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On the way with the parents of Ivonne
Bangkok (Thailand) to Stung Treng (Cambodia), Jan-21-09 / Feb-09-09

Today starts a very special period for us. We are on the international airport of Bangkok and we are waiting for the parents of Ivonne to arrive. They found the courage to travel together with us for a period of 7 weeks through Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. The airplane is delayed for several hours which mean that we embrace them with some delay. We eat a traditional Thai lunch at the airport before we take a taxi to the Cambodian and Laos Embassies that are located next to each other in one of the suburbs of Bangkok.

After two minutes in the taxi, our saying that “the first thief you meet in a new country is a taxi driver”, is confirmed. The driver manipulated his taxi meter with the result that the meter is totalling up too fast. He probably thinks that he has to do with four new naïve arrivals that are easy victims. But he is wrong. We address the issue to him and say that we are not going to pay the amount the meter is showing. He becomes confused and tells us that his meter is not working properly once in a while. A story that we do not believe of course. We know better. When we arrive at the embassies, we pay the regular fare. Our application for the Cambodian and Laos visa goes by efficiently. After two hours we have both visas in our passports. At the end of the day we spend some hours walking through the centre of Bangkok to sniff some of the atmosphere of the city. We decide to stay one more day in Bangkok to acclimatize and to see some of the sights. The things we see are for example the Wat Phra Kaew (temple with the emerald Buddha), the palace and we make a boat journey with the public boat over the Chao Phraya River. We also bring a visit to the bus terminal to buy tickets for the bus to Laemgnob for the following day.

A monk blesses men and a child near the Angkor temples in Siem Reap
The next day we take a bus early in the morning to the small village of Laemgnob, our starting point for the boat to Ko Wai. Ko Wai is a small and exotic bounty island in an azure blue see, complete with palm trees. We check in, in a resort that is perfectly located along a bay. The luxury of this “Thai style” resort is not the kind of luxury that you will find in the west. The bungalows are simple, but the view is unbeatable. The price is acceptable: € 12,- per bungalow per night. The next two days we enjoy the quiet environment, the perfect view, the nice food and especially the snorkelling in the bay in front of the resort. The coral is beautiful and we see great fish like Parrot Fish, Butterfly Fish, Clown Fish and a beautiful Octopus. After a couple of days relaxing it is time to hit the road again, and we take a minibus from Trat to the Cambodian border. The border crossing goes easy and that has to do with the fact that we already arranged our visas. The border crossing is famous for the immigration officers who want to be bribed by travellers who want to buy the visa at the border. After the formalities are finished, we take a taxi to the border town Krong Koh Kong. The town previously had the image of a prostitution and smuggling town, because it is so close to the border. But the atmosphere is much better today. The people are very friendly and the government is trying to change the image to an ecotourism image, based on the fact that the town is a great starting point for the Cardamom Mountains.

We ask the taxi driver to drop us at the central market because we have to exchange money. Krong Koh Kong has no official exchange offices, so we have to rely on the market stalls that offer also an exchange service. Especially the stalls that sell electronics and mobile phones can exchange larger amounts of money. We first ask around a little bit to see what the going exchange rate is. At the end, we decide to exchange our Thai Baht at a small mobile phone market stall. We exchange our Thai Baht for: 1 Thai Baht = 117 Cambodian Riels. In Cambodia you can use two currencies, the Cambodian Riel and the US-dollar. Both are accepted everywhere. With more that 2.4 million Riels in our bags, we start looking for transport to Thma Bang. Thma Bang is a small village, 60 kilometres from Krong Koh Kong, and is located in the Cardamom Mountains, one of the last remaining nature reserves in Cambodia. There is a ranger station in Thma Bang that rents out rooms to people who are interested. Because of celebrations for the Chinese New Year, we are not able to find transport for today, so we have to wait till tomorrow. The next day we depart for a three day visit to the Cardamom Mountains which is well worth the effort (see also the article and photo-impression of the Cardamom Mountains). After our visit to this nature reserve, we spent one more night in Krong Koh Kong before we take the bus to the capital city Phnom Penh. The first part of the journey goes through the Cardamom Corridor and is beautiful. It has a special protective status which means that it gets extra protection from the Cambodian government. The future will tell us if it is enough and that it does not fall in the hands of greedy property developers.

The Asian Openbill in the Prek Toal Bird reserve

As soon as we get out of the bus in Phnom Penh, we are surrounded by lots of tuc-tuc drivers. They are all looking for customers, especially white customers. A Cambodian tuc-tuc is some kind of a carriage, pulled by a motorcycle, and that can transport officially four persons. The tuc-tuc drivers prefer to have westerners as customers, because they are not aware of the going fare. The result is that they are overcharged. We get our bags out of the bus and try to find a way through the hordes of tuc-tuc driver, still trying to convince us to take a ride with them. We do not know yet where we are going to stay, so we decide to explore the area by foot. After checking some places we choose for a little hotel with the name “the red fox”. The hotel has only six rooms and on the ground floor is a small bar where English middle aged men are drinking beer while watching European Sports channels on the satellite TV. There are all here to find the new (Cambodian) love of their life. The next couple of days we find out that Phnom Penh is a nice and atmospheric city (see also the photo impression about Phnom Penh).

Our next stop on our journey through Cambodia is Siem Reap. This middle sized city is the starting point for a visit to the world famous Temples of Angkor. These temples are the heart and sole of the Cambodian people and are built in the period of 832 – 1432 after Christ. They are the source of inspiration of the Khmer people that are still trying to build up their country after many years of Khmer Rouge terror. We stay four days in Siem Reap and enjoy the incredible beauty of the Angkor temples. We also bring a visit to the fabulous Prek Toal bird reserve, a mangrove forest located on the shores of the Tonlé Sap lake. This reserve is one of the world’s major breeding grounds for many bird species, like the Spot-billed Pelicans, Painted Storks and Darters. We are also extremely lucky to see the endangered Lesser and Greater Adjutants.

Yesterday we made a spectacular daytrip to the remote temples of Preah Khan. We started early in the morning in Kampong Thom, for the four hour ride. The road condition is bad. Some parts of the track are very sandy, which means that you need a 4 WD jeep. We decided to go with a Toyota Camry, and that was not so smart. On the way back we got stuck in a sandy part of the track, and after digging and pushing for half an hour, we concluded that we had to wait for help. And we were lucky, because a jeep passed us on a track that sees seldom traffic (see also the article: Preah Khan). But fortunately we made it back home. Today we are on the way to the North-eastern Cambodian city of Stung Treng. Once in a while we see the mighty Mekong River on our left side that we follow northward. We will arrive in Stung Treng in the afternoon, where we will also spend the night. Tomorrow we will leave for Laos. A new adventure is waiting for us.


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