From Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri to Phnom Penh, via Snuol, Kampong Cham, Neak Luong

The plan for today is to ride from Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri all the way back to Phnom Penh. This is quite a ride in terms of distance but fortunately the road is in good condition. Most of it is paved, much of it recently. We plan on first traveling to Snuol on Provincial Road 76, a distance of 135km on decent dirt road. From Snuol we follow the recently upgraded National Road 7 through Memot towards Kampong Cham.

About 12km before reaching Kampong Cham we turn south right after we pass Chob and follow Provincial Road 11 through Prey Veng to Neak Luong (Neak Loeang, Neak Loeung), a distance of almost 100km on paved road with little traffic through rubber plantations. The route through Prey Veng is a moderate detour but due to little traffic and the bending road a much nicer ride than the alternative National Roads 6 and 7. Moreover, these roads tend to be terribly jammed in the evenings, particularly during holidays such as today. We cross the Mekong River in Neak Luong and head back to Phnom Penh on National Road 1.

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Phnom Penh to Bavet and Pchum Ben Day in Svay Rieng Province

Today is a holiday, more precisely: Pchum Ben Day (Bonn Phchum Ben, P’chum Ben, Bonn Pchom Ben). It is on the occasion of this holiday that Cambodian Buddhists pay respect to the dead through celebrations and offerings that take place at wats.

The plan for today is to join one such celebration in a wat in Svay Rieng Province with my colleagues. We drive all the way to the Vietnamese border, visit the border crossing at Bavet (Moc Bai) and have a look at the casinos that have sprung up on the Cambodian side of the border. After that we join the Pchum Ben ceremony at a wat not far from the border. Visiting casinos and paying respect to the dead on the same trip seems an odd combination yet Cambodians have a great capacity to accommodate contrasts, tensions and contradictions.

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Prey Veng to Phnom Penh by Motorbike, Ba Phnom, Preah Vihear Chann, Neak Luong

We have breakfast in the Mittapheap Restaurant before getting on the bike. We leave on road 11 towards Neak Luong. The plan is to follow this road only for about 10-12 kilometres and then a secondary road (317) for about 25-30km to Ba Phnom (Ba Phnum, Phnom Chi-gaht). According to the Lonely Planet, Ba Phnom is one of the earliest religious and cultural sites in the Kingdome of Cambodia, dating back to the 5th century and the time of the mysterious Funan. It remained an important place of pilgrimage for kings of the subsequent empires of Chenla and Angkor and continued to be a place of spiritual significance into the 19th century, but its past conceals a darker side of human sacrifice. According to French records, human sacrifices continued into the protectorate and were only finally stamped out in 1872. The guide book also says that “It is only really worth the detour for those who have a keen interest in early Cambodian history, as for the casual visitor there is unfortunately little to see”.

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By Motorbike: Phnom Penh to Prey Veng via Kampong Cham, Phnom Pros & Phnom Srei, Rubber Plantations and more

This weekend it is time to go on an overnight trip to the provinces. Maraile is ready to go and we plan to visit Prey Veng and to go there via Kampong Cham. Prey Veng is not so far from Phnom Penh but not connected to any national road. Accordingly, it is said to be a very provincial and sleepy town. The road distances are from Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham 129km and from Kampong Cham to Prey Veng 80km. Prey Veng to Phnom Penh is 90km.

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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.

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