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Report 18:
„From Cambodia across water, sand and stones over to Thailand“

     We were there when the young people of Phnom Penh demonstrated with big banners and Cambodian flags. Of course they all came on motorbikes. What first looked like a harmless demonstration of students escalated in the afternoon and at night. We heard detonations, right around the corner. There was fire in a business building right behind our hotel. The next day we heard of fires in Thai hotels and the Thai embassy in Cambodia. But fortunately people calmed down and the governments of both countries were negotiating about compensation. All this happened because of a statement of a twenty-year-old Thai actress, who said that the temples of Angkor Wat, the national sanctuary of the Khmer and the Cambodian, should belong to Thailand. As tourists we were not threatened directly and passed the Thai border unhindered. We had felt save and comfortable the two days in Phnom Penh, getting used to traffic and turmoil downtown. University students here have founded a new political party to fight corruption. But who remembers the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot – only 25 years have passed by since then. More than two million people – no one knows the real number of victims – Phnom Penh’s intelligence and all the regime’s opponents, but also business men, children and women, intellectuals, skilled workers and teachers were murdered in the ”killing fields” outside the city back then. They were stopped after eight years by the Vietnamese invaders but faded into the countryside to continue a guerrilla war until the late 1990’s. Pol Pot died in 1998.
     On our way to Angkor Wat we crossed Tkoenle River. Polite Khmers lifted our bikes onto the narrow ship. We were now among young adventurers with huge backpacks. From out the ship we could see houseboats, on them mothers cooking fish and flesh and children sleeping in hammocks.
     It was hot here and Jutta started feeling sick. We felt reminded of Central Asia when she got really ill. But she managed that little crisis herself and felt a lot better the next day.
     The temples sure are unique cultural monuments untouched by modernisation. They were built by the mighty Khmer civilisation a thousand years ago. The architecture put a spell on us. Everything is in quite a good condition, because a lot of restoration has been done – especially the walls and the relief’s on them showing fighting warriors over a length of hundred metres or more. The towers are dilapidating slowly. They were once built of sandstone.
     Cycling became a pain in the Cambodian heat. All the fine covering sand had been blown off the road. Only stones were left. The bridges were built one century ago. The cars whirled up huge amounts of dust that eventually sank down on us. For some hours we shared the destiny of the people living close to the road. We felt dirty and uncomfortable.
     We reached Sisophon exhausted but happy. One more day on bad roads followed. We were the only travellers crossing the border. There were no complications. Thailand is a lot wealthier than Cambodia, which is obvious not just because of the wide roads. Fast cars passed by. The roads do not even touch the villages anymore but lead by. But this was comfortable and fast cycling. We made 135 kilometres (80 miles) in six hours and were now 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of Bangkok. We outwitted the chaos and traffic by train which took us south to Hua Hin. The trip did not bore us at all, we watched the people boarding and exciting the train, the houses, gardens, trees, industrial parks and jammed streets pass by the train windows. Some monks sat next to us in their red capes. A mobile phone rang and one of the monks took the call.
     We knew that Hua Hin would be full of tourists, but when we got there reality shocked us. The city was filled with people, all kinds of huge hotels and shops. Many of the older guests stay here for several months – it is warm and cheap. We chose to enjoy the comfort for two days. Still 1500 kilometres to go till Singapore.
Jutta and Gerhard