CAMBODIA: Watching the rice grow.

Click on images to enlarge them.

These little piggies went to market ... live 'n kickin'.
Kids, doing 'tummy farts' on the baby, who loved it.
Lonely Planet Map

Cambodia Dates: August 17 - August 28, 2009

Google Maps does not calculate routes within Laos or Cambodia.
So here is our Cambodia itinerary town-by-town:
. . . . Veun Kham [map link] crossed Laos border August 17, 2009
. . . . Kratie [map link]
. . . . Phnom Penh [map link]
. . . . Krakor [map link] floating village of Kompong Luong
. . . . Battambang [map link]
. . . . Siemreap [map link]
. . . . Phnom Penh [map link]
. . . . Takeo [map link]
. . . . Kampot [map link]
. . . . Kep [map link]
. . . . Koh Kong [map link] Thailand border crossing


SLIDE SHOW of our Thailand, Laos & Cambodia pix, with music,
by fine artist Bill Anderson [slide show link].

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Repeating what we said in the Laos blog, the oft-quoted French colonial saying about national work ethics in Indochina, went like this [source link]:
. . . . . .The Vietnamese plant rice;
. . . . . .Cambodians watch it grow;
. . . . . .Laotians listen to it grow.

This is also a fairly laid-back country, but feels more energetic than Laos; perhaps it has something to do with a horrific modern history from which it can only recover through enormous work – a stark reality. We know precious little about Buddhism, but under Khmer Rouge Communism, all religion was punished by death; all monks were gone as was much tradition. Cambodia is today mostly Maha Nikaya Buddhist, not Theravada as in Laos [Cambodian Buddhism link]. These factors, plus Cambodia is no longer Communist like two neighbors, free enterprise and the desire for individual wealth are starting to take hold.

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Economics & Politics: Cambodia is approximately tied with neighbor Laos in the Third World category, with GDP per capita (PPP) of $1,800 [source link]; near the bottom as #180 out of 225 countries.

In real (nominal) terms, Gross Domestic Product is just US$818 per capita. That's not wages; average wage is US$40-$50/month [source link] or 20-25¢ per hour. In a world context, the average Cambodian works two weeks, to make what an average Canadian makes in one hour.

Even at these low wages Cambodian textile manufacturers, are having trouble competing with more productive China, India, Vietnam, and Bangladesh [Bloomberg article link]. The garment industry accounts for 70%-85% of exports (reports vary), but employs some 325,000 people.

The country as a whole sure has basic problems:
. .- 1999 was the first full year of peace, i.e. no war, in 30 years;
. .- the human slaughter here was horrific on any historical scale;
. .- education is badly lacking with 35% adult literacy;
. .- basic infrastructure in the countryside is 'totally lacking' [source link];
. .- it ranks extremely high on the Transparency International corruption
. . .scale [chart link], the most corrupt country we rode this trip where
. . . '95% of judges take bribes' [BBC article on government corruption [link].

Political stability is still unfolding: Since the 1990's, Cambodia has been a 'multiparty democracy under a constitutional monarchy,' with several coalition governments. In 2004 Prince Norodom Sihamoni succeeded his father as King; elections in 2008 were relatively peaceful unlike most preceding ones.

The economy grew in recent years at 5%-10% per annum, driven by the garment sector, construction, agriculture and tourism; inflation ran between 2%-6%, so people are slightly gaining ground net-net, in-pocket.

There is oil in Cambodia's territorial waters – Chevron is expecting its first well to start up in 2009, but with 'great caution' about economic viability. Bauxite, gold, iron and gems mining is attracting investment. They have rubber and lumber.

Tourism is growing rapidly, a million foreigners per year of late and Angkor Wat is a world-class attraction.

We're far from socialists, but one thing that stood out was the blatant wealth-poverty disparity, for example too many over-the-top cars within the context of a 25¢/hr nation. Blingy 6-liter V8 Lexus SUVs galore, in a tiny land where roads largely suck; the cars are doubly-expensive here after a 100% duty, so many are in the $150,000 league; just too insensitive a nouveau-riche display, even for this born-again capitalist biker.

All drawbacks aside, we really liked Cambodia and the people we met very much; they are warm, fun-loving, with apparent humor, welcoming to foreigners. One senses a greater work ethic and hustle here than in Laos.

One could even live here, a comfortable, inexpensive home base, with so much to see and do in the region. It has just 14 million people but abundant local business and export opportunities, in one of the most open economies, within a very open economic region – it is far easier for foreigners to move here or open a business, than in the neighbors [UN Investment Guide link.]

With time, getting corruption under control, and an inflow of investment, it appears quite likely to 'happen.'

Click to enlarge 2008 regional comparison.
Here is an interesting bar chart [link] of some 35 Asian countries to see them all in context, with Singapore at the top, Afghanistan at the bottom of the region.

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Travels: Kratie [map link] was our first stop in Cambodia. We reached it via a narrow car-and-a-half width road, humbly paved, 80 km along the Mekong River.

Palm trees, charming rough-sawn timber built homes on stilts, many little villages, interesting wat steeples ... a highly recommended detour!

People walking, biking, talking, hanging out, making-selling things by the road.

It all looks like a decent life, not destitute poverty.

Kids wave, adults stop what they are doing to look at the foreigners on the huge bike.

There is a lively vibe, house contruction is basic wood, but somehow with a different Khmer character. It initially appears a bit wealthier than Laos, although the numbers show it to be about an economic tie.

The region is blessed with abundant water, seemingly everywhere.

Poor yes, impoverished-looking or run-down, no. They seem to take pride in keeping their villages and homes looking good and clean.

Not fancy digs, but clean and functional.

We were sound-tortured several times by Cambodian youths who have discovered the blaringly LOUD monster-speaker stereo aimed at the street. Louder is apparently better, some rap-sounding noise – we winced in discomfort, even on a bike with helmets for a few seconds. How do the neighbors within a few hundred meters take it – with humor?

It was becoming dark, we were becoming nervous – skinny people-jammed roads in a new country ... but finally arrived in Kratie.

Found the Oudom Sambath Hotel [link], got a good 'V.I.P' room for $20. It's not luxe but fine for a small town.

In the area are the famed Mekong river Irrawaddy Dolphins [link] we really wanted to see. However we had to move on next day to meet friend Peter Desotto in Phnom Penh, a long day's ride away with uncertain roads – we were already two days late due to Black Bike's brake failure in Laos ... here are some photos of the dolphins taken by others [photo link.]

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Leaving Kratie, were advised to save a couple hours using a shortcut along the Mekong, versus the longer national highway route which detours far to the east.

The shortcut ended for us after some 35 km; it was gravel merde, passable but lots of washboard, pothole weaving, low gears – plus being monsoon season, we feared a washout further along the river. We had wasted an hour or so, but turned around and took the better bet asphalt route. Video below gives some glimpses of the nice little houses, but doesn't show how shake rattle 'n roll most of the riverside road actually was.

video

video

Heading south from Kratie to Phnom Penh, we got hit by several of the worst downpours ever encountered – beyond merely soaking-to-the-bone, it was near-zero visibility through a water-sheen on the face mask and windshield, added to the wall of rain. Add to that the risk of riding in deep water and invisible bad road.

Hence we stopped at a few shelters during the worst of it; deeply soaked and chilled, but at least not riding.

In one little hut we were welcomed with no mutual language by the nicest village family; they welcomed us to their hut-store out of the rain, offered us plastic chairs, smiled a lot with no words ... they had a few snacks for sale, so we bought water and shrimp chips, shared them around, also tried to help the young brother with an obviously bad fever.

View across the street during lighter rain.
Father and son wait out the rain with us.
Village crowd gathers to admire Black Bike once rains let up.
Daughter is shy about the camera but so cute ...
Teen brother, IV drip of dextrose being held by his mother.
He had a high fever so we gave him a few Aspirin doses
some packaged almonds, sign-language instructions.

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Phnom Penh: Two visits to the 2 million population capital city, totaling five days, are summarized below – they were separated by a ride north to Angkor Wat.

Hotels: Given the rains and non-shortcut, we arrived in Phnom Penh well after dark, went hotel shopping, not being sure about where friend Peter was staying.

First a must-avoid among a plethora of choices; the extremely rude unjustified arrogance at the Mekong Palace Hotel along the river – among our greater idiot encounters. Thao went in to ask about web access while I held the bike in traffic. But no internet for customers here, plus the clerks didn't like Thao's non-whiteness (what's this, an Asian face in Asia?) and lack of showy wealth. The dumb racist buggers gave her 'the verbal finger' very rudely. It was sufficiently upsetting that the older, richer-looking white guy goes in, just to check them out; yup, they are horrid stoopud little people, not just rude but also liars. I eventually wrote the hotel owner to hopefully get them fired (received no answer), knowing that bad attitude usually starts with the boss; also notified Lonely Planet and other travel sites on line. Besides it's overpriced for low class on a very noisy road and has no parking. Avoid Mekong Palace Hotel.

Anticipating two several-day stays, we tried several places seeking internet and safe bike parking, a wise precaution in a city with a crime rap. Many nice places exist, but some are at Quality Inn USA-level prices in the $70-$100 range, while they pay low local wages and overhead. Aside from greed, we don't get it – most places were virtually empty, so lower your prices and attract business, no?

We found that many business people in Cambodia, in both hotels and restos, seem to seriously over-charge by regional standards, food was often surprisingly costly; they charge more than far-more-developed (and tourist successful) Thailand, for example. It looked to me like an indicator of simple short-sightedness and greed in the business culture.

Fine hotel find: We eventually chanced upon an excellent place a couple blocks from the River, with wi-fi and secure bike parking, at the Town View Hotel [link] around $15, it's the best over-all deal in town. Clean, very comfortable room, good-value restaurant, safe, central, nice staff. High recommendation.

Far from camping, fine central place at $15 with all amentities.

Phnom Penh generally [link]: In both Laos and Cambodia, the Vietnamese influence is widely felt – they did rule Cambodia from 1979-89 after all; Vietnamese food is widely popular; the language which Thao speaks is often used. It's only about 70 km from here to the border.

The city is a mixture of modern commercial buildings alongside old French colonial ones; swanky new restos/cafes and humble street vendors; tuk-tuk drivers and metered Toyotas; new-old, Western-Eastern, wealthy and extremely poor. It is fine, nothing spectacular but worth a visit.

And crime, we were warned: Avoid dark streets, women should be extra-careful, no one should carry much cash. Armed robberies especially of tourists are a daily event [link], purse snatchers on motorbikes, local police extracting bribes for minor or imagined offenses is commonplace – Peter Desotto while riding his bike, got hit up for a few bucks by a traffic cop. There are lots of poor guys, some evidently carry knives and hand guns.

There are many beggars on the streets, some apparently land mine victims with missing limbs.
. . . .Cambodia remains the most land-mined country on earth;
. . . .10.6 million land mines were laid during two decades; millions
. . . .are still in place now; much farmland cannot be cultivated due to
. . . .the danger, hundreds a year are still injured or killed by them.
. . . .It cost about $3 to lay a mine, now costs $1,200 to clear one.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum [must-see Wikipedia link]. The Cambodian slaughter, just a couple decades back under Khmer Rouge and their guiding light Pol Pot, is not unique in a world context – it's just unimaginably horrid, and so recent.
. . . .A Yale University study [link] states it was: '... one of the
. . . .worst human tragedies of the last century. As in the Ottoman
. . . .Empire during the Armenian genocide, in Nazi Germany, and
. . . .more recently in East Timor, Guatemala,Yugoslavia, and
. . . .Rwanda, the Khmer Rouge regime headed by Pol Pot combined
. . . .extremist ideology with ethnic animosity and a diabolical
. . . .disregard for human life to produce repression, misery,
. . . .and murder on a massive scale.'

As much as we read of these things, standing in the same torture cells, seeing the instruments of hell, imagining what happened to innocent humans right where we were standing ... Unspeakable. Painful. Wish I had better words.

The invading Vietnamese discovered and closed this prison in 1979 – not that Vietnamese prisons were a picnic either. Setting aside the complex geopolitics, China, Thailand, USA and others, supported Pol Pot as an unsavory foil against Vietnam's expansion; the tragedy of the individuals caught in the quagmire cannot be over-stated.

Pol Pot [short biography link] and his regime murdered an astonishing 21% of his own population; Yale University [article link] says 1.7 million Cambodians were slaughtered – plus of course Vietnamese and others were killed in massive numbers. Pol Pot ruled until 1985; was captured in 1997; died of a heart attack in 1998 while under house arrest; all very recent. His henchmen apparently still await trial – a UN-supervised trial some governments oppose including USA. Perhaps there are discomforting secrets some do not wish to re-open according to some analyses I've read, but its pointless to get into here.

The Tuol Sleng genocide museum was a high school in downtown Phnom Penh, converted to a torture-murder factory; before execution, 'confessions' were extracted, some 20,000 died here, about a hundred a day. But that's just 1.1% of Cambodia's total deaths under the Khmer Rouge in then-named Kampuchéa.

We skipped the famed Killing Fields [link] where (sorry to be morbid, but it's reality):
. . . .'The executed were buried in mass graves. In order to save ammunition,
. . . .the executions were often carried out using hammers, axe handles,
. . . .spades or sharpened bamboo sticks. The soldiers who carried out the
. . . .executions were mostly young men or women from peasant families.
. . . .The Khmer Rouge regime arrested and eventually executed almost
. . . .everyone suspected of connections with the former government or with
. . . .foreign governments, as well as professionals and intellectuals.
. . . .Ethnic Vietnamese, ethnic Thai, ethnic Chinese, ethnic Muslim
. . . .Cambodians, Cambodian Christians and the Buddhist monkhood
. . . .were the demographic targets of persecution.'

Click on image to enlarge and read the translated rules: While being whipped or electrocuted, no crying out – for example.

A jail cell, just big enough to lie down.
Second floor barbed wire was to prevent suicides.
Photo of a photo in the museum, a collection of some former inmates.

The aftermath? Well, one big item is an uneducated populace [source link]:
. . . . .As soon as they had come to power in 1975 the Khmer Rouge abolished
. . . . .education, systematically destroying teaching materials, textbooks and
. . . . .publishing houses. Schools, universities were closed, their buildings
. . . . .put to other use. During this period large numbers of qualified teachers,
. . . . .researchers and technicians either fled the country or died.
. . . . .When the new Cambodian government came to power in 1979 it had to
. . . . .reconstruct the entire education system.

Enough here; for those interested there is much online.

It will take a couple generations for this legacy to fade; let's all hope nothing interrupts the fading process. No Cambodian living today escaped the era unaffected by the grisly loss of friends and family.

Excellent supermarket in Phnom Penh: Thai Huot [link] has everything Westerners miss, delicacies from cheese to dark chocolate to peanut butter. No bargain, but they have it!

Fine restaurant: Blue Cat Restaurant/Bar [link], owned/run by Cambodian Theary and Brit Patrick. We were sent there by my first-ever yacht customer and still friend Matt Betten, a Bali-resident friend of the owners. Matt – on whom we will be dropping in soon – kindly arranged to have our fine meal there 'on him', in a tastefully decorated, modern, upscale place that would be at home in any big Western city. A very welcome treat: The first salmon steak since Europe about a year ago, on a bed of home-made ravioli, superb. So were the spring rolls Thao had. Plus Theary is a beautiful, hard-working charmer – an entrepreneur with several new businesses on the go. It's a must-visit place for any traveler.

---------------

Thao took this while riding,
Peter D following us, collecting bugs on his teeth.

Floating Village on Tonle Sap Lake [map link]: Rode around for a few days with old friend/neighbor Peter Desotto from Toronto, who came over for a couple weeks' holidays and rented a bike.
. . . . .Peter is a superb violinist and tenor whose Quartetto Gelato [link] has
. . . . .a worldwide following – you can order their CDs from the web site.
. . . . .Peter & his band are very fine music and entertainment, for serious
. . . . .classics lovers and neophytes alike.

With Peter we stopped on the way north to Siem Reap [map link] at the floating village on Tonle Sap Lake [map link], at the village of Kompong Luong near Krakor [map link].


Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Asia and an ecological wonder, independent of the seasonal Mekong levels – an ideal breeding environment that supplies Cambodia with 75% of its fish and has UNESCO biosphere status.

The road from Phnom Penh is excellent, recently well paved to encourage tourism to Angkor Wat, indeed the best road we found in Cambodia; 120 km/hr is no problem, tempting in fact, as the scenery is relatively flat, same-same, and the road is quite straight. It's a nice fast-riding break after the past few weeks!

Boat rides from Phnom Penh to Angkor Wat are also available, ranging from cheap-cheap to costly deluxe.

But the road has its advantages, this village is worth stopping in for a few hours, quite unusual and interesting, perhaps the equivalent of a 'Cambodian Venice.'

Veggie delivery vehicle.
At the edge of village, the road just stops.
Peter Desotto touring village by pirogue.
Pool parlor, under a thatched roof ...
Floating store
Everything floats here: Chicken coops, fish ponds, ice-making factories, gas stations, numerous phone shops, even a croc farm, pagodas, churches. The villagers rely on fishing and are a mixed Khmer and Vietnamese population.

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Unable to make Siem Reap before dark, we spent the night in Battambang [map link]. Second largest city in Cambodia, it was passed from Cambodia to Thailand several times in wars, the fourth largest tourist destination in Cambodia, boasting the country's best preserved 20th century French architecture.

We lucked upon the fine Banan Hotel [email: banahotel@yahoo.com] that opened in 2006, a modern 30-room, 3-star place with Khmer-style tasteful décor and a true bargain at $15. All the modern conveniences including wi-fi and abundant secure parking out back. I even got a great bike wash from the gardener for a buck. Stay there.

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Angkor Wat: After riding with us to Siem Reap [map link] home of the famed Angkor Wat, Peter flew on to Vietnam without us – he had seen Angkor Wat on a previous visit.

Siem Reap is about 5 kilometers from the historic tourist destination, so in town we found the Mandalay Inn at $15; it has wi-fi, a central location, but smallish rooms, a non-functioning sink, plus an ant infestation that got into our clothes. Not recommended, find a better-run hotel.

But we found a good pho (fabulous Vietnamese soup) chain: Pho Vong – worth seeking, ask around, we saw two of them in town, at $2 for a delicious bargain meal.

Angkor Wat itself is the main tourist attraction in Cambodia, a UNESCO World Heritage site [link], one of the world greats. Since it has been abundantly written up elsewhere [short summary link], we won't waste electrons here.

The huge religious city-state was built by the Khmer civilization around 800-1200 AD – and it was surprisingly Hindu, not Buddhist.

There are many great ancient structures in the surrounding area, millions of tourists have come for a week to see them properly; we gave it just two days.

Worth a visit? W. Somerset Maugham put it like this: 'No one, no one should die before they see Angkor,' during his second visit to Cambodia in 1959.

Here is an excellent short article [link] from a journalistic website.

It's more than just beautiful, rather mind-blowing what greatness mankind has created yet again, for another interpretation of God. Everywhere in the world: Europe, South America, Africa, Middle East, Asia – another form of brilliant architectural art to hopefully curry favor with a divine being ... This one certainly ranks high, and the scale is enormous.

Angkor Wat from the air,
surrounded by an enormous moat, 1.5 x 1.3 km in size.
Wikipedia photo.
The temple itself, largest religious structure in the world.
It honors Vishnu, the Hindu God.
>3,000 nymphs 'protect' the temple, in remarkably great condition
while exposed to the elements for centuries.
Banteay Srei [link] 30 km from town.
Another ancient Hindu temple; click to enlarge,
see the great carvings and stunning colored stone.
We turned back south on Highway 6, on the eastern side of Tonle Sap Lake [map link], returning to Phnom Penh for our second visit, then southwest towards Thailand.

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Leaving Phnom Penh, headed south on route 3 towards Kampot [map link] – only approximately 150 km away, but took most of the day; much of the road was horrid, the last 80 km was terrible.

Town drainage and flooded roads on the way were a recurring issue, missing basic infrastructure again in the land of predictable monsoons.

Flooded village on the way to Kampot.
Riding in deep water is, 'interesting.'

Being fair, this main road is under construction – but what a rotten job the crews and their managers are doing. With no evident thought for traffic, they leave a multitude of muddy absolute crap mudholes that traverse the entire road, sections a bulldozer could fix in a couple hours, but no one could evidently be bothered; gravel piles in places where you must detour through slippery deep mud around the construction. It's driving hell on two wheel or four, but barely do-able.

Thao had to get off and walk several times. One near-impassable deep water hole resulted in my first real 'riding fall' of the trip. Remind me please, that I'm having fun!

BEFORE: Contemplating a totally destroyed section;
about to enter a deep water hole, hoping for the best.
The best didn't happen; my first real fall on the trip.
AFTER: Landed on my butt in mud. No damage to bike,
just a little 'road rash' on the elbow and knee.

Finally, mud-caked but profoundly grateful for just one fall, minor scratches and no bike damage, we rolled into the charming river town of Kampot [map link] which is right on a bay of the Indian OceanMalaysia is about 500 km straight across the bay.

Found the Bokor Mountain Lodge [link] on the riverfront at $30 – a 4-star price, for a 1-star room. A comedy of owner screw-ups, which says something about the quality of expats the country attracts; bear with us in the telling of a false-advertising rip-off joint.

It's owned by a New Zealander named Erik Karatau, who'd starve trying to pull this stunt off at home – he was sadly absent that day, sadly because I wanted to tell him to his face what a rotten dishonest job he's doing. Instead, I asked a (surly) staff member to relay the message and will email him a link to this page.

We have stayed in perhaps 400 hotels so far on this trip, so when one really stands out as baaad, it's worth explaining; especially when run by a First World guy who ought to know better.

Decent décor on the outside, but: The shower is an intermittent trickle, so washing ourselves and muddy clothes was a 1.5 hour chore, shower drain sucked – baaad plumbing. No wi-fi in the room as we'd been falsely told (we wouldn't have stayed had they told us the truth), but it works in the restaurant. No fridge. Filthy windows and shutters with peeling paint. Cheap curtains fell off the rod, being non-attached. Windows don't open. So-so bed. One sheet, no blanket.

The rip-off ethic seems to have caught on in Cambodian restaurants, with a few exceptions, of which this wasn't one. The USA-priced breakfast was a preposterously overcharged extra (it's usually included) – the most expensive breakfast in the last few countries. Dinner the night before was also ridiculously priced in the ballpark of low-end USA, except in the land of 25¢/hour wages and cheap real estate. The menu boasted of 'Argentine rib-eye steak with hot mustard' but was literally inedible, chewed until my jaws hurt but could not swallow due to the rubber texture, plus no hot mustard, so I left hungry. No one asked why all that chewed meat was back on the plate, staff cared less. Thao's hamburger was also inedible, iffy meat, so how do you screw up a burger, huh? All of it was triple-priced, except mostly inedible.

Any Kiwi who has traveled knows better; shame on him. Our bill likely paid a month's wages of his top staff person, so I suppose he won on us. But you should pay less, or pay more – just do not eat or sleep at Bokor Mountain Lodge!

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Next day we rode 25 km east to Kep [map link] a lovely seaside village many consider a holiday destination; a charming and quiet coastal place where we were almost alone as tourists this time of year. We rode the area, hung out a bit, then back northwest some 200 km to Krong Koh Kong, which is just 9 km from the Thai border.

Two by the sea in Kep.

It's a great ride from Kep to Krong Koh Kong [map link]: Twisty, very green, past some mines, Moslem villages, a lot of coconut plantations and rice paddies, waterfalls, forest – a perfect small road, beautiful!

Oh, really? Thanks for the warning, that would hurt.

At a gas station on the way, we bought a big bag of cashews, couldn't eat many, so gave the almost-full bag to a couple nice-looking boys selling things out front. It blew them away, eyes wide open, huge smiles over a bag of freeze-dried cashews, likely among the luxury snacks of their lives.

Two happy cashew-munchers.

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In the interesting riverside town of Krong Koh Kong we noticed the big billboards coming into town, so decided to give it a try and were not disappointed; dined at seven-month-old Café Laurent café-restaurant, owned by Cambodian Laurent who was adopted by a French family. His French aunt and uncle moved there, helped him in the new restaurant business which is going deservedly well. It's Provençale-meets-Mediterranean, pizza, pasta, desserts, real espresso and wi-fi – all nicely done with a Euro flavor. I had a fine profiterole with ice cream – in Cambodia!

Laurent incidentally owns a very pretty customized Citroën 2CV 'Deux Chevaux' [link] which was very cool to see – an iconic minimalist vehicle that was, in its original version, brilliantly made until production stopped in 1990, the French answer to the old VW Beetle. I once even encountered one trying to cross the Sahara in Algeria – but it lacked the power for deep sand and the driver very wisely turned back.

Laurent's Customized 'Deux Chevaux'

The best place to stay in town, right next to Café Laurent, is Koh Kong City Hotel [link] on the river, modern, $20 with a nice river view and all the amenities.

It's a great area for nature lovers, bio-diversity explorers and beach bums. Fifteen kilometers to the south is Koh Kong Island [article link] [map link] which we didn't visit, the largest island in Cambodia with pristine beaches, flawlessly clear water, great untouched nature. We also missed nearby Botum Sakor National Park [map link] with mountains up to 1800 meters, large virgin rain forests with evidently superb biodiversity. Few expats live in the area we were told.

There is also a casino which you pass 5 km towards Thailand, very modern and fancy-looking, indoor mall shopping, catering obviously to Thai clientele being right on the border. We stopped in for a coffee and saw quite a few white faces as well.

The western coastal region is lovely, peaceful, vast unspoiled Asian nature.

Here's one real estate listing I found from curiosity [link] – a commercial/residential beachfront lot of 3,888 sq m (0.96 acres); something like it could likely be bought for between $100,000-$150,000. That seems surprisingly expensive to me, with zero regional research.

The area strikes one as a tourism business opportunity or a fine place for a quiet retirement, just minutes from quite-developed Thailand. It's an area we would come back to explore again, with more time.

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However, a new rear suspension for Black Bike was in FedEx's hands, on its way from California to Bangkok. A new rear spring having become a priority need, we bee-lined it to Bangkok, bottoming out on many small bumps ... timing was perfect, the rear spring was dead. Biking 'round-world, that becomes serious.

Back in Thailand after a breezy border-crossing: Flawless roads, high speeds in 5th gear, fine 7-11 stores everywhere and major infrastructure.

Such a contrast, immediately when you cross the border.






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