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The SIAMPEDIA Expedition to Cambodia – Kep & Kampot

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind

 

The wonderful time in Tani with our friend Wolfgang and his project came to an end and the furthest point of our journey from Kuala Lumpur was reached, when we went to the Vietnamese border. We had absolutely no desire to pay several monthly salaries to the highly corrupt border folks in bribes and did not continue any further. The Cambodian provinces of Kep and Kampot were well worth our visit. The Vietnamese national game (ripping off the tourists) was not our cup of tea anyhow.

The ocean was a bit muddy, due to sediments in the water from the last rainstorms. The islands in the background are in part Cambodian and in part Vietnamese territory. Some time ago, the entire Mekong Delta of Vietnam and Saigon belonged to Cambodia, but the French colonialists shoved the cards new and made the area known as Kampuchea Krom (Southern Cambodia) a part of Vietnam. I’m sure the Vietnamese didn’t mind to annex 89.000 km² of prime and fertile farmland and oppress the native Cambodians here. Geographically it is Vietnam now, but the Khmer spirit lives on!

Kep is a sleepy coastal town with a sorry excuse of a beach. A monument rests on the shore, showing a nude woman looking in a westerly direction.

She must be here for a while and has probably been photographed by each and every traveler, who came this far. Regular public transport to this neck of the woods are unscheduled shared taxis from Phnom Phen. Back in the years of motorbike rentals, some made it from Sihanoukville on the east coast over here. Sihanoukville has experienced a lock down on private rentals for tourists recently, so we heard. The moto taxis there probably enforced this somehow, because every tourist with a bit of sense rather rented a bike than use their exaggerated services.

To get back to the monument, the nude, white lady peeks into the west. I have seen uglier monuments, especially when those show communist dictators or freaky leaders elsewhere. The white chick surely sports the biggest Cambodian butt, but she fits Kep somehow and is probably one of the most photographed ladies in the country.

Hotels are few along the coast here, but then again their beaches are sorry excuses for such oceanfront.

Barely 10 meters wide and not maintained at all. A lot of dirt litters the sandy part below the concrete wall. Endless rows of food stalls under tents can be found on the upper part of the beach. Most were vacated when we drove by.

A lot of concrete ruins also litter the beach road. They have been stripped of any metal, wood or roofing materials. An eerie sight to see and there were countless of them, all sharing the same feat. Once the may have housed the high society of Phnom Penh for their weekend getaways. After all, the distance can be covered in 2 hours by car.

Projects and such were often featured on roadside billboards, we decided not to stop for another night and head to Sihanoukville right away. Kep did not really tickle our fancy and neither did Kampot.

Funny loads on dirty side roads with the smell of burning plastics everywhere. We did not travel so far for this and most hotels were either overpriced (25 $ and up!) for rather basic rooms with A/C or about half of that for a fan room, thanks – we knew Cambodian prices and had our own transport with us.

As soon as one ventured off the beaten track, the sights were the same everywhere. Dirt roads full of trash and half naked kids roaming the back streets.

My old bike mechanic in Kampot once saved my day, he repaired my dirt bike once, that caused problems after a Bokor Hill climb.

Bokor Hill has drawn my attention on previous trips, when I came here with different traveling companions and different transport options. A full-blown dirt bike was needed in less than perfect weather conditions and a regular motorcycle could cover the distance to the mountaintop in dry season. It was cold up there, much colder than down here at sea-level and we saw the cloud covered Bokor Hill from a close distance. 1.000+ meters high, the abandoned resort and casino offered one of the best views in Cambodia. 900 lives were wasted during the first 9 month of construction here during the French rule. A bad road was leading to the top over 30 km from this gate:

Bokor Hill’s top was enshrouded in clouds, promising rain and a miserable view. We did waste neither time nor money, when we learned that SOKIMEX had leased the park and was ripping visitors big time now. 50 $ to climb up with my own car for a few ruins of a casino?

Sorry, SOKIMEX but my money does not grow on trees for you to harvest. Play your games without us!

The final run to Sihanoukville was on nice roads with ever new sights of funny cargo on mopeds or trucks. Check out this load:

A final episode, handling Sihanoukville and the return trip to the Thai border, will follow soon.

The SIAMPEDIA Expedition to Cambodia – Party in Tani

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind

 

The days in Phnom Penh came to an end, we headed further southwest in the direction of our friend Wolfgang’s village. Tani in Kampot province was our goal for the day.

The airport gate was our last memory of the capital, as we left Phnom Penh in a westerly direction, before veering south. The road quality gradually declined as we traveled further. The traffic seemed to thin out with every other mile covered. It was a sunny day and we did not forget to bring a birthday cake for Wolfgang`s daughter, it was her party today and we were invited. A true highlight of our trip was about to follow!

Rather adventurous forms of transport were discovered and passed along the way. The flat land here, allowed for towed trailers being pulled behind small mopeds, that would need several pickup trucks to haul otherwise!

We arrived early, because the location was easy to find, the description Wolfgang gave me, were a perfect guideline to his residence. The party was rather large, as it seemed. Even a large event tent was provided to shade guests from the sun or an eventual rain shower.

The beautiful birthday girl and her little brother were all dressed up greeting their little friends and other guests. Countless helpers were preparing food for many guests to arrive and decorations found their way onto the tables and everywhere.

Whilst everyone was getting prepared for the event, we looked around the farm and village.

The farm featured Wolfgang’s home and plenty of sheds and space to store his farm truck and equipment. For the big day, everything was cleared and ready to accommodate guests. His wife was very busy organizing the catering and seating, while Wolfgang checked the entertainment electronics and lighting for the venue.

The village of Tani was nearby and appeared sleepy on our visit. Besides the main road through town, here they were using dirt roads only.

Massive amounts of bicycles occupied the parking lot near the school, it was early afternoon and the school was in session still.

The old school building was open-air style with a leaky roof, but no windows. Wolfgang is the manager for a Tani NGO project, dealing with the real needs of the school children and teachers. Break time was anticipated and the school kids in uniforms stormed out of the old building only seconds later, unfortunately we’d miss to document that moment.

The children rushed to their washroom away from the school and then converged under large and shady trees or at the drink and snack stalls, which were scattered around the grounds. They quickly posed for us for a moment.

Wolfgang treated them all to a sugarcane juice, a rare treat for some of these kids. Their parents (if they are lucky enough and have them alive), do not earn too much money. Poverty is widespread in rural Cambodia and some families have to walk far for questionable drinking water from the local temple pond or a large jar, catching rainwater at times.

Despite their neat and clean school dresses, many do not have any type of shoes and attend school barefooted:

The sweet sugarcane juice provided some form of nutrition and Wolfgang sponsored a bag for every kid that was present here, and their numbers didn’t dwindle for a while;) every kid was fetching his or her friends and came over. Some even twice!:)!

Wolfgang is overseeing the construction of the new school here. His presence on-site brought plenty of wells into the neighborhoods here and the school is just another project. His projects need additional funds to help more kids in need, please visit his website at: The Tani Project

The construction of the new school was in full swing.

We still had some time left, so we grabbed bikes and toured a bit around the countryside. Here we cross the rails from the infamous Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville track near his farm land.

You can’t shop for babies at these convenient stores here, but in the countryside they may be the only shopping option for miles! This young mother carried her toddler in the frame-mounted basket on the bike! Kids learn early in Cambodia to grab any transport chance they may have.

It finally was time for the party:

The birthday girl was really excited about her new blue bicycle with a huge basket in the front.

A lot of friends and their kids came over to celebrate and we had much fun also!

The village chief and all neighbors filled every seat available. Beer, booze and food for the seniors and cake, sweets and candies for the kids was being served. Wolfgang’s charming wife had everything under control and the hosts were much applauded to for another great event in Tani village.

We spent a few more days with our friends and enjoyed every minute of it. A few short trips by car were made, our Proton was leaking power from the battery. Some cables or connections must have gotten wet in the Phnom Penh flood, when the water almost reached the seats. The power drain was slow and the source for it undetectable for us. So we cranked the vehicle up daily and recharged the battery, left it parked during the day with open doors in scorching heat out in a field to dry out.

Non motorized transports were still common then, ox-carts and horse drawn vehicles were seen daily. We had a great time in Tani.

Two mechanics are better than one, but on day three or four the battery was dead as can be. Luckily Wolfgang had a farm tractor parked nearby, so I was able to draw some juice with the help of my jumper cables. That was the final day of this electric malfunction, the interior was bone dry and the battery did its assigned job again for the rest of the trip.

This wonderful country home is our host’s residence, we loved the view over the fields from the upper floor’s terrace. Inside it is so much roomier, than it appears from the outside.

To be continued!