One Day After National Election

Today is Monday and I agreed with the UNDP driver to go on another ride thought the city to catch the mood. We went first to a computer shop close to Central Market. This was to find somebody who can fix the problems with my network card.

We are heading north on 51st street. This is about 9:30 am. The brownish facility straight ahead in the middle of the road is the security fence of the US Embassy. Their compound appears to be the most intensely secured in town, not only in election time.

Still on 51st street.

Streets appear to be a bit more crowded than yesterday.

Central Market

Significantly busier than yesterday.

Monivong Boulevard

Police men behind a tree with Funcinpec advertisement.

Straight ahead is the Monument of Independence

Sihanouk Boulevard, much different from yesterday.

Norodom Boulevard

There are a number of police men behind the Land Cruiser.

Straight ahead at the junction a good number of strong police motor bikes are waiting.

People told me those bikes belong to the “Flying Tigers” unit of the Military Police. There are two helmets on each. I did not see the police men, but I am sure they are not far.

This is Sothearos Boulevard and behind the Toyota Camry upfront a number of Military Police is waiting.

This is opposite from the National Assembly, where two police trucks are parked. The wall behind them is the fence of the Royal Palace.

This is the front side of the Royal Palace.

Another police truck is parked in the shadow of the tree.

Behind this pavilion is the Mekong River. In front of it is still another police truck waiting. Police men blend with the crowd in the pavilion.

This is the northern part of the Palace compound, where yet other police trucks are waiting.

Riverside. This is where most tourists are.

We are heading further north on Sisowath Quay.

Wat Phnom in the north of the city.

Still not very busy.

Not much action at the Hotel Le Royal.

And not at the governors residence either.

This is the French Embassy.

This is the road leading up the Japanese Bridge over the Mekong in the north of the city.

Funcinpec headquarters.

The French Embassy is neighboring Funcinpec headquarters.

This is the place where people go to buy spare parts for their car. This spot looked much different yesterday.

This street neighbors France Street, on which we are heading south.

People seem to be doing what they usually do.

Wat Phnom again.

Ministry of Public Works

Railway station.

Police station close to where Monivong and Russian Boulevard meet. There is a good number of police trucks parked inside.

In the background is Central Market

Charles de Gaulle Boulevard.

Wat Sampao Meas

This is the Olympic Stadium. It is closed right now. The fact that it is closed was subject to much election campaigning. Funcinpec and CPP leaders accuse each other of being responsible for the unfavorable deal with the company that is supposed to develop the area.

Monireth Boulevard, where many demonstrations took place in the past.

Hotel Intercontinental in the south west of the city.

Mao Tse Toung Boulevard

Vietnamese Embassy

Another Sokimex petrol station ready for riots.

This road leads up to the other major bridge over the Mekong River in the south of the city.

Mostly poor people live here.

This is the Ministry of Interior. Under its authority are most of the department concerned with police. My UNDP friend told me that he was here in the morning and saw many riot police officers waiting on standby behind the ministry. We did not try to take pictures.

This is the main entrance to the Ministry, guarded by several police men. Ironically, this is where I work. Usually there is not so much police around. Sometimes the police men guarding the compound ask me for money. I found this very disturbing and talked to my colleague. He explained to me that those police man earn only about 15 to 20 $ per month and cannot make it without support. Therefore, I should feel free to contribute.

This is the Thai Embassy. There where massive riots in January destroying the entire interior of this building and the Vietnamese Embassy as well. Maybe I talk on another occasion about how those riots where caused. However, the Cambodian government made clear it would not mind paying for the damage of about 30 Mill. $.

I really wonder how this mob was able to enter a building as secure as this one.

This is the Japanese Embassy

This is where the Senate and several central government agencies are located.

Sam Rainsy headquarters. From preliminary election results it looks like Sam Rainsy will be the strongest party in Phnom Penh. However, they have no chance to become the strongest party in this election. The interesting question is rather who is second strongest party behind CPP. Most people think this will be rather Funcinpec than Sam Rainsy.

This is again where Sihanouk and Sothearos Boulevard meet and where those police motor bikes are waiting at the junction. They have gotten company from another police truck.

This is close to where Hun Sen lives.

This is Sihanouk close to the Monument of Independence, where another police truck is standing in the shadow of the tree straight ahead.

Sihanouk Boulevard

Continue reading One Day After National Election

Election Day in the Afternoon

I called the UNDP driver in the afternoon to go on another ride through the city. I thought he is a good choice today not least because he has the UNDP radio which presumably delivers relevant and reliable information.

He had the following information: the office concerned with security at UNDP reported that two grenades where found at about 11 am. One of them actually exploded in front of Funcinpec headquarters but nobody died or was injured. The other grenade was found in the area of the Royal Palace and did not explode. UNDP sort of advised its employees to stay close to where they live.

We started at Norodom Boulevard. I have never seen this road as quite as this.

This is Mao Tse Toung Boulevard. The guys upfront are not members of the National Police, but of the Military Police.

This is Monivong Boulevard, one of the major veins of this city. Again, I have never seen this road as quite. To the right is the local station of the National Police, to which also the truck upfront belongs.

Also neighboring streets are not busy at all.

Monivong, extremely quite

This is one of the few places where expensive cars are sold located and is located at Monivong Boulevard. Looks like they made bad experiences.

This is around central market.

Usually this is one of the busiest places in town with mostly local people.

This is one of the voting stations. I figured that the easiest and least suspicious way to take pictures would be not to stop the moto.

This petrol station is run by the local company Sokimex, which is said to be associated with CPP. The same company collects the very significant entrance fees at the most important tourist side in the country, Angkor Wat, which is also at the heart of current Khmer national identity. Looks like they made bad experiences, too.

This is Norodom Boulevard, another major street in which beautiful houses are located.

This is in the afternoon close to Funcinpec headquarter at Monivong in the north of the city, were Monivong meets the Japanese bridge. I provided pictures of this place earlier. It is the traffic circle with odd revolver monument in the center.

The truck in the picture belongs to the national police. It has a number of banks on its backside and is capable of transporting many police men relatively fast and ready for action.

Neighboring streets are extremely quite.

This is Funcinpec headquarter, where supposedly one of the grenades exploded without hurting anybody. This was said to have happened at about 11 am. This photo was taken at about 4:30 pm.

Road 70 in the north of the city extremely quite.

Military Police at Conf. de la Russie Boulevard.

Those government buildings are located very close to each other. There is a clear presence of police at various places but not so much higher than usually.

Headquarter of the Armed Forces

Ministry of National Defense

Coucil of Ministers

Norodom Boulevard

Central Market

Wat Phnom. This is a major tourist attraction and usually very busy with tourists and locals on weekends.

This is where the elephant usually is. Some tourists like to go on a ride on his back. However, this fellow is not here today. There would not be much business anyway.

We stopped at a small stand to have some soft drinks. While we were sitting suddenly a convoy of about 20 strong motor bikes with men from the Military Policy with AK 47’s emerged and drove slowly around Wat Phnom. I was too slow (and too careful) to take a picture while they were passing very close to us. I found this a strong demonstration of police power. Given that this is Election Day I found this borders political intimidation.

However, the voting stations had closed at 3 pm already and this is maybe 5 pm. I mentioned earlier the statement of the head of the National Police to use force to prevent post-election protest demonstrations from happening. This might be meant as a signal of determination to execute this policy. However, those heavily armed soldiers do not belong to the National, but the Military Police.

Again, I did not take a picture when they passed close by. I took this one after they had circled Wat Phnom and went back on Norodom south, which is to say downtown. The guy on the moto is turning his head to follow the leaving convoy.

This is us. In between us is the helmet I bought about one week ago for about 17 dollars.

Surely, children are still playing in the street. This is while we are heading south on Sisowath Quay.

This is among the touristiest places in town and busier than other places I saw.

The front side of the Royal Palace where supposedly a grenade was found in the morning, which did not explode.

The National Assembly. This street has seen violent protests in the past and is likely to continue to do so during the next days.

Those folks sitting over there are members of the Military Police.

And so are those guys on Sothearos Boulevard.

And those people over there. This is close to the Monument of Independence and not far from where Prime Minister Hun Sen lives.

The temple in the background is Wat Lanka, one of the oldest pagodas in Phnom Penh and close to where I live. Today there is a polling station located on its compound.

I have never seen Sihanouk Boulevard so quite. This is where many shops located whose customers are mostly expatriates and rich locals.

Continue reading Election Day in the Afternoon

Election Day in the Morning

Today is Election Day. I went in the morning at about eight to have breakfast. Later I decided to get a moto, drive around in the city for some time and take photos.

This is the royal palace. There is not much activity today, but other than that it does not look so different from other days.

This is the Hotel Cambodia hot very far from the royal palace in the riverside area.

This is the opposite side of the street. Not much activity here as well.

This is the Buddhism Institute, if I got it right. I am not sure what this organization is actually doing.

This is the ‘park’ in front of the Institute. The signs says that this park is actually sponsored by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The Prime Minister does not live fare from here.

This is close by where very poor people live. This is where migrants from the province start their urban carreer.

My moto driver had to go back to pick up another customer at 10:30 am. So I decided to go back to my place as well. I shortly met the other customer. This apparently was one of the more freaked out travelers. He wanted to go to the shooting range. This place is about 10 km outside Phnom Penh and one can shoot all kind of weapons here, among them rockets for only 20$. I found it rather a perfidy to engage in this kind of activity on Election Day.
Continue reading Election Day in the Morning

One day prior to National Election

Yesterday in the late afternoon I decided to go on a moto ride through the city and take some pictures of what is going on. I had just taken off with the moto driver when it started raining badly.

This is the polling station closest to where I live.

A number of big cars was parked in front of it.

Initially I wanted to take pictures in various locations in the city in order to catch the mood one day prior to Election Day. It did not stop raining and we found shelter under the roof of a house close by. There was not much to do and I started a discussion with the moto driver.

This guy is 35 years old and ensured me he is really poor. We spend about one hour here I believe and I listened most of the time to his urgent report. His parents where killed under the Pol Pot regime when he was seven years old. They were forced out of their home province and had to work hard in the rice fields. They had to eat only what they found in the forest and sometimes rice with just uncultivated grass. He has two brothers and two sisters. He would like to marry but is too poor. Moreover he would like to marry his sisters to somebody but he is too poor. “Poor people don’t get married happy” he told me. He has been saving money for about seven years to become independent and marry. During these seven years he has accumulated 600 dollars. He tries to save one dollar every day and plans to marry once he reaches 1500 dollars. During the conversation he lowered this number to 1000 dollars.

He realized my interest in the election and told me extensively what he thinks about it. The richer get richer and the poor remain poor at best. The government only talks but does not do anything. He does not like the government. The main problem is corruption. Hun Sen is a bad man. Hun Sen is Khmer Rouge. Poor people do not like government. Government does nothing for them, only cheap talk. He wants a new government and will cast his vote for Sam Rainsy Party. Sam Rainsy will stop corruption. Sam Rainsy studied economics while Hun Sen did not.

He is afraid that there will be violence after election. In urgent gestures he explains how police and military shoot at angry protestors. He is very concerned this might be what happened once the election result is announced.

It did not stop raining but became dark. So I could not hope to take any more pictures and we went back to the guesthouse.

This encounter was maybe more informative than what I wanted to do initially to catch the spirit in the city. I felt very touched by this guys report about his life. It is hard to understand how people are able to stand the horrors he has seen. And I have no doubt that he is traumatized to a significant extent.
Continue reading One day prior to National Election

Kompong Cham, Kratie, Stung Treng, Banlung (Rattanakiri)

This time I went to Rattanakiri. I thought it would be a good idea to travel on the ground, particularly since I am here for only three month and cannot afford to spend so much time in the air. I divide this trip into more than one pieces and start off with our journey to reach Banlung.

This time I was traveling with the Administrative Assistant of our project. He was so kind to give me company and help me out with translation. I had arranged the ride to Kratie via minibus the other day. Kratie is about half the way to Banlung, which is the provincial capital of Rattanakiri. What we had to pay for the ride to Kratie was cheap 10 dollars per person. It was open how we would proceed from Kratie. Our expectation was that we would have to spend the night there and continue the journey the next day to Banlung via Stung Treng. Stung Treng is half way between Kratie and Banlung and the provincial capital of Stung Treng province.

We met at 6:15 am and went to the port by moto. We left at 7 am with the minibus. This is where we had food after we have been traveling for some hours and passed Kompong Cham already, which is the provincial capital of Kompong Cham province. The guy to the right is my co-traveler.

This is how it looks like when people cook

This is our quite comfortable means of transportation. The guy to the right is the driver.

This is how it looks like in Kompong Cham. There are many plantations of rubber and timber.

Those are the last cars of about 15 trucks accompanied by police cars. You don’t get to see police cars in the countryside very often and not in such high numbers. My co-traveler indicated this might have been Prime Minister Hun Sen himself.

This is how it looks like in our vehicle. The guy to the left in the very back is from Israel. We got to know him during this ride and met him later several times in and around Banlung.

We crossed a number of bridges which where mostly constructions similar to this one.

Those are pictures randomly taken with my camera out of side from the top of the car somewhere in Kratie Province. This ‘read soil road’ is not the main road but some sort of shortcut. Once in a while we pass a settlement of very simply shacks.

A truck had damaged the road and local people came to repair it.

We were able to pass after only a few minutes of waiting.

We arrived at the port of Kratie at about 11:30.

We learned that a speed boat to Stung Treng would leave at 12 and we managed to get tickets for 5$ (Khmer) respective 8$ (Foreigner), I believe. I was impressed to find this boat. It looked fast to me. Almost like an airplane. However, I was glad that this vehicle would not loose contact to the fluid ground.

Most seats in the boat were already occupied and I found it to be a privilege that we could travel on the roof.

Those are settlements along the river. There were a number of bigger ships as well, mostly wooden ones.

This picture shows a very specific weather phenomenon which I have not seen before. We are aiming at an area with very heavy and dense rain. This rain however is limited to a very small area and its boundaries can clearly be distinguished.

This is the cockpit of the boat.

I got myself a seat because I did not feel like having a shower. Moreover it became sort of stormy outside. Inside this boat is not so much different from an airplane.

This is the rain front from the other side. We hit a good number of them before we reached in Stung Treng. The boat is actually quite fast and reasonably comfortable. I heard this is particularly true when compared to the road, which is the other option for traveling from Kratie to Stung Treng.

After maybe one hour we reached this settlement, which I could not find on any map in my tourist guide.

The course of the boat was not steady and obviously the captain tried to avoid hitting the ground. I tried to figure out pattern in how he was steering the boat, but could not identify any. However, most of the time we were traveling very close to the main land.

It is about to rain again when we meet this boat. This happened a number of times to pick up passengers or discharge goods like chicken (more or less alive) or a spin for those long and slim boots.

Again, we travel most of the time close to one or the other bank. Frequently we pass side arms of the Mekong.

We pass those bigger wooden boats shortly before we arrive in Stung Treng. I have seen this sort of boat earlier close to Phnom Penh discharging wood. What seems to happen here is that they are loaded with something, most likely timber.

This is when we arrive in Stung Treng. A good number of people are waiting to promote guest houses and transportation or to sell snacks to travelers and carry cargo. Given this situation it does not generally appear to be a problem to find accommodation or a ride to the next destination.

It is still not even late in the afternoon. I was surprised how easy traveling to Rattanakiri actually turned out to be. It did not take us long to settle for a ride on the back of a pick up for 5 dollar per person. We have company of those people. The fellows on the ride hand are Frenchmen. The guy to the left is the guy form Israel I mentioned earlier. We had good conversations about the relationship between France and Cambodia today, about the United States and the war in Iraq.

This is how it looks like most of the time during the first part of the journey. Later on we traveled through partly dense and almost impenetrable jungle.

Another of those bridges. This exemplar is pretty long compared to most of the other bridges I saw.

This is when we have a break. At this point we are already pretty much in the forest. However, we passed numerous clearings apparently created by mankind involving fire. Most of the time there is a small house on those clearings, housing obviously pretty poor people. The house in the background is pretty much the wealthiest house I have seen on the way.

It is getting dark very quick.

At this point a number of short rains showers had already hit us. It is a bit colder around here and together with the wind caused by the speeding car it becomes kind of chilly.

The quality of the road was pretty poor and we had a hard time holding on to the car. I tried to take pictures of the road using a small stand on the of this pick up’s cabin. However, the flash is not strong enough.

However, shortly after this shot it started to rain very heavy and did not stop. This was about the strongest rain I ever encountered. This was an interesting experience particularly on the back of a truck. I was happy to have rain jacket. Together with my sunglasses I was even able to open my eyes. However, I did not see much. The jacket did not prevent me from getting wet. This was like going for a swim in a rain jacket hoping to remain dry. However, it helped me not to become cold.

It was still raining when we arrived in Banlung, which is the provincial capital of Rattanakiri. This was at about 8:30 pm. In general I was surprised that we made it here during only one day.
Continue reading Kompong Cham, Kratie, Stung Treng, Banlung (Rattanakiri)

Phnom Penh One Week Prior to National Elections

After I have been traveling for previous weekends I though it would be a good idea to explore Phnom Penh for a change. After all, I live and work here and get to see the city mostly on my way to work or work related appointments. Moreover, it is seven days from today to national election and I thought it would be a good idea to catch the mood on the streets of the capitol.

I met a moto driver the other day who spoke quite good English and seemed to know the city pretty well. I planned to call him yesterday evening. Unfortunately I left all the name cards I collected so far in the office and his number was written on one of them.

So I went to one of the Khmer restaurants to have breakfast. And read the weekend issue of the newspapers. I kind of enjoy the luxury that there are only very few newspaper in English. So most of the time I manage to read through each issue. This is an easy way to know what all the other foreigners read. There was an article about Rattanakiri in the weekend editions of both the Cambodia Daily and the Phnom Penh Post. I do not expect to find them online and might type them in case I find enough time.

It was almost noon when I decided to call the UNDP driver again. He had time and was willing to facilitate my plans. So we went to riverside first, which is maybe the touristiest place in Phnom Penh. Not least because this is where the royal palace is.

This is opposite from the royal palace, directly at the Mekong River.

Tourists as well as locals hang out here. The ship in the background is the Naga Casino. There is actually a 100 km ban for casinos around Phnom Penh. This was issued after 1995 when a massive casino boom occurred in Cambodia. However, most likely due to the breathtaking corruption this major casino is operating.

In the background to the left is the roof of the royal palace.

People come to this place to “pray for better business” as my guide noted ironically.

This is the compound of the royal palace.

Initially I wanted to travel part of the way to Rattanakiri by boat. So we went to the port to find out about it. We learned that there are no boats to Kratie (halfway to Rattanakiri) because there are too few tourists to make it profitable right now. So I decided to travel with a minibus to Kratie for about 10$ per person.

In the background is the important Japanese bridge.

This is Wat Phnom in the north of the city. This is what gave Phnom Penh its name and is located on a hill. Supposedly both the hill and the Wat has been created in 1372. Mr. Penh found four Buddha statues and erected this hill together with friends to provide an appropriate context for the statues.

My tourist guide notes that this place is integrated into the live of the population and many people come here particularly on weekends.

Supposedly there was a rock concert organized by the CPP attracting about 10.000 people on Saturday around here. This is what I read in the newspaper on Monday. However, I did not see any indication that there was such a major event only a few hours ago.

This is early afternoon and the place is not particularly busy. At this place people sell incense.

These guys were playing cards.

It seems nobody wants to ride on the elephant ride now.

Then we continued our journey. I thought it would be good to have some sort of before/after pictures. So we went to the headquarter of Funcinpec. There are only three big parties: CPP, Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy. Recent governments have always involved prime minister Hun Sen’s party CPP. Currently there is a coalition with Funcinpec. Those are the royalists. Recently they started to distance themselves from CPP.

In the background is Funcinpec’s headquarter. In front of it in the middle of this traffic circle is this obscure monument. This is a revolver with a knot in its barrel.

This is their gate. The Funcinpec logo involves the shape of an Angkor Wat like temple and the face of their leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

The building in the right half of the picture is part of the generous compound of the French embassy. Reminder: Cambodia was a French colony. This is neighboring Funcinpec party’s headquarter.

This is the residence of the governor of Phnom Penh.

This is the Hotel de Royal, one of the oldest and finest hotels in town.

The group of moto drivers is a very characteristic sight image in Phnom Penh. This is the area of the central market. The yellow building down this road is part of the central market hall, which is an architectural highlight and landmark in Phnom Penh.

This is the railway station.

This is a gold smith on central market

The area offers strong contrasts.

This is inside the main hall in the central market building.

This is the main entrance.

This is the headquarter of Sam Rainsy Party. Sam Rainsy is the big opposition party and does not currently participate in the government. However, recently prime minister Hun Sen has moved in the direction of Sam Rainsy party and considers a coalition with this party a possibility. Their logo involves a candle and the head of their leader Sam Rainsy.

The society is extremely politicized along party lines. This is not so much a matter of programs but a matter of persons. Programs do not work well where the literacy and poverty rates are as high as in Cambodia.

This is the opposite side of the street.

This is again in front of the royal palace.

This is where the Cambodian Parliament meets. This is very close to the royal palace and rather modest in its size when compared to it. I read the next day on the front page of the Cambodian Daily that there was a political demonstration staged by CPP on the same day. Supposedly about 200 demonstrators shouted “Sam Rainsy is a failure” and burned t-shirts bearing the opposition party logo. According to the newspaper, one of the demonstrators asked whether he can keep his shirt.

This is one of the neighboring streets which appear to be very busy.

This is a square along Sothearos Boulevard.

This is on Sihanouk Boulevard close to where I live. There has been an accident involving the back of the huge American car to the right and the front of another 4 wheel vehicle in the backgrounds (not the silver Nissan). While the massive American car did not show much impact, both of the other car’s airbags were open and the entire car appeared to be significantly shorter than it is supposed to be. This is almost in front of where prime minister Hun Sen and other rich and powerful people live, close to the Monument of Independence. I do not think anybody got hurt.

Continue reading Phnom Penh One Week Prior to National Elections

Moto; Neak Luong and Kieng Svay

Today was Saturday. I felt tempted since quite some time to learn driving motor bikes. This day I agreed with the driver of an associated UNDP project that he would give me instructions.

We met in the morning to have breakfast in a close by Khmer restaurant. Later we went to “lucky lucky”, a motor cycle rental service run by Chinese people on Monivong Boulevard. We than went to riverside, which is less than one kilometer from where I live. There are several well maintained roads with hardly any traffic. The reason might be that there are huge constructions under way, apparently to provide space for offices.

The moto to the left is what I got at “lucky lucky” for only 6 $ a day. I though this is generally the appropriate tool to participate in the anarchy on the road. In particular I expected this means of transportation to facilitate dealing with both the potholes in as well as careless drivers on the road. In the background is one of so many small enterprises were one can buy petrol. They are spread all over both the city and the countryside. In the stand to the right from the moto are various bottles which contain petrol. If somebody wants to buy a liter the owner uses a funnel to channel the valuable liquid into the tank.

This is the UNDP driver showing me how to go about riding this bike. Of course both of us use helmets all the time.

Riding this bike was easier than I expected. I started slowly and practiced using the brakes and the clutch. Later I started driving on some neighboring roads and finally circled the monument of independence.

Since there did not appear to be much need to further instruction and because I rented this bike for the entire day, I agreed with my teacher that he would go home while I would drive on the national road number one with direction to Saigon.

I felt confident about my ability to ride this bike now. It is sort of stressful in the city but outside it gave me a lot of satisfaction. Of course I drove very carefully and slowly in the beginning. The street was well chosen for several reasons.

Initially I wanted to see Koki Beach (18 km from Phnom Penh) and Kieng Svay (15 km). Both are said to be popular destinations for the urban population to spend a day or two on the weekend. I realized that riding this bike on this road requires all my attention. Although this was fun, it was kind of unfortunate that I had not much opportunity to observe the environment in which I kept traveling.

This was one of the few spots were I actually stopped for some minutes to take a picture of this temple.

I kept driving but could not see the turn to get to Koki Beach. After about two hours of traveling I stopped at a kind of shop to ask. I learned that I drove way too far. From here it is only about 18 km to Neak Luong (Neak Loeang), which itself is 75 km from Phnom Penh.

This woman is 47 years old and the grandmother of this kid.

I had two coffees and a good conversation with the mother of this youngster, who spoke good English. She is 24. Her husband lives in Phnom Penh where he works as a driver for a company. She would like to live in Phnom Penh as well to study English, learn typing and so on. However, to live in Phnom Penh is too expensive for her. So she lives here and helps her mother to manage the business. Her father left her mother when she was one year old. She tried several times to meet him in Phnom Penh but he is not interested in any contact.

These kids are cousins. The older one is the youngest child of the older lady while the younger one is the second child of the 24 years old mother. And it was her who told them to pose for this picture. I am not sure but I think they were not very enthusiastic about it.

She told me that I should rather go and see the port in Neak Luong than to drive back to Koki Beach. So I drove until I reached at the ferry in Neak Luong. She did not tell me that most of this town as well as the port are on the opposite side of the river.

All those people are waiting with their cars to get on the ferry and cross the Mekong.

This is how the Mekong looks like at this point. It does not appear to be very wide right now. However, when stronger rains come later in the year this might change dramatically. I heard a road is planned to make it easier to cross the Mekong at this point. Again, this is the connection to Saigon. From here it is only about 40 km to the Vietnamese border.

This is how the crowd looks from the back.

This was a statue close by. I am entirely uncertain who that is supposed to represent. This character has eight arms and various rather modern tools in all his hands, like a pliers, a saw, a hammer and so on.

I found some sort of café at this square and ordered coffee with ice. I spend about 30 minutes observing the ferry arriving and numerous vehicles and people leaving it.

What those guys are playing is extremely popular all over the place and involves their sandals. Apparently they kick their sandals and who comes closest to a particular sandal wins. Or maybe I got it wrong. However, I see children playing this game virtually everywhere I go.

It was already about 3 pm. “lucky lucky” closes at 6 and I started to ride home. However, I though there would be enough time to spend at least some half an hour in Koki Beach. However, I could not find it.

On the way back I already felt familiar with the bike. I freely admit that I enjoyed its power and speed enormously. Again, to choose this particular road was a wise decision. There was not much traffic to begin with. Furthermore, there were many potholes in it. There were a number of cars but between on pothole and the next they could speed up only relatively slowly. Therefore they were traveling with a comparatively low average speed. However, I learned soon that potholes are not a big deal with this bike. So if there is one I do not even need to reduce the speed significantly. While the driver of the car is looking for the best way to pass these annoying obstacles they are not even an obstacle for me and I pass him. At this point I can overtake almost any car. Furthermore it is not even necessary to travel on the road with this bike. Very often there is some sort of unpaved dust road on both sides of the main road which is very enjoyable to ride on with the motor bike but probably not so with a car.

I stopped at this place initially to ask at the shop on the opposite side of the road about the way to Koki Beach. However, they did not speak English, had never heard the name of this place (or the way I pronounce it) and could not read the map. So I wanted to hang out for a few minutes and check my tourist guide again. However, this crowd of male youngsters was playing volleyball only 50 meters away and located me. I could not but take a picture. This was an encounter of mutual fascination. Those rural fellows appeared to be peaceful and kind. They did not know exactly where Koki Beach is but told me it might be about 10 km from here.

I missed Koki Beach again. However, this time I found Kieng Svay. There are all those huts spread over the banks and the water. People rent them to spend a day with their friends or family. It is possible to rent a boat as well. However, this place was quite empty. Although it was Saturday. I might have to do with the election on the next weekend that people stay home. Or maybe everybody already left to get home earlier. I observed that most people around here get up very early in the morning. I spend again half an hour and than left, because it was almost time to give back the motor bike.

I recognized an extremely high number of trucks loaded with people and equipped with sound systems and numerous flags. These were party people who spend the day campaigning to help their party succeed in the election coming up on the next weekend. Now they were traveling home.

This construction side is close to Phnom Penh and catched my attention already on the way here. This construction is certainly among the highest building I have seen so fare. Apparently this is going to be a pagoda. I think this is likely to be among the biggest Temples in the country, once it is finalized. However, I do not think somebody will manage to build something the size of Angkor Wat anytime soon.

Again I found the traffic in the city rather stressful. However at this point I felt I control this motorbike and I admit that I enjoyed speeding on Norodom Boulevard, where my workplace is. The road is very wide in this part of the road. Than I reached Sihanouk Boulevard, which is close to were I live and rather narrow. Finally I reached Monivong Boulevard and this is where it gets really hairy. I would have felt better with a smaller bike, because the street was extremely crowded and the big bike is sort of clumsy in this environment. Unfortunately “lucky lucky” is on the opposite side of the street.

Turing left on a main road is among the major challenges in this traffic. What people usually do is to just steer their vehicle into the traffic coming on the opposite side of the street about 50 meter before they reach the junction. This requires very good nerves. When I passed “lucky lucky” the first time I did not even realize it. So I continued driving on Monivong until I reached the railway station where it is easier to turn. Than I drove back down Monivong and was happy that I finally gave back the bike before they close.

By the time I arrived at home I was happy, tired and very dirty.

Continue reading Moto; Neak Luong and Kieng Svay

Tonle Bati and the Phnom Tamao

This was Sunday and I decided to drive to the south for a change. I met with Tang at about 8 in the morning.

We drove south the Norodom Blvd. in Phnom Penh first for the moment, where many Ministries and Embassies, among them the Ministry of Interior as well as the Embassies of Thailand and Japan, are located. There were about 60 to 80 trucks standing along the street. Apparently, those had been used to transport thousands of people to a massive election campaign event for the Cambodian Peoples Party (CCP). On the spacious compound of one Ministry there was a tent under which many hundred people where sitting and listening to what the person at the microphone had to say. I heard that Prime Minister Hun Sen is here, too. Attending people were dressed uniformly in party shirt and party hat. The entire affair reminded me of lineups we had to exercise once a week in school when I grew up in Eastern Germany. There are only three big parties in Cambodia (however, about 23 participate in the upcoming election on July 27). CCP dominates the current government and is likely to continue to do so after the election.

This is in the outskirts of Phnom Penh. People use these boats for fishing. I heard on several occasions that those people are mostly Vietnamese or Muslim Cham. And those people are not particularly popular. I heard they are subject to suppression by ‘citizens’ as well as by the police. There are many sentiments particularly against Vietnamese who are without doubt the best hated group.

This is the ferry with which we cross the Bassac. Bassac is the name of this river which meets the Mekong in Phnom Penh. Just like the Tonle Sap I mentioned yesterday.

This is how it looks like when people fish. In the background is a major pagoda which caused us to come here.

My companion indicated that this Pagoda is preferred by Prime Minister Hun Sen. Again, politics and religion appear to be closely tight to each other. Tang mentioned that the ‘management’ of this pagoda is very powerful. Fortunately, the rain in the background of the photo did not hit us.

This is where the more wealthy stupas are.

Those ones appear to be older. The smaller graves upfront remind of Chinese people.

We crossed the Bassac with the ferry again. The ferry consists basically of two boats which are tight together and covered with planks.

This is what drives it. I assume this was a generator in its first live. The supply of electrical energy has gotten better during the last few years particularly in Phnom Penh and many generators are not necessary anymore.

I wanted to visit Tonle Bati and the Phnom Tamao. Both are located at the national street two south of Phnom Penh. Although it is further away (about 45 km from Phnom Penh), we went to the Phnom Tamao first. This was Tang’s recommendation because there is a zoo and most animals would not been seen at midday.

We did not stop very often. After maybe 20 km we had a break at some sort of restaurant directly at the road. The place appeared to be a village. We bought some bananas and ordered coffee with milk, which is common here. However, most people I met prefer to drink tea. There was a TV and the show was on. Top Teen on Channel Five. I do not have a TV at home and liked the show. Attractive young people, mostly women were dancing and singing. This was pop music and sounded to me like 80ies and Casio keyboards. However, it had a specific feel to it and also the choreography was particular and not at all without elegance and sophistication. People of various ages where sitting on wooden chairs, paying only have of their attention to the TV and the rest to their conversation and to us. I learned that there are five channels in Cambodia, four of them private.

We left the national road after about 40 km and continued the journey on an unpaved sort of a trail. This was about 4 km to drive and along the road I saw many people, most of them old or very old and again most of them women. They were standing separately along the entire road and it must have been about 60 of them. They were standing or sitting separate from each other, with a few children around. I have no doubt that these people suffer from countless diseases. Some of them were sitting in the shadow of a flabellum made of a palm leave. These unfortunate people were equipped with simple construction tools. They appear to ‘maintain’ the ‘road’. There is in fact much to do but these people should not be expected to take care of it. It appears that part of their compensation is what people contribute that use the road. However, I saw a number of both cars and moto cycles but nobody giving. It is hard to image that this is enough to support these peoples’ existence.

I did not try to take pictures. I had the experience that poor or impoverished people do not want to immortalize the image of their current unfavorable circumstances, which I find to be quite plausible. That is why I do not want to subject them to further humiliation.

Interestingly, I saw a stand with a number of well-dressed men standing in the shadow of a tree and collecting money to for the maintenance of the pagoda close by. Surprisingly, Tang stopped the moto to contribute and I saw others doing the same.

We arrived at the bottom of two hills, where a number of stands was located. This looked like a market which was not too busy. It was about to rain when we arrived. After a short shower the sun came out again and we managed to stay dry.

We went first to see the Pagoda which was on a mountain. A few people were begging along the stairs, again mostly old, partly ‘handicapped’ women.

This is the pagoda. Next to it on the right are the remaining walls of an earlier building. This is covered by the building on the right. This appears to be rather recent and very functional.

However, there are dramatic scenes painted on the ceiling.

Many of those guys live here and are not very shy.

Next to the pagoda I found an old monk sitting with the company of a young boy under some sort of tent. There were a number of Buddha around and a lot of incense sticks were burning. The monk asked me to sit down and so I did. He had a pack of cigarettes in front of him and I indicated that I would not mind having a cigarette with him. So we had one. Of course he asked me to contribute to the reconstruction of the pagoda (including the construction of new houses for the monks to live in) which I could not refuse. Then he started to spray water at us and praying really fast. I took this to be some sort of blessing.

This gave me a good experience and I started looking around what else I could get. There was an elderly lady sitting under the same tent with another small boy indicating that she could tell me the future. Usually I would not consider asking for such services. However, after the monk took care of my future, I though, this can only get better.

This is how the game works: there is a card game consisting of about 50 paper cards with handwritten texts that I could not read. And a stick. You take the cards to the back of your head, pray very hard and then prick the stick randomly (this is what I think) into the cards. So I did and gave the result to her. She said my future does not look bright but I have another two chances. So I tried two more times with the same result. This lady did not show much movement but I started to worry and wondered what I can do to light up my future. Tang told me sacrificing is usually a good way going about it. I started to think this is a dirty game (“abgekartetes Spiel” since I had paid them already. Maybe not enough.

Tang ensured me that Buddha is not involved in the card business. My tourist guide told me that many of these old people sitting in pagodas and collecting money are doing so because there is actually no other provision for old age.

We went to another building where we could climb a ladder to the roof. On the way I saw another smoking monk. I did not see anybody being busy. Here I took this picture. Three mountains can be seen on it and all of them have visually names that I already forgot. We went with the moto on the street in the center of the picture to the zoo place, which is situated on and around the ‘hill’ in the middle.

Tang managed to get me in for the Khmer price. The entire zoo is pretty much a drive-through affair. So we drove through it.

Those fellows where about to get food (chicken) and crying, apparently driven by desire.

I do not know much about bears but I though this bear does not look particularly happy.

I saw various monkeys, crocodiles, an 80 kilo python, and countless birds. There is said to be a lion but we could not see it. However, I do not think I should make this a zoological review and limit myself to few pictures. I liked the tigers a lot.

This guy gave us company for some time. He was selling coco nuts (I hope I am not mistaken) to (mostly local) tourists who enjoyed feeding the animals to amuse their children.

His bicycle does not have pedals. Neither does it have a brake. So what he does to reduce the speed is he presses his sandal against the tire at the front wheel while driving. I do not think this is too dangerous since there are no steep mountains and there is not much traffic.

For some reason I find zoos not very exciting and I think both of us got tired by watching these animals. So we decided to leave. While driving through the villages I found that many motos were accumulated close to bar-like establishments in which people were watching TV. Tang told me that this is boxing, again on Channel Five.

We just passed a village and the associated pagoda when we saw large Chinese graves on one side of the street. Tang told me that choosing the right place for the death to be buried is important for Chinese people. Their priest (?) determines which location is suitable for the members of a particular family. This is not the case in Buddhism. Khmer people and presumably other believers of Buddhism in various contries countries cremate the bodies of their deceased whereas Chinese people do not (I hope I got it right).

This is what I saw on the other side of the street. I did not see people at other places along the road laboring Sunday late afternoon. And I did not see very often people working collectively. However, I do not think I should draw conclusions from that correlations. What happens here is that young rice plants are taken from this field to be taken to a more suitable one. I learned that the Cambodian rice production has a particularly low productivity of about 4 metric tons per hectare, whereas China achieves about 20. Furthermore there has not been enough rain so fare in this year. July is particularly difficult and referred to as short dry season.

Already on the way back to PP we stopped at Tonle Bati, which used to be a popular destination for the urban population to hang out and spend time with the family. However, things changed and on the better road and with faster cars people can reach the coast to spend the weekend at the sea. And so they speed. Trucks drivers just keep tooting and driving 60 to 80 km per hour even while passing villages where children play close to the road. Car drivers are not better, but faster. Frequently one car overtakes the other while being overtaken by a third car without care for the majority of the people traveling mostly on moto cycles. More often than not these cars do not have plates. It appears that at least 80 percent of them are all sorts of Toyota Camry.

There is Ta Prohm close by, a sanctum build by King Jayavarman VII. (1181-1218). We went to see it and were welcomed by those girls who provided us with flowers and incense. For some reasons they kept asking me how many girl friends I have and told me I look handsome. This seems to be the local strategy for something. My impression was that only few of them knew what they were saying.

This is the main entrance to the central sanctum, where a beheaded Buddha is sitting. An old man was sitting next to the Buddha, pointing at a box to indicate that I should give some money. I recalled that I have to work on my future. The man lighted some of these incense sticks and handed them to me to prick it into a vase.

Behind this first room there are four others and money is being collected everywhere. I could not get rid of these girls while trying to focus on coping with the burden of my karma. “Sehr aufdringliche Kinder”, notes my tourist guide, “die Lotusblumen und Raeucherstaebchen verkaufen wollen.” This is in fact true.

I read that there is a school close by training orphans in music and arts. This folk was playing highly concentrated and really complex pattern on a xylophone like instrument. I had a lot of appreciation for this boy’s music.

This is the entrance to another sanctum (Vishnu) with another old person waiting inside hoping to collect some money.

Did I mention that Cambodia is a very rural country? There are always some animals around.

This is Tonle Bati. Again: this place used to be the first choice for stressed out urban dwellers to spend their weekend with their families. Those huts are for rent and one can sit together over the water, watch the beautiful scenery or go for a swimm. Nowadays people many people travel to the sea over the weekend and this place gets abandoned.

Foreigners have to pay $3 to enter. One gets a ticket which I thought is really cute. Is says

“Ticket Of Constribution
(For Foreign Guest).
Entered For Relaxation Ton le Baty pleasant side Price
$3.00 (free soft drink 1 can)
For entering Relaxation date …
(for supporting tourism part of Ton le Baty pleasant side)
Please, take care and protecting the ecology.
For bid to throw away trash in side pleasant side and into
The water River
Provincial public Tourism office expressed the pleasure of consciousness anything inside the pleasant side of all ladies and gentleman and wish you to meet satisfying in your traveling.

This is the place where I got the soft drink. It was a coke.

Tang is a very silent and rather shy person. He does not have much confidence into his English which is something he shares with many people around here. On Sunday, however, he started to get engaged into some conversation once in a while.

Tang is 34 and lost his parents in the Pol Pot time when he was about 14. He had to work hard to afford going to college. He has a wife and a son. Tang works in the Ministry of Interior and earns about 50 $ per month. He lives with his family in Kandal Province about 45 km outside Phnom Penh.

This time we were traveling with only one moto. Tang borrowed this one from his Nephew, because his moto is old. People around here travel with three up to five persons per moto.

We left after only half an hour and arrived at about 6 pm in Phnom Penh.
Continue reading Tonle Bati and the Phnom Tamao


I decided to Udong on Saturday, which used to be the capital of Cambodia from 1618 to 1866. Udong is about 45 km north of Phnom Penh (PP). The general means of transportation in Cambodia appears to be the moto and I concluded this would be a good chance to learn driving it. I met Tang from the partner organization and he was willing to give me company for this trip.

We went together to the moto rental service ‘lucky’, where I got a simple moto for three bucks the entire day. However, it was in the center of the city and I had to learn driving first on the chaotic road and than on the truly anarchic road outside the capitol.

The street follows outside PP mostly the Tonle Sap, which is a major river and flows into the Mekong in PP.

The picture was taken about 10 to 15 kilometer outside PP. Wooden ships on the shore can carry about 200 metric tons, I was told. What gets discharged here is wood, which comes from various provinces and gets loaded on trucks to be used mostly for cooking (heating really is not necessary around here, at least in July).

In the background people are fishing. There are many fishing boats on the river and there nets span from one waterfront to the other. At least, so I was told.

The discharging of this cargo is associated with hard physical labor.

On the way I saw many Pagodas and a few Mosques, among them this one. A very old man told me this is a very old mosque. However, I doubt this.

This is one of the Pagodas. Maybe it is my ignorance that leads me to call it like that. When I saw this first I thought this must be really old and is really cool. However, it turned out not to be really old. The structure as well as most of the ornaments appear to be from cement.

Also these monks where very cool. I learned that they are students.

I wish to point out that whenever people are in my pictures I ask them before I take it. And I want to stress that I did not give this fellow a cigarette or encourage him to smoke his. He just happened to light his cigarette while I was taking pictures. I told him he is the first cigarette smoking monk I encounter and that I thought monks are not supposed to smoke. He did not mind me taking this picture. Again, I did not make this monk smoke.

This is the ferry which crosses the Tonle Sap at Prek Kdam. There appear to be many rivers in this country but only few bridges. By the way, this seems to be true in large part of the society as well. Particularly with regard to the behavior of political parties towards each other. They are campaigning for the upcoming election on July 27th.
This is a major connection for the national roads 5 and 6. Prek Kdam is said to be populated mostly by Moslem Cham. Except a few mosques I did not see much difference while passing with 20 km per hour.

I was told that some people are poor enough to actually live in this wreck.

This was one of the many modern style pagodas I saw so fare. Other than this one (the construction is probably not yet finalized), they are usually (from what I saw so far) painted in yellow and have, like this one, colorful roofs.

All sorts of religious constructions of various ages can be found on the compound of any pagoda.

Another pagoda out of so many. I found a strong contrast between the poor conditions of many citizens and the number and opulence of all these pagodas.

This is how the scenery looks like most of the time. Except for rice fields, which are usually more dominant. On the right hand from the tree in the center of the picture one can recognize the top of the stupa on the hill next to Udong. From this piece of street it can be seen that this is quite good quality. This is not exactly true of the way many people drive on it.

This is my companion Tang sitting on one of the motos, on which we came here.

This is the biggest stupa on the mountain (which is about 55 meters). The inauguration ceremony took place only some month ago, with the king and queen as well as prime minister Hun Sen being present. This stupa houses some bones and a tooth (behind the window in the upper part) which are said to be from Buddha himself.

From up here one has a great view over the surrounding landscape. At the bottom of this hill is the compound of a major pagoda, which most likely cannot be recognized on this small picture. The turning handrail is due to my camera. On the other side of the mountain constructions are going on to build another huge pagoda.
Also at the bottom of this hill lies the small village Phnom Udong. Again, this place used to be the capital of Cambodia from 1618 to 1866 and King Norodom was crowned here. There are many stupas, all sorts of sanctums and Pagodas around here. Much of it has been damaged or destroyed (like so much in this country, one feels tempted to think) by the operations of several military confrontations, not least the dropping of bombs of the Lon-Nol-Military.

Those are older stupas. The first one houses the remains of King Soryopor. The second one is inhabited by the corpses of King Norodom’s father King Ang Duong.

I found many poor and partly old people sitting on the stairs which lead to these monuments, begging for money. In addition, there are many children trying to sell soft drink and refreshing visitors. With this flabellum-like device they produce currents of air for sweating tourists climbing the 500 or so steps, hoping for some compensation later on.

In this stupa are the ashes of King Monivong who ruled from 1927-1941.

It can be reached via those beautiful stairs.

There seems to be the will to reconstruct this place, including new stairs and this way. This is most likely due to the fact that politics in Cambodia is tight to both the Crown and religion and this place in turn symbolizes either of those.

On our way back, maybe about 20 km from PP, it started raining heavily. Obviously I could not take any more pictures. This rain involved heavy lightening and thunder (which destroyed a medium village close to PP, as I learnt from the Cambodian Daily the other day). This was an interesting experience. Fortunately, Tang had two raincoats with him. However, when we put them on we were already pretty wet. My helmet did not have a visor and the rain became so heavy that I could not open my eyes anymore. So we waited for the rain to become weaker. Then we continued our journey, while it was still raining strongly. Most roads were entirely up to the axis of the moto. At the same time, the street was very crowded. I found that the rain is warm and delightful and enjoyed the wave of water that was flooding from my front wheel over my feet. It looked like all these cars and moto cycles are driving in a river in the very center of Phnom Penh. And it felt like riding a jet ski rather than a motor bike. When I stretched my feet upfront in the water it was like water ski.

We gave my moto back to the rental service and Tang took me back to my guesthouse. He had to drive another 45 km before he reached his home in Kandal province. At this point, both of our clothing was entirely wet.

Continue reading Udong