PP in two weeks

Discussion in 'Cambodia Road Trip Reports' started by turkish, Mar 23, 2005.

  1. turkish

    turkish Active Member

    Hey David, Robert, Bob, Dave, Joe, Marcus, et al...

    I'm heading over to Phnom Penh in a couple of weeks for a month of riding, exploring and sticking my camera in people's faces. If any of you guys are going to be over there in April, drop me an email.

    Cheers!

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    PS. My only reason for returning to SEA is to embark on another epic trip that I can properly document here on gt-rider and thus have the smallest of long-shot chances of removing myself from the Fearless Leader's sh*t list for not writing up my first visit.
     
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  3. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Turkish
    You hit the nail right on the head "mate," & it still remains to be seen whether you can be bothered redeem yourself or will you just procrastinate yet again. The balls totally in your court.
    Meanwhile thanks for showing the boys how to upload photos to the GT Rider board.

    Davidfl
    Keep the power on
     
  4. BobS

    BobS Ol'Timer

    "PS. My only reason for returning to SEA is to embark on another epic trip that I can properly document here on gt-rider and thus have the smallest of long-shot chances of removing myself from the Fearless Leader's sh*t list for not writing up my first visit."

    Andy - why don't you just write up the first visit? There is no time limit!!

    BobS

    "Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting "...holy shit...what a ride!"
     
  5. turkish

    turkish Active Member

    Well, how about this then...

    Rob, Joe and I rolled up to Hat Lek, the Thai side of the border with Cambodia in late January 2004. Typical of the winters in southeast Asia, the weather was hot and dry. The other guys were used to the 95-100 degree heat, but I had to constantly look for shade and sip water from my camelback. We had three big bikes to move across the border.

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    Joe was on his Africa Twin, Rob had his ’03 GS ADV and I rode Rob’s “old” bike, an ’01 GS. The Thai side of the process was uneventful. We got our passports stamped out and then rode across “no man’s land” to the Cambodian border.

    On the other side, a self-satisfied official grinned and demanded 1100 baht (Thai currency) for a visa. The official cost of a visa should be $20 or about 800 baht. We asked for a receipt, which is the usual way of not lining a corrupt official’s pocket, but he smiled and said, “No receipt.” Rather than making a stink, we just paid his price and got our passports stamped. Just as we were getting on the bikes to leave another official from a different office came out and demanded paperwork for the bikes. We were sort of expecting something like this to happen because the bike that I was riding had no license plate. That’s not necessarily a big problem, but it’s an invitation for some border official to hassle us, which is just what they did. 45 minutes of Asian style negotiation ensued—no raised voices, no anger, but rather a test of wills to see who would crack first. “We would like to leave now, we have a long way to go tonight.” “Sorry, there is a problem. Please wait here.” “What is the problem?” “We must wait for the supervisor.” Rob, our official negotiator, went round and round with these guys for 45 minutes and then they let us go. We hopped on the bikes and got about ½ a mile down the road before we were flagged down at another customs office. They tried to shake us down again, saying that we should have had carnets even though Cambodia doesn’t require a carnet to bring in a vehicle. Every 10 minutes or so a bigger boss would come down and get an explanation from the previous boss. Eventually, the biggest dude showed up, thanked us for being patient and sent us off. We didn’t have to pay any bribes, but we lost two hours of daylight to wrangling with Cambodian customs.

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    At Koh Kong we left the paved road and picked up the dirt superhighway which had been built by the Thai army the previous year. It was a good 60 feet wide and relatively smooth at the beginning.

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    We would discover later on that last year’s rainy season had made for some serious ruts and potholes. The ride got a little bumpy in places, but I was having fun and I blasted down the road in 4th gear with the other guys taking a more cautious pace. One of the fork seals on the “old” GS didn’t like the workout and gave up the ghost. Large quantities of fork oil were ejaculated over my riding gear and one big splooge made it all the way back to the right-side system case. What a mess! Once I realized what happened, I slowed down and gingerly picked my way between the potholes.

    In the distance to our left were the “Elephant Mountains,” supposedly one of the places that remnants of the Khmer Rouge still inhabit today.

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    After a while, we came to our first water crossing of the day. As we waited for the ferry to make it to our side of the river, a swarm of entrepreneurs shoved platters full of chewing gum and snacks into our faces in the hope of making a sale. I remember one little girl who had particularly good English. She introduced herself and asked what my name was. I was tempted to buy something from her for the effort, but she didn't have anything I wanted. Later on, I bought a roll of soggy peppermints from one of the others. Man oh man, that first girl was pissed. The look she gave me still sends shivers down my spine.

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    We used a ferry only on the first crossing. For the others, we had to ride the bikes onto small boats which would take us to the other side. Rob, the first of us to ride onto one of the boats discovered that that boat would tip under the weight of the bike. Oops!

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    I was the last to make this particular crossing and by the time it was my turn, the planks across the two hulls were wet with river water. I hit the ramp with sufficient speed to avoid falling over and then applied the brakes when halfway across the raft. Unfortunately, there was almost no traction at this point on the wet planks and the ABS chattered away until my front wheel stopped about an inch from the edge. I wasn’t worried though because I’ve studied Ricky’s videos of how to restart a water-locked engine.

    We made a few more crossings and at each one a little town had sprung up to sell drinks, snacks and other necessities to passers by.

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    The last crossing was made at night due to the two hour delay at customs and we finally hit a paved road after riding several hours over bumpy dirt. Paved roads are fairly rare in Cambodia and the Khmer (Cambodia is the name of the country, but the people are called Khmer) tend to treat the pavement like their own personal living room at night. We passed groups of people playing games in the road, lying down, chatting with friends and even cooking dinner. Not to mention dogs, cattle and other livestock. The biggest hazard in riding at night in Cambodia is that you’ll run over some unsuspecting Khmer.

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    The town of Sihanoukville is lined with beaches on three sides. There are plenty of resorts, casinos and other tourist attractions, although it would probably seem run down by Disney standards. Some of the resorts are operating, like this one apparently built for Chinese gamblers.

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    One of the main intersections in town is a traffic circle which has this interesting statue in the middle.

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    Elsewhere there are large abandoned structures which were built and then abandoned as the country tore itself apart thirty years ago. Compared to the rural parts of Cambodia we rode through the day before, Sihanoukville was a metropolis, with convenience stores, restaurants, hotels not to mention rooftop bars owned by scruffy Australian ex-pats.

    The Khmer are a friendly people but seem to be more guarded than the Thai. As we’d ride by on big bikes in Cambodia, many people would stop and stare, probably never having seen anything like it before. The same thing would happen in Thailand too, except that people would smile and cheer, “Hallo! Hallo!” These Khmer girls were particularly friendly and waved for me to come over and sit with them.

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    Here’s the little stand opposite the lion statues. You can buy a little bit of everything here from something to eat, a cold drink, or even some kinds of medicine. You don’t want to drink from the soda bottles in the rack though—that’s gasoline.

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    Wandering around Sihanoukville, you never really know what you’ll run into. Finding the tail of some sea serpent coming out of the beach was weird enough, but watching an entire family take a bath right next to it was even more unusual.

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    Next to the beach was a group of houses that were more typical of the rural areas of the country. Unassuming shacks with dirt floors and lots of barefoot kids running around.

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    The sunset over the Gulf of Thailand was very nice.

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    Here a young boy goes fishing in the shallows. He’s using a discarded plastic water bottle as his reel.

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    ...

    The road to Phnom Phen, the capital of the country, was pretty good. Most of it was paved although we did have occasional stretches of flat Cambodian dirt to contend with.

    Here's an example of one of the zillions of huts you see in the country. They all have blue signs that have the name of one of the political parties that are vying for power.

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    The city of Phnom Phen is a crazy mixture of waterfront hotels and restaurants catering to westerners while only a block away, the city reverts to a rough looking third world grittiness.

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    Here's where I stayed.

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    Right around the corner (literally), the asphalt gives way to broken bricks, there are piles of refuse to step over, and locals hawk all kinds of wares spread out on plastic tables shaded by umbrellas.

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    As always, the Khmer people are friendly and curious, especially when three westerners show up on big motorcycles and start to do mechanical repairs on the sidewalk. Beemer boy picked up a nail in his tire on the way in and was eager to use the fancy new plug kit he'd been bragging about. As he was fiddling with his tire, a crowd enveloped the bike to watch. There was a lot of whispering and pointing, but nobody got in the way.

    Unfortunately, beemer boy's fancy plug kit didn't work. After trying three times to repair the tire, he gave up on the new gizmo and dug out the old reliable BMW kit, which did the trick:

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    The little rubber plugs that he was trying to drive into the puncture kept shearing off. Good thing his "old" bike, the one I was riding, still had the BMW kit.

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    Early the next morning, I took a stroll along the banks of the Mekong river and was surprised by the amount of activity early in the morning. I watched a disco exercise class and had to hurry out of the way as an elephant came down the sidewalk with its trainers (no pictures of that, unfortunately).

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    The remainder of the day I spent sightseeing, if you can call it that. Of the many things that one could visit in Phnom Phen, there were two that I wanted to see: the killing fields and the S-21 prison used by the Khmer Rouge.

    S-21 is a small complex of buildings in the middle of town that was originally built as a high school. In the mid-1970s, the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Phen and converted the school to an interrogation center also known as "Toul Sleng" which roughly translates into "poison hill."

    While the Khmer Rouge was in power, some 12,000 people were eventually imprisoned at Toul Sleng. About half a dozen survived. The rest, including women and children, either died during interrogation or were taken six miles out of town to one of the killing fields.

    Every prisoner was photographed when they entered S-21. Many of the former interrogation rooms are now filled with bank after bank of portraits. This photograph of a mother and her child is an example. Neither one survived S-21 and the look in the mother's eyes suggests that she knew what would happen. There are thousands upon thousands of photos like this.

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    In a way, the feeling I got walking through those rooms was similar to seeing the Vietnam memorial in Washington DC for the first time. The sheer number of names, or in this case photographs, tells the story as much as anything else. The methods of "interrogation" are well documented and don't need to be repeated here, but the depths of cruelty and brutality that occurred in S-21 are numbing and far beyond what I thought human beings were capable of.

    After S-21, I got on the bike and rode 10kms out of town to the "killing fields" of Choueng Ek. This was a quiet area much like a park. In the middle was a tall structure built as a memorial to those who were buried nearby. The building, at least three stories tall, was filled with human skulls sorted into categories like: "khmer female", "european", "infant" etc.

    The surrounding area contained many fenced pits where human remains had been excavated. Small wooden signs documented how many bodies were found in each hole. Approximately 9,000 people were buried at Choueng Ek, spread across the area of a soccer field.

    Each year the rains wash away another layer of soil and expose more of what lies below. As I walked on dirt paths between the mass graves, I could see half-buried fragments of clothing poking through the surface. Bits of gray trousers and blue shirt collars. Drab colors that you'd expect to find in a poor country where conformity was preferred to fashion.

    A group of children were playing together near the back of the "park." They had fashioned a ball out of bits of trash that they tied up in what looked to be a plastic grocery bag. I played catch with them for a while there among the remains of their aunts, uncles and grandparents. Those of you who have seen the movie, "The Killing Fields" and remember the blue plastic bags can appreciate the irony.

    Visiting S-21 and Choueng Ek was sobering to say the least. I didn't take any pictures at either site--at the time I thought it would be disrespectful and superfluous. Looking back on my visit to Phnom Phen, it's mind boggling to understand how the Khmer people have been able to deal with the legacy of Pol Pot. I can't claim to understand what they went through, but I do appreciate that their view of the world must be very, very different than mine, and that's reason eough to listen to their story.

    Next stop: Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.

    The day that we were to head north to our next stop, Siem Reap, I was still pretty wiped out even after a nights rest but was able to keep up with the other guys (barely). Something wasn't right, but I figured it was just the heat.

    The ride to Siem Reap was pretty easy, but I felt like I'd been hit by a truck. I had a sore throat, a bad headache, and no matter how much water I drank, I still ended up pissing liquid the color of motor oil. The other guys went off to scout the town and get some dinner, but I crashed on my bed with the air conditioning going full blast.

    The next morning I felt even worse--like the truck that him me yesterday had decided to park on my chest. My mouth was painfully dry and I'd developed a nasty looking rash that covered pretty much everything. The headache was also noteworthy. Not a pretty picture. Even so, this was the day we had planned to visit Angkor Wat, a huge complex of ruins that were first constructed in the 9th century by ancient Khmer kings. I'd been looking forward to seeing Angkor Wat for a long time, so I sucked it up and met the other guys for breakfast.

    We rode out to the site and paid our $20 admission fee. When we got to the parking lot, we were swarmed by a group of English speaking Khmer kids who were eager to sell us guidebooks, maps and postcards.

    We had to walk over a large moat and across a huge courtyard to get to the main part of the temple. Even in the morning, the sun was beating down and making the large stones of the walkway hot to the touch. With the humid air and not even the slightest wind, the heat was impressive--and we were there in "winter."

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    The buildings of Angkor Wat are otherworldly. Strange conical shapes soar into the quiet blue sky and every exposed inch is covered with incredibly detailed carvings.

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    Gods, warriors, monsters--all from an ancient culture so different from ours--seem almost alien.

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    One of the more common images are the Apsara: "Celestial dancers who entertain the gods and are the sensual rewards of kings and heroes who die bravely."

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    Wrapped around the main building are 1,200 square meters of bas relief carvings. In some of them, you can still see faint colors of paint that remain after all these centuries. They must have been quite a sight in their original condition.

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    When Angkor Wat was first constructed, it's builders were followers of Hinduism. Later on, Buddhism took over and there are now many buddhist statues throughout the complex. All but a few are headless--decapitated either by thieves or by the Khmer Rouge's cultural cleansing.

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    I was only able to spend a couple of hours at Angkor Wat before the heat and whatever had been bothering me became too much to bear. I went back to the hotel before noon while I was still able to walk and spent the rest of the day sleeping. Rob and Joe were able to visit some of the other complexes, since Angkor Wat is just one of many in that area. It was a huge disappointment not to be able to go with them, but now I have an excuse to return to Cambodia one day.

    ...

    The ride back to the Thai border took us past more Cambodian farmland. When we got to the border, beemer boy did a little license plate swapping to (hopefully) speed up the customs process a little. Here he's putting on the new Cambodian plate, complete with an "official" looking driver's license that he picked up in the back of a bar in Phnom Penh.

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    Here's what "my" bike looked like after a week in Cambodia:

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    Notice the unusual amount of dust collecting on the front brake caliper which has been moistened by fork oil dripping down on it for days. Miraculously the brakes worked just fine.

    Cambodia is definitely a place I'll return to one day. In a sense, it's much more exotic than Thailand, but with a raw "wild west" feel to it. If you find yourself in that part of the world, definitely give Cambodia a visit.
     
  6. BobS

    BobS Ol'Timer

    Nice report Andy. Maybe it will get some old Australian guy off your back.

    What are you doing for a bike this trip?

    BobS

    "Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting "...holy shit...what a ride!"
     
  7. turkish

    turkish Active Member

    Dunno. I think I'll have to scrounge something when I'm out there. I don't want a big bike this time since I want to explore some of the backcountry. A friend of mine says there are a few 400s in Phnom Penh, but I'll probably end up on a 250.
     
  8. john

    john Ol'Timer

    Hi Andy, I still can't get enough of the pic with Robert and Bike on it's side. When are you going to be here? I will be in the states from April 10th to the 20 but maybe interested in some time again in Cambodia. John
     
  9. rhiekel

    rhiekel Ol'Timer

    Jeeuusss.... How much longer will that damn ferry picture haunt me?????? Here I offer to be the guinea pig by going first to test the stability of the boat, and look at all the grief I get......... Ok, next trip when there is some really wierd crossing of something I am going to force Turkish to go first !!!
     
  10. turkish

    turkish Active Member

    It's not grief, it's admiration, envy, and respect! By the way, what email are you using these days?
     
  11. mja34

    mja34 Ol'Timer

    hi mate,sorry whont be around for your trip and thanks for the photo you sent me last year!, i am presently in kish a small island of iran, working at a mates go cart track and helping his brother set up a bar! not alot goes on here and there is no booze, women have to cover up and to top it all of, no big bikes! only small cg125 honda copies brought over from the main land. back in thailand on the 29th of march for about 10 days will head down to pattaya and hire a bike and see what happens, hopefully hook up with joe. have a great trip and if you are ever in the uk give me a buzz. marcus, the guy always on the small 250cc bikes!!

    marcus ackerman
     
  12. turkish

    turkish Active Member

    You did a pretty good job of flogging that little 250 last year as I remember. Did you ever have any mechanical problems with those bikes? My biggest worry is lunching the tranny in the middle of the jungle and having to walk out.
     
  13. BobS

    BobS Ol'Timer

    Hey Marcus

    What kind of bar can you set up if there is no booze?

    BobS

    "Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting "...holy shit...what a ride!"
     

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