The idea with this trip was to get 9-10 days outside of Taiwan for Chinese New Year (CNY). I chose Cambodia, as there was still some stuff I wanted to do there and I though that as I was going to fairly remote areas (the south coast), that it’d be fairly quiet. What I didn’t know, is that the Khmer also celebrate CNY, and the places I was going to would also be fairly busy, but with Khmer (people)!
As this was more of an impromptu holiday, this post will be in bullet-point form, and the next one (hopefully Indonesia) should be a fuller write-up.
- Leave the house at 4 am and get a taxi to the bus station, and then a bus to the airport. As there is now an MRT line from the airport to Taipei, getting the bus from Taipei to to the airport is how you used to do it, but at 4-5 am, unless you want to get a taxi to the airport, this is the only option
- Get a motorbike taxi from the airport to the same area in Phnom Penh I stayed in before. After walking around for about 40 minutes to see what had changed, and asking if hotels/guest houses had room, I ended up staying in the same hotel as before!
- Walk to Wat Phnom, which I had never been to before, sit by the river, eat in a restaurant close to the night market and then walk around the night market.
- Walk around Phsar Thmey central market with colonial architecture
- Walk around the Royal Palace/Silver Pagoda, which I had also not been to before
- Walk along the river, back to the hotel, and talk to a local Khmer guy who worked in a hotel but had also worked in hotels in Hong Kong and Singapore
- Go to a colonial-era bar, which I had been meaning to go to for ages (the Foreign Correspondents Club), which was OK and not quite as special as I was hoping.
- Get a tuk-tuk to the bus station and end up going to about 4 bus stations, before going to the one I wanted to go to, and arrive 40 minutes later, even though it should have taken about 5-10 minutes
- Once at the bus station, I figured out that the bus times in the local guide book I was using were wrong, and the only options were expensive buses or buses a long time in the future, so I decided to walk to another bus company’s office, to find the same thing, and then walk back and get the next bus with the original bus company, which wasn’t too far in the distant future
- Get a very long, hot bus journey to Kampot and stay in the same guest house as before (the woman who runs the guest house recognised me).
- Hire a motorbike and got to Bokor National Park. I tried to do this the 2nd time I was in Cambodia, but got part of the way up the mountain before it started raining, and then had to head back.
- This time, I completely underestimated a) how far it was to the top of the mountain b) how far it was between the sights in the park. I put enough petrol in the tank for what I thought was just 1 mountain, but actually it’s a series of mountains, with sights distributed over a large area. When I went to the waterfall in Bokor I had to ask where to get petrol, and ended up getting it from a farm in the end
- See the Popokvil waterfall, with 2 levels
- Go to the church and various abandoned buildings/villas
- Look for the famous, abandoned casino, which I was unable to find. This is one of the main reasons for going to Bokor, and I got to the end of the track and decided to stop for something to eat, as I had been going for some time at this point. As I was sitting in the cafe, opposite a big, new hotel, some other tourists came and sat at the same table. We started talking, and it turns out that the big, new hotel, was the casino! They had finished renovating it, and had only been open for 5-6 days. Luckily, they let you into the garden at the back, to see the spectacular, virgin rainforest drop from the top of the mountain (where the hotel was) down to the ocean. This casino was built during the French colonial time, and the ruling elite who got to go there when it was a working casino would have been incredibly lucky to see it.
- Get a minivan to Koh Kong. This is effectively a van/minibus, which is usually completely overloaded and picks people up/drops people off as it goes along the route. In my case, I think there were about 15 people in it, plus a motorbike and some chickens
- Walk around in Koh Kong looking for a guest house, with some indication of how busy it was going to get at CNY, as places were only really available for 1 or 2 nights. Eventually I ended up staying in a guest house with about 30 rooms, where I seemed to be the only person staying there
- As I was walking around Koh Kong in the evening, I walked though an impoverished area close to the river, with loads of groups of screaming kids who were happy to see me.
- Hire a motorbike and go to Thma Bang. I was only able to find 1 semi-automatic motorbike in Koh Kong, so took it and paid the extra money to take it out of the city. On the way to Thma Bang, I went to the bus station to get the bus times for the trip to Pursat or Kampot (and then Phnom Penh)
- Go to the Tatai waterfall, along the route from Koh Kong to Thma Bang
- Ride the 40 km dirt track (which is new and in good condition) to Thma Bang, and look for the ranger station that the guide book said was able to help you set up accommodation and tours. I wasn’t able to find the ranger station, so asked in the police station instead, and they were able to point me in the direction of guest houses, but no ranger station. In the village centre, there was a sign pointing down another dirt track for eco-tourism and some phone numbers, so as it was only ~20 km, I decided to go and have a look, and if there was nothing there, could come back and stay in one of the guest houses in Thma Bang before heading back to Koh Kong. I rode though some amazing jungle and past a lot of houses with people celebrating CNY outside them, and eventually got to the end of the dirt track. When I turned round, Meas and two police officers (I’m guessing one national police and one military police) met me on the road. Meas was asking if I wanted to go trekking, and the police officers wanted my ID and a photo of me and the motorbike, to record who was in the area. As Thma Bang had so little in it, I decided to stay in the village, and Meas took me to his friends house, where they gave me something to eat, plus some special CNY stuff, like turtle, banana wine (they said it was about 95%) and quite a lot of beer. After that I stayed in a homestay, which they were still building, and slept on the floor.
- Wake up and go for coffee and breakfast in various peoples’ houses. As the village is so close to the mountains, it was quite cold at this point, as the humidity from the rainforest had come into the village and lowered the temperature at night. As it was CNY, nowhere was open to get food, so Meas went and bought some vegetables and made breakfast
- After eating we went trekking in the Cardamom Mountains, which is what I was there for. We went to a waterfall, which had water coming through an overhang it had eroded a hole though, and went past another overhang, which Meas said had been used by locals to hide from the Khmer Rouge when they were attacking
- See various wild animals and plants, including a glimpse of a Great Hornbill. Meas was able to point out several things that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen or known about, which made having a guide worth it, including sites and the paths used by illegal loggers in the Cardamoms
- After eating the sticky rice lunch we brought, we came down the mountain into a banana plantation and walked through this to find the road back to the village. Walking back along the road, we stopped at several peoples’ houses, as it was CNY and they were all drinking and doing karaoke and wanted us to go over
- When I got back to the village I packed my stuff and rode the 90 km back to Koh Kong
- When I got back to Koh Kong, I was surprised to find that the population seemed to have tripled whilst I was away and there was nowhere to stay, including the guest house I had stayed in before. After walking around and going to various hotels and guest houses (all were full), I went back to the original one and took the owner up on her offer of sleeping on the bed behind the reception desk. After I went to dinner, I came back to find bed sheets, covers and a fan, and I stayed in reception watching Khmer boxing before it was time to go to sleep.
- Get a mini van back to Kampot. In Kampot I had the same problem as Koh Kong, were everywhere was full, and when I was walking back from the bus station after arriving, I saw some foreigners coming out of one guest house I’d never tried before. After walking around and going to about 7 different places, I took the 1 room the owner had available, which may have been the last reasonable room available in Kampot at that time/price
- Go to the same restaurant as before, which this time was mega-busy, and end up waiting about 2.5 hours for all my food to arrive, and in this time drink about 4 beers.
- Go to the central market in Kampot, before leaving, to see what had changed
- Get a bus back to Phnom Penh, where I got off the bus too early, as I thought everyone was getting off, and the stop looked almost identical to the stop before it, and the last stop where the bus company’s office is
- Get a massage, as my back hurt so much from sleeping on hard surfaces for 2 nights, that I could barely walk
- Go back to a restaurant that I went to before, which also took a long time.
- Get a flight back to Taipei, but have to go to about 4 money changers on the way there, as I didn’t have enough cash in US Dollars or Riel to pay for the motorbike taxi without getting any more money out. In the end I got US Dollars out of an ATM in the airport, went to a money changer in the airport (to give me change), and then paid the motorbike taxi driver the fare, including extra for the extra time/distance, plus a tip
- Get the MRT back home in Taipei.