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 Vothea’s 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 Pot’s 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.
We come across this canon which was used by the Khmer Rouge to defend this mountain. There are some concrete bunkers next to the temple. It is still dark.
I spend some time walking through the buildings trying to get some shots. However, most pictures come out too dark.
Then we sit down at one of the gates at the temple and watch the sun rising. This is actually Boxing Day. The top of the mountain range to left marks the border line to Thailand.
Sometimes clouds drift through the temples.
The ancient pool, which is still used to satisfy local water needs.
After some time it is getting warmer and we walk back to the guesthouse. We learn that we can freely cross the border and visit the market on the Thai side of the border. We join one of the local cigarette seller and another police man and walk over. As soon as we cross the border we find a nicely paved road. This is how tourists arrive from the Thai side. Those people have no idea what we went trough to get here. However, we see only very few people, most of them Thai walking over to Cambodia to sell stuff in the market.
We walk a few hundred meters and find the market. However, most shops are still closed. We find a place where we get coffee and hang out for some time and talk. Later we order some food and eat. Still later we walk back to Cambodia, pack our stuff and climb up those steps again to reach our motos. We pay the shop owner some thousand Riels and start riding down the mountain. This again is somewhat difficult but more so for Vothear. On the way down we come along another, female tourist traveling on the back of a moto.
By the time we reach the bottom of the mountain my rear tyre is flat again.
We find a local mechanic who is willing to fix my bike. I am not sure whether this is still possible, as the flat tyre involves the valve again. We meet Sokhom again, the guide we met before in Sambor Prey Kuk. He just arrived with another tourist on the back of his moto. I learn that he actually made it all the way up from Kampong Thom to here in just two days, which is a bit frustrating to me. Sokhom’s customer wants to hike up the hill and Sokhom is free to join us. We have plenty of opportunity to talk, as fixing the tyre turns out to be difficult and takes a long time. Sokhom is very knowledgeable, about the temples and provinces as well as topics beyond that. He is 38 years old and speaks excellent English. We have some food, while the tyre is being fixed over and over again.
It is three hours after we arrived here when the tube finally can bear the pressure. I wonder for how long. It is already afternoon and I have no choice but to go only to Anlong Veng today, and continue tomorrow to Siem Reap.
We ride this good dirt road for about one hour before I have to turn right on another good dirt road, which is not in my map. From here Vothea’s and my way are not the same anymore. We fill up the motos and say good bye. Vothear ensures me that I can go all the way to Siem Reap with this tyre, in case I cannot find a spare one in Anlong Veng. Oddly, he tells me he made sure the tyre will make it. I wonder how he did that, as he was not even involved in fixing it the last time. Under good conditions, Along Veng is about 3 hours away.
After I ride for just only about 10 minutes it is not the question anymore whether to change the tube in Anlong Veng or Siem Reap. The rear tyre is flat again and Vothear is gone with the tool set. There is actually not much else I can do other than continue riding slowly on the flat tyre. And this is what I do. There is almost no traffic and I do not see a truck which could give me a ride to my next destination. First I ride very slowly, with the bike vibrating badly due to the flat tyre. I try to ride faster and find that with higher speed the bike stabilizes somewhat and is easier to ride. So I continue with maybe about 40 km per hour.
Frequently I come along places where the grass is burning. I learnt the other day this is done by local people, so that the grass can grow easier in the coming rainy season, providing more food for animals.
I am actually happy that the tyre made it all the way to this place, and that it broke on this excellent road, the best one I have seen in days. However, I move only slowly and time is passing by. Shadows are getting longer. I pass a village and wonder whether I should stop and try to fix the tube. Yet I do not think there is much left to be fixed and don’t want to wait another couple of hours, possible not even making it to Anlong Veng today. So I continue the ride.
It takes me about four hours to reach Anlong Veng. The first thing I do is to find the mechanic. I try to explain my situation and after some time I learn they have a spare tube for $7, which makes me very happy. I learn the guesthouse next door is full and look for another one. What I find is a very simple one but I do not want to spend much time checking out the alternatives.
It is about 4 pm and there are almost two hours left before it is dark. After some minutes rest I go to the mechanic and pick up my bike. Somewhat tense I try to find somebody who could possibly guide me to the Pol Pot places. I check out the market but cannot see a single moto driver. I ride to the guesthouses I saw when I arrived in Anlong Veng. And I find that those rooms are much nicer compared to what I have gotten. There are at least six guesthouses in Anlong Veng (the guide books suggest there are only two) and I ask in four of them for a guide. I fail to find a single English speaking person. I even go to the district office and talk to a number of uniformed people but in vain. I come across a number of French people traveling by moto as well. They are leaving to spend the night about 15 km from here. I wonder whether I should try to find the places on my own but the guide books suggest it is difficult to find the spots without locals.
I come along this lake a number of times. I knew that this place is significant but at this point not much more about it. And one of the few things I understand from the people I ask is that Ta Mok’s house is situated directly at this lake. The mountains in the background mark the boarder to Thailand. This is the last picture I take today.
It is almost dark when I stop at a restaurant. I order food and later talk to the owner, who is 24. He speaks a few words English, at least many more than I speak Khmer. I understand that he is born here and assume he is familiar with the local history. After I finish my diner I ask him whether he would be willing to join me to Pol Pots residence and grave in the mountains. After some discussions and a number of misunderstandings he agrees to meet in the morning at 8 am.
This is the first time I really feel the difficulties of not being able to speak the local language. I never visited a town where no bilingual person seems to be available. I assume it might be due to the Khmer Rouge which most likely did not encourage learning foreign languages.
Later I ride back to the guesthouse and go to bed early.