Tag Archives: banlung

Lagniappe 1, Riki’s Thoughts….Cambodia

(I have been hounding Riki for months about typing up his journal notes for me to post.  Now, as we are sitting in the Swiss Alps, it all comes together and all you guys who have been bugging me about this can all relax.  And check out the pictures too – some hand drawn maps included.)

The Journal (Just a bit larger than an index card)
The Journal (Just a bit larger than an index card)
Cambodia Map


Border Crossing from Phu Quoc (Vietnam)

– 5 Buses, 1 Boat, & 1 Clueless Tuktuk

– Didn’t have luggage with us at one point, separated when driving to Bus Station, was not cool

– There was an immediate change in buildings and stores on the other side of the border (much poorer construction with far fewer supplies). There was also a crazy big casino right on the Cambodian side (many vices found in Cambodia are not allowed in Vietnam).

– Drive through the countryside was really cool – dried rice paddies, flat, pockets of palm trees with little wooden huts. Much more similar to Laos than Vietnam.


Phnom Penh

– Crazy Tuktuk guys introduced us to the city as 10 of them would run 30 meters alongside the minivans seeking any business they could (each time we let a person off as we wound our way through the city), absolute madness.

– Traffic in this city is like Vietnam, but more cars and absolutely no organization whatsoever. They have quite wide roads, which makes it far more difficult and dangerous to cross (nothing like the organized chaos of Hanoi & HCMC), and there are Toyota Camrys everywhere, likely 90% of all the cars, all different ages (probably some knockoffs too).

– Great to be able to get draught beer again, $0.50 for a glass, but I miss ripping off the labels from the bottles (to save for art projects at a later date).

– Back to seeing SexPats (far more than we saw in Bangkok). Granted the Khmer women are all beautiful, it’s very weird and off-putting to see 7 skinny women, dressed like they are out clubbing, hanging out in front of the bars, at ALL hours of the day trying to lure in tourists, as well as all the 18 year old Khmer girls (some likely younger) hanging out with 60 – 70 year old white men.

– Some of the SexPats are young (but really quite unfortunately ugly) men hanging out with these beautiful women.

– Saw, at a minimart, a short Khmer girl holding the crotch of the much taller white guy… from behind (through the legs)… at the cash register (while the cashier, her friend, Julie and I all look at each other trying to hold back our ?laughter?).

– Genocide/Prison Museum was very intense (especially the movie we saw where one of the few surviving prisoners was interviewing his former guards), you could still see the signs of it being used as a school before the Khmer Rouge took control.

– I noticed that all the faces of the KR leaders were completely scratched off by people (even some I didn’t recognize).

– I also noticed that the pictures they had of the prisoners, were awful and showed an obsessive/crazy rule (where everybody was always suspicious of all others), but there were a number of duplicates (saw this even though all prisoners had the same haircuts, women: short bob & men: even shorter).

– The City seemed a little more sketchy/rustic/poorer than all of the other major cities we visited, but it definitely wasn’t the shit hole that a bunch of people made it out to be before we got there.

– Once again, the men, like in the rest of SEAsia have these amazing mole hairs on their faces that grow out about 3 inches/8 cm, everything else they shave or can’t grow (I heard somewhere that they are good luck).

– One can definitely notice that there aren’t as many older Khmer people as there were older people in the other countries in the region (a still highly visible aspect of the genocide).

– We are convinced (especially Julie) that we need to buy these awesome PJ’s that all the ladies here are wearing (usually top and bottom matching) all day…

– It is really odd using US Dollars here (with Khmer Riel as the small change 4000=1). Got a $2 bill! (a couple we met didn’t realize that they are legal tender in the US, you just don’t see them much) But apparently they often don’t accept them at stores/food stalls in Cambodia (though they are more than willing to include them in your change).


North East Cambodia – Kratie & Banlung

– The red dirt/soil up here is amazing (much like Cuba), but it can be quite awful when it’s all dust

– In Kratie, just a couple of minutes up the road from the Irrawaddy dolphins was this amazing place with boardwalks, thatch roofs & hammocks everywhere over these small rapids (whish I could spend every weekend there forever…). There were some kids doing flips and posing for pictures after we went onto a sandbar past where the people use the toilet, pretty impressive acrobatics.

– All the kids in the northeast are really cute when you ask if you can take their pictures (they never ask for anything, candy or money, unlike all the other touristy places we go), and they are always very excited to see themselves in the picture.

– In the north especially, but really most places in Cambodia, the locals are all wearing soccer/football jerseys (literally half of all people, mostly young to middle age men and women, the older ladies all wear PJ’s).


Siem Reap & Angkor Park

Angkor Map

– “Siem Reap is a tourist town that I like.” – Julie remark at the market

– The city is completely transformed at night, with ten times more people out and about (having all just left a long day at the temples).

– Was fun to go to Angkor Wat at sunset (instead of that hill where everybody else goes) and be slowly chased out by the guards at closing (like 20 other people doing this too). Was actually able to get a couple of photos of the temple with a few, if any people, ruining the view.

– Waking up in the morning and leaving the hostel by 5 and arriving at 6 at Bayon, all alone, was super frigging awesome! Walking around, losing your bearings, all dark, mysterious faces on the stones, etc…. We did the same thing at Ta Prohm the next day and it was equally as awesome, but two British girls beat us by half an hour (but they hadn’t entered yet because it was still too dark to see anything).

– It was so amazing climbing over the boulders and stones at the fallen temples (especially Ta Nei, Ta Prohm, Beng Mealea, etc.). Though it was awkward to be “contributing” to the slow destruction of the temples… but everybody else was way worse, and I was always very careful never to step on any of the carved stones.

– The temple being restored by the Chinese (every temple has different countries helping to restore them in their own unique ways: France, India, Japan, Germany, etc.) looks disappointingly fake, with new stones of different colors everywhere.

– Our guidebook ($10 in Phnom Penh with a week to read it vs. $5-8 in the Temple park) is obviously a rip-off used there for the last 15 years, but also awesome. I would read it twice before we visited a temple (so I could walk around a take pictures of the stuff I had learned about), while Julie studied it and used it as a guide at the temples (though sometimes it was quite hilariously out of date).

– Saw a gutter punk looking white guy without shoes on at least three occasions throughout the day… I dunno… I guess its relatively clean, but still, how does one climb over all those sharp rocks and steps?

– Its really interesting to see the legacy of when the region changed between the religions (Hinduism, two types of Buddhism). Lots of whole Buddhas scraped off walls, same with some of the faces of Hindu gods. Looked way different from the general looting that has taken place (& it’s vast).


Koh Ta Kiev

Koh Ta Kiev Map

– Various thoughts while sitting on beach/patio: It’s so cool here with all the little beaches where you are alone and feel like you have the whole island to yourself. Perfect setup they have here at Coral Beach, right before the rocks start, and after all the other bungalows and day trippers, with 3/4 nice little beaches.

– What I’ve “accomplished” since I’ve been here (on the island): sewed on all of the flag patches I had, made a piece of “art” – an intense dream catcher thingy with stuff found on the beach, started working on my journal again, and learned a couple of new fun games.

– One of my favorite things to do on a vacation (or in life really): have a nice breakfast, with coffee, sitting on a small dock over the clear blue water with an amazing view of the gently lapping waves of the bay…

– Perfect situation #10 (I don’t remember all, they just happen…): sitting on the tree house level platform with the sun going down, with a group of people playing music and singing on the beach below (some of them had great voices).

– Different times at the Absinthe Distillery: First Night – with staff , had the green one, kittens playing all around me, guy (owner?) asleep in corner. Second Time – with Chilean couple, show up right as they are closing, kittens asleep, guy asleep in corner, tried the strongest one. Third Time – no drink, changed camera battery, guy asleep in corner.

– Funny moment when a group of Italian girls from Florence and Rome were arguing about who’s city had the greatest culture/legacy.

– Pretty sad when we had to leave the island. I had an amazing time doing nothing, but would not have made it much longer there… tummy issues, wanted a hot shower (had only washed with soap maybe two times), no more sand…

– … only to be stuck at a shithole place for two terrible nights with termite noises, Rat poo, and the giant accompanying Rat (who moved rocks and wasn’t afraid of us at all!).

Otres Beach One

– I imagine this to be what Phu Quoc (Vietnam) was like 5/10 years ago. But here there are more shacks (“bungalows”), a flat red dirt road, and a bunch of empty beach chairs.

– Said “Aokun” (Thank you) for the first time in a week (was a little weird how it was like a western peoples utopia on the island). I was also odd looking at some of these beach places (bar/restaurant/hostel things) where it looks like 5-10 western kids (“employees”) were doing nothing , one “working” at the bar while all the others took up all the bar chairs, while the one Khmer guy or girl does all the actual work.

– Ladies and Girls selling trinkets in Cambodia (at least the southern part) be like: “If you don’t buy now, you promise, if you buy later, you buy from me? Pinkie promise?”

Red dust road….Kratie & Banlung, Cambodia

We arrived in Kratie in northeast Cambodia after an uneventful 6 hour bus journey from Phnom Penh.  It is a tiny town, but is the capital of the province.  There is really not much happening here, but its a good stop over for our next destination, and they have freshwater dolphins nearby!

We checked into a cool hotel, housed in two old raised wooden structures with mosquito nets and unfortunately, an incredibly confused rooster.  If it weren’t for the rooster crowing as often as every 10 seconds (I timed him) from before 4 am until 6 pm, this place would be charming.  Ear plugs did little to drown him out and I even downloaded a noise making app just so I could sleep.


Our first day we took the ferry across to a small island in the Mekong River.  Ferry means creaky old wooden boat with a small awning and a very loud motor.  It drops you and the 10 or so other people it can fit at the edge of a long sand bank.  In the wet season, I imagine this is completely gone and the boat can go much closer to shore.


The island of Koh Trong, which is little more than a sandbar, doesn’t have electricity, except for what is provided by generators.  There is a 9 km loop around the island that you can bike or walk, dotted with wood stilt houses.  The interior of the island is mostly farmland.  It is an incredible contrast to just over the water in the town.  We opted to walk and spent the next few hours meandering along waving at the small children who were more than excited to yell ‘Hello’ at us.  While waiting for the ferry back to Kratie, we ran into a French couple from our bus.  We taught them a new card game and agreed to meet up later for dinner.  We only know a few card games and unfortunately, I tend to lose.



The next day, we rented a motorbike and drove about 20 km to the north.  We stopped at a place where people have built wooden structures over the water for lounging and swimming in the rapids.  For about 25 cents, you can enter, walk across, hang out in a hammock and picnic.  We were intrigued and paid just to go in and see what was going on.  It was Saturday, so there were lots of locals and naked kids jumping in and out of the rushing water.  We walked to the end and onto a sandbar, where some local boys were delighted to let Riki photograph them doing somersaults and flips into the sand and water.  The structures must be temporary, as the water rises a lot in the wet season and they were only a few feet above the water.  A lot of work to do just to have it destroyed come rainy season.


After, we went south 1 km to the location of the Irrawaddy dolphins.  We paid the $9 per person (very steep) to get a boat for one hour on the water.  With potentially as few as 20 dolphins left in this area, we were skeptical that we would see any.  But our 3 pm arrival seemed perfect.  A tour group was leaving and before we even got in the boat we heard and saw a dolphin surface to breathe.  The dolphins stay in this area of the river because it is protected from the current and pretty calm.  We spent the next hour craning our necks back and forth as we heard them exhale before we turned to see them.  Just as we were leaving, it seemed to be feeding time and we were able to watch a few dolphins skim the surface chasing small fish.  To say it was magical sounds corny, but it was pretty awesome.


Our last stop in the way back to town was Phnom Sambok, a small hill with a monastery on top and a decent view of the Mekong River.  As we pulled in, we were greeted by a curious monkey who was in the middle of licking and inspecting some push bikes at the base of the stairs.  He wasn’t too keen to be interrupted.


On the way back to Kratie, we pulled over and bought grilled bamboo shoots stuffed with sticky rice and a few sweet beans, which this small village is known for.  It is eaten at all times of day as a snack.  We took ours back to devour in town along the river.


Modern Laundry sign
Saving it for later?


There are not as many travelers further from the main cities, and this was very apparent on our next leg, as we had to take a much smaller bus to get further northeast.  It took us two hours to actually leave Kratie, as we drove around picking people up, stopping to get gas, returning to the bus station and then ultimately tying two motorbikes on the back of our little minibus.  In true Cambodian fashion, we packed 20+ people in and were off.  Eight hours later, we arrived at another small capital town, Banlung.

We met up with the same French couple from Kratie, played more cards and planned our next few days.  Many people go for 2-3 day treks here, but as Riki wasn’t feeling well, we opted to stay in town and do day trips at our own pace.  Our first spot involved a long walk through the outskirts of the city to a lake, presumably a crater as it is almost perfectly round.  We could have walked along the main road, which was busy and boring, but one of our maps had a dashed path connecting the town and the entrance to the lake.  It took us through a small village next to the town and then out into fields of dried crops.  Somewhere in the midst of these fields, someone had decided to start a small fire, a pretty standard practice here.  People burn everything, everyday.  Paper, food scraps, plastic, everything.  It makes for a odorous evening, when small fires burn all along the roads.  They also burn the undergrowth and you can frequently see black ash-laden ground under fruit trees and along fences.  Well this fire had gotten way out of control.  There were two fire trucks on the scene when we walked up and numerous bystanders.  They were nice enough to let us up on the truck to get a better look, as there was nothing they could really do.  Fields and fields of dried plants were crackling away.  One family was hosing down around their house in hopes that it wouldn’t burn that close. There is not a lot of water to spare either.  People have cisterns of water if they are lucky, which are refilled only when possible.  It is the dry season after all.


We continued along the very dusty road/trail to the lake, where we took a quick dip as the sun had hidden behind some clouds and it was a bit cool.  We walked back the same way a few hours later.  The fire was pretty much smoldering, except for a few parts and it had come quite close to the family’s home.  Seems very obvious to me how to prevent this from happening.

Stick farm?



Our last day, we rented a pink motorbike and visited three of the nearby waterfalls.  The way to the falls is scenic and passes through some outlying villages of Banlung.  Everything within 10 meters of the road is covered in a thin layer of rich red-brown dirt – plants, roofs, goods for sale, everything.  By the time we reached the first waterfall, my exposed ankles were a similar color, not that much different from the smooth brown skin of the locals.  There was a wobbly cable bridge to reach the swimming area and we watched as some monks de-robed and played in the water.  The water was pretty cold so we just stick our hands in and tried to scrub the dirt from our skin.  But to no avail, as 3 days later, I still have a lingering “sock tan.”


We booked a 6 hour journey with our guesthouse to Siem Reap, involving a transfer where another minibus “will be waiting at the side of the road for you.”  An ominous sentence, so we prepare with extra snacks and the Allegiant book-on-tape.