While doing some more detailed planning of my route through Cambodia, I was having issues with what I was seeing on my map, and what I was seeing on Google Maps. Seems like there were lots of main roads missing from my map, and often times, the route different roads took was not accurately portrayed. Turns out, the map I bought was printed in Canada! What was I thinking?!
So it looks like the first thing on my agenda once I get into Cambodia will be finding a new map.
My time in 4000 Islands provided a nice break…basically it’s just a good place to go relax, as there isn’t a ton going on there.
I hung out there with my buddy Christian, from Switzerland, who’s touring SE Asia on his bicycle (after first spending a few months riding through New Zealand and Australia).
We both took off yesterday morning, with him being jealous of how much distance I can cover in a day, and me being jealous of the fact that he can eat endless amounts of food every day.
I was expecting that crossing the border into Cambodia would be a bit of a hassle (and require a bit of bribing), as I’d read plenty of accounts of it online, especially at this particular point. But fortunately, it wasn’t all that bad…just required a bit of running around.
First, I stopped at the customs checkpoint, which was about 2km from the border. No one there was in any kind of uniform, and the few people sitting there told me that everything I needed was up ahead, right at the border, but that I should come to their restaurant for breakfast. I passed on the food, as I wanted to get across the border and continue on my way.
At the immigration checkpoint at the border, the officer said he wouldn’t stamp my passport out of Laos until I checked with the Cambodian customs officer to make sure my bike would be allowed in…at this point I start getting a little nervous, thinking I may get hassled about the bike. So, I ride all of 50 meters through no man’s land up to the Cambodian border. At that gate, I met three guys on bikes who were touring around with Miles for Smiles, raising money and awareness for Interplast, and Australian organization that performs surgeries on patients with cleft lip and palate throughout Southeast Asia. Kinda funny, because just a couple days prior, I’d seen a post on Facebook linking to their page. I talked to them for a bit, and they had to go through the same process, so that at least eased my mind.
I headed up to Cambodian customs, and got my carnet stamped with no issues. Headed back to Laos immigration, got my passport stamped out (after paying a $2 fee…not sure if that’s legit or not). I asked where to get my Carnet stamped out, and the immigration officer said I had to go 2km back to the customs office. So I ride back there (luckily no one gave me any problems about still being in Laos despite having my passport already stamped out), and this time there’s a totally different crew of guys, three of which look official. One of them stamps my Carnet out, so now I’m finally clear to leave Laos.
I head back south, cross the border, get my Cambodian Visa (no bribes required, and they also never wanted me to go through the quarantine area, where apparently they sometimes require people to pay a $1-2 fee to get their temperature taken to make sure they’re not sick…pretty sure that’s not legit at all!), get stamped in by immigration, get questioned by the officer about why I’m single, then continue south.
The first major city I went through in Cambodia is Stung Treng, and from there, I had to take a ferry across the Mekong so that I could continue west.
While waiting on the ferry, tons of people started arriving on scooters, carrying huge loads of stuff to bring back home. Never in the US would you see a scooter loaded down like these. And what amazes me the most is not how much stuff they have, but that fact that it’s barely (if at all) secured to the bike.
This table is just balancing on the back…not tied down at all
This one off in the distance has to be the best of all…I don’t think you could fit all this in the bed of a pickup truck
So far, in Cambodia, gas stations are few and far between, but you can buy fuel by the liter or half liter at little roadside stands all over the place. So obtaining fuel isn’t a huge problem, but I like the idea of using a proper gas station, as it seems to me that there might be a little bit more quality control there, rather than what you’d have from a guy with 11 liters of gas in Pepsi bottles on a shelf in his front yard.
As I see this station off in the distance, I decide to stop and top off my tank…turns out their pumps don’t work, and they’re selling it by the bottle also.
At least these are glass bottles so the gas is BPA free.
This morning I went to check out the Preah Vihear Temple. It was built in the 9th century and dedicated to Shiva. Some of the structures have collapsed, and many more are very close, so there are some frames that have been built to hold up some of the sketchy parts. Surprisingly though, despite the rough state that the structures themselves are in, many of the stone carvings throughout are in surprising good condition.
The temple has seen plenty of conflict in recent history, and as it’s built on a mountaintop, it was often a strategic location used during the wars in Cambodia through the 70s, 80s, and 90s. It was only opened to the public in 1998, accessible only from Thai side. Access also opened up from the Cambodian side in 2003 and since 2010, it’s only been accessible from Cambodia.
The best part about this place was how empty it was. It seems like more people start to show up later in the morning (probably making a day trip up from Siem Reap), but since I showed up first thing in the morning, it was virtually empty, other than all the soldiers that were strolling around.
As you walk through the temple complex, you pass through five Gopura’s, or gates, as you approach the main temple.
The temple is right on the Thailand/Cambodia border and has been the cause of a fair amount of dispute over the last century. In the early 1900s, French officials drew up the border, which put the temple on the Cambodian side. When the French left Cambodia, the Thai army attacked and occupied the temple. This lasted for 8 years, until a vote from the Hague in 1962 declared that the temple complex was on Cambodian soil. When Thailand withdrew from the complex, rather than take down their flag, they dug up the flag pole, with the flag still up, and moved it just across the border, where it is still visible from the temple.
Fighting between the two sides at this site has occurred as recently as April 2009 and February 2011, and there is still a strong military presence throughout the complex. On the north side of complex, overlooking the valley which is the location of the border, there are plenty of sandbagged fortifications and trenches. You can also see the Thai outpost (along with the flag) across the valley.
There are a couple sets of binoculars set up so they can keep a close eye on the Thai outpost.
And last but not least, a couple clips from the roads in Laos…(just a warning…it’s a bit shaky)