Cambodia suffered many wars and killings, including the most recent genocide only 30 years ago by Pol Pot. In three years, 25%(!) of the total population was killed by the Red Khmer. Three million people are buried in mass graves similar to the well-known Killing Fields. The film about the Killing Fields made in 1984, gives a good impression, but a walk on the real Killing Fields is much more impressive. Please let this never happen again!
If we take our Honda's the next day for a drive through the center of Phnom Penh, there is no more space for reflection and peace. Thousands of scooters, motorbikes and Tuk-Tuks, driving without any visible knowledge of traffic rules: Chaos! Yet, after some minutes it feels almost like normal, because the pace is quite low and you just have to keep an eye on the Incoming traffic. It is like racing on a circuit, only traffic in front of you is important. Actually quite relaxed driving....
Still, we are happy when we leave the busy capital behind us and drive over the much quieter roads in the north. The roads are pretty good with a occasional detour on dirt roads, but our Honda dirtbikes are built for those dirtroads: Perfect.
At a lunch stop at a small local market we get offered some delicious fried tarantulas. Very nutritious and with a little chilli apparently a real delicacy. To prove that they are really fresh the saleswoman takes a bucket of live tarantulas and give us the recipe how to prepare them. We turn down the nice offer and buy some fresh bananas. Maybe something less nutritious, but oh so delicious.
A day later we arrive at the largest UNESCO heritage of the world, the ancient capital of the great Khmer Empire: Angkor. As many as 1,000 temples are spread over more than 400 km², highlighted by the fully restored temple Angkor Wat. This Hindu and Buddhist temple is made out of 10 million stacked stones scatter
ed about 1 km² and is the largest religious structure in the world. It is not only huge, but also centuries beautifully decorated in detail by monks.
Via some beautiful new asphalt roads we drive to the other side of the great Tonle Sap lake, where every year a unique spectacle takes place. This lake is growing every year by oncoming water from the Mekong, from 2,500 km² to 25,000 km² and is during that time the birdplace for millions fishes. However, when spring comes the water drops so quickly that the fish is caught in trees and then the fish is literally falling out of the sky (trees).
We don’t see any fish falling from the sky but we do see frequently remarkable animal transport on the road. In Cambodia it is normal to have a car bumper full with live chickens and transporting three pigs on a scooter is really the most normal thing over here. When you consider that 95% of the population has no car, then you can understand this transport creativity.
In Battambang, -the second largest city in Cambodia-, we are introduced to another unique Cambodian transport, the bamboo train. After the Red Khmer period the infrastructure in Cambodia was completely destroyed and there were only some railroads intact. With old tank-wheels and bamboo the bambootrains were made powered by a small engine with a V-belt drive. When there is oncoming traffic the lightest trolley is lifted from the rails and placed back on the rails behind the oncoming trolley. Just as simple and easy as effective. Since 2011 the bamboo train is around Phnom Penh prohibited, in the rest of Cambodia the Bamboo train is stil used daily.
No longer in use is an old abandoned Pepsi factory where many years Pepsi was botteled for smuggling into neighboring Thailand. In the eighties Coca Cola had the exclusive sale of cola in Thailand, which was a great opportunity for the Cambodians to earn some extra money.With the arrival of the Red Khmer in 1975 the factory had to abruptly closing its doors within one day. All machines and thousands of crates of bottles were left behind and are today still waiting for a new future under a thick layer of dust.
Hundred kilometers further we leave the asphalt and drive over a new dirt road through the Samkos National Park. Here they do not see many tourists and communication is only possible with hands and feet. It amazes us that there is almost no traffic, specialy considering this road would be a perfect shortcut to the coast. Of course it is a dirt road with many potholes and lots of dust, but the road is really not hard to ride.We have read somewhere that this area is also known as a refuge for fugitive Red Khmer members and that there are many dangeres old mines….. We prefer to think that the road is not so well known, as it was built recently in 2011....
After a night in the dusty town of Veal Veng, we start the dirt road over the Cardamom Mountains and immediately see the real reason for the lack of traffic. On almost every climb we face big landslides and deep ruts, caused by heavy rainfall. It is dry now, but the tracks with loose sand and sometimes even fesh fesh, makes this road a serious challenge. The valleys are not much better, since most bridges are collapse. Sometimes we are balancing on one or two shelves and with wider rivers we just paddling through the water. A beautiful road, but during the rainy season with high water absolutely inaccessible.
After 10 hours of hard work we arrive tired but satisfied at the coast were we stay in a nice hotel. The next day we are riding back to Phnom Penh, driving through the same Cardamom Mountains as yesterday, but today with delicious smooth asphalt. The last 100 km are again very exciting, as we drive over the "Most dangerous road" in Cambodia, "Highway 4". We do survive and arrive late in the afternoon safe and well in Phnom Penh.
Cambodia is highly recommended by us, with its rich history and beautiful scenery, but most of all, it is admirable how the population are dealing with setback after setback. A Buddhist monk expressed it nicely by saying that the moon in Asia is always smiling. And truly, it is a fact that the position of the earth and moon makes the moon in Asia always smile. This is the power of Cambodia, always see a smile somewhere.