Sunday, August 21, 2011

Backpack in Cambodia (Day 2) - Kratie

Liverpool are leading 1-0 due to an own goal. But somehow my internet sxxxx. So I'll blog and watch the highlights tomorrow.

~~~

I did further research in using the free internet connection in my hostel in Phnom Penh. (FB-ed a little too). I called Heng Heng Guesthouse (found on Hostelworld.com) to book my room for Day 2. (USD 7 per day)

I also bought my bus tix at Phnom Penh to Kratie for $7.50. It was not the cheapest, as it could be cheaper if I bought thru my hotel.

So my adventure continues into day 2.

I woke up at 5.30am, and at 6.30am, waited outside my guesthouse for the tix-seller, who promised to pick me up to the bus station. It was part of the deal covered in my $7.50 tix.

10 minutes past, and "free-lance" tuk-tuk drivers outside my guesthouse were trying to "psycho" me that my driver won't come. They wanted $1.00 (4000 Riel), but a few came up with $0.75 (3000 Riel), testing my resolve. (Market price is like 1500 Riel?) My bus was at 7.00am sharp, and I won't want to miss it.

I took out my Gardenia wholemeal bread (yes, from Malaysia) and treated one of the driver, hoping to buy some time.

At 6.47am, I resigned of having "aero-planed", and knowing I'll have a long trip, went back to the guesthouse for a toilet break. "I'll hire one of the drivers to send me to the bus stop when I come out", as I thought to myself.

When I came out, I couldn't believe my eyes! The tix seller was there, and told me convincingly with his big black eyes: I told you I would pick you up.

I forgotten his name though, but I can still remember we chatted about his new married life, how he met his wife during a party, how he got her parents' nod and etc.

I had a nice chat with him.

There's trust in Cambodia.

GST company

They somehow rushed me up quite a nice air-coned bus. I knew another bus company named Sorya Bus Company provide worst buses.

The bus left at 7.00am sharp to my surprise. I remember waiting for 1 hour+ on KKKL bus (from KL to JB) at Puduraya those days. Malaysia standard - The bus needs to wait for more passengers, if not rugi.

My 6.5 hours trip

On the same bus, I befriended the only 2 foreigner - Cai Jia from China, and Daniel (if I am not mistaken), a 18 year-old Brit from Oxford. Both were on the way to cross the Laos border.

Daniel's on a 3 month around the world backpack. He was previously in India, Bangkok, China, and will head for Laos before heading home. I tried my best to convince him to come to Malaysia the next time. (Had to explain some pre-independence Malaysia history to him)

Cai Jia's around 30, is a Maths lecturer in GuangDong University. And hopefully we can meet up in Myanmar come September, as he's planning to backpack there too.

Cai Jia, one of the few avid backpacker from China (Our bus at the back)

The bus made a few stops for lunch and toilet break. But the food were unconvincing. While the local passengers started tucking in, I went around the area for some photo shoots.

(Cai Jia, like me, had our own bread! Felt thankful~ for my Gardenia Wholemeal- So nice and soft that I can eat it on its own)

Alain Delon cigarettes - Kidding me?

Propaganda seen all over Cambodia

Kids

The barber

This, is the Cambodia minus all the hype and tourist

Thankfully, I arrived at Heng Heng Guesthouse, Kratie, at 1.15pm. It was by the Mekong River.

So I've completed the important rivers of South East Asia - Mekong and Chao Phraya

Ta, the young owner of this guesthouse came out to welcome me. He's really nice and courteous. Well we didn't know that night, he'll get into hot soup because of me!

A big room for my standard

After settling my harversack, I rented a bike for $6.00/day, took a local map, and was on my way out from Kratie town. The main aim is to find the fast-disappearing Irrawady Dolphins (at Kampi Village), and visit a temple in Sambor, called "100-column temple", some 40 km north of Kratie town.

My only compass is that I'll need to ride north, along the Mekong River on my left. Any divergence would mean that I am in a wrong direction.

Where do you want to go?

Before you do anything or go any further, please ->

Pumped $1 of "gasoline" (Nope, they don't call it petrol)

Do your maths, and you'll be thankful that "gasoline" in Malaysia is much cheaper!

And I'm off!

The bike looked new, clean and powerful. It's a Honda Vietnam!

(But I thought the owner most probably didn't change its engine oil and filter for quite some time. Making the handling and acceleration rather disappointing and annoying)

But to be honest, it was a fantastic day to ride.

The weather was perfect, so as the scenery. It's Cambodia in its natural form. This was also part of what I wanted to experience.

Padi fields

High-legged wooden huts, to stay away from flood

Most probably, I was the fastest man there at 80 km/h

Some slower ones get eaten up

Like those American Harley Davidson riders that ride inter-state, I took occasional breaks for water, photo-shooting and to ease my back!

Lunch - Maggi goreng (again) and some Cambodia tea

The further I ride, the more remote and rural it got! I started to get worried that my "gasoline" would not be able to bring me back to town.

And when I saw a petrol kiosk (or maybe not), I took another $1.25 of gasoline. (0.25% "hardship commission" for the seller)

Sell cigarettes beside the petrol tank

One thing to take note, some parts of the road are quite dusty, due to trucks and vans transporting all sorts of goods, from fruits to bricks, to a lorry full of big fat pigs. Some stretch of roads are not in good condition. It takes experienced riders to be honest (not saying myself).

So I ended up in full protection mode

I actually fell off my bike at one of the numerous wooden bridge en-route to Sambor. I was traveling at around 60km/h when I loss my balance here:

Somebody please tell me what are those 2 columns of wood for???

Luckily, nothing malicious happened. Just a bruised right knee. But this gave me a timely reminder for the rest of the journey in a foreign land.

It could have been so much worst. (Gladly paid extra $20 to the owner for the damages to the bike that saved me)

It took me more than 1.5 hours to reach Sambor.

The village

Better than my house - Astro to watch EPL or Cartoon Network?

I rode more than 40km, ate lots of dust and sand, pumped $2.00 of gasoline just to see:

100 Column Temple (Reconstruct version)

God, it wasn't really fantastic, convincing, nor attractive.

But I've came a long way

To be in front of these majestic Buddha statues - I kneel-ed (painfully on my injured knee) and prayed for my family, and the people I cared

Many laugh-off the impact of religion, and prefer to be free-thinkers. Whilst some are simply forced upon accepting one.

For me, I believe in moderateness and rationality. I hold on to my faith and respect others'.

A wise uncle once told me that all religions are similar. "It's like eating vegetables. Some people like spinach, some like brocolli, and some run away when they see bitter-gourd", so he said.

I wonder why do some fight over religion for centuries... Ironic huh?

After rounding the (quite well-kept) temple, considering the fact that I was the only visitor, with a few monks there, I was back on my bike to Kampi Village - Wanting to check out some dolphins!

Bungalow equivalent?

Oppsss... Caught red-handed

The downside of riding alone in the wilderness is that you are taking a huge risk by riding solo. Nobody's gonna save you from anything.

You could most probably disappeared into thin air.

The upside, is that you have total freedom. I stop and rest when I like, and take pictures when I feel like taking. No strings attached, no pressure, no issues.

I had all the time in the world in this part of the world

Suddenly,

Nope, they were not going to rob me

I actually made a few friends there. Chatting daily issues like studies, life, food and even where were the pretty girls...

A nice mate of mine - Forgotten his name though

He feels good~

A butcher

I reached Kampi Village, which is around 20km south from Sambor.

Sighting a few tourist vans

Charging $9 per person!!!

This time of the year (July) is the raining season. It's considered low season for tourist, and that the dolphins are far in between.

I chatted to one of the tourist (who was from Holland and I told him he looked like Rafael Van der Vaart), and got to know they came in groups, and paid $7/person.

Besides, we may only get to see like 1-2 dolphines at this time of the year, on a 30 minute boat ride.

Ta, the owner of my guesthouse told me it was around $3/person before I left.

So I thought

I'll ditch it

And just spend some time glancing over the Irrawady Delta, the rice bowl of South East Asia

And lie down on the bench, close my eyes, enjoy the cold breeze

And wait for sunset

And it was worth the day's trouble

Sunset on the Irrawady was beautiful, picturesque and mesmerizing.

I stayed as long as I could, but had to plan my return journey to Kratie town. I will definitely not want to ride in the dark.

It took another half an hour's ride south to get back.

Sun Yat-sen's influence

When I reached Kratie town, it was already quite dark, but I thought I'd make a few rounds (since I still have some gasoline).

I set my bearing and sense of direction from my guesthouse (which is located at the main road by the river) and started to explore into the town.

It looked a little Spanish?

To my horror, I saw things/scenes I never imagined I'd see in such a nice Cambodian countryside. I didn't expect Kratie town to be something like this:

Lifeless

Soulless

Not to mention the wet, muddy, dark, smelly, evil-looking, wicked-feeling guts that made the hair behind my neck stand (a little exaggerated)

I am quite sure this town-ship had its glory days. The buildings and shop-lots projected this was once a happening and bustling business district.

But what I see now is such a sorry state

This town's in tatters, and I couldn't feel more sober and sad.

The first slump I've ever been, in my life

At this moment, for the first time in my life, I wanted to go home during a backpack trip. The rural but carefree outskirts with buffalo trailers in the afternoon looked like paradise now.

Kratie shook me

I somehow found myself a little loss on my way out. The roads somehow became narrower, and with the sky getting darker, I found myself circling at the same location.

I did spot a police beat, and as my last resort, wanted to "consult" them. But thankfully, my sense of direction recovered at the last minute. I found my way back to the river front.

Totally exhausted, physically and mentally.

Didn't managed to finish my dinner though - Maybe the beer took the limelight

I booked for a bus to Siem Reap the next morning.

I slept early that night.

Frankly speaking, I'm not very sure how to describe my feelings.

Personally, I like Kratie. It's a place for backpackers to roam freely without kids pestering you to buy souvenirs, or tuk-tuk drivers coaxing you to ride with them. In fact, no one's gonna care very much of what you're doing.

You kinda have all the time in the world to observe, feel and explore the whole backyard.

I believe this is Cambodia, away from the influx of tourist and capitalist.

It's a reference for my future backpacking trip

Maybe Laos would be something like this due to its geographical proximity?

A backpacker's growing up?





3 comments:

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Anonymous said...

Hello Wee ser, Your photos are beautiful and show so much the variety of Cambodia. I also like your use of English and writing style. But I wonder what happened with the guesthouse owner -- didn't you say he would be in hot water because of you? I've been to Cambodia twice and planning to return later this year, so thanks for the info --

Wee Ser said...

Hi there, "Anonymous".

Glad you like the photos and the blog post.

The hotel owner was quite helpless because of the motorcycle I crashed. But I think 20USD covered all the damages.

Been to Cambodia twice, and going for a third time? Didn't know you could do so much there.

Do let me know how is Cambodia nowadays!