Kampong Cham: Wat Hanchey and Ny’s wedding

The plan for today is to visit Wat Hanchey (Han Chey) in the morning, attend my friend Ny’s wedding in the afternoon and ride back to Phnom Penh before it gets dark. Yesterday I agreed with the guesthouse guy that we would meet at 7:30am and that he would show me the way to Wat Hanchey. The guide books say that Wat Hanchey is a beautifully located hill top pagoda that was an important religious centre during the Chenla period. They also suggest it is easy to visit Wat Hanchey, which is about 25 km from Kampong Cham town, by boat. Anyway, I take the bike for convenience and time efficiency.

We start at the agreed time without any breakfast and head north along the Mekong. After very few kilometres we are riding on a narrow and bumpy dirt road. The road leads along the Mekong through a couple of villages in a nice and rural setting. We are not the only ones on the roads. There are all kinds of vehicles, like oxcarts, minibuses and bicycles.

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Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham, Wat Nokor

My friend Sok Ny gets married this weekend in Kampong Cham and invited me on the occasion of this event to join in the celebration. I decide to attend on Sunday and visit a number of places in around Kampong Cham town on Saturday evening and Sunday morning.

Today I just want to travel to Kampong Cham, which is about 129km from Phnom Penh, check in at some accommodation and visit Wat Nokor (Angkor Bahjay) before it is dark.

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Phnom Udong, Silversmith village

It is weekend again and I am planning to visit Phnom Udong (Phnum Odongk) with two of my colleagues, Maraille and Lydia. I have been to Udong before and will avoid repeating what I wrote in the other article and rather provide some more pictures.

We have an extensive and late breakfast in Phnom Penh before we leave. We arrange a car with a driver (a Toyota Camry with the steering wheel on the left hand) for $24 both ways. Then we start.

The road is quite busy at this time and there is a lot of traffic in the outskirts of Phnom Penh. It is getting better while we are coming closer to Udong.

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By Motorbike from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh via Kampot

Today is Thursday and I want to ride back to Phnom Penh in the morning. In fact I want to be in the office in the afternoon. Now that I came to Sihanoukville on national road 4 I want to return via Kampot, which is along national road 3. The guide books suggest that this road is covered with bomb craters which make for a bumpy and time-consuming ride. However, people in the guesthouse told me that the road is ok, so I give it a try. It is the first time that I ride on national road 3 between Sihanoukville and Kampot.

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Sihanoukville: Boat Trip in Ream National Park, Snake Island, Independence Hotel Viewpoint

The plan for today is to do the boat trip in Ream National Park (Preah Sihanouk National Park). I agreed yesterday with the park rangers to meet today at 8 in the morning and go together to the place where the boat leaves, which is where the river crosses national road 4, some kilometers outside Sihanoukville. We agreed also that I would pay $20 for the trip. The official price is $25, regardless of how many people go.

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Sihanoukville: Ream National Park, Kbal Chhay Waterfalls and more

The plan for today is to visit Ream National Park and possibly the Kbal Chhay (K’bah Chai) Waterfall just outside town. First I sleep long. When I want to leave the moto does not start. Even with the assistance of several guesthouse staff the engine does not start. I go with a moto taxi to the local big bike mechanic and ask people to join me to fix my bike.

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From Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville by Motorbike

After the major part of my current assignment is done I decide to spend an extended holiday in Sihanoukville. Sihanoukville (Sihanouk Ville, Kampong Som) is where the white beaches and tropical islands are. Sihanoukville is also one of the few places in Cambodia with a high concentration of tourists and this has been among the major reason why I have never been there.

Sihanoukville is about 230km from Phnom Penh. My colleagues strongly advice me to go by bus. Yet I have been looking forward to do this trip by motor bike and decide not to take the bus. It may sound trivial, but during almost one year outside Cambodia, the idea of riding motorbikes in Cambodia became almost the essence of freedom to me. In practice I find it often tiring or boring, sometimes even painful, but in principle I still greatly enjoy riding the bike and opt for it whenever I can. I am also in the privileged situation of having Toby’s bike, so it is not a difficult choice. However, riding the bike gives me also a sense of vulnerability.

There are basically two options to ride to Sihanoukville: on national road 4, which is supposed to be the best road in the country, and on national road 3 through Kampot. I choose the first option, as it is the most time efficient, and because I have been riding on national road 3 to Kampot before, but not on national road 4 beyond Kirirom National Park.

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Bike trip to Angkor Borei and Phnom Da in Takeo Province

Today is Sunday. I have recently moved and live now in the Apartment of Toby and Katrin, the second time that I have this privilege. In addition, Toby was kind enough to let me ride his motor bike. This has boosted my quality of live enormously and in particular my mobility. I greatly enjoy riding to work and all around in Phnom Penh.

After I was unwell yesterday I want to make up today. The plan is to travel to Takeo (Takaev) Province. All three of my guide books recommend visiting Phnom Da (Phnum Dai), Angkor Borei and the – partly ancient – ‘water canal highways’. The ‘Adventure Cambodia’ guide book in particular praises this trip and recommends visiting Angkor Borei by fast boat from Takeo town. It also says that Angkor Borei town (which is connected by water to Takeo town) may have been the heart of the Funan empire, which is called the “Cradle of Khmer Civilization” by Cambodians. The Funan empire is much older than Angkor and had its heyday between the 1st and 6th centuries and stretched across South Vietnam through Thailand, down through Malaysia and into Indonesia. This sounds all very interesting and I want to give it a try.

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Bike Trip: Kirirom National Park, Kampong Speu

Today is Sunday. I have spent a busy week in the office. The schedule does not look like workload will be lower next week, so I use the chance for a bike trip to Kampong Speu (Kampong Spueu). Yesterday I took it easy, met some colleagues in private and some Cambodian friends in the evening. I go to find the Phnom Penh Bike Shop but find that it is no longer. I find the previous owner in his brother Darah’s bike repair shop and talk to both for some time. Good to meet those guys again, after more than one year.

The plan for today is to get a motorbike from Lucky Lucky and go on a trip to Kirirom National Park in Kampong Speu province. Oddly, none of my guide books has a section on Kampong Speu. Only the Lonely Planet has a paragraph on Kirirom. It says that Kirirom Mountain is 675m above sea level and about 112 km southwest of Phnom Penh. It also says that Kirirom “is not the most interesting of Cambodia’s national parks, but it is the most accessible from the capital and the scenery is notably different from the flat agricultural land that surrounds Phnom Penh, and the climate is also noticeably cooler”. While this does not sound particularly promising, at least the ‘noticeably cooler’ appeals to me. It is very hot in Phnom Penh these days, which makes working and sleeping a major problem in times.

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From Bangkok to Phnom Penh and a few hours Happy New Year in Phnom Penh

My flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh is in the early evening of Sunday. I proceed smoothly and I arrive in Phnom Penh in the evening. I spend the rest of the day along the river side, oberving the somewhat muted New Year celebrations.

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Last day Songkhran in Chiang Mai and back to Bangkok

Today I take it easy. I spend some time walking around in Chiang Mai and visiting some sites around town with a tuk tuk. One very unfortunate incidence is that the tuk tuk I am siting in hits hard an old man in the middle of the road. The man falls and is dragged along for some meters. The poor guy is down for about 5 minutes on the middle of the road obviously deeply shocked and probably also with immense pain. Then we manage to lead him to the roadside. An emergency team arrives after some time and takes him away.

It is afternoon when I meet Chingya again. Songkhran is still ongoing and we decide to join the water battle again. This time we take the moto. Chingya has brought a water canon. Obviously, I do not make the same mistake again and this time round I leave my camera at home.

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Doi Inthanon, hill tribe village, waterfall, Songkhran, bars in Chiang Mai, all on just one day

Today is holiday and since nobody is in the office, I decide to spend a day more like the many people who come here as tourists. The guesthouse offers a number of day trips and following the recommendation of the receptionist, I booked one of them the other day, which involves visiting Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand (2595m), as well as a close by waterfall and hill tribe village, among others. The price is about 20US$.

We start at 8 am in the morning with a mini bus. We pick up a number of other guests before we leave the town, an elderly Thai couple, a middle aged British couple who lives in Bangkok, and two Germans in the company of a young Thai lady. Then we leave Chiang Mai to the south. It takes about 2 hours from the town to the gate of the national park in which the mountain is located. The ride is comfortable, the road is pretty good and the bus is air conditioned.

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Songkhran in Chiang Mai

Today is Wednesday. As far as I know, this is also the first official day of Songkhran, the Thai New Year. In the morning I have a meeting with Helen in the office of the International Alliance. The office is outside of Chiang Mai and she has explained to me yesterday how to get there. However, it takes me more than 30 minutes to find the office. A number of children splashes significant amounts of water at me on my way through the city center. I like it, and by now I can manage to ride on the wrong side of the road.

Finally I find the office. We spent the morning with discussions. Later we leave to visit a party of indigenous peoples from Burma (Myanmar) who fled from their evil government to Thailand. Although Helen speaks Thai very well it takes us quite some time to find the place. Here I meet again with Chris, his wife, Jannie and Chingya. The party takes place in some sort of garden and there are about 40 or 50 people, including a life band. Most people are from Burma.

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Consultations in Chiang Mai

After I have breakfast in a restaurant close to the guesthouse I call Chris. Chris is Swiss citizen and works as Asia Officer for the International Work Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), an international NGO from Denmark. He picks me up, I rent a moto scooter and we ride to his office, which is also is home, a bit outside of town. It takes me some time to get used to driving on the left side of the road. Meanwhile some people have started already splashing water at us, which is quite refreshing given the overall fairly hot temperatures.

I meet Chris’ wife (unfortunately I forgot her name), who is an indigenous person from the Naga in Manipur, India. We discuss for some time. Later Jannie joins us, indigenous, too, Kadazan from Sabah in Malaysia. Jannie is Secretary General of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), a regional network of indigenous organizations. Their office is just on the other side of the road.

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From Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Today is Monday. I have a number of meetings in the ILO’s subregional office in the afternoon and fly to Chiang Mai in the evening. I start with breakfast in the hotel, prepare the meetings and pack my stuff. Then I take a taxi to the UN building in which the ILO office is located. Not exactly close to the hotel. My bags are checked carefully by security before I am allowed to enter. I spend the afternoon with fairly productive meetings, the content of which I do not wish to repeat here. In between I check my email and find a message from the Canadian embassy in Berlin saying that I was granted the research scholarship I applied for more than one year ago. This makes mee very happy and presumably I will travel in late 2005 or January 2006 to study under the supervision of my ‘guru’ Will Kymlicka at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

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