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
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