Cambodia Pages > Cambodia Pages > Travelogue

Text and pictures by Bernhard Heiser

    Part 1:  Overland Trip Bangkok to Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor Wat
It's 5.30 in the morning, I'm waiting for bus 3 at the National Library to bring me to Moo Chit, Bangkok's northern bus terminal. It's not running yet, finally a 3 aircon bus arrives (12 Bt)and I get there just in time to catch the 7am bus to Aranyaprathet (2nd class, aircon, 112 Bt). The ride isn't very interesting, we have some short stops to pick up more passengers, no break for food. As I didn't have breakfast today, I'm getting really hungry. After 4,5 hours we reach Aran and I enjoy a good noodlesoup at the bus terminal, ignoring all offers for further transport. I take a motorbike taxi for 30 Bt for another five kilometers to the border.
The other Parts of this Travelogue:
Part 2: A Trip to Banteay Srei
Part 3: Siem Reap  -  The "paradise walk" 
Part 4: Three Days Waterfestival in Phnom Penh
Part 5: Up the Mekong to Kampong Cham, Kratie and Stung Treng
Part 6:  A Day in Kampot
Part 7: Sihanoukville and back to Thailand

My new 2002 travelogue begins with "Expedition Mondulkiri" on the main page.

We pass the huge border market on the Thai side. It's very busy around here. People with hand-carts, overloaded with all kinds of goods, are passing by on the small, dirty road leading to the border. I pay my driver and walk over to the small shack with the sign "immigration".  A young boy offers me transportation to Siem Reap. That turns out to be the "Kaosan-mafia-organized-transport", that goes all the way from BKK to Siem Reap on one ticket. It's 200 Bt from here and he points to a house on the other side of the border. Right behind the border, there is Cambodian immigration (picture). A flag featuring the silhouette of Angkor Wat waved in the breeze. Most people simply hang around here, waiting for something to happen. Inside the open building two officers are sitting behind primitive desks, doing the paperwork. I fill my entry card and a health questionnaire. The officer asks for my vaccination certificate. Okay, no problem, but he should not complain about missing cholera shots now. He does not and I get my entry stamp in the passport. 
There are more local pickups going to Sisophon, the price is also 200 Bt, that's at least what they ask me for. In Sisophon you can catch another pickup to Siem Reap, when you arrive there in time. I decide to take the direct link, as there are already some passengers waiting near the office of "Khmer Thai Border Tour Transportation". For "safety reasons" we have to put our names on a passenger list. After a long time of waiting for the minibus arriving from BKK, we are complete now. It takes another 30minutes to find out that 25 passengers and their backpacks do NOT fit in one pickup, so we take a second one and finally leave Poipet at 3 pm. 
Thanks to Ian Holdsworth for this photo (see linkpage)
The road turned to dirt as the houses ended. The potholes are getting bigger and bigger and sometimes we get terribly shaken in the back of our pickup. Welcome to Cambodia. I am surprised to see many heayy cargo trucks here, all slowly rolling up and down the craters in the road like ships on a rough sea. Peasants are returning from work in the fields on small tractors, ox-carts and bicycles (picture).
After a few kilometers we loose some wheel-nuts and almost one wheel. Someone has to go back to Poipet to get new ones. Another hour is spent waiting and repairing. The threads of the wheel are badly damaged, but we can mount it and go on. 
From now on we have to stop every four or five kilometers to fix it again. The road conditions dont change much.
I read somewhere it was rebuilt by Thai engineers in the early 1990s, but has deteriorated dramatically since. However, we get used to it and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Ricepaddies as far as we can see, at the horizon some mountains appear in the haze, far away from our route. It's already getting dark when we reach Sisophon. We change cars here, we cannot go on with this almost broken wheel. A crowd of Cambodian children selling cold drinks, cigarettes, baguettes and sweet rice surrounds us. I buy a baguette for 10 Bt. The young girl really has change on my 100 Bt note, perfect. I like the atmosphere of the little town, but we have to go on. The road is better now and we drive quite fast most of the time. It's getting colder now and I'm glad about my long jeans. There seems to be a thunderstorm far away, we see lightning at the horizon. From time to time we have to slow down to pass a bridge. Most of them are in bad condition, some cannot be used any longer. 

The last part of the road to Siem Reap is really hell. I never travelled on a terrible road like this before, and I travelled a lot. They had strong rain here before, water from the adjacent ricepaddies flooded the road. The potholes now have turned into little brown lakes, sometimes more than one meter deep.

It's a tradition in Cambodia for poor villagers to repair the worst holes in the road by throwinggarbage and dirt in, desperately hoping for a handout from those passing by.
Here some small money was collected by men toting AK-47s, blocking one lane of the half-collapsed bridges with sticks. We stop about 10 times at improvised toll stations, sometimes we are guided a way to pass big mudholes.

We pass several big trucks, abandonned along the road or waiting for better conditions. We somehow managed to pass all river crossings and mudholes so far, sometimes pushing the pickup, what is a quite dirty job. But now there seems to be a major obstacle ahead. Our driver gets off and starts arguing with others standing on the road in the middle of the night. Other cars and trucks are waiting, it looks as if we have to wait for some bridge construction works. After half an hour it's our turn. Our pickup is attached with a steel cable to a really huge tractor and we are pulled through the dirt for about 200 meters. The water almost swashes in the back of the pickup. Each of us has to pay 20 Bt extra, our driver claims to be out of money. However, our driver and the young boy on the tractor did a really good job and nobody refuses to pay.
The last part of the road is better now. We enjoy the clear sky with brilliant stars while heading down the last kiolometers to Siem Reap. 


We reach Siem Reap at 2am, where guesthouses are closed and everyone is sleeping. Exception is the Angkor Thom Hotel, where we stop. I take a double room with bathroom and cable TV for 7$. 
The hotel is owned by the local police, they work closely together with the tour company. They always leave late in Poipet and try to get people at their hotel.
Rumours say all bridge money collecting is just staged to have an excuse for keeping the tour prices high. And in fact, some travellers on local pickups didn't pay that much money to the bridgekeepers. However, it'a a very cheap and adventurous way to get to Angkor Wat.

Many has been written about the worldwonder of Angkor Wat, beautiful temples scattered in the jungle of northern Cambodia. I don't want to repeat it all here, others are much better in describing the magnificance of this place. Before ever coming here, I have seen many pictures of the temples. However, walking down the causeway to the Angkor Wat temple in the dark, seeing the shape of the five huge towers for the first time, waiting for sunrise, is still a somehow exciting experience. Perhaps it's just because I heard and read so much about this place. Now I am really here!

Angkor Wat was constructed under King Suryavarman II (reigned 1113-1150) to celebrate the king as the incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. The greatest of the Angkor temple complexes is a masterpiece of classic Khmer architecture.
The temple area is more than two square miles big and surrounded by a 500 foot wide moat.
Dedicated to Shiva and Jayavarman VII, Angkor Wat served as the king's funerary temple.The temple is unique amongst the temples at Angkor for its west facing facade, acknowledging the setting sun and the symbolic passage from life to afterlife.
As you walk inward along the first causeway and moat through the gate, you reach the second causeway. Here the grand façade of Angkor Wat comes into full view (pictures above).
The causeway, that leads to the heart of the temple, is 350 metres in length and bordered by a naga balustrade.

The famous Angkor Wat bas-reliefs surround the first level, where Epic events are displayed in graphic detail on a lenghth of almost one kilometer. The top of the temple represents the summit of Mt. Meru, the symbolic center of the universe and the source of all life. 


The Bayon is part of a walled city called Angkor Thom, some 10 square kilometers large. It was built by King Jayavarman VII between 1181 and 1201 AD.
A square wall, eight meters high and 12 kilometers long marks its borders. The four gates are each topped with a smiling face of the Avelokitesvara.

The Bayon is famous for its 54 stone towers and over 200 faces of the Avelokitesvara, each visage
bearing an enigmatic Buddhist smirk.

Dozens of faces, all bearing that enlightened Avelokitesvara grin, are carved into the rock. Some of the faces have tree roots and leaves running through their cracks and crevices.


Everywhere you looked - in every direction, at every possible angle it seemed - was this huge,
peaceful grin, its eyes closed as if in a state of meditation. 
Things seem to have changed a little: Very friendly greeting at each entrance to a temple. "Good morning Sir, may I have a look at your ticket, please?" There are obviously less kids around now selling water, postcards, flutes and offering guide services. If you say no (with a smile of course) they normally leave you alone. If they need a license for their work now? Everything seems to be perfectly organized.

For more info about Angkor Wat history, archeological facts and a list of good books have a look at my linkpage please.

Sras Srang (picture) is a huge artificial lake, buildt end of 12th century as a "swimming pool" for King Jayavarman VII.

In the afternoon we return to Angkor Wat and I spend much time just sitting on the top level enjoying the peaceful atmosphere. On my way back I get into a little wedding party, a group of people taking pictures in front of the temples.

View from Phnom Bakheng. Many people gather here at sunset every day. We watch a thunderstorm with interesting cloud formations approaching quickly. 
On our way to Banteay Srei the next day, we take the small circuit and have a short stop at the Pre Rup Temple. From the top there is a good view to Phnom Kulen and to Angkor Wat.

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