches, making it relatively easy to ride. There is significant traffic in both directions, mostly motos and trucks. I use the horn a lot in the turns. Sometimes we get stuck in the dust behind slowly traveling trucks, frequently with soldiers on its back.
Some weeks ago Dara and Vuth had told me there would be a massive yew year party at the casino on top of Bokor Mountain in Kampot province. They told me they would go and asked whether I would join. I agreed and reserved a bike at Phnom Penh Bike Shop for December 29. I just gave back the (pretty used up) Honda Baja yesterday to lucky! lucky! Today I find at the Phnom Penh Shop that only one bike is left, which is a Honda Degree. Those bikes are the most common, cheapest and in many cases oldest dirt bikes available in Phnom Penh. Yet at this point it is not likely that I get a better bike anywhere else and I take it.
Furthermore I learn that Dara, Vuth and the owner of this shop have left already to hit Kirirom National Park on the way to Bokor. I have been to Kampot but never saw Bokor before. And I do not mind having a special New Year party. After I get the bike I decide to leave the next day, to go the 150 km to Kampot. This gives me more time to spend in Kampot and I assume there are fewer crazy people on the road heading to this party. Kampot is a three hour trip from Phnom Penh, mostly on National Road 3. The plan is to go some time the next day the remaining way to the top of Bokor Mountain. The road up to the summit of the mountain is said to be difficult.
The plan for today is to travel back to Phnom Penh, which is about 310 km from here on national road via Kampong Thom. I get up at eight, have a shower and leave the guesthouse. I walk along the river for a bit and pass the market before I find a charming place at the river for breakfast.
In many ways Siem Reap is different from the rest of the country. Everybody appears to be busy, there are many tourists, most people understand English, and the city appears to be more Western and more affluent then any other place in the country. Siem Reap has a lot of appeal for Cambodians in many provinces, as it holds the promise of rapid economic and social development and immense individual opportunities that are not easily available elsewhere. There are countless luxury hotels, restaurants and bars, internet places and souvenir shops. As well as hospitals and schools. Other than Phnom Penh this is the only other truly urban place I know of in Cambodia.
Next day I get up at seven and go to the restaurant again to have breakfast. The plan is to spend some hours around Anlong Veng, to visit the relevant Khmer Rouge places. In the afternoon I want to leave Anlong Veng and ride to Siem Reap provincial capital, which is about 200 km from here.
After breakfast I kick of with the owner of the restaurant. We go with my bike. By now I donít mind taking people on my bike. Everybody does. First we visit the local tourism office. The door is open but nobody is here. We find a name card and I call the guy. I learn that he is in the mountains right now, taking pictures for the provincial department of tourismís homepage. He suggests we ride up the mountain and meet him there.
And this is what we do. Maybe for about 10 km we follow the main road to the north, which is broad and easy to ride. This changes when we reach the bottom of the mountain. Some distances are pretty steep. Others are covered with rocks or sand. However, it is not too steep and I even enjoy the rough road.
The plan for today is to get up early, visit the temples again and leave to have breakfast at the bottom of the mountain. From here, I have the priviledge of Votheaís company for another hour, before we go separate ways. Vothear will continue to Tbaeng Mean Chey and Kampong Thom. I intend to travel to Anlong Veng, the very last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge. I hope to visit Pol Potís grave and other relevant places today and continue all the way to Siem Reap, before I travel back to Phnom Penh the tomorrow.
We get up at about 5:30, have coffee and get ready to leave. Some time later we leave, when it is still dark, and climb up all the steps to temples on top of the mountain.
I am the last one to wake up this day and I ride with Paul to the local mechanic to have my exhaust pipe reattached. Later we go with Gerry, Vothea and Mr. Slim to a local food place and have coffee. Gerry and companion want to visit a temple close by since it is not too far to Prey Vihear I agree with Vothea to join them, before we head to Preah Vihear in the afternoon. He quickly finds a local guide to show us the way.
We leave the town to the north and after we pass some open land with sandy roads we are back on the oxcart trail. Vothea is traveling with the guide on his moto while Gerry is sitting on the back of Paulís bike and the equipment is on Mr. Slimís bike. When we have to pass an obstacle along this muddy water Votheaís bike gets stuck and he and the bike fall. This is the first time I see him dropping his bike. Moreover, he is the only one not traveling on a dirt bike and only because of him we recognize how difficult this passage is. So I feel sorry that it is here where he falls in front of everybody.
We get up at about 7 am and following some breakfast we head of. Vothear is convinced we can make it all the way to Choam Khsant but I remain skeptical. As soon as we leave Khvav to the north the dirt road turns into oxcart trails again.
We continue riding those trails. First we pass sandy stretches through open landscape. Later we ride through dense forest forcing us to duck from the branches of trees and follow the tight turns of the trail. We do not think of having breaks, as we want to catch up with the initial schedule.
It is at about 4 am when cocks start their noisy business. The village is getting busy when it is still dark. We get up at about 7 am and have breakfast, fish and rice, which is tasty.
Later we head out to see another temple of the Prasat Bakan complex, Prasat Domrei (temple of the elephants). Vanna and his friend give us company and the four of us ride on two motos. Vanna is traveling with Vothear and it is actually the first time I am not alone on my moto. I felt I do not want to risk other peopleís health or live. However, it turns out not to be too difficult, although the road is pretty rough and sandy. After about 20 minutes we arrive at the temple, which is located at a beautiful lake. This is the first pyramid shaped temple I see.
I met Vothea at 8 am in front of the guesthouse. This is the plan for the next three days. We follow National Road 64 to the north, until we reach Phnom Dek (a village which is not in my map). This is about 75 km from Kampong Thom. From here we turn east, following the oxcart trail to Ta Seng Village and Prasat Bakan (both places are in my map). After we spend the night in Ta Seng we continue north to Kulen and then to Prasat Kaoh Ker. After spending the night in Kulen we attempt to go further north to Prasat Preah Vihear, the best known temple in the province with the same name, next to the Thai border. I should mention other than road 64 there are no roads in my map. I was told the other day this way is adventurous and many people failed to make it with a big moto. I am advised to go on somebody elseís moto scootersí back. And none of my guidebooks indicates that it is possible to go to those places on a road other than 64, or without hitting Tbaeng Mean Chey. Rather, most books suggest getting to those destinations on one or multiple day trips from the provincial capital. Yet Vothear and his friend Sokhom seem to be trustworthy and experienced. So I decide to try it.