This tour came about through catching up with a school friend, Kirschty Birt, on Facebook. Kirschty and I went to high school together but we hadn’t seen each other for about 35 years. She asked me in February if I’d be interested in helping plan a holiday in Cambodia and Laos for her and a friend, Delvene Read. I was happy to make the arrangements, including the flights to and from Lao. Later, Kirschty’s younger sister Sarie also decided to join the trip. Some friends of Del, who were in a craft club, gave her 290 hand made tee-shirts to bring over and give to Cambodian kids she met on her trip. I had some doubts how she would manage to bring that many over in her baggage but as it turned out there wasn’t a problem, and she didn’t have to pay for excess baggage. Del had raised money to pay for excess baggage, and as it wasn’t required she generously donated it to the Jesus School to purchase new text books.
Day 1 – September 22nd
Da and I arrived at Blue Lime mid afternoon, and caught up with Kirschty, Sarie and Del soon afterwards. They’d flown in from Singapore that morning. After dinner we went by tuk tuk to the night markets and had a fairly early night, ready for an early start next day.
Day 2 – September 23rd
I’d arranged for a couple of tuk tuks to take us to visit a school, the Killing Fields, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and a small orphanage. The drivers, Samnang and Leang are brothers and we’ve been good friends for a number of years now. Although we were on the road by about 8 am, we made slow progress through the streets of Phnom Penh. A lot of roads were closed off as the newly elected government were being sworn in by the King that morning. We finally arrived at the Jesus School around 9:30, and were met by Meng who runs the school. Paleriders helped raise funding for construction of three new classrooms and they’d just been finished. After the usual introductions and a tour of the school, the ladies handed out about 100 of the tee-shirts they’d brought over from Australia. The children were very happy with them and couldn’t wait to try them on.
After reluctantly leaving the school, we headed further out of town to the Killing Field Museum and Memorial. It had been about 4 years since I was last there and I was quite impressed with the self guiding system that had been introduced. Everyone is given a type of MP3 player with headphones and a recording describes each particular section along the walking track. Interspersed throughout the commentary were interviews with people who’d lived through the Khmer Rouge era, some who’d lost family at the Killing Field, and people who actually worked there and carried out the atrocities. It was a very sober group who gathered for lunch afterwards. Kirschty commented that 1975 to 1979 were our high school years and at the time we were both quite unaware of the events happening in Cambodia, or Kampuchea as it was then known.
After lunch we returned to Phnom Penh to visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, where the people killed at Cheung Oek had been imprisoned and tortured. Mere words cannot describe the suffering and horrors that were inflicted on the inmates, by their fellow countrymen and women. Of particular interest to us was the transcript of David Lloyd Scott’s confession, he was an Australian yachtie who was unfortunately captured by the Khmer Rouge and executed after being severely tortured. It is believed that his body was burned in the street outside Tuol Sleng.
Afterwards we visited the children at NACOPCA Orphanage, a much happier place than the previous one. The kids here are always so pleased to see visitors, they are very outgoing and not at all shy. The orphanage is run by a Cambodian family who were involved in the TV and film industry, so the kids are taught to dance and perform on stage from an early age. They make all of their traditional dance costumes themselves. The ladies gave everyone their tee-shirts and also donated money.
After dinner at the Boomerang Cafe, the ladies went for a Seeing Hands massage by the blind and emerged an hour later looking a bit bruised and battered.
Day 3 – September 24th
Sreyda’s cousin picked us up around 9 am, and progress out of the city was quite slow due to the previously mentioned road closures. We were travelling to our home at Baray, in Kampong Thom province so that the ladies could see some schools Paleriders has been involved in building. Kirschty and Del had helped raise money to provide desks for one of them so they were keen to see the school and meet the students. We stopped at Skun on the way to show the ladies a local delicacy, deep fried tarantulas.
After arriving at our place, we lunched on fresh baguettes with lettuce and tomato. Kirschty had brought over some mango chutney and pickles so I had to try them out on mine, the chutney was delicious, just like Mum’s. The ladies were quite impressed with the view from our back verandah, looking westward towards Lake Tonle Sap.
When the day had cooled off, we went for a look at the new classrooms under construction at Samroeng Village Primary School. These should be finished by mid-October, there have been a few delays mainly due to wet weather.
Then we visited the school at Wat Samroeng where Kirschty and Del had donated money towards the construction and fitout. The kids were finished their English and about to go home but stayed back to talk to the ladies. They never miss an opportunity to practise their English with “barangs” (Westerners), that’s the best way to learn correct pronunciation. The ladies gave away more tee-shirts and also school supplies.
After an excellent meal of fish amok from Solar Cafe Baray, we returned to the pagoda for a night of dancing. The ladies were expecting some traditional Khmer dancing but instead were treated to some Gangnam Style by the locals. No worries, everyone got up and danced and had a great night.
Day 4 – September 25th
A short trip to Kampong Cham today, passing through the rubber plantations of Chamkar Andoung and Chamkar Leu. We stopped to have a closer look at the latex oozing out of the trees into collection cups which looked like they were made from coconut shells. A short detour to Phnom Srey (Woman Mountain) to visit the various temples before arrival in Kampong Cham where we were amazed by the height of the Mekong River, it was so high that the street had been sandbagged in an attempt to keep water out of shops along the riverfront.
After lunch at the Lazy Mekong Daze Cafe, we headed out to the Kar Chuoy Dai Orphanage to meet the children and give away more shirts. All of their land was under water but fortunately the building was high and dry. The children here are not as accustomed to visitors as the ones at NACOPCA but after their initial shyness they were excited to see us.
Afterwards we went to Wat Nokor, a fairly new temple built inside a 10th century ruin where I’d previously arranged for the monks to perform some blessings for our group. After some initial confusion over what we actually wanted, we were showered with holy water while the monks chanted, seemingly without drawing breath. The ladies mentioned later that this was the highlight of the tour so far.
Day 5 – September 26th
By our itinerary we should have gone to Kratie, but with the amount of water coming down the Mekong, and the need to make two crossings by ferry, I considered it prudent to change our plans a little. Consequently we retraced our route from the previous day, and headed for Tbeng Meanchey in Preah Vihear Province instead. It was a fairly uneventful day, with a torrential downpour in the afternoon. Unfortunately, as I’d chosen to ride, I was soon saturated and quite cold. The ladies had a scenic tour of the town when we arrived, as our driver had forgotten the route to the guesthouse. The Vattanak is fairly new, and very well appointed but enormously expensive at $17 a night! That night we had a great meal at Phnom Tbeng Meanchey Restaurant and managed to find our way back to the guesthouse without too many detours.
Day 6 – September 27th
A fairly early start saw us on the road to Prasat Preah Vihear by 8:30. It took about 90 minutes to travel to the ticket office at the foot of the mountain, then the ladies were transported to the top by four wheel drive whilst I rode the bike. Sreyda had bought cigarettes, noodles and lollies to give the soldiers and their families who live there, as the temple is on the Thai border and the surrounding land is under dispute. It is quite a walk from the parking area to the temple itself, perched on a 500 metre escarpment overlooking Cambodia. Fortunately the day was overcast and not at all hot. After returning from the temple, we had lunch at a small restaurant before heading off to Anlong Veng.
On arrival in Anlong Veng I’d planned to take the ladies to see Pol Pot’s grave, in the Damrek Mountains on the Thai border. Unfortunately the road was cut due to floodwater but we spent an interesting hour watching the locals negotiate a washed out creek crossing not far out of town. They even managed to build a small bridge to allow motorbikes to cross. Next morning we found a way around the washout and visited Ta Mok’s house, unfortunately during another downpour.
Day 7 – September 28th
Not a good start for me, as it was raining when we checked out of the hotel and I was riding but it stopped about 30 km down the road towards Siem Reap. We were meeting my friend Mr Lucky on the way, he’d arranged our Angkor Wat entry tickets which are required to visit Kbal Spean and Banteay Srei temple. At Kbal Spean there are numerous carved lingas (penises) in the riverbed and also carvings of Hindu deities. After a humid but not too strenuous walk we found that the river level was too high to see the carvings. Nevertheless, the ladies were not to disappointed and plan to return at a drier time of year.
After lunch at a local restaurant we travelled a further 15 km to Banteay Srei temple. This is a particularly beautiful temple, with intricately carved figures in the pinkish sandstone, contrasting perfectly with the growth of lichen on the upper sections. Just down the road from Banteay Srei we stopped at the Landmine Museum, a reminder that although the war is over these leftovers continue to maim and kill Cambodians and will continue to for many years to come.
Before reaching Siem Reap, we stopped at a roadside stall to buy palm sugar. The palm sap is condensed in large open boilers, about 7 litres of sap is required to make 1 kg of sugar.
That night we went to a Khmer BBQ Restaurant, all you can eat for $5, followed by a visit to the Night Markets.
Day 8 – September 29th
Last day of the tour and the ladies spent most of the day at Angkor Wat with Mr Lucky. Sreyda and I caught up with them briefly during the day but pretty much left them to their own devices as we had a few people to catch up with in town.
We met that night at the Temple Club for dinner, then watched the Apsara dancers upstairs for a while before returning to the hotel. Next morning Sreyda and I headed home to Baray, leaving the ladies with Mr Lucky to visit a floating village before flying to Luang Prabang that afternoon.
Thank you Kirschty, Del and Sarie for coming to visit Cambodia, I hope you enjoyed the tour as much as Da and I did. We look forward to your next trip; can you make it in the dry season please!
It’s been a while since I posted anything on my blog but I’ve got a bit to write about since the last tour. I was fortunate to have a couple of workmates interested in doing a Paleriders tour, so after months of talking about it the day finally arrived. I flew into Phnom Penh from Laos on May 22 and was met at the airport by my wife Sreyda and Mr Geoff.
We travelled to our home in Baray next morning to prepare the bikes and get them to Kampong Cham, the starting point of the tour. KC is about 80 km from home, a nice ride through some of the finest agricultural land in Cambodia. While we were in Baray, I took Geoff to January 1 dam, about 20 km from home. Now it is a pleasant place to go for a swim and relax, but it has a bloody past. It was constructed by the Khmer Rouge regime utilising thousands of displaced people under conditions of extreme starvation and abuse. It is estimated that over 10000 people died there.
On May 25th, we took the six bikes to Kampong Cham. Sreyda’s brother Rhum, her brother-in-law and nephew rode three of the bikes to save us having to do several trips. As it turned out, it was the first time Rhum had ever been to Kampong Cham. Hard to believe for us seasoned travellers but a lot of Cambodians have never even been to Phnom Penh, let alone seen the ocean or been to Angkor Wat. On the way the float in Geoff’s carburettor stuck and fuel leaked everywhere but a couple of taps with a handy rock sorted out that problem. We carried the rock for the rest of the trip, just in case, but didn’t need to use it again. We spent the afternoon in the markets buying stuff to give to the kids at the orphanage when we arrived back on the 27th. I’d allocated $200 for this, and we ended up buying a set of clothes for each of them, toothpaste, shampoo, noodles, biscuits, soft drinks and 100 kg of rice. A little bit goes a long way in Cambodia.
On the 26th we hired a car and Geoff, Sreyda, Srey Troup and I travelled to Phnom Penh to meet the rest of the riders. They were staying at Blue Lime so Da and I had also booked in there. Tim, Warren and Phil were already there by the time we arrived so after the introductions were over we ended up walking along Sisowath Quay and having dinner at Sinh Foo. The food there is very good and not expensive. Phil couldn’t get over how busy it was along the riverfront, the constant stream of traffic never seemed to diminish. Cambodians love to go outside in the evening, to eat and socialise and escape the heat of their homes I suppose.
Day 1 – May 27th
Da’s cousin picked us up in his van fairly early and we headed off to Kampong Cham. A short stop at Skun gave the boys a chance to check out a peculiarly Cambodian delicacy – fried tarantulas. Strangely, nobody was too keen to try them. We arrived in KC around lunch time, so after checking into the Monorom VIP Hotel we headed off to Lazy Mekong Daze for something to eat. Afterwards we picked up the bikes from the guesthouse where I’d stored them and the boys had a bit of a practice run before we set out for the bamboo bridge to Koh Paen. For the uninitiated, the bamboo bridge can be a bit daunting. It feels very unusual riding on bamboo matting, it moves as if alive. However, we all made it across without incident and went for a bit of a look around the island. It is quite large, around 12 km in length and home to a considerable number of people who generally work in agriculture or fishing.
After returning across the bridge we called at the Kar Chouy Dai Orphanage to visit Pastor Hong and distribute the goods we’d bought a couple of days before. As always, the kids were pleased to see us.
We had a game of volleyball with the kids but weren’t anywhere near up to their standard, or fitness level.
Afterwards we rode to Wat Nokor, a pre-Angorian ruin a few kilometres out of town. In all my visits to Kampong Cham I’d never bothered to have a close look at it but I was pleasantly surprised. It is a hidden gem, well worth taking a little time to have a look.
Day 2 – May 28th
A fairly early start and a lovely 20 km ride upriver from Kampong Cham brought us to Wat Hanchey, another hilltop temple. I believe this is one of the most enjoyable rides in Cambodia, you can see most aspects of agricultural and riverine life in that short distance. After a while a gibbon arrived to see if we had any food. He wasn’t too keen on the mango I gave him, he seemed to object to the sticky juice on his hands.
From there the road was dirt, following the river until we reached the ferry crossing at Stung Trong.
There was a bit of dirt on the other side of the river, as we travelled through Cham (Muslim) villages towards our destination, Kratie. Not as much dirt as last year though, the road has improved a great deal. An election year helps with those sort of things. We stopped along the road for lunch, prepared by Sreyda with the assistance of Srey Troup and Sakhorn the driver. We almost missed an afternoon thunderstorm but all ended up soaked. It was a relief from the heat though, and by the time we arrived in Kratie we’d pretty much dried out again. After checking in at the Santepheap Hotel, we piled into the van and travelled to Kampi Pool to see the rare and endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins. It wasn’t the best day for dolphin spotting but we saw a few, although quite a way off.
Heading back to the main highway, Tim’s bike developed a flat tyre. Fortunately there was a repair place 200 metres away so while the tube was patched I sped off to stop Warren and Srey Troup who were still riding towards Stung Treng. Sreyda and Sakhorn had gone ahead in the van to prepare lunch. Phil had asked if we could stop along the road to see inside someone’s house, so Da was going to find a typical roadside abode and stop there to share our lunch with the residents. We ended up sharing our meal with a woman, her daughter and grandson. The men were away working in the ricefields.
On arrival in Stung Treng I found that Warren’s bike needed a new chain and sprockets, and as I didn’t feel much like doing the work myself I asked a young bloke at our guesthouse to take the bike somewhere and get them replaced. I gave him $30 and they changed the front brake shoes as well. Meanwhile we sought out the Women’s Development Centre. It ended up taking quite a while to find, and we just got there before it closed. The Centre was established to provide employment and a purpose for women from the area and strives for self-sufficiency. All stages of the silk making process can be seen, from breeding the worms to finished fabrics which are on sale under the Mekong Blue label. Everyone bought something, and we also made a donation of $200.
Day 4 – May 30th
Our route today took us over the Sekong and Mekong Rivers and through mostly forest country to Preah Vihear Province. We arrived at the ferry crossing by 8 am and waited for the barge to return from the other side. When it arrived, a bloke rode his motorbike off the ramp and straight over the side into the river. Luckily there were plenty of people to pull him and the bike out of the water.
The road had improved a lot since last year, a fair bit of it was now bitumen. At about the halfway mark I found a roadside clearing and we stopped for morning tea but Sreyda couldn’t resist cooking some of the fresh beef she’d bought in Kratie. The boys reckoned her stir fried beef with pineapple was pretty good.
We arrived in Tbeng Meanchey (Preah Vihear City) early in the afternoon and checked into Vattanak Guesthouse. The boys spent the afternoon drinking beer and checking out the sights while I did some repairs to Phil’s bike. A bearing had collapsed in the rear wheel and Tim’s bike had lost a few bolts out of the footpeg assembly. It cost around $3 to buy new parts, a bit cheaper than for the bikes I used to own back in Australia.
We had a great meal that night, I think the Restaurant was called Phnom Tbeng Meanchey. They even had venison on the menu. It was so good we went back for breakfast next morning. Phil pointed out a dog restaurant he’d found the day before but I think I’d rather starve. Along the road next day we saw a poor dog with it’s legs and muzzle wired up on the back of a motorbike, it was on the way to the cooking pot I’d say.
Day 5 – May 31st
We only had to cover 85 km on good bitumen roads today, so we arrived in Sra Eim mid-morning and checked into Sok San Guesthouse. After arranging for our washing to be done we travelled to Prasat Preah Vihear ticket office in the van. I paid the entry fees and a four wheel drive pickup took us up the very steep road to the temple. It’s a spectacular drive, climbing about 500 metres in a very short distance. We spent a couple of hours exploring the ruins before heading back to our starting point for lunch. Sreyda was just starting out to bring it to us, she’d stayed behind at one of the small restaurants to help prepare meals for everyone.
Later in the afternoon a few of us found the old route up to the temple. Timber stairs have been built alongside the old steps, quite a feat in itself. Tim and Warren climbed up to the 520th step but it was only about halfway to the top.
Day 6 – June 1st
It was only a short run of 85 km to Anlong Veng so we were there by mid-morning and checked into Sophea Guesthouse. We left the bikes there and drove to the Thai border to see Pol Pot‘s grave and the mountain retreat of Ta Mok, the former Khmer Rouge military leader. I find it quite ironic that a huge casino is being built overlooking the grave of the man whose regime abolished money. After a great lunch at a small restaurant near Ta Mok’s house, several cars arrived full of Korean film makers. I don’t know what they were up to but it kept us entertained for a while guessing the gender of some of them….
On our return to Anlong Veng we visited the former Khmer Rouge stronghold just out of town. The view across the lake towards the Damrek Mountains is quite beautiful, the new casino can be seen at the summit . There’s an odd collection of buildings here, one was used as a guesthouse for visitors, one was a sort of meeting hall and Ta Mok had a house here as well. Underneath his house is what appears to be an air raid shelter. A few Cambodian soldiers were camped in some of the buildings at the time so we didn’t disturb them too much. There’s an old truck mounted radio station rusting away in the yard and a couple of cages which at one time held tigers from what I’ve read.
Day 7 – June 2nd
This was our last day on the bikes. We left Anlong Veng around 8:30 am bound for Kbal Spean (translation – bridge head) or River of 1000 Lingas where Mr Lucky would be waiting for us with our entry tickets. An entry ticket is required and normally you can only buy them in person from the Angkor Wat ticket office 60 km further on but Mr Lucky had found a way around this. He was there waiting for us when we arrived so after paying for the tickets we started on the 1.5 km uphill track to the carvings. The gradient is fairly gentle most of the way, suggesting that it was once used as a road. Most of the stone for the temples around Angkor Wat was quarried in this area and transported there by elephant or barge. At the bridge head a guide made himself available to explain the meanings of the numerous rock carvings, many of which are in the riverbed itself. They are of Hindu origin, representing different gods and goddesses. It is a magical place, with a refreshing waterfall to cool off under in the heat of the day. After walking back to the carpark, Sreyda arranged lunch for us at the Flying Coconut Restaurant.
After lunch we rode another 20 km to the Landmine Museum run by Cambodian Self-Help Demining (CSHD) where we were met by Bill Morse. Paleriders – Cambodia supports CSHD through our donations to Vietnam Veterans Mine Clearing Team – Cambodia (VVMCT). Bill treated us to an in-depth tour of the museum and attached orphanage which is generally off limits to the public. The kids here are well looked after, even after they leave school they have the opportunity to go to university if they want to. We made a donation of $200 to Bill to help with the operating costs of the orphanage.
We continued on to Siem Reap, to the New Riverside Hotel and that was the end of our riding. Tomorrow the bikes would be loaded into the van and sent back to Baray. That night, we went to a Khmer BBQ restaurant and enjoyed a smorgasbord of seafood, beef, chicken and pork.
Day 8 – June 3rd
Last day of the tour and it was time to send the bikes back to Baray. Sokhorn reckoned he could fit the 5 Daelims in his van but I had my doubts about that. However, he did it easily and fitted everything else in. It amazes me what they can fit in a vehicle.
Afterwards we spent the morning at Angkor Wat. Mr Lucky had arranged two tuk tuks for us so we headed out after the van was loaded up. We spent a couple of hours at Angkor Wat itself, and I engaged a very good guide. He showed us a lot of areas where the stonework had been cleaned with an acid solution. It is hard to understand how that could have happened, it seems almost a deliberate act of destruction. It is just another chapter in the long history of Angkor Wat though, it is so immense and well constructed that it will always survive.
Next we went to Ta Prohm which has been undergoing restoration since I first saw it in 2009. It featured in the movie “Tomb Raider” but it always makes me think of the Indiana Jones movies.
That night we dined at the Temple Club and afterwards checked out the Apsara dancers upstairs.
We finished off the night having our feet nibbled by doctor fish in Pub Street. An unusual but not unpleasant sensation.
Next morning everyone went their own way. It was a fantastic trip, good people all wanting to experience a little bit of the real Cambodia and I think everyone did.
Distance covered – 785 km
One flat tyre
One chain and sprockets replaced
One set of wheel bearings replaced
One bike ran out of fuel
Donations (10% of total amount received) – $600 + an extra $100 to Sunrise Children’s Village in Siem Reap
For some time Paleriders – Cambodia has been supporting our local village pagoda with their building fund. The pagoda is a work in progress, as money comes in a bit more work gets completed. Recently though, work started on a schoolroom and we decided to get involved in the project.
Originally there was a big, old wooden dormitory building for the monks but it had become termite infested so it was demolished. The timber was sorted through, anything still good was put aside and is being used to build a smaller dormitory. Work has also commenced on a brick and concrete schoolroom. A generous donor from Australia has contributed $500 which paid for 10000 clay bricks, and Paleriders – Cambodia donated two tonnes of cement.
The school will be used to teach small kids, novice monks and also for English lessons for High School kids.
On my recent trip back to Baray I found that good progress has been made at the school since I last saw it in January. Some people I work with in Laos had given me money to buy another 1.5 tonnes of cement for the project. Next thing needed are desks, about 20 of them. I’ll go to Kampong Cham next time I’m there and buy them.
On my last trip to Baray, in January, I was able to have a toilet built at the school at Chuuk Ksach Pagoda. Two generous donors, one in Laos and one in Australia, had given me $400 to put towards the project. On my next trip home I’ll get a well put in, and buy some swings for the kids. The same donor in Laos and another one in Australia have put in more money for that.
Most of us take toilets for granted, but the truth is that most of the kids who go to this school don’t have a toilet to use at home. Unreal as it may seem, there more likelihood of a rural Cambodian having a mobile phone than a toilet. To the kids this humble little outhouse means a great deal. I’m looking forward to getting the swings for them.
Finally the Paleriders School is finished. We had a small opening ceremony on December 5, attended by children, parents and village elders. Monks came and blessed the school, then everyone shared a meal of Khmer noodles and fish. Next part of this project is to construct a toilet block, we will start on that in January.
Thanks to all the generous supporters who made this school possible.
It has been quite a mission getting a small school built in a village close to where I live in Cambodia. I was approached by the people who built my house back in June 2011, and asked if I could help them get money to build a school. I went and had a look at the site they had in mind, which was in the grounds of their village pagoda. Then we went to the nearest government school, probably not more than 1 kilometre away but in the wet season the road becomes submerged by up to a metre of water so the kids stay at home. This was not an unreasonable request I thought, and I said I’d put in some money and ask around my friends in Australia if they’d like to help. I made the point that they would need to do the all the work, as volunteers and they readily agreed.. Their initial request was for $2000 and I had that amount by August 2011 so they made a start. It soon proved not to be enough however, so I approached a very generous businessman in Perth, Western Australia who had already contributed and asked if he’d help out with some more money. He was only too happy to help, so work began again. However, requests for more money became more frequent and I wasn’t seeing the results I expected for the outlay. When I last went back to my village in September 2012 things were at a standstill and I’d had enough. The floor still hadn’t been done, the internal rendering wasn’t finished, windows were missing and it hadn’t been painted. I purchased enough sand and cement to finish the floor and asked my brothers-in-law to come and work for me. Two of them brought their girlfriends as well. We spent 4 days cementing, rendering, painting and fitting windows and finished it off. I went to Kampong Cham, about 80 km away, and bought 12 timber desks (each for 2 children), a teachers table and chair, and a whiteboard. So for a total outlay of $4700 this little school has been built and furnished. Even though I know some of the money has been “diverted” by the man I trusted to manage the project in my absence, it is still a good result. I hear that they’ve found a teacher, and the school is up and running. I can’t wait to go back and see for myself, and I’ll put in some money for a little celebration.