Thursday, 28 March 2019

Construction of a Gambling Den in Sihanaukville

I heard so much about Sihanaukville from the internet and the people that I met travelling around and one thing was clear is that the advised was either heaven or hell type of description. Some say its the best place in Cambodia while others said its ruin by the China money influx. 

Otres Beach in Sihanaukville - The last resemblance of the past. 

I had to see it, for better or worst, fake or real, it is what it is currently and as bizarre a story can get, I felt that this was new age culture travel that somehow will be the next definition of tourism. The extreme theme tourism. As I rode Bluey near the edge of Sihanouk City, I was greeted with the familiar memory of me going to work everyday in a construction site.

Roads were a mess, damaged everywhere due to overloading by trucks and trailers and even heavy excavators moving from one construction site to another on normal public roads. Everywhere was a skyscraper in the making, a grand building that seam given time will become a futuristic city of sin. Imagine The Daystar Casino in Planet Ahakista in StarWars and Sihanaukville was soon on the path of glory or debauchery depending on ones moral view. 

Ongoing Construction of New Hotels & Casinos 
Construction Everywhere in Sihanaukville 
As I talk to some surviving hostels and small business owners, this massive change of development started four years ago and has driven all the prices up from rent to food and most of them had call it quits selling everything and moving out or about to throw in the towel.

It was quite a sight with the existing and new casino in operation trying to somehow have a resemblance of dignity and style indoors while ignoring the bulk of ugly construction going on smack right outside the doorstep. 

Old & New and Upcoming Casinos in Sihanaukville 

All the sudden development and electric power was insufficient so the new hotels and casino buildings all had a land space set aside just beside with armies of generator constantly buzzing(blaring) combined with fumes and granite dust.

Outdoors were not an option to spend in Sihanaukville so naturally I was indoors gambling. I visited all the casino I could see, just to experience what it was like inside the gilts but it was a whole new layer of segregation. There was the rich, the super rich, somewhere in the middle and the poor all gambling in different casino catered for individual category so they wont mix. 

Vegas Sokha Casino in Sihanaukville (One of the few casino that has Blackjacks)

WM Casino, Foduna Casino - Sihanaukville

Golden Lion Square in Sihanaukville where all the Locals Hang out after work.
Every one of them wore an employee uniform of one casino or another. 
What happen was the completed 5 stars or 7 stars casino and hotel had all the whale gambler tourist and non of the no money like me would dare to even think of entering and just observing the antiques of the riches.

I of course was oblivious to these China social status class regime and went in everywhere with my slippers and shorts so long as they did not say no. Some actually tried to tell me I was not in the right place in Mandarin but when I asked in English with confidence, they backed away almost immediately letting me pass.

Stacks of USD100 bills were laid out on the gambling table like it was spare change, women that seem like a doll would throw away thousand on a hand just to prove a point and more money flowed into the Casinos with one round of whale compared to down-end where mass crowd bets on a small little table taking forever to turn a round 

Ceiling Display Inside a 5 Star Hotel & Casino Sihanaukville
Then there is the smaller casinos, scattered all over small nooks and crannies in Sihanaukville that still caters for the China money. All these new development is being built not only by China money but also China worker and by sun fall the hoard of workers are all inside the casino gambling their daily wages away. Its amazing how crazy it is going overseas to earn better money doing hard construction labor only to gamble it all away every night. 

One of the Many Little Casino in Sihanaukville 
Sihanaukville was something special in Cambodia once, and from the transformation that I am seeing, it will be something special even in the future after all these changes. Just entirely different.

Traveled on: Dec 2018
#Gambling #Sihanaukville #Casino

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Modifying Bluey in Kampot

Kampot was a good size town where I could get modifications done on Bluey to my desire. I finally replace the flimsy bracket with a big plate making the back cargo box now ready for any type of dirt rocky roads ahead. 

Although there was a good number of motorbike shops around Kampot, it was still quite a challenge to get the modification done to my requirement since communication is super difficult with the locals with language barriers.

Modifying Bluey's Cargo Box Bracket in Kampot

I had to act out everything that I needed to modify the bike going around the shops, picking out parts of scrap metals, pointing at the tools they have to cut, file, fit and finally weld in place a new support bracket. 

All this done and I did not even negotiate the price beforehand because it was impossible to get a quote for a work they have no idea what they were soppose to do. After all work was done, USD10 was the quoted price but it was worth it.

Bluey's New Strengthen Bracket 
Traveled on : Dec 2018

Monday, 18 March 2019

Kampot & the Bokor National Park

Of all places I had traveled in Cambodia, I have to say, Kampot was one of those places which is quite bland and all seams normal, however it was also a place where I felt most relax, at peace and enjoyed day to day without planning too much ahead.

First sign of being in Kampot was witnessing the “Durian Roundabout”. That's when you know you are right at the middle of Kampot landmark wise and for the next few days I was at Kampot, this Durian became my guidepost whenever wandering around Kampot.

The Durian of Kampot 
Riding around Kampot to the outskirts gave me a glimpse of something different from paddy fields which is usually the staple plantation in Cambodia. Salt farms lined the coastal lands miles after miles and local fisherman boats line up along the Preaek Tuek Chhu river. 

Colonial Building's in Downtown Kampot 

Fishing Boats by the River Kampot

Salt Farms on the Outskirts of Kampot

Riding around the Outskirts of Kampot 

Preah Monivong Bokor National Park

Without a doubt, the must do thing in Kampot was to visit the Bokor National Park which was like a highland plateau at roughly 1000m altitude. The roads up to the park was fully paved, sealed with no potholes. 

Entrance to Bokor National Park 
It was without a doubt the best ride I had in the whole of Cambodia going up from sea level to 1000m elevation in an hour, riding though forest then rocky cliff cutting around the mountain path which was beautifully constructed for the thrill ride, twisting at every corner and just perfect to leaning the bike cornering at slow speeds.

Along the way up to Bokor National Park, one could feel the temperature drop slowly from sweltering heat to a cool breeze which just makes the ride even more lovely. If Thailand had challenging mountain roads, this was the perfect relax ride that is never boring all the way up seeing landscape change with every meter up higher into the sky.

The ride up to Bokor National Park

The Ride Up to Bokor National Park

The Ride Up to Bokor National Park
 At the top of the plateau was some development, scattered buildings that seam to be there ages ago but without a hint of residents other than the visiting tourist. That's was the nice thing about this Bokor National Park, it was not just a ride into the wilderness and as I was greeted with the treasure map signpost, I carefully considered the loop. 

Tourist Map of Bokor National Park Attractions or Rather, Old Abandon Buildings 

Going clockwise, the first stop was Thansur Sokha Hotel which looked grand at first looking from afar but riding up closer, it was a run down building that seamed falling apart. I find the humongous car park amusing for the hotel as there was barely a soul around. 

Going into Thansur Sokha Hotel revealed my greatest friend .... The mythical Bokor Old Casino. I had a long inner debate with myself and decided to visit the park first and only after to going for the punt. Needless to say I spend most of my time in the national park inside the casino playing USD2 Blackjack. 

Thansur Sokha Hotel

Thansur Bokor Casino on the 2nd Floor of the Hotel 

Thansor Bokor Casino 

Most of the park places of interest are like a stop-look-go outpost but my favorite one was Sampov Pram Pagoda the temple on the top of Bokor National Park. 

The Buddhist temple buildings looked a little like Thai style temple’s yet it was different and unique in a way. The temple grounds at the back offered beautiful panoramic view of the coast of Kampot and with the cool breeze it was a great spot for picnic lunch which most locals had planned and prepared for. 

Sampov Pram Pagoda Temple 

Sampov Pram Pagoda Temple 

Sampov Pram Pagoda Temple 

Sampov Pram Pagoda Temple 

Panoramic View at the Top of Bokor National Park 

Panoramic View at the Top of Bokor National Park 
Le Bokor Palace was an obvious stop for photos as this exquisite and expensive Hotel just stood out beautifully at the side of the road, hard to miss and impossible to skip by. 

Bluey with Le Bokor Palace 

Traveled on : December 2018
#bokornationalpark #bokor #bokorcasino #kampot

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Enjoying Kep and Eating Crab

After resting up in Phnom Penh I had to move on. The visa expiry was creeping closer and the longer I stayed the harder I would have to ride in the future just to make it out in time towards Thailand. So with my arm still feeling like an alien a limb attached to my body and refusing to listen to instruction, I painfully load up the Bluey, check out, and hope I would make the 150km journey to Kep smoothly. 

Bluey with Crab Statue at Kep - Cambodia 
The road to Kep was horrendous. ... I think I rode through 50km of loose gravel road sticking to 2nd year and skidding more times than I can count. I went really slow this time. I could not afford any sudden movement for the jarring pain in my left shoulder would definitely make me fall if it happens. Gravel road and speeding trucks cause the whole journey like riding in a quarry mine which hurts the eyes, throat and yet I could not relax for the road was so bad it took my full concentration 

Gravel Gravel Everywhere ..... 
150km ... thankfully I reach Kep ... and that's the end ... do nothing ... eat crab .... no day trips of exploring ...

Kep was a small little seaside town overshadowed by Kampot or the near beach city Sihanaukville. Somehow famous for crabs and pepper since they farm the crabs here and also grow the famous Kampot pepper nearby, it was a perfect delicious combination. 

The Signature Dish - Kampot Pepper Crab 

Restaurants at Kep

Magic Crab Restaurant Menu 

At USD 5 for a meal of crabs which was actually on a high side for dining in a restaurant it was a crab wonderland. The local market sold crabs for USD 5 per kilo and most locals who visit Kep takeaway buckets of crab back home to cook instead of dining in the restaurants.

The beach was quiet but not lonely and the perfect afternoon was lazing on a hammock hut set up all along the beach by the enterprising locals. Hammock was free so long as one ordered some food although food was slightly on the higher side of pricing but absolutely delicious. 

Quiet Beach in Kep - Cambodia 

Riding along the coastline in Kep 

Little Girl Lazing in the Hammock Huts in Kep 

Stir Fried Prawns with Kampot Pepper - Kep 

Traveled on : Nov 2018
#kep #cambodia

Friday, 8 March 2019

Dreaming of a Jackpot in Phnom Penh

For some reason I kept having this dream when I was in Phnom Penh that I would somehow strike a jackpot in the casino. The dream change everyday from a jackpot playing slots to jackpots in 7 card poker to jackpot in 5 card poker or even one of those weird type of jackpot playing a game I have never seen before.

I spent many days in Phnom Penh just staying the the hotel and binge watching television series and eating at the restaurant downstairs since I was in pain from the accident a few days back in Kampong Cham but despite all the need to stay still and rest up, I could not resist a daily visit to Nagaworld Casino Phnom Penh. 

Nagaworld - Phnom Penh
The dream from sleep became a daydream during the day and my mind started thinking, what if? Maybe I should make some plans just in case and while I place my bet at the electronic roulette table playing ten cents chips to past time, I started thinking deeply.

If I were to strike a jackpot .....

Oh the scenarios were endless, paying off loans, giving a cut to parents, starting a hostel, travel forever, buying more investments, donate to a cause, upgrade Bluey, get a car, buy a wife maybe but that will end the money, but in all the thoughts one thing was clear as day, use the money and invest so I can get money forever to retire and travel forever. Muahahaha ....

Funny thing was, I did not linger my thoughts much on the spending part of winning the jackpot but instead on the problems of winning a Jackpot such as :

How do I get the money back into Malaysia or Singapore ?

So much time was spent on this question in my head that I actually spend time in and out googling answers to the best solution if one would have won, say one million dollars in Cambodia gambling.

First thought was to buy a plane ticket and fly back home with a load of cash but then again it was unpractical and dangerous plus who knows how much trouble I would get into with tax or money laundering when crossing customs bringing money out of Cambodia and into Malaysia.

Scratch that so maybe call Dad and Mom and fly them into Phnom Penh to be my mule carrying back portions of the money to and fro till I am left with say USD 2000 which I could use and continue travelling with Bluey. But at say USD 10000 a run per person, that would mean Mom & Dad would need to make 50 trips to Phnom Penh ..... nope not a workable idea

Next idea was money transfer through western union sending it to Mom & Dad directly but would there be a limit on how much I could transfer at a time? Information was not so straightforward on the net so I would need to visit western union itself to ask but I was pretty sure transferring anything above USD50,000 will raise some query and set a target on my back.

Open a bank account in Cambodia? Is it even possible with a tourist visa? A quick search in google says they need either employment contract or some sort of long term residence proof so that was out of the question. Still I wonder if the banks knowing a large sum of money will be deposited with them, would they have some sort of special rule to help me out.

Find a local I could trust, and hand the money over to them to be bank in and wire transfer to oversea bank account. This make me think of all those scam people email me out of the blue in my spam folder telling me they have won jackpot money and need my help to transfer the money and promise me a cut if I would follow such and such procedure. I’ll probably have a hard time convincing new friends I suppose.

In the end the most relistic solution I had was to fly Mom & Dad to Phnom Penh and maybe mule say USD50000 of the money back home, wire transfer with western union as much safely as possible and donate the rest to some charity since I cant carry the money back with me anyway. That means I’ll probably throw away 80% of the winnings but then again if I do win, more detailed research inquiry will follow and not just whimsy google search for random answers.

Heck I already think I will definitely strike this jackpot the way I am researching all this

But wait a minute, Back it up a bit .... To strike a jackpot, I need to play games that has Jackpot ....

Of the games in Nagaworld Casino, there is only a few with jackpots, the texas hol’em poker, caribbean stud poker and slot machines. I generally dislike playing slot machines but poker required much capital to play, so every chance I get, i.e when I win some money playing blackjack or roulette, I would shift over to the poker table slowly burning away the money I won in the hopes of striking a jackpot by getting a royal flush.

In reality I knew it was quite difficult so I usually just hope for the other type which was the pair AA in hand and pair AA in dealer hand. Payout was 1000 to 1 and with minimum bet of USD 10 that was USD 10000 winnings. This amount was easy to handle transporting instead of the one million dream but still I burn the USD 2.5 per game playing the big jackpot waiting with anticipation.

As one can see my mind on winning the Jackpot seamed like a sure thing and I kept daydreaming playing out scenarios after scenarios in Phnom Penh on what to do if and if and big if I win a Jackpot.

The mind of a gambler .....

Oh, and just so no one come asking me for money ...for clarity I did not strike any Jackpot. 

Its still a dream on my bucket list.

Traveled on: Nov 2018
#nagaworld #gamblingincambodia

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

A bike Accident in Cambodia

The day I left Kampong Cham ... or thought I left to head for Neak Loueng, I had to come back to Kampong Cham because of a very bad fall and a very injured shoulder.

The ride started nice and easy over the bridge crossing the Mekong river and up to the first major junction the road was good and then I turned right heading south towards Neak Loueng. The road turned to gravel & sand with many pebbles and with the rain the previous day, muddy and red.

I could do dirt road I thought. It was just slower and more bumpy anyway. No time to see the sights and pure focus on riding. The road was long and the lousy road conditions looked like never ending.

What I underestimated was the trucks and big vehicles in Cambodia. The big bully wins in Cambodia and they have not learned how to be civilized in driving yet. A few trucks blared their horns and overtakes me since four wheels on dirt road is pretty stable compared to two wheels. 

Then came this large huge timber logger truck from far behind me which I saw on my mirror blaring his horn angrily non stop while speeding up to catch me. In front of me was another motorbike, local and he could see the same thing as I could.

He went off to the sides and I thought ... ok if he is going I am going to follow.

The sides was muddy, soft and the moment I followed him off the more hard road, I saw him slip in front of me, his bike skidded and I knew in my mind that f*ck I am going to be next. The local bike in front of me manage to regained his balance but when it was my turn I could not.

Speed was about 30km/hr ... I went sliding towards the left side and my bike went down sliding on the dirt gravel muddy road .....

This was bad cause there was more cars and trucks overtaking on the left side. My legs was firmly clench to Bluey knowing if I open them up I’ll just injured myself. The left handle scratch the road as I fall but it was not enough and my shoulder was next and even my left head. Thanks for the helmet I am still alive. 

Bluey on the Ground after the fall
I got up immediately not feeling anything but not two seconds later my whole left arm was in intense pain. I could not move it and I could not even pick up the bike. I keep screaming softly and in anger removed my helmet, arm sleeve and gloves and sat on the floor off the road near someone house.

I was shivering, panting, felt like vomiting and shitting at the same time. I knew this was bad, I only feel this way when I go through some bad shit trauma. The locals staying by the side of the main road help me pick up my bike and wheel it away off road to prevent any other vehicles crashing on it. I could not move.

They all speak Khmer to me and I just shook my head. Someone came with oilment and showed it to me. I was already in so much pain that anything right now was better than doing nothing. The oilment was like deep heat or counter pain and once applied a searing pain came to my shoulder. They put it everywhere from my wrist to my shoulder to the back of my neck and i could feel the head and blood gushing thorough my left hand.

A few moments later I did an assessment check to myself. Fingers moves, OK that's a good sign. Wrist can be move a bit .. but elbow movement and shoulder movement was out ... shooting pain.

I rested an hour, by the side of the road and by now I had an idea how bad my body was. It was mainly the shoulder, which the muscle were now numb refusing to do any work. I could move my left hand using supports of my right hand but any strength from the left hand itself was out of the question.

Pain was still bad but now mentally in check I went to Bluey to see how he was doing. Its always a big concern on my mind when something happen. First check myself to see how bad it was then check Bluey to see if I am in shits or not. 

Gear was stuck from the local forcing Bluey to move without changing to neutral but I manage to kick it back to neutral and Bluey started fine. One broken left blinker light cover and a slightly dented handle bar but other than that everything was working fine. 

Bluey Broken Signal Light
I rested at the local house/mini shop, kept buying water and drinking up and constantly massaging and stretching my left hand with the help of right hand 

The local Mini Shop where I rested regaining my strenght
I fell down around 10am ... barely 30km out of Kampong Cham and I had another 100km to go to reach Neak Loueng.

By lunch time I still have no confidence to ride.

The local tried to talk to me but with limited Khmer language all I could tell them was I am from Malaysia.

Some sign language was use

Do I want to go to the hospital .... No ... I cant leave bluey

Do I want medicine ... ok .. f*ck it ... so some medicine was given and I have no idea what it was but I took it anyway hoping it was useful

Do I want an injection ..... errr what ?? f*ck ... I think if I said yes, I would have morphine injected to me but luckily I had a few hours of rest and my mind was thinking properly now ... no no injection. 

The mysterious local medicine 
By lunch the locals shared their meal with me ... I rested and sleep and massage and stretch as much as I can keeping up the arm movement constantly ... 

Locals Sharing their lunch with me while I rest at their place
By 2pm I tested mounting Bluey. My left arm cannot even reach the handle ... no strength or movement capability of any kind. Used my right hand to plonk my left hand on the handle and thankfully I could still grip the clutch with some shooting pain on my shoulder.

I need more rest ... but the hope was there now ... I could ride ... given time

By 3pm I bid the locals farewell thanking them ....

Painfully with my left arm like a prosthetic that seam to be dead, I plonk it to the handlebar with only movement from my wrist and fingers available.

Riding very slowly barely switching to 3rd gear, I made my way back to Kampong Cham checking back into the guesthouse which the family was surprised. Hospital was just next to the guesthouse so I went in to get some help.

Do you want an x-ray the doctor asked .... seriously if I have a broken shoulder it should be much much more pain than this and if I really had some broken bones, this trip will come to an end. I wanted to continue so I said no. I got injections and anti inflammatory medicine plus muscle relaxant/pain killers 

Injection at the Hospital in Kampong Cham

Anti Inflammatory & Painkiller Medicine 
The next day with pain medicine numbing my left arm, I packed up in the morning slowly and headed out but this time to Phnom Penh. If I was going to be in pain and have to rest a few days, I wanted to do it in a city where there are more facilities and a casino to distract me.

A few days later I left Phnom Penh for Kep and by the time I reached Kampot my left hand was now mildly working without troubles yet certain movement was beyond me with constant shooting pain. The healing process took nearly one month while I watch my shoulder change color from red to blue to blackish blue to greenish blue to yellow greenish and finally back to normal.

The things I go through for the adventure ....

Traveled on : Nov 2018

Saturday, 2 March 2019

My Failed Attempt in Border Crossings into Laos with a Motorbike

My first entry into Laos with Bluey was so easy that I took Laos for granted thinking that at any point in time I could skirt into Laos through any one of the numerous border with Thailand and explore to my hearts content.

The first sign of trouble was in Mukdahan where I impulsively decided to cross the border from Thailand to Laos – Savannahket but with a quick rejection from the Thai side refusing to even let me out of Thailand.

Immigration would not stamp me out and custom will not allow Bluey onto the friendship bridge hence I was turn away before I even had any attempt at the Lao side. According to the Thai immigration officer which I was pleading my case, this border apparently do not allow motorbikes to be ride across the friendship bridge. 

Denied Exit at Thai Border Mukdahan 
The only way was for me across the border was to get a good but a little greedy local Samaritan to ferry Bluey by loading the bike up a pick up truck. 

The Thai side immigration estimates that a good tip of 1500 baht would be able to attract some good local Samaritan but even with the immigration officer asking on my behalf, the few people with pick up crossing the border turn down the offer almost immediately. I would not have mind paying the money but there was still no guarantee that the Lao side will allow me in with Bluey even with this arrangement.

I asked which border can I used instead of Mukdahan to cross over to Laos with Bluey and the immigration officer was kind enough to make some calls to all the neighboring borders. Apparently all the friendship bridge across the mekong river was touchy feely and probably end up with a rejection and she suggested the Chong Mek -Vang Tao border with a confirm yes.

A few weeks later I arrived at Chong Mek border. 

Chong Mek Border - Thailand 
The Thai side immigration asked me one question which set up a small red flag in my head.

Your motorbike can enter Laos ??

Thinking fast I said yes and proceeded to show him the entry form (always make a copy of the temporary import permit) I made with Bluey a few month back through Chiang Khong – Huay Xai border and he was convince enough to process me and Bluey out of Thailand.

At the Laos side Vang Tao, immigration was straight forward minus 100 baht fee for passport processing which I paid and then it was customs. I could see the locals processing the TIP form in front of me (all cars from Thailand) but when it was my turn somehow communication was not easy. They made we wait while looking for someone who could speak English and the words from her drained all the blood from my face.

Motorbike from Malaysia going to Laos ?
Alone ?
We cannot issue permit for single motorbike going into Laos. This border only issue permit for convoy of minimum three bikes. 

Immigration & Customs at Vang Tao
I plead, beg, pestered but the customs were not interested and I was left standing outside and ignored. The young girl who could speak English suggested that I go to the insurance agency to ask if he could help arrange some manner for me to enter Laos with Bluey. Thinking back I felt it was a trick just to shoo me away.

Thinking I had hope, I left the customs counter to locate the insurance agency but the moment I mention motorbike in my word the fat old guy gave me the palm and said NO. I was shown the door and ignored completely. 

Back to customs to plea my case and the girl who could speak English has vanish. My face was known now and trying to beg for the TIP in English came back with continuous strings of explanations in Lao which I had no clue what they were saying other than the end of the sentence which they said NO.

So close, just one more step and I would be like a little boy enjoying candy while I explore the southern part of Laos and the famous four thousand islands.

Back to Laos immigration and I got a stamp out on the same day and turned back to re-enter Thailand.

What do I do now ...

Traveled on: Mar 2019 
#bordercrossing #motorbikebordercrossing #chongmek #vangtao