Moto Cross in Kampong Spey

This is Sunday and in the morning I go at about 8:40 am to the Phnom Penh Moto Shop to rent a decent cross bike (Honda CRM two stroke), as well as suitable protection, glasses, and gloves. Next thing is I ride the bike to Dara’s Bike Shop, where I arranged to meet with Vuth and John to go on a moto cross trip. Vuth is already here but we are still waiting for John. So I hang out for some time.

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Hanging Out in Phnom Penh and Moto Cross

Today was Saturday and I though after this exhausting week I should have a lazy day. However, I have serious difficulties determining what activity would fit this intention. So I sleep long and go at about 10 am to the Java Café, which is one of my favorites at Hun Sen Park, close to the Monument of Independence. Great food, not even overpriced. One can sit on the veranda and look at the busy street. Or read the newspaper. I do both extensively.

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Back to Cambodia: Berlin, Frankfurt, Singapore, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh

Again, the travel to Cambodia is sort of exhausting and affects the sleep (or the lack thereof) of three nights. Although it was more chaotic too, I was happy to have the chance to spend one day in the vibrant city state of Singapore.

Continue reading Back to Cambodia: Berlin, Frankfurt, Singapore, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh

From Kratie to Phnom Penh via Kompong Cham by Mini Bus

Today is Monday and the plan for today is to travel back to Phnom Penh. We bought the tickets the other day for about $15 for both of us. At about 7 am we get picked up at the hotel. However, a number of seats in the bus are still not occupied and we go to the bus station close to the market to wait for more customers.

Moreover, Reaksa forgot a pair of shoes at his friend’s house and we need to wait anyway for somebody to pick them up. So we keep waiting at the station. Children and women try to sell all sorts of snacks and soft drinks.

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First Day of the Field Trip to Kratie Province – From Phnom Penh to Kratie

The following is my account of the third field trip to Kratie province. This trip took place some weeks ago and at this point it is already getting difficult to remember the details. However, experience tells me that I won’t do it later if I do not write it now. This is going to be a general report. Although I would like to incorporate details of my work and the research findings I won’t have the time at this point. In case somebody reads that and is interesting in an in debt account of my field work I am still more than happy to provide detailed minutes of my interviews. However, this is a tremendous amount of paper and most likely not very exciting for the average reader.

We decided to go to Kratie by mini bus, which is the way I got there for previous field trips as well. The way it works is that I get picked up with a moto by somebody who is send by the company which operates the mini bus. This is about 6:30 in the morning at Hun Sen Park, where police is still maintaining increased presence.

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Phnom Penh Impressions in the Evening

Phnom Penh

I took the following pictures a few weeks ago prior to my third field trip to Kratie. However, I did not find time yet to make them available here.

Those pictures are taken at the riverside when it is about to get dark. I promise that I did not add additional color. This really is how it looks like. Those pictures are taken without flash, long exposure times and a stand.

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Kampot and Kep – Ein Tag am Meer

I met Katrin a couple of times, who is consultant and works on indigenous land rights. Once I met her with Dietmar who is on a South East Asia backpack like tour. As it happens, Katrin has some passion for big motos and a friend who is into motos, too. Dietmar wants to travel to the south and see Sihanoukville. So we thought it would be a good idea to travel to Kep over the weekend, which is a small town at the ocean.

We start with a breakfast at the Foreign Correspondence Club (FCC), which is a place that is at the riverfront, sort of expensive frequented by foreigners who can afford it l to hang out here.

This one is taken from the balcony at the backside of the FCC to the east. On the opposite side of this square is the National Museum. The building to the left is most likely among what remains from the French. In the center is a place where people play soccer in the morning and evening.

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From Stung Treng to Kompong Cham by Speedboat and from Kompong Cham to Phnom Pehn by Taxi

Next day we get up fairly early again to get the boat which leaves at 7 am to Kompong Cham. I have been traveling with those boats many times now and am getting used to it. And I still like it.

Continue reading From Stung Treng to Kompong Cham by Speedboat and from Kompong Cham to Phnom Pehn by Taxi

First Day of the Second Field Trip to RAttanakiri

This is the report of my second trip to Rattanakiri. Unfortunately I did not even complete the article about the first one. Due to the fact that I am leaving tomorrow again I try to make this short and get it done quickly. It is not likely that I will find time after this field trip, since I will be busy analyzing the collected data and writing my final report. This leads to another consideration: I think it would be interesting to include reflections about my work in this article here. However, I will have to write my final report with exactly those reflections. Therefore, I do not want to double my work and make this a article primarily about traveling with more general information. I am more than happy to provide the countless minutes I take or my reports once they are finalized. For better readability I will divide this journey into a number of smaller reports.
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Phnom Chisor

Today is Sunday. I rented the motor bike for the entire weekend and wanted to go to Phnom Chisor (Phnom Chissor, Phnom Chi Sou )today, after I failed to find it yesterday. And I managed to persuade the tourist student to give me company. We decided to go with two motos, both the big one and the smaller one he uses for moto services.

We started after breakfast at about ten am. He told me that he never rode a big moto before. I showed him on the way how to drive the big moto but he preferred to first go to Phnom Chiso and than practice riding it.

This is a medium sized temple which we reached after we went about 40 km south on the national road number two. I though this is a beautiful temple. I spend some time taking pictures but I did not see anybody. Only two dogs.

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To the South Following the Bassac River

Today is Saturday. I had found a possibility to rent a moto without handing in my passport and wanted to make up for the previous weekend. After an extensive breakfast including the weekend edition of the Cambodia Daily I went to ‘lucky! lucky!’, the Chinese motorcycle rental service.

This is what I got this time. I thought this is good value for $8 per day.

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Mekong Islands, Kieng Svay

This is Sunday. Initially the plan was to go with the moto driver/tourism student to Kampot, which is almost 200 km from Phnom Penh at the sea. This would have been a challenging thing to do on one day, but challenges are what we were looking for anyway.

However, the plan did not materialize. I gave my passport to the headquarter for visa extension and it is currently with I do not know which corrupt ministry. I knew that ‘lucky! lucky!’, the Chinese company where I usually rent a moto, does require its customers to leave their passports with them as some sort of security. However, when I came here last time they accepted my ID card and I had no reason to believe they would not do so this time. However, they did not accept it. I assume this is sort of related to the election. I read in the newspaper that many moto rental businesses have put their moto to save places. They are afraid that they loose their assets as soon as post-election riots start. This is exactly what happened after the last election. I realized that most of ‘lucky! lucky!’s motos are in fact not in the shop. I tried to convince them to give me a moto but I failed. So we tried several things, including trying to get my passport from the headquarter, which failed, too.

It was almost lunchtime when we had to face the fact that we would not get motos today. However, my co-traveler got a moto, which is however not a heavy duty one. Due to that and the fact that halve of the day was already over we had to settle for something less challenging than Kampot.

So we decided to visit the Mekong Islands. This is only a few kilometer to the northeast from Phnom Penh. I took the following picture when we passed the so-called Japanese Bridge in the north of the city, close to the French Embassy and Funcinpec headquarters.

This is another petrol station of the notorious company Sokimex. Although this is outside Phnom Penh they seem to be concerned about riots. Those fences in front of the truck can be quickly employed to prevent demonstrators from entering. I observed that any Sokimex station is secured with those fences during the night.

This is the place were the ferry to the Mekong Islands leaves. It is only about 15 km from Phnom Penh, shortly before one reaches Khady Chah. I have seen those large wooden boats very often. Mostly they seem to be in use to transport timber and other agricultural and forest products from the provinces to the capital.

Most of those people seem to live on one of the islands. I assume they went with some goods to the market in Phnom Penh in the morning and am on their way back home.

This is when the ferry arrives at the island. There is some turbulence when passengers try to leave the ferry while others try to get on.

This is how the road looks most of the time.

Of course we found a pagoda, too.

I got the impression that foreigners do not come here very often. Those youngsters seemed to be pretty amazed just by my sight.

Much of those islands seem to be covered with plantations of mostly bananas and papaya. I heard those farmers can achieve a good price on the urban market particularly with papaya.

This is when a short shower of rain hits us. However, after few minutes it is over.

This island was rather small and we started to look for the next one. We found this guy who offered to give us a lift to the other bank.

We kept driving for some time. However, after we passed a small bridge the road turned very muddy. It became increasingly difficult to drive the moto with two people on this road. After we almost fell a few times and got pretty dirty we decided to continue walking. However, even that turned out to be quite difficult. Some villagers told us that the road is becoming worse further down the way. So we changed our mind and decided to drive back to the ferry and travel to another destination.

This is when we pass the bridge on the way back. I felt sorry for those guys on the moto. They were just two as well but they had loaded their moto with huge sacks of something that seems to be quite heavy. After I saw the road a few hundred meters from here I do not think they will make it without falling and getting very dirty.

The ferry was at the other bank and we had some time to spend before we could pass the river. So we got us a soft drink at this place. We got into some conversation with local people. Later a woman appeared offering all sorts of hand woven scarves made of silk and cotton. I learned that making one scarf takes her about one week. Although I really do not have much use for it I bought a cotton one (3$) because I felt after she showed me all those products I cannot just refuse. My co-traveler is occupied with cleaning his clothes from the nasty ride.

This is when the ferry finally arrives.

This is when we arrive back in Phnom Penh and pass the Japanese bridge. A number of speed boats are waiting at the bank.

Those are the shacks of some fishermen. From what I have seen so fare those people are likely to be ethnic Vietnamese or Muslim Cham.

Since it was only early afternoon we decided to visit Kieng Svay as well. In order to do so we have to pass Phnom Penh and cross the Mekong again at the bridge in the south of Phnom Penh. Kieng Svay is a place where mostly local people hang out for recreation. I have been there before, but alone and only for a short time.

This is in front of Funcinpec headquarters. There are three boys of about 14 years traveling on a moto. This is quite a common sight. Frequently I see children (yes, girls as well) of hardly 12 years traveling with some routine and not exactly slow on all sorts of motos.

Railway Station.

This is how living chickens are transported.

There is still significant police presence, here at Hun Sen Park.

Since our moto was pretty dirty my co-traveler decided to give it a wash. We went to this place, where mostly women work really hard. The price for the quite extensive washing service is just about $0.125.

This is on national road number one with direction to Saigon.

I provided a picture of this construction side earlier. This will be by fare the biggest pagoda I have ever seen.

Finally we made it to this place close to Kieng Svay. This is one of the recreation destinations for (better of) urban Cambodian people. There are beautiful flowers and plants as well as good numbers of all sorts of birds all over the compound. It is located about 20 km outside Phnom Penh. Families come here to picnic in those huts close to the water. Some people were fishing. For some reasons I liked the place.

We spend about two hours and had some food. Than it started raining heavily. And there was no indication that the rain would stop anytime soon. We waited for quite some time. When it started getting dark and was still raining we decided to kick of and drive home.

Co-traveler looks sort of tired for some reasons.

However, it was not raining as bad anymore. I was lucky to sit on the back of the moto partly protected from getting wet by the back of the driver.
Continue reading Mekong Islands, Kieng Svay


This is Saturday. I went to see a few of all those Wats in Phnom Penh. One of the moto drivers gave me company. He studies tourism and appears to be well educated and interested.

I though this is a beautiful temple. It belongs to Wat Sarawan, which was among the first five Pagodas in Phnom Penh. This particular temple is from 1936. Unlike most major temples in Phnom Penh it is not yet renovated. However, it does not seem to be in a particular bad shape. However, my companion told me the head of this pagoda is sort of uneducated and wants to replace this beautiful temple with a modern concrete one. For a student of tourism this is irresponsible. I realized in many places that it is quite a common praxis to replace old temples. So it is not easy to find really old pagodas. I do believe many of those temples, among them this one, should be kept because they are bearers of history and cultural identity.

This monk was standing near the gate of the temple and my companion arranged for a short conversation. He is 30 years old and came two years ago from I forgot which province. The pagoda gives him the chance to live in Phnom Penh and to study. What he studies is Pali and English. He smiled skeptically when I asked him whether he wants to remain a monk for all his live. He indicated that he would prefer a rather worldly career.

This is inside the temple. There are many Buddha all over the place. The structure is decorated with complex ornaments.

Walls and the ceiling are covered with paintings representing scenes from the live of Buddha. Some people where praying in the temple so I avoided using the flash. This is why I could not take pictures of those beautiful paintings properly.

There was a group of monks sitting in one of the corners when we entered. This group did not exactly embody the persistent images of monks I have. One of them had fixed a hammock to the pillars, was laying in it and listening to pop music with his walkman. Apparently all of them had made themselves comfortable. I commented something like ‘those are quite modern monks’ which my companion felt free to translate. They found it funny. All of them were not even properly dressed, wearing only the bottom part of their robes. The guy in the window dressed up for this picture whereas the two other guys preferred not to be in the picture. I should stress that I do not want to spoil the images of Buddhist monks here. Rather I try to give an authentic picture of my experience.

This stupa is standing next to the temple. I learnt it is only since recently that the head of the pagoda allows monks to actually live in it.

This is at the bottom of this stupa, where a group of people is having a relaxed discussion. Only about halve of them appear to be monks.

After we visited this pagoda we went to the next one, which is close by Wat Ounalom. It was raining by the time we arrived. I mentioned earlier that my companions spend about 8 years of his live in a pagoda and it was in this pagoda where he has spent those 8 years. So he knew many of the people and the environment quite well.

He introduced me to some monks. Because it was raining they invited me to join them in one of the many houses on the compound, which apparently serves as some kind of living room. There were a number of monks watching soccer on TV. However, not only monks, but some students as well. We got into some kind of conversations. The monks where sort of sluggish and it was not easy to keep it going. However, I asked some question about them being monks and got some interesting answers. Only one of them intended to remain monk for all his life. He does so because he thinks this is a good way of helping sinful people, promoting his religion, and developing the nation. When I asked him what he thinks about other religions and their members he told me any religion is valuable and helps people to act good. When I asked him how it is to live up to the strict rules that apply to monks he told me when he is bored of being a monk he quits for some time to do what he cannot do while being a monk.

Since those monks were not very enthusiastic about conversation I ended up having a conversation with one of the pagoda boys. He is 19 years old, came from the countryside as well and studies English. His English really was pretty good, unlike the English of many people who claim to study English. He pointed out that all those restrictions for monks do not apply to him and that he does not intend to become a monk. Interestingly, all of those monks and students had exercised their right to vote. More interestingly, the pagoda boy kept the secrecy of the ballot while the monks who did not pointed out that they voted for change and for Sam Rainsy. I was surprised because I heard earlier that monks are not supposed to be partisan. However, those young people appeared to be both knowledgeable about and interested in current political affairs to a high extent.

Later another man arrived who was maybe 40 years old. He was not a monk and dressed rather like a clerk. I did not bother to start a conversation with him. I learnt that he is actually policy maker working at the Senate. This sounds better than it is because the Senate does not seem to have much influence in Cambodia. However, this guy is in touch with ongoing law making and turned out to be a very good chat.

Quickly the current political situation became subject of this conversation. Nobody in the room seemed to be a strong supporter of a party other than Sam Rainsy. I asked the Senate person whether or not he expects violent demonstrations after the official result of the election is announced on August 8. Without hesitating he said yes. We spend quite some time elaborating on the options of forming a government right now, how likely an intervention of the king might be and how likely a three party coalition is. This seemed to become more interesting to the monks as well and from time to time one or the other of them participated. However, at this point boxing was in TV and some of them spend close attention. Later I learned that the Senate guy actually teaches law at more than one university and has a very good standing among the monks of this pagoda. And I learnt that he actually lives on the compound of the pagoda. Once again politics and religion appear to be closely tight to each other.

I cannot present the entire discussion here. However I found most of those monks quite politicized and some pretty active in thinking about contemporary politics. All of them appeared to be rather skeptical of the current government. I start to understand that those wats are so much more than just physical structures housing meditating monks. Many and diverse people live here and pagodas are in various ways influential institutions serving important purposes. Among others they serve as housing for poor university students.

When the rain stopped we continued our tour through the compound of this pagoda. Unfortunately those monks did not want me to take a picture of how they spend their time in their living room.

This stupa is said to house an eyebrow hair of Buddha himself. This might sound rather not very exciting. However, eyebrows seem to have some meaning among monks. Monks do not only shave their head but their eyebrows as well. From what I understand this is to abandon worldly enjoyments. It is meant to prevent monks from looking handsome or in some ways attractive to women. Monks do not shake women’s hands.

This is inside the stupa. Somewhere in here is the eyebrow hair but I do not know where exactly. The candles upfront are said to burn about 3 month.

This is what appears to be some sort of halo. It is cheap electronic from plastic including tiny chains of lights which run constantly from the periphery to the center and back. In subtle and not so subtle ways the religious institutions in this country seems to be subject of significant changes.

This is a laying Buddha above the door to this stupa. I learnt that it is old. This Buddha as well as the others in this stupa has been newly painted. This, however, seems to be subject of controversy.

This building houses the head of Cambodia’s Buddhist hierarchy. I heard that his predecessors have been quite intelligent (“clever”) while he is not.

This is a stupa next to it housing the remains of an earlier Patriarch.

The roof in the background belongs to the main temple of this pagoda. It has two stories and an “Angkor Wat style” roof. It is built in the 70s and not exactly a master.

Afterwards we went to this Khmer place close to riverside to have some food. My companion is on his phone, which he holds in high regard.

Continue reading Pagodas

Wat Lanka

I did not take many pictures recently and just shortly share the following ones:

This is in front of ‘my’ guesthouse on Wednesday evening after there was quite some rain. The guy on the moto is one of the many moto drivers working around where I live. The late sun is shining on one of the gates to Wat Lanka in the background, underlining its intensive color.

This is street 51, neighboring street 278 in which I live. To the left is the same gate from the previous picture taken from another angle.

This is on Thursday evening. In the background is Wat Lanka. It is among the first five pagodas established by King Ponhea Yat in Phnom Penh in 1422 and is with more than 200 monks among the largest Wats in town.

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The Week Following the Election

During the last days I went by moto a few times through the streets to take some pictures. This happened during my lunch break or in the evening. There is, however not much apparent change on the street. The picture remains the same. People appear to be doing what they usually do. Maybe a bit more silent or carefully than on other days. There is still significant police presence which has rather increased during the previous days. People appear to ignore police, however, most people seem to be very aware of that there is police. And many of them seem to question the legitimacy of those measures to discourage demonstrations and protest.

It is getting boring and after this I stop presenting pictures of police cars and motor bikes.

Maybe I give a few comments on how the situation develops. Preliminary election results by the official body NEC indicates 73 seats for CPP, 26 seats for Funcinpec and 24 seats for Sam Rainsy Party. CPP released very similar results. However, those results are contested by both Sam Rainsy and Funcinpec and they condemn the NEC for issuing these numbers. The official result is due only on 8th of August. Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy appeared to be

The dilemma is the following: the CPP did not get enough votes to form a government on their own. That is, they need a coalition partner to form a government according to the constitution. At the same time both parties Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy made clear that they would be willing to form a coalition but not if Hun Sen becomes prime minister. Sam Rainsy even came up with a plan for a three party coalition government, in which the current president of CPP would become prime minister and Sam Rainsy his deputy. Since the CPP president is an old man, Sam Rainsy would likely be the one who controls the government. Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy appeared to be quite united shortly after the election but this seems to change already. According to today’s news, all Funcinpec ministers of the current government already signed resignation from the government. Hun Sen made clear in this case all of them would immediately loose all their salaries and privileges. This is a sensitive point at Funcinpec, because they spend quite a lot of money but do not have much. So they rely on CPP money. Hun Sen made also clear that he would see any attempt by Sam Rainsy and Funcinpec to form an interim government would as attempted coup and use violence to prevent it from happening.

Most mainstream election observers indicate that they take the election to be some sort of free and fair. This is important because without them confirming the election results the outcome of the election would not have much credibility. However, there really is ample room to question whether this election has been free and fair, even in the absurd Cambodia context.

However, Hun Sen made very clear that he does not intend to step down. He even claimed in a rather feudal manner“ I am the government”. So if he does not have enough seats to govern with only his party he needs Sam Rainsy or Funcinpec to join the government.

There are not many options to overcome the deadlock. In a very similar situation after the 98 election the king stepped in and made both Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh his prime ministers. This happened only after long weeks of political stalemate and massive violent demonstration in Phnom Penh. However, Ranariddh won the popular vote and Hun Sen just did not want to give up power. More grotesque, he executed a coup with which he (the prime minister without the popular vote) ousted Ranariddh (the prime minister with the popular vote. Later on Ranariddh joint the government again for various reasons.

This time, the king had strongly indicated that he would not step in. So I am not sure what the remaining options are to form a decent government. I think either Funcinpec or Sam Rainsy change their mind or there might be a constitutional amendment enabling Hun Sen to govern without the two thirds of the vote. For the time being Hun Sen expressed that he would continue business as usual, with or without Funcinpec.

I found the following web page to be a helpful resource for relevant and up to date articles on Cambodia from various sources:

This is Tuesday at lunch time. Sam Rainsy headquarters seems to be doing fine.

Still, there is quite some police around at Hun Sen park. Hun Sen park is sponsored by prime minister Hun Sen and located along Sihanouk Boulevard between Norodom boulevard and Sothearos Boulevard.

This is police at the Royal Palace close to the National Assembly.

This is opposite from the Royal Palace at the Mekong River.

Between Royal Palace and National Museum.

Police at the south side of Royal Palace.

And at Sihanouk Boulevard

The following is Wednesday at about the same time. I save my comments since there is not much change and the places are basically the same.

The Ministry of Justice is located almost in the middle between Royal Palace and National Assembly.

In the evening I went with one of the moto drivers through the city. I have not been doing that for some time and was surprised to find that many people are out to enjoy themselfes one way or the other. Phnom Penh people seem to enjoy their motos very much and in the evening many people go on a cruise with their friends. Traffic is not very hectic in the evening but rather slow. Again, this traffic seems to consist not so much of people traveling from A to B but of citizens just cruising the city. Particularly young people. We spend quite some just floating around with all the other peoples on their motos. We passed through all areas of the city and finally ended up in this Khmer restaurant close to the riverfront, where we had some food.

This guy came from the country side to Phnom Penh after he finished high school. Since his family does not have much money this was possible only because he could live at the Pagoda. He has been living there for about 8 years, 6 of those years as a monk and according to strict rules. He quitted when he started to study Tourism about two years ago. After his study he wants to go back to Siem Riep to start a business. He likes to live in Phnom Penh but does not have ‘relationships’ (family) here.

The following picture are taken only a few hours ago (Thursday evening) from the Monument of Independence.

The temple in the background is Wat Lanka, close to where I live.

This is to the south.

This is Hun Sen part to the east. Behind the park is the Mekong River.

This is one of Hun Sen’s residences.

Those are mostly Phnom Penh people enjoying their motos.

Continue reading The Week Following the Election