The SIAMPEDIA Expedition to Cambodia – Eastbound pioneering

Written by Frank on September 6th, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind

 

My Malaysian company car was a loyal companion for the professional years, which I spent near Kuala Lumpur in the Klang Valley. Made by Proton with all the whistles and bells, but a meager power output. When the company folded, I ended up with it and became the legal owner, a necessity to take it across borders in Asia. Numerous trips to Bangkok and back were done in the past, but before we decided to sell it, we took it on a hell of a trip. From Kuala Lumpur around the entire Gulf of Thailand with numerous side trips and dozens of beach stop-overs. This travel tale regards the final leg, the border crossing into Cambodia and the tour to the Vietnamese border. Impossible will many of you say, but here comes the proof:

Arrival at the southeastern part of Trat province in Thailand was a piece of cake and 3.000 Kilometers into the expedition. It took us about 4 days, but were not in a rush. We were not sure if this would be our mandatory return point and if the Cambodians would allow us to drive into the country. Below you can see the Thai soldiers guarding the gate.

Looks like we have made it, the customs chief checked my documents and found it funny that a Malaysia registered vehicle showed up here. We were the first ever with the famous black number plate showing up here in his career. We had to swear to leave Cambodia with the vehicle within 30 days and purchase an insurance sticker for the duration of time in Cambodia, several Khmer language documents were issued to me.

The chief of the Cambodian border post was pleased as well with the stack of papers and off we drove after 4 hour of negotiations with the friendly people here.

Driving in Cambodia is fun, they don’t use the left or right side of the road here, they use both each way. The casino shuttle is shown below, but the only danger here were the handcarts with massive loads of merchandise.

Some of those hand pushed carts were hauling several cubic meters of heavy cargo, pieces fell off at frequent intervals.

Above and below snapshots show the reality here. Not only the cargo hold on the three-wheel cart is used, the handlebar too! When parcels fell into the face of the pushing person, he balanced the load with his upper body and got some help from other people.

These pushcarts often block the entire width of the road, just take your time – these people are professional cargo forwarders and earn their living doing this on a daily basis.

The obvious casino is close to the border, a lot of pomp and glitz here. Targeting ethnic Chinese Thais, they mushroomed around the millennium at every known Cambodian border post.

After a few kilometers, we reached the Koh Kong bridge. A ticket booth sells the toll-tickets to passing motorists. There are only few cars here and processing a car takes two to three minutes.

Once you have crossed the bridge, you’re in the provincial capital of Koh Kong. That city stretches for a few blocks along the river and even boast an airport. Well, to stick with the truth, it has a grass landing strip, which proved fatal to the first commercial aircraft landing here. It ran on a hidden land mine, which left the airplane stranded for a few month here.  The aircraft was intact but without the landing gear, it was dismantled and trucked away. That was an abrupt end to Koh Kong’s aviation.

Koh Kong is also the departure point for the bullet boat to the beaches of Sihanoukville, further down the coast. At one point in time the only chance to travel onwards from here. Now the bridge here makes crossing with vehicles possible. Previously small boats ferried the few travelers in this neck of the woods. Now road 48 has been built across the cardamom mountain range and meets road number 4 past the old pirate town of Sre Ambel. My first time here with my own set of wheels and we wanted to reach Phnom Penh in daylight. Roughly 350 km down the road from here. Below road signage refers to an intersection, which is at least a good 250 km distance away from the sign.

The gas station there supposedly has fuel for sale, so we’ve been told.

Somehow it gave our expedition an extra twang, being the first owner of a Malaysian vehicle ever to travel into Cambodian territory. This country has only few cars and they are used intensively for transportation. As I witnessed Cambodia’s changes since before the millennium, I am quite happy for the fine Khmer people to see their country blooming again after many decades of war, famine and hardship.

The original all-weather gravel road here (a mud track in rainy season!), has been blacktopped all the way, greatly improving the traveling speeds. Minivans substitute the Toyota Taxis now, offering inexpensive, but cramped seating for trips across the nation. People still stand on the rooftops, clinging to the heavy cargo. The smoother roads surely improve their health significantly now.

The trip was a breeze and Melona and I enjoyed the Cardamom mountain range with its rainforest and rivers to cross. 4 larger rivers lay ahead and extremely crude makeshift ferries await the SIAMPEDIA team. We frequently stopped to watch butterflies, anteaters and other critters along the way. No more danger from land mines in the immediate area of road number 48!

To get an impression of what awaited us in the capital Phnom Penh, see below short video from the day of our arrival there:

 

To be continued…..with even more short videos :)

 

 

 

1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Mike Groom says:

    A real eye-opener! Excellent report and pictures.

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