Saturday, 23 February 2019

One Small Town to another- Koh Ker – Kampong Thom – Kampong Cham

There was a period in Cambodia I felt like a zombie. Hit the road riding a few hundred Kilometer then go temple ruin hunting, find food, find a place to stay and repeat everything again the next day. Seeing too many awe inspiring temple in Cambodia can dull the senses and that was what partially happen to me.

From Preah Vihear I went to Koh Ker which was really a very small town? No maybe a street would be more correct but luckily there was a guesthouse. Koh Ker for one night which was 12 USD so I had to run quick. Once checked in and rested a bit by 3pm I started riding into the temples.

I starting to feel that Siem Reap Angkor Historical Park entry fee is cheap. USD 37 per day but so many temples to see whereby out in the countryside it is USD10 per entry and usually it equals to a single small to medium size temple in Angkor Historical Park.

Also the temples outskirt are usually not as intricate or grand. Of course the size can be quite large and unique but reality is, Kor Ker was just a seven tiered pyramid. The temple is unique and one of a kind in Cambodia but the long distance journey getting there to see stones stacked on stoned. For a moment it can be a bit bored after so many intricate temples ruins exploration in Cambodia 

Koh Ker Temple in Cambodia 
View from the Top of Koh Ker 7 Tiered Pyramid Temple
One interesting observation was the locals travelling all around their own country sightseeing, picnics around the temples and just enjoying the holidays. In a way it was good since the locals do not have to pay entry fee. I doubt they will come if they had to pay USD 10 per person.

From Koh Ker I ride to Kampong Thom. Half the time my mind seam to be drifting and daydreaming while riding cruising at 70km/hr. I seam to be able to do that now. Auto pilot ... I know its not good but somehow the landscape is just not that fascinating and my mind keep wandering of to never-land of possibilities of this travel.

So by Kampong Thom I was a little bit in a zen state. Zen mode, I went to see Prasat Sambur Prei Kuk and Phanom Suntok.

Prasat Sambur Prei Kuk was large in land coverage area and I had to use Bluey to navigate the path to go see one main temple to another. I don't know if it was thinking more about seeing the temples or just going around for the sake of seeing just because I paid USD 10 for the ticket. 

Most time I see another mound that look a bit like the rest, nothing that makes these ruins distinctively apart other than the large size and numbers makes it a grand place for tourism. 

Prasat Sambur Prei Kuk
Prasat Sambur Prei Kuk

Prasat Sambur Prei Kuk

The other half the time in zen mode means I was also playing pokemon on phone while seeing the temples. There are a lot of gyms & pokestop at tourist attraction place that rarely see another player.

Phanom Suntok was more fun having to ride uphill again with Bluey and the temple was a live one so worshipers were around but the carvings and statute were not of the ordinary. It was unique and ugly as well but still interesting for an hour of visiting. This temple was also free since its not part of a ruins so no USD 10 entrance fee. 

Ugly Statue Everywhere at Phanom Suntuk

Phanom Suntuk

Continue on the ride to Kampong Cham and halfway I met the mighty Mekong river for the first time. Visited one minor temple near the city called Nokor Bachey Pagoda which wikitravel said sometimes in the evening at 5pm there are students practicing the Aspara dance just to get used to being watch by the tourist before becoming a big performer. No luck on my part so no free authentic entertainment at the temple however it was still one interesting temple to explore.

Nokor Bachey Pagoda Temple

Nokor Bachey Pagoda Temple
I spend most time in Kampong Cham just walking to the river and the markets. There is something about the Mekong river that just draws me towards it, in all my travels around through Cambodia, Laos and Thailand I could never resist a ride along the Mekong. 

Bluey & the Mighty Mekong
Traveled on: Nov 2018

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Little Town Sra’am & Visiting Preah Vihear

Escape to rural countryside and as expected everything is not so glamorous but down to earth. The basic things of dust and hot sun and food. Simple pleasures of the common folk. Seeing me around trying to buy a drink or just stopping the bike seam to pique interest from the locals.

I forgot how to do this for a long time now. Watching the locals just sitting down staring, pondering, doing nothing and wasting/enjoying their life away. The carefree life some say, but it can be boring mostly and sometimes when observed longer its like a state of meditation so deep that one has to blank their mind to pass the days else like the city folks, we will go crazy.

So I stayed at little Town Sra’am which is the nearest form of accommodation to the temple ruins Preah Vihear which has been in dispute for many years if its part of Cambodia or Thailand. Who knows but its friendly now yet the road map shows the way to the temple cutting into Thailand border and land just to snake in and out again to reach the temple.

My cousin said with much vigor that these Cambodians built the road illegally using Thailand land to get to the temple and I should not go and boycott their bad behavior. The traveler in me however, finds border lines as just another fun skipping rope to hop around and play with the kids so it was quite impossible to pass this up and have a look.

The ride from Sra’am to the ticket booth at the base of the mountain was boring. No beautiful plateau nor any signs of man made monuments to spice things up. Cambodia countryside was as such .... the plains and some rice fields with lots of pot holes . 

The Ride to Sra'am

At the ticket booth to Preah Vihear I got the ticket for foreigner price at USD 10. Then was the decision to either ride up myself or pay another USD5 to get a local motorbike taxi up.

I decided to parked Bluey ... let him sit this one out and support the motor-taxi. The initial road was well paved and although steep it was still good to go up but at the final stretch, it was hell. 

It was so damn steep that I thought if at any point we stopped there was only one solution ... jump off and lie down flat on tummy and hope I don't roll downhill. I doubt even trying to walk up was possible. It was a good thing I did not ride Bluey up for there was no f*cking way I would reach the top.

The small bike with small tires was screaming at full power and we barely made it. These guys are skilled in taking people up and down everyday to the temple and the USD5 ride was well worth the money. The motor-taxi ride beats most thrill ride in an amusement park. 

My Motor-Taxi Ride 
Preah Vihear Temple

The temple was perch on a cliff high up in the mountains which gave a beautiful view of the vast flatness of Cambodia landscape. The fact that the mountain range sits at the border with Thailand means Cambodia is really flat.

No guide or any markers to give knowledge to this temple, a walk around was all I could do. Wikitravel says Preah Vihear predates Angkor Wat by 100 years and is a temple dedicated to Shiva. 

The significant of Preah Vihear as a historical landmark seam to be overlooked by the tourism it attracts. The people, local and foreigners alike visit the monument as it is a place to visit in Cambodia and nothing else. 

Tourist in Cambodia are like a flock of birds. They only go where there are things to see which are marked on the map. Hence for everywhere else that I go, there are no one around, such as the ancient steps near the Preah Vihear temple.

Not marked on the internet and not marketed well hence the isolation of a UNESCO heritage site. 

Poorly Maintained Wooden Steps next to the ruins of Ancient Steps Heritage

Traveled on: November 2018

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Siam Reap One More Time

This is my second time visiting Siam Reap. First time was a few years ago with Mom & Dad but this time I was alone and with Bluey. I ended up buying a day pass just to go another round visiting Angkor Temples with Bluey. 

Bluey In Angkor Wat Grounds 

Seeing the temples a second time did make the magic fade a little since I knew what to expect now but riding around the temple grounds with Bluey and not being confined to a Tuk Tuk brings a whole different feel to the temple exploration. 

At Angkor Thom temple as I parked Bluey under a shaded tree and walked up to the ticket officer to get my ticket validated, the ticket man paused with a hard look squinting at Bluey and finally asked if I ride that all the way from Malaysia.

Yes I said proudly ... and the large grin on his face with a big thumbs up was priceless. 

Bluey Visiting Angkor Thom 
Round and round the grounds of Angkor Wat roads and I came across a police block checking the cars and tuk tuk that passes. I slowed down and nearing the police he waved me by only to be whistles a few yards in front to be pulled over.

Bluey motorbike plate was a mystery to the police and I was asked to dismount and after the initial stumble and establishing English as the medium of conversation, the officer asked for documents and licence.

It was a good thing I had all the required customs document and permission letter which I handed over to the officer observing his reaction from first going through the documents to inspecting Bluey with admiration. 

I got back all the documents with a good luck wish plus a advice to always carry the document wherever I went in Cambodia. 

Nice Police Officer carrying out check in Angkor Wat temple grounds 
Traveled on : Nov 2018

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Peaceful Battambang

My time in Battambang was a peace and quiet serenity that was unexpected but welcomed. I realized after a while that most tourist goes to Battambang and do a full day tour to visit all the sights in Battambang then head off to another destination. 

Having time and Bluey made so much difference to the ambiance of Battambang and I just spend days slowly exploring silently.

Downtown Battambang

Most days I spend the evening walking by the river looking at the people going about their daily life, old folks exercising, children playing, teenagers hanging out in groups or couples all in their happy bubble and the stalls that set up as restaurants as the sun goes down.

A little rustic and a few streets where colonial buildings somehow survived but not yet hyped up for tourism made the whole experience exploring downtown even more pleasant. I glimpse the families lives through cracks of their doors, food stalls with no menu or signs, all in-between a niche pub or a western renovated guesthouse but carefully blend in that it goes unnoticed if one walks slightly too fast. Walking around were a good way to absorbed the slow pace city vibe

Banan Temple

The temple ruins highlight for Battambang was Banan Temple roughly 20km south of downtown riding through small local village roads that barely register a car less even a truck. Somehow I saw a smaller trail offshoot just before the temple and decided to detour taking the smaller road towards Banan Temple. 

Parked Bluey right at the front of the stairways and started the steep climb up to visit the ruins of Banan Temple.

Banan Temple was really a mimic of temple ruins of what I remembered of Siem Reap only without any tourist or people at all. The few tourist that come and go does not linger long so there was long moments when I was just alone in the ruins poorly preserved but at the same time feels more authentic than some restored ruins in Siem Reap. 

Banan Temple Battambang

The Stairs going up to Banan Temple Battambang

Beautiful Lake at the base of Banan Temple Battambang
On my way out as I ride Bluey towards the main street, I passed what seamed like a ticket booth with the attendant looking at me stunned but before he could call out, I was already riding on wondering if I should be a sport and U-Turn to pay an entrance ticket fee but too lazy and embarrassed to do the right thing.

Phanom Sampov

On my way back to the city from Banan Temple, I detoured again. 

Maps in Cambodia are so deceiving and what seamed like a main road on the map turns out to be the worst dirt road i could find with heavy trucks running at full speed steering up dust every few minutes. 

Between the awful state of riding and wheezing dust, was a beautiful countryside of paddy fields in mid season grown out green and not ripe yellow yet.

When I thought the detour was more than enough and was planning to head back, just at the junction while waiting to turn right, I could see many local tuk tuk(taxi) that was ferrying farang after farang (White Tourist) going the other direction. 

There must be something to see the other way I thought and just like that I took a left turn quietly following the herd of tourist.

The impromptu decision brought me to Phanom Sampov which had multiple attraction within the small little limestone crop that stood out high in a very very flat land Battambang. 

The highlight was the view of course at the top, with 360 degrees view of Battambang as far as the horizon, a flat land full of agricultural paddy fields for rice. 

Phanom Sampov at Battambang
Monk Studying at Phanom Sampov Battambang



The top of the hill house a shrine or temple, with interesting sculpture which is non like the usual Buddha like temples. Killing caves were also part of the limestone hills where holes in the rock structure was used as mass killing ground. 

Skeletons and bones were still left there for the tourist to visit and young kids will forcefully volunteer their guide service fill with historic narrative to the best of her English vocabulary for a tip in the end of the journey.

I have no doubt the plea for tips from the kids for books and study were a cleaver idea instead of of the usual begging for money from the tourist. They seamed to have fun running around poaching tourist to be their guide mustering courage to speak and finally ask for a tip. 

Killing Cave Battambang
Killing Cave Battambang

Bamboo Train

One day, I decided to have a look at the tourist gimmick of Bamboo train where the locals make use of the abandon rail tracks and put up makeshift rail cars with generators powering the wheels and of course a bamboo frame for loading passengers and cargo. 

These days the bamboo part is just a cosmetic covering hiding the sturdy metal frame beneath.

It cost USD 5 for a ride but if alone it would be USD 10. I decided the novelty of the tourist gimmick was worst having a look but at this point did not feel like wasting good money for it. Riding Bluey to the start point and having a look was good enough. 

Bamboo Train at Battambang

Bamboo Train at Battambang

Dismantled Bamboo Train at Battambang
Traveled on : November 2018

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Happy Lunar New Year 2019.

Once every few years I go on a long trip travelling. The destination does not really matter but more of the journey of travelling, the type of travel, the adventure of the unknown and the thrill of just being alone again disconnected from reality for a few months or years.

This is my third time now spending the Lunar New Year alone. The first time was very lonely and I wondered why I curse myself into this state when everyone is with family and friend and I have deliberately detach myself stretching the little bonds I have even further by being away. 

The second time was more easier as I knew what to expect and I would plan the time to be somewhere amazing, exciting to kick start the New Year.

The third times the charm they always say and I find myself back to the state of being alone deliberately secluding myself in quiet rustic small town Chaing Khan, Thailand.

The time for reflection is the state of my mind in this holiday season and not just the Lunar New Year but more or less started just before Christmas continuing on during the Near Year, my own Birthday and finally Lunar New Year. Reflecting on everything in life that has been and my current drifting status and what will the future be.

I realized one thing for certain. I enjoy being alone to a certain extend or as someone told me, I enjoy loneliness quite a lot. I know that it may seem that I take the bonds with family and friends a little too lightly, the selfishness in me of always putting my own needs first, thou I do not demand much from others, I know that at times my desperate cling to freedom resisting all kinds of commitment will feel like someone that is not quite there when needed.

Nevertheless, thou I do not express much affection outwards, I do cherish the bonds of family and friends and even if most wont realized it, to me although a very long and loose bond, it is pretty much unbreakable in my mind.

Somethings I have also been thinking a lot lately while being alone .... Buddhism has always been about moderation and in some extreme way Buddha’s solution for peoples sufferings was to teach people not to have attachment. 

Without attachment to anything there will not be any suffering as nothing is meaningful anymore hence attaining inner peace.

That said, what is the key to happiness ? Can someone be happy without having attachments ? I wonder if there is a missing part to this form of happiness for while not suffering is a good first step to living life, living an empty life is also not living. Something to ponder for the future.

Happy Lunar New Year 2019

Sunset in Chom Thong - Thailand 

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Riding Conditions in Cambodia November 2018

My very first time officially riding or driving on the right hand side of the road. Cambodia drives on the right hand side which is different from Malaysia and Thailand so immediately after the Border there was somehow a weird swing switch where all vehicles switch from left to right if you were going from Thailand to Cambodia and vice versa if going the other way. 

Funny thing was there was no real rule or guide on the switch but somehow it just happened.

Suddenly my left mirror is more important and while I need to stop on the right side, the normality of leaning the bike to the left side is still dominant. Not only that turning left now is a challenge. 

General Conditions of Roads in Cambodia - Riding on Construction Gravel Road
The Cambodians drive like a fluid motion where they somehow never stop. I cant seam to understand how this works especially at junctions turning left where I tend to stop, look around then slowly inch my way through but the locals here somehow will ride across the road and face oncoming traffic head on till the very last minute and if you chicken out and stop then they will then have the right to continue fluidly riding their way turning left somehow.

It also seams that the horns here are used differently, like a warning ... get out of my way else I’ll ram you down kinda horn. So obviously only the big trucks and bus use them more than the little bikes. The bigger the vehicle the more bad ass they usually be. 

Sliding on Mud Road by Pressure of Big Ass Timber Log Trucks in Cambodia 
Roads are also a mess ... somehow main roads can be gravel roads for 20 to 50 kilometers and I keep missing a turn because the main road looked like a barely constructed road. I now worry about puncture from stones as everywhere riding was through gravel dirt roads.

The worst was the journey from Sihanoukville to Koh Kong roughly 240km distance and throughout the journey I was doubtful that I would even make that journey without an accident. 

It’s always a guess if the roads are good for travel and even then you never know what kind of difficulties might happen in Cambodia such as rain or trucks or cows. Yet the idea of traveling 240km in a day seams like a big hurdle. I gave myself the whole day with even a halfway point emergency overnight stop if I have to.

Route number 48 in Cambodia was supposed to be a scenic ride to Koh Kong but I was unlucky. There was major road construction works all the way to Koh Kong and even the tarmac became pure gravel. 

I now had to learn to understand what kind of gravel I was riding on. Large stones, small stones, compacted stones, un-compacted stones, some I could go at 40km/hr if there was no pressure from other vehicles while most I had to go around 20 to 30 km/hr.

Vibration hurts the joints of my elbow, my butt ache, my heart skips with every minor slide, and each f*cking car/truck that beeps me while overtaking even thou there was a big space and barely any cars make me want to give them the finger but alas my hand must not leave the handle. 

The trail of gravel dust and pebbles flying after their overtaking also makes me want to f*cking kill them .... four wheels wont slide and these gravel feels like normal road to these 4x4 monsters but on a two wheel, gravel + side inclination + sharp curve + going downhill is a f*cking disaster waiting to happen if I even turn my head to look at the view. 
Riding on Loose Gravel in Cambodia - Route 48
In and out ... gravel after gravel and so many turns ... if only I had come a few months later, I think this road route 48 would be a wonderful ride though a very scenic part of Cambodia.

Its weird as well since the lifestyle in Cambodia is so relax where everything seams to be on slow mode. Everything is on slow mode ... but when they hit the road, somehow they have an urgency like an ambulance but once they reach their destination, they just take forever to move on with the next task.

Traveled on : Nov 2018