Cambodia – Phnom Pehn to Siem Reap and Beyond–2018 Part 1

Cambodia – Phnom Pehn to Siem Reap & Beyond – 2018 Part 1

Following on from my last two blogs where I dedicated the Cambodian Islands blog to my cousin and his wife; the updated news on my cousin’s wife Kaz (Karyn) has been most tragic with her passing sadly 17th Oct 2020 before she could return to her hometown of Grafton NSW Australia. In dedication to her memory; my blog below is timely in that I get to spend a week with her at Siem Reap for her planned Health Retreat in 2018. With COVID-19 restrictions her family & limited friends celebrated her memorial 14th November 2020. Karyn was only 57yrs old. Her husband Michael, my cousin is fighting the good fight but is terminal as well.

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From my last blog I spent 6hrs travelling by bus from Sihanoukville to Phnom Pehn, the capital of Cambodia thinking mostly of my youngest brother, Rod who past the year prior on this day a year earlier. My Phnom Pehn visit is to see a few tourist things I could not see during my last visit plus to sort out a few personal goals that involve hopefully changing people’s lives so that part is private. Part of my life mantra is to ‘make a difference’; so hopefully I can fulfil that in this visit. For more information on my previous visit to Phnom Pehn please refer to a previous blog; Summary of My International Travel 2018 – Part 4 – Phnom Penh – Cambodia.

I arrived at Phnom Pehn City Centre at 2.30pm amongst massive traffic and a thunderstorm (of course, almost daily now) and straight into a tut-tut to my Billabong Hostel where Janny (Manager) & staff remembered me immediately. Is that a good sign … or a bad sign? Turned out to be a good sign … whew!! They had my room ready and it was an instant chill out time. I highly recommend the Billabong Hostel (backpacker style hostel & appropriate pricing) with a good range of dorms and private rooms with ensuite and a pool, etc.

Can’t explain this but I slept in till 9.20am!! Somehow my body & ‘brain’ must of needed this … certainly not a beauty sleep  .. OK? In hindsight it might have been the hot shower I had before bed as it was my first hot one for some 24 nights. I certainly dislike cold showers but one must toughen up and shower often, otherwise you can easily offend people from a distance if you know what I mean. Thank God the in-house café still had brekky till 11am. I had to catchup on some computer stuff so I soaked up the energy of the backpackers enjoying the pool and various alcohol drinks on the large pool deck. It was a morning of great spirits.

Being some 10mins from the old city area by tut-tut I decided to walk it and take in the normal city/ suburb living, seeing the merchants and stores along the way. The walk was so diverse in what type of stores and services with scooter/ mechanical workshops, cafes and just about everything you could imagine or need. Some of the local people smiled and waved while others were stern-faced city affected dwellers who seemed to not give anyone the time of day. I had a few missions to sort out so I needed Google Maps to get me around however, the app was playing up like my last visit. My frustrations were escalating as the app was taking me all over the place and somewhat in meandering circles. The hours I ‘wasted’ before I could complete my tasks leaving me less time to soak in the environment and culture.

Calling it almost a day, the sun was setting I ended at the Vattanac Capital Building; must be the highest tower structure in Phnom Pehn @ 187.3m/ 39 storey with a jutting out Sky Deck. It won an architectural award in 2012. I thought a reward would be to see the city sprawl and enjoy a $7USD beer in a luxury lounge with a view before heading back to my hostel.

Taking the lift, I shared it with a family. The father was of Indian descent and the mother was a younger English woman. They had a young son about 9yrs old and they were taking the father’s mother (wheelchair bound) to a celebratory dinner at an aloof restaurant on the highest above skyline level. The reason for raising this commentary is that I found it confronting especially on what I will now describe. The family were immaculately dressed, obviously very wealthy. I smiled and parted their company as they entered the restaurant while I took to the large glass panels to view the skyline and getting my geographical boundaries/ compass aligned. I saw a section of the city I had wished I knew beforehand. It was the newer part and seemed like a great place to inspect viewing in the distance near the river. It is also where the Australian & other embassies are located.

Walking back on my steps I noticed the young mother with her son sitting at a high bar table. She caught my eye so I walked over & said “hello again”.  We talked openly and was asked to sit at the other chair opposite to her & her son. They were sitting at the table because the restaurant excluded their son as they do not cater for children and therefore no entry for under 18yrs of age. The Father/ husband continued with his Mother for dinner and ushered his wife out to stay with their son until they were finished. I was gob smacked to say the least. How abhorrent!!! Again, we talked for some 40minutes plus without any apprehension however the son remained somewhat sheepish as expected for a well-controlled & mannered child. I managed to make her laugh & smile and talked about both our travel experiences, life, etc to take away the time and loneliness frustrations. She was most thankful I stayed with her; and I left before the father ventured out. He will take them elsewhere to have dinner (probably a take away). I had to leave so as not to confront the selfish uncaring father/ husband. I didn’t even wish to partake in my $7USD beer either, such was my disgust however, I felt good that I helped someone through a terrible and awkward time. I hope the lady & her son are doing OK.

It was now dark and not a tut-tut in sight so I continued to walk back towards my Billabong Hostel. Thankfully, my memory served me well to remember the streets back without referring to the faulty Google Maps. Arriving at the hostel I was still able to order dinner and check my phone to confirm I had walked almost 17klms!! Wow!!! The beers were a real reward and so was the extra hot shower. No muscle cramps either. Yay … knowing I was a bit low on Magnesium intake as well.

The next day it rained all day however I managed to get my personal goal sorted and improved a person/s life so all is good with the universe. I wish I could tell you more but it’s private and very confronting for print but rest assured everything was perfectly legal; just private. I hung around the pool area most of the afternoon and an early night to ensure I awake at 6am to take a pre-ordered tut-tut (reception booked it for me) to the airport. Phnom Pehn was quite easy to say good-bye to so I’d say that’s natural for a capital city feel and a flying visit (excuse the pun). I don’t mind airports as such, always like to be early for flights, get through Immigration/ Customs, etc and to see the buzz in people. I like to people watch … & especially over a hot coffee. I also have a background working at The Sydney Airport constructing taxiways, runways and redevelopment of the International Terminal Building.

My flight to Siem Reap was on time and $57USD by the airline Bassaka Air and only took 32minutes. We reached the flight height and straight away descended, much like a rainbow flight path. So much better than a 6hour drive or 8hrs bus trip. The tut-tut ride-in was different to my initial arrival in early April (2 months ago) where I used a dedicated tour driver and escort. I have no idea where I am going, so I’m placing a lot of trust into my tut-tut operator. After about 20mins or so we take a hard-left turn into a very narrow dirt lane that is in need of decent repair, mainly for drainage. This laneway ‘road’ was uninspiring and a bit of anxiety was setting in wondering where in the heck am, I going. With a sudden stop and to my relief I am shown the wall signage and walk-in garden entrance to The Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel. “Whew”!! The resort Kaz (Karyn) had arranged for me.

My arrival and welcoming were amazing and it felt like royalty. The Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel was awarded the TripAdvisor’s Number 9 Bargain Hotel in the World 2018 with 25 air conditioned rooms, restaurant, bar and located just 1.1klms from Pub Street & the City Centre and 15minutes from the famous World Heritage Site, Angkor Wat temple. Our Kim (a young local lady, also featured in photos on their website) was the receptionist and she showed amazing professionalism and warmth checking me in and to see my room in brilliant presentation was quite a surprise! In Cambodia they say their Surname first. I had a bit of time to settle in, as most of the Health Retreat participants (women) had already arrived and headed off to the local foot & body massage parlor down towards the main road to start off their ‘therapy’. I was told that parlor will be used quite often.

The Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel was co-founded, owned & operated by Aussie ex-pats (Ilana Tulloch & Adam Scott … married) starting originally with Ilana’s mother, Carmel  Over time they managed to buy the neighbour’s place and converted it to another hotel wing and removed the fence in between which opened up to a better courtyard and serenity area. Honestly, you would not believe what these two wonderful people have achieved for Siem Reap. They have provided in-house & external traineeships with other employments for the locals, helped other entrepreneurs, local schools and commerce organisations, cooking seminars and the list goes on. Post Blog: The Baby Elephant just celebrated their 5th year anniversary along with Ilana being recognised as one of the Top 20 Social Entrepreneurs in ASEAN2020.

I was happy to stay beside the pool and talk to the staff and getting to know the new star attraction, Lenny, a Pomeranian puppy belonging to Ilana waiting for the rumble of the surge of Health retreaters. I didn’t have to wait long for the hotel uses two dedicated Tut-Tut operators and they know how to ramp in & park within the courtyard. The voices were nearing and coming in loud, energetic and alive!! A hearty “hello” and long hugs from Kaz (Karyn) and meeting another Australian, Michelle. Is it wrong to say all that great noise was from just 2 women? They were excitement plus. Later on, we thoroughly enjoyed ‘Happy Hour’ .. the ladies with their varying cocktails & I with my scotch. What a great day & night overlooking the pool and taking in the luminous lighting of the pool and adjacent walls. The other participants, Louise and her daughter Charise arrive tomorrow from Singapore (Ex-pats).

Kaz was the Director/ Owner at Real Food Real Weightloss (RFRW) & worked also at Cassia Wellness Clinic in Australia and from all these client bases she arranges for these international health retreats to hone in and reward the participants with what another world offers. Certainly, a caring and wonderful health professional entrepreneur that puts a lot of energy into these international retreats. I’m feeling blessed to be invited, welcomed, and with little notice.

I’ll end this blog here so I can start afresh for Part 2 on the week with Kaz & Co on a great Siem Reap Health Retreat and some of my escape free time. Lol!!!!

Thank you again for reading my blogs and I trust you will stay safe, happy & healthy, specially through this COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. I always look forward to seeing the feedback so don’t be afraid to comment. My next blog/s will be the amazing Vietnam experiences and quite a few were life changing.

Live life to the ‘mostest’ as Kaz did often & encouraged everyone else to be so.

Cambodian Islands Departure – Sihanoukville & Beyond

Cambodian Islands Departure – Sihanoukville & Beyond – 2018

Following on from my last Part 8 blog where I dedicated the Island blog to my cousin and his wife the updated news on my cousin’s wife Kaz (Karyn) has been most tragic with her passing sadly before she could return to her hometown of Grafton NSW Australia. She had made it close by checking into Maclean Hospital some 23 miles from home.  Ashamedly, there was no hospital bed for her at Grafton. My words are never enough and with this COVID-19 fiasco & unbelievable politics still tearing into people’s lives I am unable to provide hugs and be present with Michael & family during this very sad time. Prayers and thoughts abound. Live life to the most as Kaz did often. The testimonies that flowed immediately, and for more than a week after her passing is a true testimony to the life and love she gave and passed onto so many.

From my last blog (Part 8) I was heading towards Sihanoukville’s pier (8th May) via a speedy island ferry after some 8 nights in 3 island locations enjoying a variety of paradise influences, mostly natural (people and environment) and with my mind senses of being mainly alone. My main jolt of reality was approaching the confronting skyrise structures of ugly casinos blanketing the shoreline. Currently (2018), some 34 mega-casinos are in construction and another 16 are ready for approval to start, thus making a total soon of about 87 operating casinos; all with virtually no community infrastructure afforded to cope with these giants. All this in a city region of some 900,000 residents.

My first port of call (excuse the pun .. sea ferry talk) was straight off the pier to the left to find my usual window bench table at the Turkish Bar Café with a cold beer & watching mostly other backpackers arriving and leaving the pier before I headed up Serendipity Street hill to my next hotel stay at Mick & Craig’s Guesthouse quite near the large & famous Golden Lions roundabout. Lots of backpackers must of forgotten their sunscreen looking at their lobster look skin .. Ouch!!

Reaching the top of the hill I am reminded of the great supermarket on the left for critical supplies I’m in need of and almost next door my favourite haunt .. The Big Easy; but first I’ll cross the road and pick up my 6month Cambodia extended visa and my passport at the Travel Agent shop (10days for processing). It is a very satisfying experience to once gain possession of one’s passport and I must have it for checking in to my hotel. After a few minutes the lady finally found it in an unlocked desk drawer with about 20 other passports. Gobsmacked on this lack of security! It was still playing on my mind crossing the road in between the crazy traffic and Tuk-Tuks.

Checking into Mick & Craig’s Guesthouse was rather awkward but like everything in Cambodia, once you smile back the world gets sorted. The guesthouse is owned by Australian ex-pats but they have let it slide over the years on first looks however, location, location, location. After paying the $5USD deposit on my towel, the receptionist lady showed me to my ground floor room (Hostel was in the 2nd floor building). OMG!!! That’s different!!! I have a large tree stump in my patio to which I have to step around to access the front door. My room is fully taken up by the double bed and my ensuite looked reasonable, so all is good, as I have stayed in far worse … but still a cold shower. I have no TV and the ceiling fan is quiet only on one faster speed. Air conditioning was insanely expensive and only available in other rooms. Leaving my backpacks on the floor (no other option, no wardrobe, etc) I think it is time for The Big Easy respite a few doors up.

Entering The Big Easy, a few faces remembered me and I had the rare opportunity of selecting a bar chair at the street end of the bar with only 2 other patrons present before the regulars flocked in after their respective work duties. The Aussie/ USA & English-type music was flowing through the speakers at a good volume, my first beer was cold and soothing and chilling out was almost instant. Nearing the end of my first beer (a slow drinker and not a volume drinker either) I felt a tap on my shoulder with a “Look who’s here!”. Turning around I saw my Koh Rong island Aussie friends, Hugh & Donna who had just come off the late island ferry and was heading to their hotel when they saw the friendly entry and music of The Big Easy. Hugh was desperate for a beer too (always!) & Donna not far behind Hugh.

They couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw me at the prime position of the bar. The chances of meeting up again after the islands were at ridiculous odds, so that’s the universe at work most definitely. The beers and the talks flowed like an endless tide of course. It was well into the night when they both had to leave for a late meal and sleep; for they had decided to head south early in the morning and cross into Vietnam at the southern border in a few days’ time, which I heard was a bit brave but that’s what these globe trekkers do (no fear). They will tour Vietnam completely South to North. Surprisingly they will reappear in future Vietnam blogs.

Coming straight off the island I sourced a good place to hire a scooter @ $3.70USD/ day to overcome the daily hassles of varying prices of tut-tut operators but alas they required the handover of my passport to them … That’s NOT happening!!! So off on foot again. In addition, Mick & Craig required $5USD per day just to park my scooter on the premises (footpath) if you don’t mind. The Big Easy allowed me to do it for free … but I was not prepared to hand over my passport to the hirer so I was back to the tut-tuts.

I have a daily brekky deal with Mick & Craig’s so the first few mornings I had hassles with the so-called extras and finally Craig sorted things out but far too late so The Big Easy gave me a better brekky and at a better price anyway so can’t ignore that. The best thing at having brekky at Mick & Craig’s was looking out at the busy street and seeing a young lady and a tut-tut scooter operator. They smiled and waved each morning and I could not pass up the service they offered. The lady was the boss & spoke better English than the scooter guy. They were always there whenever I needed them, plus the scooter guy was even there when I was walking back from The Big Easy late every night with a loud “Good Night Aussie”. Felt terrible the long hours he did, so I used his services regularly.

One day at my usual bar spot at The Big Easy I met a fellow Aussie, Con from Mornington Peninsula, a seaside city South-West of Melbourne where he managed a large hotel and convention centre there. He was in Cambodia on a 2week binge for his well-earned holiday. Pls refer to the photo with myself, Adam & Con. We had lots to talk about plus viewing the regular AFL games (Australian Rules Football) broadcasted live on the large bar TV but I definitely left him to drink his required level of beers …. Far, far too much for me! He certainly made his last week here at full speed whereas I did everything at a responsible pace and savoured the better elements of Cambodia!!

Another Aussie working at The Big Easy was Adam. He was 43yrs old but looks like 35 .. purely on his easy laid-back life looking after him. He has been to 40+ countries and started travelling while quite young. We got on so well together and talked whenever he had spare time while working. He has been at Sihanoukville for 2 ½yrs and loves it (Backpackers Heaven he called it) but each day becomes harder due to the encroachment of the Chinese destroying all that made the place great. I totally agreed with him and anyone would find it hard not to. I was being tested daily on how long I could handle staying here; the Chinese are restricting things to do and creating havoc with demolition, construction and blackouts. Each day I awake to jackhammers and machinery at 6am 7 days a week. Some of the high-rise casinos work 24hr shifts, 7 days a week. Even pouring concrete at night.

I received a call from Kaz (Karyn – Cousin’s wife in Australia from my last blog and the start of this blog) saying she will be in Siem Reap from 25th May for a week to run her regular health retreat and was thinking of coming to Sihanoukville to catchup with me prior. On the same day I was contacted by Anita, a young German backpacker where my eldest son, Scott & I took her around the Sth Island of New Zealand for 3 amazing weeks in a Winnebago late 2017. She was currently in Vietnam and was hoping I would be in Vietnam (Hanoi) before the 25th May to catchup. Alas, I could not physically arrange this but she encouraged me that Vietnam awaits and will surprise me. I knew Kaz would not like Sihanoukville so I offered to find a way to get to her. With both these great women trying to connect and pull me away from Sihanoukville it certainly provided the escalation to do something and push me to another travelling advance to get me out of my comfort zone. With a bit of juggling I was able to work an itinerary to catchup with Kaz, gain my Vietnam 90day Visa (2 days processing) and sort a few things out in Phnom Pehn and then fly to Siem Reap.

Kaz, now thrilled on my offer to visit her encouraged me to partake in her Health Retreat wherever it suited me and gained a fantastic week’s rate accommodation at the Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel where the retreat is being held. It is owned and managed by Aussies as well. I could not pass this up. Meanwhile, Anita is providing more info on Vietnam. Yay!!!! I feel excited for a new adventure, albeit I’m not sure what Kaz has in mind for me in regards to a health retreat.

One day I had a catchup with Adam mid-morning at The Big Easy and he introduced me to another Adam, an English trekker & slightly younger than #1 Adam. He has resided on Koh Rong (Ko Toit) for some years and operates the world-renowned Adventure Adam dive and extreme trekking and fishing company . He employed some 20+ staff and 3 boats and heaps of gear. When he originally arrived at Koh Rong with his mates, they did everything that was extreme adventure. Some people paid him so they could tag along and it was this that his mates convinced him to start up a company doing what he loves. He has been flat out ever since! Adam MUST write his life story and I told him so. Today, he had come to Sihanoukville to see his Bank Manager but now has to stay overnight due to their rescheduling. Adam hates this financial headache and dealing with ‘erratic bank rules’. Truthfully, we spoke for some 4hours straight. We ordered a late lunch and then Adam ushered over a very young lady (about 20yr old) sitting on her own. Her name was Julia and a French Canadian. She was apprehensive at first but the fantastic conversation continued even after her Canadian travel buddy, Cole turned up. Adam retreated to his unit while Julia, Cole, I & others played pool later on; so on this great day I didn’t leave The Big Easy from 9am till 1am. A great chilling and motivational day at the same time, if that makes sense?

Nearing my last days, I used my regular Tut-Tut scooter guy to take me to the Russian Bridge (Kaoh Puos Bridge) linking a close island (Kaoh Puos) to see what is there. It’s called the Russian Bridge locally because they paid for the construction & once completed the Cambodians kicked the Russians out for the Chinese money. Unfortunately, no traffic is allowed on the bridge nowadays so you can only walk over. Plenty of security in Police who guard the entry. Insufficient time left to walk this distance and another storm is brewing so we abandoned that event and went to see the roaming monkeys just up the road. They were so brazen and showed no fear in anything, not even the erratic traffic and they are breeding quite well. Going back to The Big Easy we took the normal coast road winding around tight corners and alongside the extremely large casino construction sites. OMG!!! The road I normally walked upon before my island tour had now been totally excavated and re-levelled into a mess of muddy clay. My Scooter Guy stated they (Chinese) did this with no notice and I could definitely see this now with store operators (Cambodians) handing down drinks & food to travelling patrons from random heights with no alternative to do business. Typical Chinese invaders. Look at the Serendipity Beach Market area where bulldozers overnight demolished this huge area along the sandy beach area and it has been untouched in this condition for almost 12months. Same for the green pond catchment in the photo below where Chinese Developers filled it in for construction and when the rainy season came there was unprecedented mass flooding. Totally disgusting.

I caught up with Julia & Cole on another night and we played Gin Rummy. I needed urgent lessons and played lousy but they were good to this old bloke. They left for a few minutes and then returned to say they obtained their bus tickets heading towards Phnom Pehn & ultimately Vietnam. We played a few more hands and with a Danish Girl, Sidsel (pronounced Sizzle) till 11pm when both Julia & Cole said good-bye & headed for the bus. Wow!!! Talk about instant decision making & 10 seconds to say good-bye. A little later (Midnight) Sidsel was catching her bus to Bangkok (16hr trip). I walked her to the nearby shop for safety & she was really thrilled for that. All of a sudden I was alone and to seek new ‘friends’ hopefully tomorrow. Post Blog: Believe it or not, I arrived in Hanoi Vietnam and walking an extremely busy street when I heard a call out of Brian!! I stopped, turned around and there were Julia & Cole. How’s that!!! They were with friends so we could not catchup for a longer time but what beaming smiles and hugs forthcoming. I really miss their open company and spirit.

The next night I was sitting at my Big Easy crowded bar but everyone was in group talks so it was just me & the large overhead TV & a spare seat next to me. Adam not working either. Suddenly, a sweet voice asked if the seat was taken. I felt my voice was missing … a vivacious gorgeous blonde lady sat beside me and ordered her drink. I assumed she was waiting on her partner for it is rare to see a lady around 40 being alone. After a few minutes I conversed and off started the most diverse and encouraging conversation for hours. Her name was Osa from Canada but born and grew up in Sweden but residing in Canada since her marriage. Her husband (there you go .. darn) .. was doing a karate tournament in Las Vegas so they had an agreement for her to do her own holiday trip. She chose Cambodia this time for 2 weeks and loving it. At the end of the night she could not stop thanking me for the conversation and so thankful for taking the step to talk. She usually sits alone and too shy to start up anything, being married, etc. She was also brave in insisting she gets a tut-tut back down alone to Otres Beach where she is staying (Midnight again .. jackhammers again at 6am).

My 2nd last day at Sihanoukville, I booked my bus trip to Phnom Pehn ($13USD), my overnight stay at Billabong Hostel, my flight to Siem Reap and ultimately, my flight to Hanoi on 2nd June and a hotel. My Siem Reap flight was gazumped so after a very long time and a call to USA I was able to rebook on another airline. I also received my Inca Trail (Machu Picchu Trek) info and itinerary for April 2019. I have a lot to plan for that trip taking my eldest son, Scott (pls refer to my earlier blogs for 5 weeks in Sth America).

Being my 2nd last night most of the Big Easy staff I conversed with were on their night off together which is quite rare and they quickly organised a night of alcohol, pool tables and a mate’s night for me at a place called “The Square” to send me off well. It is now 10pm. Before we left The Big Easy one of the guys (Englishman) was playing pool down behind the bar and a Swedish girl said she liked the t shirt he was wearing. He said he liked the top she was wearing. In the blink of an eye she took off her top and took his t shirt for the night … no bra at all … can’t believe I missed that action (refer to the photo of the now famous top .. Adam on the left). Sorry, no photo of the Swedish girl.

The Square is literally that … a Square of temporary looking shacks, much like construction site sheds joined together, each a separate establishment. I estimate at least 20 of them, all with bars, lounges, pool tables, video games, TVs, etc and you can basically step from one to another without any trouble. Sihanoukville also has the regular Pub Street but that was in the process of a Chinese shutdown, come demolition so basically The Square is the only place left. Prostitutes were aplenty and the place was abuzz, but we kept to a pool table bar where the guys knew the lady owner. She treated us like royalty and later we were joined by another friend, an Englishwoman/ teacher. Her husband was a business mentor for Cambodians and he was working this night. Adam was full of praise of me where he said I had been there for quite some weeks and I had always been of good temperament, respectful and a good communicator, etc unlike many he comes across. Quite embarrassing for this compliment. After much alcohol and numerous pool games in conjunction with all too frequent blackouts it was time to head home. It’s 2am … Where’s Adam? One guy said he saw a female friend with him and that was the last he saw of him.

My Last day and all was quiet. Adam surfaced in the afternoon looking like he was still 90% alcohol induced and very shabby. A friendly wave, we said good-bye and he was off to bed; he was what we call a shot duck! I will miss his friendship. I had an early night and caught the Phnom Pehn bus at 8.30am the next morning. I also was able to say good-bye to my tut-tut friends across the road as per normal heading for the bus station around the corner. It was now my youngest brother’s birthday (Rod) who had passed away almost exactly a year ago. I really miss him and the bus trip had lots of thoughts of him & he always travels now with me as my travel buddy. Shuffling out of Sihanoukville I could not get over the ongoing demolition & construction sites where it looked like 1 out of 3 or 4 premises were affected and then along one main commercial road, I counted 5 concrete plants side by side and then a 6th one about a kilometre away. That surely is a sign of mass construction. Good bye Sihanoukville and wished everything possible for the residents to overcome the Chinese invaders; knowing this place & the residents/ friends will remain strong in my memory.

6hrs later I arrived at Phnom Pehn 2.30pm amongst massive traffic and a thunderstorm (of course, almost daily now) and straight into a tut-tut to my Billabong Hostel where Janny (Manager) & staff remembered me immediately. Is that a good sign or a bad sign? Turned out to be a good sign … whew!!

Thank you again for reading my blogs and I trust you will stay safe, happy & healthy, specially through this COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. I always look forward to seeing the feedback so don’t be afraid to comment. My next blog will be a bit of Phnom Pehn and heading for the magical week at Siem Reap with Kaz and co.

Summary of My International Travel 2018 – Part 8 Koh Rong Sanloem Island Tripping – Cambodia

Summary of My International Travel 2018 – Part 8

Koh Rong Sanloem Island Tripping – Cambodia

From hearing tragic news yesterday about my cousin and in addition to his wife in regards to their health I feel compelled and with heartfelt compassion wish to dedicate this blog to them for their ongoing struggle and endless energy to living each day as it comes. They have endured a terrible 12 months and the news becomes more negative. Michael & Kaz (Karyn) loved travelling and thoroughly enjoyed the quiet beach scenes and beach swings and loved life in everything they did and continue to do and with a very large family including numerous grandchildren and now just became Great Grandparents. They are also both younger than I. This blog forms part of the quiet beach scene and beach swings in paradise and trust it is somewhat worthy. My words are never enough and with this COVID-19 fiasco I am unable to provide hugs and hold their hands. Prayers and thoughts abound.

From my last blog (Part 7) I was telling you about the man aged about late 50s walking at pace along the water’s edge with a cowboy hat on … and NOTHING else!! .. completely starkers and in full suntan all over, so he’s a regular nudist I suspect!!! Being a strong memory (unfortunately), I forgot to tell you about that particular beachfront on M’Pai Bay which was quite expansive of a sandy beach where there was a huge Cambodian Govt sign erected at what was the start of the island’s jungle but it had a bit of a Chinese connotation within it (hidden). It basically stated there is an approved development planned to further enhance a community feel. What a load of BS!! The approved development has already enabled a completed bulldozing of the jungle to 50% of the beach front, some 500m x 100m; like a war zone and surely is a criminal act to the island. Total devastation and disgusting! I dread what is coming .. and so most likely the residents living here.

Well, somehow fast was my last day at M’Pai Bay and the ferry was taking us travellers to Saracen Bay on the same island of Koh Rong Sanloem. It was a choppy sea and sad trip back to Saracen Bay, looking backwards at M’Pai Bay and the distant pier with the French lady and her young 5yr old son stranded there overnight after walking through the jungle all day to get to the pier (mentioned in Part 7).

When finally alighting at Saracen Bay there was no English assistance on the pier, just Cambodians wanting to do as they pleased and had no time given to the incoming travellers apart from taking our tickets with no eye contact and/ or smiles. Very different to the other piers we landed upon. Us travellers were all none the wiser as to where each of our resorts were located along the extensive beachfront. Pure frustration. On the pier I managed to get a rare phone signal to log into my resort & get a rough bearing. It is showing “The Beach Resort” to the right of the pier.

Stepping off the pier I headed along the very soft white sand struggling a little with my 2 solid backpacks and getting some foot traction. Being well after lunch the sand is quite hot too. The first sign I see is The Dive Shop so I kept on walking. After a good 10mins I stopped & wondered where my resort could be; so it must be behind me now. Walking back, I see what looks like a honeymoon couple sunbaking out the front of some thatched circular bungalows … yes, I know what a honeymoon couple looks like but I wish to not to disturb them. LOL!!! Somehow, another minute, I’m looking back at the Dive Shop again. Argghhh!!!!!

Looking a little to the right behind The Dive Shop sign and basically hidden by palm trees and the like I can see my resort sign “The Beach Resort”. Yay!!!!! Walking in between native looking bungalows and a 2nd storey accommodation block a petite, gorgeous young brunette walks around the corner past me which took me by surprise. She happily smiles and says “hello” but continues walking on. I soon found the main hall/ restaurant and reception (unattended). Within a few minutes the brunette comes up the steps to Reception and greets me again. I am now meeting Elena, a young Russian lady who is managing the resort for some months now. We immediately click and share in great banter speaking very good English; she gleefully shows me to my thatched bungalow #6 through the soft sand and hands me my key. My neighbours are the honeymoon couple. Small world .. haha! We also have to share the independent bungalow bathroom in between the 2 bungalows.

I unpacked, albeit with no wardrobe. The bungalow is about 5m in diameter and the giant king-sized bed takes up most of the room. With everything now sorted I headed back to Reception. There, I ordered a nice cold beer, some food and listened to good western music in the background. I’m relaxed already. What a great environment. Elena chats with me some more and we share stories. So, pleased to share in good communication. Elena being the most beautiful Russian I have met to date is a much-welcomed bonus. Great personality and wonderful speaking voice. I later found out her boyfriend .. darn!! … & he’s definitely not much … of course (my jealous opinion I think). Such a shame I didn’t get a photo with her to share her smile.

Darkness comes, more drinks and a healthy dinner looking out at the beach candle lights and soft music and I resign to take my respite into my bungalow with a King size bed. Bummer!!! I have squatters!!! A male & female Tokay Geckos. These are huge to our Australian house gecko versions. These grow to about 12”/ 330mm (see Photo). Very little sleep that night as they both ran along the ceiling poles and beams above my head chasing moths and the like. I had thoughts they would lose their footing and fall on top of me. They make a very loud ‘cuckoo’ sound as well, which is quite unnerving … reminds me of a similarity of the Predator movie creature sound. I was reassured with my mosquito net tightly tucked under all sides of my mattress but sleep was hiding well this night despite the calming roll of the tiny bay waves just some 15m away.

My alarm clock was the same as last night’s sounds; the small rolling waves of the bay. What a way to rise to the day. Getting organised for today’s ‘activities’, I was wondering how to time my sharing of the bathroom with the honeymoon couple. The bathroom was a lot closer to their bungalow door so I ensured I was quiet as possible. I wasn’t avoiding them, just respecting their privacy. Luckily, the Tokay Gecko ‘sunbaking’ on the door decided to move away but made sure he remained within the bathroom and shower area with his hiding place behind the glass mirror. I’m not a reptile lover.

Once I was organised, I went to the great hall (Reception and Dining) to partake in an abundant buffet of a selection of everything for breakfast. All for $7USD and to be greeted by Elena, yet again. Perfect morning so far and a glimpse of over-eating. I used their Wi-Fi with the hall as it is the only place that it works within the resort area. If I was desperate for the internet service, I would have to stand in the bay water some metres out (waist deep), so not keen for that. My first duty of any island stay is to explore and discover what lies unknown. The first option is always the beachfront so I head North, away from the main pier and to where the beach extends some shorter kilometres it seems than Southwards.

The resorts are infrequent along this Northern beachfront and most are under renovation. I headed around a small rocky outcrop adjacent to an unused pier where I found boulders of unusual shapes and one, I called “My Whale Rock”. Following on from this naturally affected masterpiece I entered the sandy grounds of a resort and I find it awkward, as they encompass the direct beach access and to get to the remaining beach, one must enter its grounds. This resort scales both sides of a small natural occurring waterfall coming down the steep mountain behind. The flow of the water then enters a man-built lagoon like a very large spa bath with perimeter seating around.  Obviously, the guests would have the mind to stay in this all day such is the ambience and waterfall energy. If I was more brazen, I could have eased my way into it to enjoy it too. I think I would have stood out as a likely imposter.

Past this resort the large headland comes into play and there is no sandy beach to enjoy. I’m not sure who developed the structure of an elevated timber pier-like walkway but it was a welcomed relief to eliminate the rocky outcrop some 3m below. The walkway also had small office-type rooms off it but most were empty until I came across the only one in service today. A hairdresser was cutting a few locals hair and some of the family were sitting outside. I did my normal “hello” and smiles but then realised the walkway had ended abruptly and there was nowhere else to go. A young local chap replied back in English; his preferred name was “T”. A very friendly and mindful person of good upbringing I soon found.  I introduced myself, but they all struggled on my name so I offered “B”. T & I sat together and spoke for some 20+minutes at least. We talked about so many things but mostly how much the Chinese had affected their daily and future lives and their creeping obscene development. T had lost so much work, along with his family and siblings. The Chinese import their own workers and some of these are prisoners brought over. It is so sad to see this nature and human destruction, even on the islands now. Saying goodbye is always difficult for me knowing never to set eyes or speak to these wonderful people again so I always wish another friendly “stay safe, happy & healthy” and clasp my hands in a prayer-like movement upon departing.

After my lengthy chat with ‘T’ I head back to my resort via that all so tempting waterfall pool for more fresh water intake and then headed South for the extended beachfront kilometres. For almost the entire length of beachfront, some 4klms or so are neighbouring resorts and hotel stays, all except one are single storey structures. There was possibly 30+ resorts along this end of the beachfront. One resort had numerous large ‘concrete pipes’ converted to small stand-alone fully catered rooms “Pipe Resort” of course is its name. Haha! Nearly every establishment has their own set of serenity swings, hammocks and the like placed on the sand or within the bay waters. Perfect escape for anyone and I wondered if I used them would I be spotted as an intruder. Best not upset the ambience. I only noticed 2 resorts with swimming pools. I walked as far as it was possible to the Southern headland then looked back to see the pier in the hazy far distance. Where is a Tuk-Tuk; a long walk back?  

Taking my time walking back, noticing being slightly after lunchtime, that I was basically the only one walking the beachfront in the hot sun of course. Probably, not smart. I was about 100m from the main pier when I noticed the young French woman with her 5yr old son I met in M’Pai Bay. She finally made it onto the ferry. I added some pace now so that I would meet her at the foot of the pier. She was quite surprised a stranger helped her down from the pier and then she was doubly surprised when she remembered our meeting on M’Pai Bay pier yesterday. Obviously, she was drained of energy, dehydrated, heavily sunburnt and stubborn as I basically had to reap her backpack off her shoulders. I was determined to walk her to her resort to meet her sister. Finally, found out her name was Marie. Within an instant she was so happy and relieved from the weight of her backpack and some of her hidden energy returned. Her resort was some 1.5klms down the beach I just walked.

The sun was hot but the conversation was pleasing and before long we entered the reception and she whisked off hugging her sister behind the counter. I don’t know when they last saw each other but I guess it was a very long time ago by the length of the hugging. Her son stayed with me and Mum’s backpack until Marie returned and said “Thank You” and she had to quickly shower, eat lunch, a quick nap and head off to the Southern pier for another ferry later that afternoon with her sister. Such a shame for a quick goodbye but at least I saved her a bit of hardship and gave her more time by taking the backpack. I wished her safe travels and headed back to my resort’s hall for some sustenance (beer & food). What a day!! Some 10klms of walking, I think. I also had a senior’s afternoon nap too and after I managed a “hello” to the honeymoon couple finally after their sunbaking but they smiled and kept to themselves understanding they did not speak English … although a European couple.

It was a long night sitting in the Great Hall after dinner with no-one to talk to .. there were young couples but they were definitely in their own world and I found myself staring out to the black sea of water in the sand candles scattered out front with the orchestra of rhythmic bay waves lapping the white sand. Taking the orchestra with me and settling into the oversized bed I noticed only 1 Tokay Gecko present but still relied upon my safety of the mosquito net for the night. I slept so soundly and awoke to find no Geckos present come late sunrise. Using the bathroom, I found 1 Gecko again on the bathroom door which soon found the safety spot behind the mirror. Definitely not a reptile lover. Just saying.

Lately, every morning there is a roll of thunder and then heavy rain followed by full sun where you could almost set your watch to it. Everything becomes fresh .. the air, clean smells, your mind and attitude. What a blessing to be in paradise. With my tummy full from another great brekky I walked to the Southern beach pier (outgoing pier .. about 5klms return walk) to obtain my return ticket to Sihanoukville ferry (remember 24hrs clear notice to board). The walk was so laidback and very similar to yesterday albeit far less kilometres. Everyone seemed to be soaking up the day and taking in the quiet ambience. Everything was so quiet. I returned to the Great Hall and continued my Travel Writer’s Programme (new International Member) on my laptop and spent the day just settling back. Elena was having a day off and she did a bit of wading for most of the day in amongst the bay waves with her boyfriend so no-one close by to converse with. It can get lonely at times if it enters your mind.

The night was much the same but the food and beer was well worth staying up for. It was time to absorb everything coming in from the bay through the candlelight ambience. Fresh slight breezes, soothing bay wave sounds, etc; much better than manufactured digital recordings you buy or download. Come, the morning it was again much the same, thunder, rain & sunshine and it was my time to start the checkout process. I said good-bye to the Tokay Geckos now sleeping well in the cone-shaped roof structure of the bungalow. I’m sure they will miss me …???

Where had my 2.5 days gone here at Saracen Bay? Completely at ease and so tranquil in everything I did and thought about. No stressed decision making, nor anything to complain about. Brekky was paramount to over indulge (responsibly) as my next meal will be in the fast-paced Sihanoukville. Elena was busy with a few people checking out so saying good-bye was a bit rushed to my liking. I’ll miss her vibrancy and personality. After staying in the Great Hall after brekky making my journal notes and marking time for my ferry departure I struggled and screamed under my breath to make my way to the Southern Pier. I wished I could stay longer, much like the expats with extended visas here.

Reaching the pier, one wonders why there is no station or housing on the pier for shade as the sun is beating down at midday. I found some tree shade right off the pier with a timber step. Here I would stay saying hello to fellow travellers over time and it was the 3rd ferry that finally became mine to board some 1.5hrs late. Surprisingly, the ferry entered M’Pai Bay for the first stop (opposite direction) for more passengers and once again, Steve, The Pier Captain was in full voice and vigour. He was too far away to offer a shouted “Hello” so I channelled my trusty ESP. LOL!!

Within 15minutes we departed for Sihanoukville, some 40mins away across the Bay of Thailand. I’m sure I left something of myself back on those islands and with heavy prayers they remain relatively untouched from the dreaded Chinese invasion.

Heading towards Sihanoukville’s pier you can see the confronting skyrise structures of ugly casinos blanketing the shoreline. Currently, some 34 mega-casinos are in construction and another 16 are ready for approval to start, thus making a total soon of about 87 operating casinos; all with virtually no community infrastructure. Straight off the pier to the left I find my usual window bench table at the Turkish bar and ordered a cold beer before I headed up Serendipity Street hill to my next hotel stay at Mick & Craig’s Guesthouse.

Doing this blog & reliving my experiences in chilling out, soaking in the serenity and the beach environment I now realise where are my photos that I now wished I had to share with you? I totally absorbed all that surrounded me and blissfully forgot those that are not here to walk and sit with me; to look through my eyes; so, I’m passing on my sincere apologies for being selfish and trust you at least like the photos I did take.

My next blog (no more Parts) will be the new phase of surviving Sihanoukville with a lease of adjusting to the bustle and find some interesting people to share my time with so stay tuned as things start to progress.

Prayers and thoughts Michael & Kaz.

Thank you again for reading my blogs and I trust you will stay safe, happy & healthy, specially through this COVID-19 pandemic. I always look forward to seeing the feedback so don’t be afraid to comment.

Summary of My International Travel 2018 – Part 7 – Koh Rong Sanloem Island Tripping – Cambodia

Summary of My International Travel 2018 – Part 7

Koh Rong Sanloem Island Tripping – Cambodia

Now that I’ve survived my back to basics Koh Rong island experience, I started on the ferry hopping system from Sok San Beach to Koh Toch Beach (both on Koh Rong) to the main terminal at Saracen Bay on Koh Rong Sanloem (Eastern Side) then onto my next village of M’ Pai Bay (Central North of the island) which is basically a good stones’ throw South over the waves from my original departure at Koh Toch Beach.  The two main islands off Sihanoukville are Koh Rong (North Island – less developed) & Koh Rong Sanloem (South Island – more developed). You will need to refer to previous blogs to catchup on my Koh Rong stays.

With a quick stopover at Saracen Bay the ferry headed North and then West to round the North Eastern headland and gently easing into a beautiful ‘U’ shaped bay between an isolated cone-shaped island to a central pier at M’Pai Bay which M’Pai means #23 pier in Cambodian language. The ferry ride was a pleasant 20mins and when alighting we were greeted by the ‘Pier Captain’ issuing a boisterous humour filled greeting (much like a pirate) from an Ex-British compatriot with his still cockney accent …….. who quickly asked me where I am staying and he directed me to go to the end of the pier & “fall over … there you will find your hotel right in front.” Loved this encounter and he was so right in his direction … even though I chose not to fall over. First building you see is Bong’s.

I had apprehension on my hotel after my last ‘resort’, plus their name for this hotel is Bong’s Guesthouse (Drug related) however I was warmly greeted with a European receptionist/ bar maid, etc. Everything went well with check-in and she showed me to my first-floor room with ensuite. It was so refreshing and comfortable apart from the island’s normal of cold showers only. For the remainder of the day I just scoured the front beach area and perused the other hotels, bars, cafés, etc admiring the little bay of beautiful blue bay waters and tiny shallow waves. It was a bit annoying to have so many dogs roam this business area and beach front. I was told these dogs (numerous packs) are not owned by anyone, they just roam free and breed.

I noticed the Pier Captain also manages an establishment (Mango Bar), a bar and cafe along some 3 shops from my Bong’s Hotel with his young wife and gorgeous young vibrant 2year old girl. Out the front are huge sitting cane chairs (soft cushions) imbedded into the soft white sand and hanging cane sitting baskets from a well shaded tree to waste your day in this paradise. The 2yr old child was so friendly and confident with the customers and loves the smoothies. Mum has troubles reigning her in at times.

Wandering the beaches of sands, then rocks, then boulders you cannot help but unwind and chill out. Talk about a lazy experience. So many swings to try out along the water’s edge and into the ‘jungle’. Not far from Bong’s along the main street beach (sand area) you enter a very narrow foot trail between the trees and then amazingly another hostel opens up .. it really is secluded. I later found out this hostel has some wild parties and that’s where most of the young travellers stay at. There have been occasions where drug overdoses have eventuated and this is not the place to have any medical issue. The emergency response could take almost half a day. Walking up the primary street to the hilltop behind the pier I noticed a volunteer hospital being constructed. It will be basic in operation but what a wonderful thing to see for this village; and well overdue. There are other places under renovation also and some of these are bars and night spots and undertaken by lessees of young travellers wishing to base themselves in this secluded paradise. They are doing good work and some have a real attention to their new client base and keeping within the thoughts of the village.

All goods for M’Pai Bay including all construction materials come via boat of course and the only operational pier cannot be accessed every time for all boats. Therefore, boats of all sizes come in shore as far as possible to the expected low-tide zone however, the photo shows the channel and 2 sand banks to encounter. Lots of boats come at very odd hours so it remains all hands-on deck. From there, manual workers wade out into the water and shoulder carry the ‘easy’ items and sometimes small float/ barges are used to get the materials closer to the shoreline. The goods are then double handled onto a trailer towed by the fantastic ‘Chinese Cow’ (miniature motorised 2-wheeled tractor) from the water’s edge to then deliver where the goods are required. Watching these tireless workers there is a strong feeling of empathy and guilt while I’m enjoying my $1USD cold beer. Somehow into the future and when the economy lifts, no doubt there will be a better pier and one fitted with a base crane for unloading and loading .. but we are talking well into the future to what I can currently see.

At dusk my beer turns into 2 and I find the next table beside me is a couple from Sydney Australia. Had to notice their Aussie accents. Donna & Hughie are continuous travellers. Donna, slightly younger than me is originally a Lennox Head’s girl not far from my hometown in Northern New South Wales in Australia. We all immediately click and spend more time together and do small walks. Donna is trying to recover from a gash on her knee, so walking is a chore and soldiers on even though I had the perfect medicine in my first aid kit she was reluctant to use. Hugh is older than me and is a champion beer taster with a very dry Aussie humour. Lots to talk about with these two and they will return in some of my future blogs in the most surprising ways.

Sleep comes so easy in island places like this but sleep time seems so fast once the dogs start barking at the crack of dawn; along with the roosters (some have them in cages for cock fighting tournaments). This island place is pure heaven compared to the construction and demolition pit nightmare in nearby Sihanoukville. This paradise improves your wellbeing by much cleaner air and sea smells that have since left the city of massive redevelopment. After a sumptuous fruit, egg & toast & coffee brekky I decided to walk East along the shoreline seeing all kinds of trees, vines, colourful prayer houses (like stand-alone letterboxes at home), swings and taking in all that surrounds me; and then out of the blue; a man aged about late 50s walking at pace along the water’s edge with a cowboy hat on … and NOTHING else!! .. completely starkers and in full suntan all over, so he’s a regular nudist I suspect!!! He seemed so comfortable in his birthday suit while I was very uncomfortable .. It would be a few minutes more around the bend where some bathing female tourists will soon get an eye full. I respected his privacy & didn’t take a photo .. but he respected no-one else’s.

Coming out of the ‘jungle’ along the beach I saw more people sunbathing, chilling out in hammocks suspended above the bay waters and note the absolute serenity. It was time to sit and contemplate with ‘clear mind’ .. not up to actual meditation standard but I was at some peace of mind. I enjoy looking back over to the main pier through the bay waters and the island opposite within the bay full of trees and with no inhabitants. This is where they do major snorkelling and diving, however I plan to do some trials on snorkelling first straight after lunch before taking to a professional snorkel & diving tour. A little West of the main pier is a short and old timber pier with a concrete topping and this was the perfect place to chill out and enjoy the clear water below and to test out my snorkelling challenge.

Having lunch back at Bong’s I soon realise I have to shave quite well in order to snorkel accordingly .. I detest shaving (for decades I had to shave 6 days a week), but alas, it is a must do for snorkelling. Fully set up now with my boardies and rashie and brand-new snorkel kit I wade out west of the main pier, noticing the water is extra warm for a long way out beyond the sand channels towards the old pier before it gets sufficiently deeper and cooler. It’s a balmy 39°C too. Remembering my brief Google training, I must remain calm (in breathing) and submerge, and much to my surprise I am doing rather well. There is little to see in this open bay sand floor however, a small fish here and there, but it was more the point of mastering my breathing and calmness and head towards success. I couldn’t believe how blue, yet crystal clear the water was. I did this for about 20 minutes and only noticing my location to the bay. My last surfacing was full of embarrassment as I did not see anyone near me and I came up between two gorgeous blonde girls from Norway in their early twenties. Certainly, got a fright! A ‘welcoming’ one though.

They were both school teachers and were on a rushed 2week school holiday and were not worried about my snorkeling in the depths, as they decided to wade near me; not me invading their space. Honestly, I did not see them while underwater. We talked in English for more than 40minutes in chin height water, I believe, on every subject. They were catching the ferry the next morning so I was unable to catchup with them again. Really missed their company and friendliness. One of the ladies name was Cili .. (pronounced Silly … so that was a surprise).

I wanted to do the real snorkelling with a boat tour provider the next day but unfortunately all operators were closed for the day. Alas, I remain village bound but still I have time to explore the small village more by traversing to the main hill behind the growing village and to catch the afternoon ferry to Saracen Bay for my next resort stay. The hill shows itself to be growing with numerous small houses, an extension underway to the school, the volunteer hospital, more night bars & cafes & more new larger housing, all without destroying the nature & culture of the village. The people & new residing foreigners all showed great friendship with glowing smiles and hand waving as I walked past.

I was sad to return down the hillside and pack my backpacks for the ferry. It has been a quiet, yet rewarding experience to just wander aimlessly and negate any timetable for a few precious days. I’m early for the ferry and gain the prime area for waiting; even though the pier is always crowded with gear and produce, nets, etc. A few minutes before the ferry arrives a beautiful young petite French woman appears with her 5yr old son. She is carrying a huge backpack, much larger than mine, no doubt packing for two people. Her English was OK for me to understand her. I could tell she was struggling and obviously doing it tough and looking for respite. They had walked most of the day through the jungle to get to this pier for the ferry. She jokingly said her son doesn’t carry anything and he prefers to be carried but knows that would be impossible. “He walks slow as well”. The woman is to meet her sister, working at Saracen Bay where I am heading before she heads to Sihanoukville the next day. She is really looking forward to seeing her sister and taking a well-earned respite in her lodgings. Sadly, I cannot remember her name for this blog. She had great communication and I would like to spend more time with her and talk about her life and travels.

The ferry pulls in and passengers board showing their tickets. I’m seated and look back to see the French lady continuing in a heavy discussion with the Pier Captain. Apparently, he is enforcing the min notice of 24hrs to board a ferry even though she has a ticket. Reluctantly, she smiles to everyone and waves good-bye with us all knowing there is nothing we can do.

It was a sad trip back to Saracen Bay, looking back at M’Pai Bay and the distant pier with the French lady and her young son stuck there; and when finally alighting at Saracen Bay there is no English assistance on the pier, so we are all no wiser as to where each of our resorts are. Pure frustration.

I’ll leave this blog here, so stay tuned for more island living and then onto Sihanoukville. I’m coming up to my Vietnam travels that totally blew my mind and created life-long memories.

Thank you again for reading my blogs and I trust you will stay safe, happy & healthy, specially through this COVID-19 pandemic. I always look forward to seeing the feedback so don’t be afraid to comment.

Farewell – Australia’s Queen of the Skies – Qantas Boeing 747

Farewell – Australia’s Queen of the Skies – Qantas Boeing 747

Today, 22 July 2020 at 2pm marks the last flight out of Australia for our last Qantas Boeing 747-400 aircraft from Sydney to Los Angeles and then onto its resting place in the Mojave Desert. The Boeing 747 marked 49 years of superior service and is classed as the best ever passenger plane built. Further below the photos is one of my favourite memories of this enormous plane.

COVID-19 virus has brought the retirement earlier from the original timeframe of December 2020. Boeing 787 has replaced the old girl due to the economics of today’s standards and less fuel requirement. The 747 was paramount in allowing ordinary Australians to afford air travel back in 1971 to far-away lands when it was previously out of reach. It was the first plane to fly non-stop from Perth to London in 1984.

Qantas was world renowned in having their entire international fleet with the Jumbo 747 – 4 jet engine aircraft. Aviation data now shows 30 only 747 aircraft still in service with 93% solely as freighters. This flight to Los Angeles will be a freight trip as well and will be labelled as QF7474. Australia has 2 remaining Jumbo 747 in display museums. One at the HARS Aviation Museum at Albion Park (Wollongong, New South Wales) and the other at Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach Queensland (birthplace of Qantas).

The past week Qantas has arranged for one-hour farewell flights from Sydney, Brisbane & Canberra for enthusiasts, past employees and the like to provide a fitting farewell opportunity. Melbourne was omitted due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Sharelle Quinn will command the final flight to Los Angeles, who has flown the jumbo for 36years and was the first Qantas female captain and another long serving pilot will forward it to the Mojave Desert in California.

One can’t imagine how many flights the 747 mastered and for Qantas there has never been a crash of their aircraft which is the only airline in the world that can state that achievement. It is estimated there were 250 million people transported over the 49years. Again, the 747 is the best passenger aircraft built. Qantas has used the 747 aircraft to do numerous mercy flights internationally & at home over its life span for emergency equipment and for passengers as well. Such a remarkable plane.

The Qantas airline’s, with its 65 jumbo jets flew over 3.6 billion kilometres over the 49years service which is just mind blowing.

Qantas had 2 aircraft especially painted to reflect our Indigenous community. Nalanji Dreaming, above, is a celebration of the balance and harmony of nature in Australia and reflects the lush colour palette of tropical Australia. The themes of the coast and reef were designed to complement the Red Centre and Northern Territory and motifs of Wunala Dreaming, launched the previous year.

My Favourite Qantas 747 Memory

Being a Cwlth employee supervising multi-million dollar major works of various nature (some secret) I was seconded in 1986 to be part of the QA & Contract Specialist Management Team to oversee the construction of several taxiways, diversion of SW Sewer Outflow Channels, fuel lines, etc to improve the Sydney Mascot Airport and to do pre-works to the upcoming 2nd runway, now in operation.

One day, we had to allow the full use of the runway (we previously had 25% of the runway for construction work) to be used again however we had a junction joint to overcome (recessed joint at the new taxiway/ runway junction). Numerous large steel plates (footpath crossing plates used in city high rise constructions were used). These plates, about 12, were 2400 x 1200 x 22mm thick steel & very heavy. They were placed the entire width of the taxiway joint (23metres) by a Hi-Ab truck (crane truck) & at the pressure end, the hole was filled with numerous sand bags tight. Us Managers, Civil Aviation, contractors, etc were all lined up 25m from the runway edge across the new taxiway to watch the first Qantas 747 takeoff at 3pm. The aircraft started from the Northern end and after about 150m came across our new taxiway. The outside jet engine blasted the sand bags & picked up the end steel plate like a piece of cardboard which flew completely over the entire 23m wide taxiway some 20m into the air & vertically stuck into the ground adjacent. Once the initial shock was overcome, we had to get the Hi-Ab truck back on site to pull it out & replace it back into position; plus, a concrete truck to mass concrete the end in, as the sand bags did not work. Some hours later other aircraft were allowed to takeoff. The concrete just held enough but had to be replaced at times but the steel plates stayed in place. Whew!! Talk about awesome jet power. Shame this was not filmed but it is firmly implanted into my memory.

Hope the above provided some input into this special occasion and gave you your favourite Boeing 747 aircraft memory? Sadly, I was never provided a 747 when I was flying internationally.

Thank you for reading my blog and hopefully I will receive some of your comments and experiences. Please stay safe, happy & healthy.

Summary of My International Travel 2018 – Part 6 – Koh Rong Island Tripping – Cambodia

Summary of My International Travel 2018 – Part 6Koh Rong Island Tripping – Cambodia

My last night of 14 nights at Divers Hotel in Sihanoukville was non-eventful as always, with the constant late night and early morning noises of the restaurant next door. Really, I’m not too sad in leaving this hotel but I swore from the start of this journey of mine to not being spoilt by western standards .. so, toughen up Brian and enjoy the surprises!

I awoke to another alarm… arghh!! and raced out with an early check out to the first tut-tut operator that came along; for today, I take on another journey by checking in at Speedy Ferries at the Serendipity Pier and heading off to do my island tripping for 8 days of clean air and sunshine, etc away from the noise, bustle and constant construction and demolition here at Sihanoukville.

I chose the faster ferries to the traditional slow boats (enlarged canoe/ fishing boat with basically a lawn whipper snipper motor with a small propeller) due to drastically reducing my time over the Bay of Thailand waters. There were strong rumours that the waters can be quite rough and many backpackers became very sea sick with no relief over quite some hours of boating. Several operators were expanding their ferry boats to cater for the increasing influx of tourists and the traditional slow boats may stick to closer locations in the future.

Checking in, I was again told my ferry would be non-stop to Koh Rong and a transport vehicle would be there to greet me and take me to my resort. No probs. Boarding the ferry, we were ushered on mass with a lot of hustling from the crew. Large backpacks taken off us and ‘thrown’ into storage hulls at the front, away from the bus-type bench seating of the passengers. It was a packed ferry alright and it was rather cramped but eerily quiet with no one conversing for the entire journey which was quite bewildering.

The trip seemed short, circling around a huge headland into an enormous bay with several piers. We stopped at the furthest point of the pier so we all couldn’t see much and then the Captain and crew start unpacking all our gear and placing them into a large pile on the narrow pier and then starts yelling with hand gestures. None of the crew could speak English and most passengers including myself became apprehensive. One passenger spoke up and said “we’ve been ordered off the boat” and then later on the pier we learn the passengers going to Koh Rong must wait for another ferry some 10mins away. We have concluded now that we have landed on Koh Rong Sanloem; so much for the non-stop ferry trip. The pier was very narrow and didn’t provide much comfort with standing room only between numerous luggage. I immediately remember my previous lesson learnt “smile at Cambodia and the world will smile back” making everything sort itself out. My fellow passengers start conversing now so that was pleasing.

Ten minutes to the second the other ferry arrives and we repeat the onboard routine but now with plenty of open seating along its sides and a much older and larger boat. No life jackets required apparently. Upon reversing we can see a vibrant seaside resort village (Saracen Bay Beach) with numerous piers and bright colours everywhere, from boats to cafes to shops/ buildings. Looking out across the water we can see the massive new casinos in the distance at Sihanoukville sadly jutting into the hazy sea salt horizon.

A shorter journey across the strait has us entering another pier (Koh Rong Community Pier) at Koh Toch Beach. One of two and a young Englishman greets us with other Cambodians and points us to the end of the pier and to keep walking in the same direction through the soft sand to an awaiting ute/ truck to take us to our respective resorts. The soft sand was a 200m heavy slog carrying our full backpacks, suitcases, etc and a bit of a challenge to all. Nothing stood out at the end of the pier and its surrounds. The island of Koh Rong is the poorer sister of the two main islands in development so we will see what awaits us for the next 3 nights.

The vehicle turned out to be an old Toyota 2wheel drive ute with a canvas/ steel mesh canopy and side bench seats. We were ushered into the back all 13 of us with myself being the only sole traveller and obviously the eldest. There were 3 groups, mainly Chinese, Sth American and Spanish. On my first look I shook my head for there was no turning circle for the ute so it had to reverse and now will be fully laden, we will soon have a problem. Reversing some 20m we became bogged into the soft sand and the order was given to decant the vehicle. Everyone then stood around & the Englishman started using his hands to shovel out the sand around the rear tyres. Me, not one to be idle & still shaking my head I went into the surrounding bush and found some medium branches and placed them at the rear of the tyres. The Englishman was so pleased & began reversing for some 30m and we now can board again on the more solid reddish/ brown gravel road and turn the ute around.

In the tray of the ute everyone had a cushioned seat, whereas I had to stand in the centre, behind the cabin in a slightly crouched position as the canopy wasn’t high enough. A younger & taller male (Chinese) stood on the tow bar and held onto the canopy. No respect for the elder person but I expected as much coming accustomed to the new millennium’s upbringing. What we all didn’t know was this outback dirt road trip was approx. 20klms through the jungle in a large winding circle. There was a huge volume of rain about 1 hour before the ferry arrived so with frequency we had to pass through flooded roads and lots of mud. My fellow passengers all had a lot to say in their own language passing through the flood waters and ongoing violent bumps in the road. I couldn’t understand them but knew the conversation subjects in between their semi-scared and laughing faces.

After about 1hour the ute slows and stops. Looking out we all see a farm fence and bushland. The Chinese group are told to decant and head down the foot track winding into the bushes. Apparently, their resort is at the river/ lagoon a good walk away. Seems inviting .. not!!! I have a seat now for some measly 100m when we stop again and the others get off, leaving just me to take in the remaining jungle road. So, I’m guessing I’m not going anywhere popular is another sign. A further 150m and another stop and the Englishman tells me to head in the Western direction along the beach for some 250m until I come to the village of San Sok. Can’t miss it. The track is like any other beach track except for the lack of waves to which I’m more accustomed to, whereas this island beach is within the Bay of Thailand and like a flat lake.

Surprisingly, the first building I come to is the Sok San Resort, my resort with a very dilapidated pier. Upon checking in I’m surveying my open-air view to see where my room would be, and I’m at a loss. With broken English the young gentleman welcomed me and ushered me back and across the pathway I previously walked, to a shed lined with asbestos sheeting and one padlocked door. Inside I find 2 double beds, each with mosquito nets and ceiling of old simulated fish nets, ceiling fan and a light bulb. The ensuite was something else with mould on the walls, a toilet pan and a shower head. A saucepan to scoop water from the keg barrel for a cold shower & to flush the toilet. No mirror, vanity or towel rail/ hook. My guide is now telling me I am in the best room. Wow!!

I placed my bags down at the foot of the bed and ventured back to the pier to gather my thoughts when a couple from my ute trip arrived and viewed the other shed room and they voiced their displeasure and continued to find a better room elsewhere. They refused their original accommodation & later returned to mine to say they found a room at the end of the village. They could barely stay the night and will catch the ferry back to a better location and resort in the morning. Sitting out on the café seating looking out at the bay I resigned myself to accept this challenge of the ultimate low of accommodation and test my endurance and go from there. It’s just 3 nights. It is getting darkish so I go to the open counter of Reception to see when I can order some food. I’m told they are only open now to lunch orders and there is nothing here for me.

They direct me to walk down the concrete path as there are other places to eat. After some hesitation of limited choices, I enter a nice-looking traditional large hut with smiling faces. The menu suited me and they could accommodate all my food intake for the next 4 days so what a relief. I notice a very large group of Chinese and they were so rude to the staff and made a terrible mess of the table. Such pigs, & I would encounter them quite often as the days went on and due to this village being quite small. These people even left all their rubbish on the beach sand after swimming, etc.

After dinner, I walked back towards my ‘shed’ in virtual darkness (no direct or street lighting) now realising I’m walking down what would be their ‘main street’. It is a 12-1500mm wide concrete path and dirt track, and you must be awake to the rush of the occasional scooter. Pedestrians are required to jump off the path. The scooters in late afternoon onwards can be ridden by kids as young as 8-10yrs old for there is no police here and there’s no age limit under 80cc. Village huts/ combined restaurants flank both sides of this path. One building is getting a major refurbishment and will be the prime resort of a decent quality when finished (double storey). One wing is completed but the workers are using it for the duration of construction so there’s no chance I could relocate for a better place.

Each night was a task to sleep, for my bed was just a metre from the ‘main street/ path’ and I had strange and very loud & frequent cuckoo noises above my head. It was not a nice sound and I complained to my host but he brushed it aside when he couldn’t answer me. I later found out at my last resort on these islands the noises came from the local Tokay Geckos (lizard), where they can grow to 12” long (300mm) and over 1” (25mm) in diameter, not like our common geckos back home about 3” (75mm) long and 1/3rd of an inch (7mm) diameter.

The next few days I walked the lonely beaches, noticing the vile amount of rubbish and plastics from irresponsible and careless travellers and the serene clear waters of the bay. After much struggling with my host I was able to find out to get the ferry off the island I had to book 24hrs prior and pay in cash; but it was a guess I had to go to the far end of the village to the other pier to arrange this. Lucky, I asked, for the 24hrs is strictly policed for some reason. The young lady at the furthest pier was extremely helpful and spoke very good English and arranged my ferry booking, albeit it would only take me to the pier where I caught the ute originally and book another ferry. What a frustrating find to finally know someone I could communicate well with at the end of my stay that would have been well received earlier.

My resort café (on the pier was the only place WiFi would work), especially after the storm damage to the communications tower on the jungle mountain range; my phone coverage was beyond poor. With my beach walks I became committed to booking my Machu Picchu trek in Peru next April 2019 and contacted my travelling couple I met in Brisbane a few months prior to my Cambodia journey who thoroughly recommended it for me to do. They were excited for me and started a draft itinerary for me to assist in my future journey.

Doing a facebook post I was contacted by a gorgeous Netherlands lady, Ayla I met back in my hometown area of Yamba backpacking who recommended Pura Vita Resort on Koh Rong but unfortunately, I had my itinerary already set. It certainly ticked some boxes and of higher quality when I checked their website so I must recommend this resort.

My 2nd night here, a huge storm evolved and Cambodia certainly get very reactive ones, even in the so-called dry season we are currently in now. I thought my shed would be blown over or smashed that night. Looking out a window, lightning struck a tree about 50m away and I was blinded for a while, so that was enough for me to return to my bed. I became thankful; for I only had one more night to go.

My last night was uneventful which was awesome .. or was I getting conditioned to this environment? Slightly after dawn I had to awake to another alarm to catch the early ferry at the far village pier. I was excited to see my next adventure and was silently praying for improvement; but in the same breath I was so pleased with myself in enduring the last 3 days; albeit, it wasn’t that bad overall. The ferry was on time and it took me back to Koh Toch Beach on the Sth Eastern end of the island where I caught the ute at the end of the furthest pier.

Post blog: I later met a British ex-pat called Adam in Sihanoukville after my island tripping. We talked for about 4hrs straight. He owns & runs Adventure Adam on Koh Rong, Koh Toch Beach, which undertakes all forms of adventure from scuba diving, snorkelling, jungle trekking & almost everything else. It would have been an enormous catchup if I had met up with him earlier and get to see his setup while I was on the island. I strongly recommended to him he write his life story for it would be truly amazing. I must reconnect with him somehow to see if he has started on his epic. A book not to be missed.

My next ferry took me to Saracen Bay Beach on Koh Rong Sanloem (where we first landed 4 days ago) which, again was confusing (Eastern side of the island). My ticket didn’t possess a lot of information but it was a much better pier (central to the village) and I could buy another ferry ticket on the pier to go to my next destination of M’ Pai Bay at 1pm (Central North of the island).  Being about 8.15am, the young man at the counter offered to store my large backpack until the ferry came (on the same pier) at 1pm. With a few hours to kill I walked this more vibrant and popular tourist location and found a great eating place on another pier for brekky. It was perfect and could have stayed there all day.

My next stays will now be on the island of Koh Rong Sanloem starting at M’Pai Bay which means #23 in Cambodian for #23 Pier, and then back to Saracen Bay so I’ll leave you now for the moment until I do my next posts on the above locations.

Thank you again for reading my blogs and I trust you will stay safe, happy & healthy, specially through this COVID-19 pandemic. I always look forward to seeing the feedback so don’t be afraid to comment.

Anzac Day 2020 – Relived at Home

Anzac Day 2020 – Relived at Home

Like most Australians living through this pandemic of COVID-19 we showed our endearing love to our veterans of past wars by awaking at dawn and lighting a candle at the front of our driveway on the morning of 25th April.

I was thrilled to see many of our street neighbours all standing at ease listening to our radio broadcast of a city Anzac Service, along with our neighbour’s son all dressed in his school uniform and playing the Last Post with his clarinet.

To top it off and with perfect timing two WW2 Spitfire planes flew at low level above our estate flown by two veterans who had defied our inept State Govt who banned their fly past but like all veterans, when there is a mission, nothing holds them back. We applauded their defiance and show of their magnificent planes. We stand united with them.

After showing our respect; and sunrise now well into its showcase I walked the 6klms around our estate to see many families congregating in several streets and in compliance to the set social distancing and communicating in good spirits. Several homes still left their candles out, along with their Australian flags, poppies and memorabilia.

Looking into the sunrise, the local junior airstrip had a skydiver parachuting downwards with a giant Australian Flag suspending from his ankle. A magnificent sight and very pleased they had co-ordinated this event.

Another reason for doing this blog was to show you all a tremendous salute to our fallen local soldiers of WW1 that is currently being painted on the estate side of the noise barrier off Exit 45 on the M1 at Ormeau on Creek St opposite Reedmans Rd Reserve (ex-Pacific Hwy). My post and no doubt the mural coincides with the recent 75th anniversary of WW2 surrender of Germany & Japan on 8th May this year.

A local group is delivering on a grant to paint this giant mural of some 150m long on the metal sound barrier with portraits of the 7 local soldiers that never returned in WW1. These soldiers’ names are from the local cenotaph (Empty Tomb) at the Southern overpass (Mirambeena Dr) still called Exit 45 (Service Rd) which is well-known with a soldier statue located at the Pimpama Cemetery and Uniting Church. Each year the Anzac service grows in volume due to the housing boom in this area. The annual Anzac Day commemoration is extra special here and enjoyed at the completion with a coffee/ tea and cake/ pikelets, biscuits (everything home-made) in the church hall at the rear of the church put on by the Anzac Committee for a gold coin donation. To learn more about these local legends and their history there are several posts compiled in the Pimpama & Ormeau War Memorial Committee Facebook page.

This Cenotaph was built in 1919 and is heritage listed. It was moved in the 1990s further into the cemetery when the old Pacific Hwy was widened before the M1 construction. The photo is courtesy of Cal Mackinnon. It was well-known as the halfway point travelling between Brisbane & the Gold Coast and children would salute the soldier as their parents drove past.

The 7 soldiers were all Privates in the army. The Stewarts were all brothers; so that’s a massive tragedy for one family to bear. This mural shows actual faces with their names scribed below each portrait which is monumental in showing the faces of true local legends that paid the ultimate price for our freedoms. The mural clearly displays the local lifestyle and commerce in that period along with the Uniting Church in its current and yet, original form.

John W Peachey

Percival T James

Robert Stewart

William Stewart

George Stewart

David Wilkie

William Williamson

This mural is yet to be completed but it’s really taking shape and will be ready for this year’s Remembrance Day on 11am 11th November 2020. I don’t know who this group of painters are but they are doing a superb job and look forward to its completion. Every time we head South along Creek St to do our food shopping at Helensvale, we take notice of the progress. Unfortunately, there’s little safe area to stop and view it more closely so I might have to include this in my estate walks as a safer option.

We Will Remember Them … Lest We Forget

I trust you have enjoyed this local story and many thanks for reading my blogs. Stay safe, happy & healthy.

Summary of My International Travel 2018 – Part 5 Sihanoukville – Cambodia

Summary of My International Travel 2018 – Part 5 Sihanoukville – Cambodia

Please refer to my earlier blog called ‘Cambodia Sihanoukville – A Seaside Paradise Lost 2018’

With my upcoming return to Phnom Penh at some point I believe I will also return to the Billabong Hostel seeing how it had ticked all my boxes. Today is Sunday, and I was excited to awake to an alarm .. go figure!! (Dislike alarms). Hate is such a drastic hurtful thing .. so now I use dislike. Alarm done … everything sorted, yes .. I showered and cleaned my teeth, checked out so easily and the tut-tut had me at the station in time for the 7am train departure to Sihanoukville on the West Coast. I walked straight onto the platform and the train wasn’t that long in length. A rather quaint setup with one caboose car, 2 carriages loaded with cars and motorcycles, a diesel generator carriage, 2 passenger carriages and the diesel locomotive. Not much time to do a further inspection so I quickly found a spare seat at the rear of one carriage on the right side and it had a rack for my 2 backpacks. Awesome!! The air conditioner was just above my rack. I was not expecting any air conditioning. Bonus. Not long, every seat was taken .. we are on our way. Definitely the only Australian on this train.

After about 1klm West, we enter a tunnel for some 500metres surprisingly (the land is so flat for the entire city and surrounds) and then we enter the few kilometres of lower economic city dwellings where it is such a narrow corridor between rows of houses. Reaching out with hands I could almost touch the roofs on both sides. Can’t believe, these rear of houses, are so close to the tracks, so I’m thankful the speed of this train is respectfully slowed at about 15klms/hr. It was amazing to see so many residents on their rear verandahs in their nightwear unashamedly out in the open for all of us to see, stretching and yawning to the awakened new day. Young children washing themselves in the nude. This is real life and culture .. right in view. I hope I was being discreet in taking all this neighbourhood culture coming to life. No photographs taken of course, respecting everyone’s privacy.

In taking a long curve we are heading South through the outer suburbs with speed climbing to a whopping 60klms/hour (sarcasm). At some point we will be heading generally West and now see why it is a 7hour trip. With the train schedule to Sihanoukville set at 3 times per week (every 2nd day) is because the track is single only all the way however, we do 2 sidings where we pull over for about 5-10mins at a time to allow the commercial and freight trains to pass by, we then rejoin the main track again. At each siding there is a toilet, coin donation and mostly for women on the platform. The men usually wait to the last minute and jump the train to the right side for ablutions over the main track before the train departs. What a view … and again, no photographs!!!! 😊

At one platform-stop waiting for a freight train to pass, a Cambodian woman turned around from her bench seat in front of me and made conversation to other strangers in Khmer language. As she spoke, she handed me a large slice of mango she was professionally slicing up. Her eyes were glowing with kindness. I was totally blown away with such generosity, smiles and care of another human. Huge smiles abounded by everyone and my English of “thank you” and my praying hands was well received also. That was lunch for me and she declined my energy bars in return but understand why … Western processed food of sorts. BTW, I’m not a person that wears sunglasses when I’m in a close communal setting. Seeing eyes is a sign of respect for me and a way of silent communication (transparency, if you like) so it may have helped the lady in sharing a mango. Just my thought.

The landscape for almost the entire journey is much the same, dried out rice fields (rainy season almost 2 months away), low standard cattle pastures, farm houses with their own cemeteries and religious monuments close mainly to the railway boundary, mountains and hillsides in the distance all in parallel to the tracks it seems. It is so dry and nothing much for crops, etc for it is a normal average of 39°C and dry humidity. Can I tell you the most frustrating and annoying part of this trip? The continuous track sound whilst repetitive, is acceptable as a train journey and to be expected however, at each crossing whether it be a goat track, road or anything that resembles a crossing the train blows its warning ‘horn’. It is the sound of a ‘cow in pain’ searching for its lost calf. Believe me, by the time we reached Sihanoukville it must have sounded at least 200 times, no kidding and very LOUD! There is no real option but to keep my eyes open and enjoy the sounds and views … mini naps at best is all that can be achieved, until the next crossing.

Finally, in about the 6th hour, the landscape changed to a leafier treescape set in between hills. We were travelling into a series of valleys with a bit of jungle both sides, then around a large sweeping bend, a harbour of sorts and then the final stop at the station platform. The port and train station are located in the NW of Sihanoukville so my first lodging base is not much further from the station. I have not seen a carriage departure this fast from a train since the New York subway. By the time I latched on my backpacks and stumbled out every tut-tut was gone and only a couple of scooters left. No doubt I am left paying top dollar as it is too far to walk to my hotel and the cheapest fare, I could get was $10USD. Ripped off!!! $2USD was the accepted fare rate for the distance needed. “Not happy Jan”!! (An Australian saying from a well-known TV add). Somehow the rider fitted my large backpack on and with me on the back we headed off for just a few kilometres.

Basically, the first suburb (Phum Bei District) is where my first 2 weeks accommodation is placed in good faith, called the Diver’s Inc Hotel situated on Victory Hill. On first sight, it certainly isn’t much with the reception area at the side of the small carpark with tables and chairs had-hoc which is also the in-house bar. My first stumble is checking in. I’m now required to pay up front in $USD which was not in the conditions of booking in advance. Using my ‘Australian language skills’ I managed to get a few days grace in which to visit a bank thus allowing me to get some credence to this establishment, especially when 2 weeks is involved. My room was downstairs straight off the carpark (hotel built onto a steep slope) with only 1 window looking out to a neighbour’s back yard (restaurant) that one should only look once. So overgrown and rubbish everywhere. My room had an ensuite, and the room/ bed allowed adequate sleep so can’t complain too much. There was a kettle, some coffee & tea so that helped a little after buying some muesli for brekky. The pool was further down some more stairs from my room level and was barren to look at, but peaceful, I guess with construction noises not far away. I swam in it once on my first day but a tiny scratch on my foot soon became infected fast so no more swimming for me. The hotel reception didn’t take my pool comment at all, so at least I know where I stand now and certainly took my time going to the bank. My first -aid kit worked very well again.

My ex-GF, Dale back in Australia, spoke often about the Queenco Hotel & Casino on Mlop Chrey Beach as a place to hang out in style and peace, so this was my first day venture out. It was a 500m walk around and down the hill and I was hounded by tut-tuts the entire way. I had my day pack on and walked against the traffic so I could see what was coming at me .. but I quickly learnt from Phnom Penh, etc that it is not a given. The Casino and restaurant area is very nice and comfortable. The hotel & gym are now located across the road in a very large white building. Inside the casino and foyer area was very quiet but every customer in the bar/ outside dining area were Chinese but the staff mostly Cambodians who were very welcoming. It looked very upmarket so I was hesitant to the menu for lunch however all up, the lunch with a beer was $7USD so really can’t complain. I found a spare beach table to sit for a while and take in the view of the bay, mostly just watching the lapping water and floating pier. The pool behind me was in full swing with so many Chinese occupying the area. Some hours had passed before I ‘forced’ myself to venture back to my hotel. Back into the hotel I managed to sort out Skype on my laptop, so I face-talked to my daughter, Kate & Son-in-law Jason for a heartfelt family catchup. Such a heart-warming experience.

The next day, I returned to Queenco, and upon entering the carpark, I stood and watched workers placing a large volume of new solar panels onto the casino’s steep roof. My construction work history kicks in whenever I see renovation or redevelopment. I kept looking at their unsafe work practices and seeing how they appeared to be monkeys scrambling all over the roof. While I was observing, a pat on the shoulder startled me a little. A Canadian man, Paul introduced himself and wanted me to join him in the bar area overlooking the bay (Gulf of Thailand)/ ocean.

Paul, about 40ish, spends 6months here and returns to Canada and works 6months there, and has been doing this for more years than he can remember. We sit on a high table looking straight out to the bay. He orders a double bourbon and coke. I chose mango juice (9am now). We spoke for hours and he said it was the best conversation he has had for decades. Yeah .. sure, but we did speak on many subjects and I wasn’t bored either. The staff knew him very well, ordering his 5th serving of bourbon before leaving. Paul had been here for a month into his 6mth ‘sabbatical’. Walking out, I passed an immaculate Rolls Royce near the front door with Paul calling it the Chinese Tut-Tut taking Chinese around the city, etc. I later found out; he wasn’t kidding.

For the next 2 hours Paul organised a regular tut-tut to show me around Sihanoukville. We covered some areas along the coastline, apparently all the way down to Otres 1 & Otres 2 beach areas. Paul raced into a local humpy shop & brought out 4 cans of beer to which he drank in a real hurry. At the last beer can he saw a woman he knew at Otres 2, so I found myself deserted in the tut-tut. We were a long way from my hotel but the driver got me back there alright except for the fare which required a bit of negotiation. Suffice to say, it was still a good day and wising up to the anomalies of Sihanoukville and how Chinese throw money around whereas backpackers and the like are understandably frugal with their money.

The next day I returned to the Casino for a late brekky only to find Paul at his table again with his bourbon. We again, spoke for a while, including the tut-tut fare yesterday with no result for me. Paul said he has booked a flight to Thailand now as he could not stand staying in Sihanoukville for much longer. It was no longer his escape haven. After our catchup it was the last, I would see of Paul, so I hope he is OK and dealing with life the best he can. For the next few days, I would walk everywhere, again with tut-tuts hounding me for a fare. I wanted to keep my fitness and had no direct place to see. My walks uncovered all facets of local life and the enormous volumes of demolition and construction everywhere. Local creeks ‘flooded’ with all kinds of rubbish (packaging waste mostly), footpaths, what’s left of them full of construction materials, generators, rubbish leaving virtually only the roadway to walk upon. I’m confused on Dale’s description of paradise here with so much destruction and construction staring me in the face.

I could write volumes of what I encountered here in Sihanoukville so I’ll leave you to refer to one of my earliest blogs; Cambodia Sihanoukville – A Seaside Paradise Lost 2018. Long story short, Sihanoukville since approx. 2016 has been invaded by Chinese developers building some 40+ high-end casinos bringing the total of casinos to approx. 87 or so come mid-2019. Tourism stats show since 2015 a 704% increase in ‘tourists’ generally which would also include volumes of Chinese workers, gamblers and the like. A 37% increase each year, year over year … No other word but .. Invasion. The city already had a regional population of approx. 900K with little infrastructure. 

For dinner, I would walk up to the corner from Divers Hotel past my well used family laundry (beautiful people and only $2USD each time for washing and folding) to a corner restaurant. Usually the meal with a beer would be around $4USD. I sat there each time watching a young mother and child with the Grandmother run a little humpy shop. They were always open, well into the night. One early evening I sat at the restaurant watching the humpy shop family pack everything up into a cart in very fast fashion and leaving. I was quite saddened with what I was seeing. Behind the shop was a vacant overrun part demolished land. A bit of a mess really. The next morning, I saw machines on the vacant block clearing everything in sight including the humpy shop. It was horrible but looking up the smaller street I saw a new metal cladded ‘shed’ at the edge of the block. The family had already shifted in and selling goods. What a pleasing surprise. They were so happy & myself so relieved. Things change fast in this city and with little or no warning. I’m not sure how long the family will trade out of this new ‘shack’ with things constantly changing around them.

One day I thought I would venture further into the CBD heart of this city purely as a walking marathon heading towards Independence Park on Ekareach Street 100, near the Post Office. It is the main street with access all the way down to the ever-stretching CBD. It was quite a challenge in the heat with the first obstacle being to cross a busy 2-lane roundabout. Most main roundabouts have nature symbols in their centres and this one had large sculptures of twin blue dolphins. Somehow and using my skill of survival I cross in between trucks, cars, tut-tuts and scooters and noting pedestrians are not usually seen walking in this area. As I progress closer to the CBD, I walk past so much demolition, construction and rubbish filled canals/ streams with the noise, dust and constant moving of people, etc like ants all going along in their daily activities. I walk along footpaths until a road passage is required to get around the mess and storage the footpaths are used for. I’m taking in all the places I may need in the future, the shops, telcos, markets and the like. This is quite a walk with a view to the consistency of demolition and construction and haphazard safety practices. Basically 1 in 3 premises were either being demolished, renovated or built.

Post blog: The building photo shows a typical block construction. This type of about 7 floors collapsed in June 2019 killing 28 workers and injured 26 at around 6am. The workers usually live & sleep on the first floor while they construct the building. Most workers were asleep at the time. After this tragedy the owner and builders were imprisoned and then the Cambodian authorities condemned approx. 20 new constructions and were ultimately demolished.

There is nothing else that stands out in view so I’ll soldier on in the hope something will come along around the bend. Where the constructions start again, each premises were forced to have generators out the front to handle the all too frequent power outages so you get a mouthful of fumes occasionally walking past. This main street is virtually a crooked ‘L’ shape overall so now I head along the shorter leg where the CBD appears to end slightly and Google Maps indicates a beach and pier in about 2klms (already done 3+)! I’m in need of a good watering hole with my water getting low.

In the distance I can see a huge roundabout ahead full of shining gold but nothing in focus as yet so my step speed increases as I go past a large school with what appears to be a combined primary and secondary school in redevelopment and numerous large, older casinos in operation almost neighbours to the school. This golden glow confirms I have landed upon Sihanoukville’s major and most famous tourist location, the Golden Lions within a very large roundabout to the intersecting of 5 streets. Built in 1996, these 2 lions are huge, with the male lion in a roar stance standing over his becalmed lioness. The main theory of such a monument is to portray the over-coming strength of the Cambodian people to the insidious Khmer Rouge tyranny ending in 1975 with the male lion showing strength and bravery and the lioness showing calmness and loyalty while they in a safe harbour while a male is around in protection.

After taking in these impressive lions, I again, use my skills to cross and evade the free-for-all traffic on the roundabout, excessively more than the last one and it does take bravery and timing of the first steps forward. Don’t stop or swerve .. just keep walking to the same tempo … and don’t make eye contact .. they will avoid you at all cost. Concrete trucks have a different rule I think.

Walking up the short hill of Ochheuteal St 500 I take note of more hotels, backpacker lodges and what services are available, as this appears to be a better part of the city to base myself. My immediate priority is the Serendipity Beach & Pier where I see the calm bay, dead-end traffic, numerous tut-tuts and so many backpackers coming off the pier from ferries. A few are very sunburnt. I take a 10minute breather to take in the fresh salt air (no construction dust or smell) and the activities along the extended beach (Ochheuteal Beach) to the South which takes you to Otres 1 & 2. The immediate North is a headland type setting and thick with vegetation so I’ll check that out another day. For now, I’ll just people watch and see what unfolds. I note a lot of backpackers are using a popular ferry shop (Speedie Ferry) to buy tickets to the islands just off the coast (Koh Rong & Koh Rong Sanloem are the main islands). I’ll keep this in mind for the coming future. There are several ferry places to buy tickets but I’m feeling more confident to this popular one.

At the start of the pier there is a restaurant, Yasmine, where I can get a $1USD schooner of beer and a table next to the window to continue my people watching. The staff are superb and friendly, yet some of their customers are withdrawn and non-inclusive to others. It is well occupied by backpackers (eating mostly pizzas) while waiting for their ferry or to eat & drink straight after alighting. Thoroughly enjoyed this setting and after 2 beers started to head back up the street. Tut-tut operators hounded me, and mystified as to why I’m not taking up their services. I’m not ready to go ‘home’ yet.

Reaching the top of the hill I find a great little supermarket which had some breakfast food I could eat in my unit plus some health drinks for later. I’ll be coming here more often. Almost next door is a sound of popular rock and it’s drawing me in so passing the gravel entry past tables it is a large shed with large sport TVs, a bar and café with backpacker accommodation at the rear. This place is called the Big Easy and it certainly became my hang out base almost every day. Met a fellow Australian behind the bar, Adam and we connected immediately. He grew up in Lennox Head NSW not far from my hometown and has been away for several years and liked Sihanoukville so much he stayed. Apart from backpackers there were International teachers, massage ladies and beer drinking travellers catching up there so again, lots of people watching and talking when the opportunity arises.

I spent 2 weeks at Divers Hotel on Victory Hill but I frequently based my days at The Big Easy and I felt at home here with great staff, although I wouldn’t employ young male Cambodians as the ladies are more switched on, courteous and professional whereas the males are just pure lazy looking at their phones constantly. Across the road, Adam told me the travel agent will assist in extending my passport for 6months with unlimited fly in/ fly outs for the standard fee of $55USD. I was apprehensive in having to hand over my passport for 10 solid days awaiting approval but there is no other way and it does take 10 days. Gulp! When I landed in Siem Reap I applied for the Business Visa ($35USD) in lieu of the Tourist Visa for an extra $5USD so that I could extend my visa to the 6month limit whereas the tourist one you cannot extend and it only lasts 30days.

The Big Easy is one of the last remaining backpacker and night places in this district and they’re all becoming extinct. The Chinese dislike these establishments and International travellers and quickly buy them out and destruct mostly. One large place across the road has already been demolished for about 12mths with no redevelopment expected. Even along Ochheuteal Beach, adjacent to the Serendipity Pier the Chinese have demolished the very large market on the coastline and leaving it as a tip of rubbish and wasteland of approx. 130m x 60m. The villagers are severely depressed on this vandalism and the loss of property to make their income. Remember, I call the Chinese criminal invaders and here is the absolute proof!

A few doors down from the Big Easy is the Monkey Republic which is another backpacker establishment, however both these places were full up due to their great premises and scarcity of backpacker accommodation, so I had to rethink my non-itinerary scenario. I noticed a long- and well-established Mick & Craig’s Hotel a bit closer to the Golden Lions and it looks to be adequate and affordable however with my fast approaching checkout day of Divers Hotel I took Adam’s advice to see the main islands, starting with Koh Rong. In buying a ferry ticket and return I was able to book 8days doing the islands tripping and then another minimum 4weeks at Mick & Craig’s Hotel after, until I can see further into the future. While I’m away my extended visa will be processed as well. The island tripping can be awkward if you don’t take lots of cash as the internet is restrictive and most places don’t have card facilities and there are almost no ATMs.

A bit of advice I shouldn’t have taken from Adam was to seek out the most non-tourist location. I chose Sok San Village as my first stop based upon the internet pics and comments. My next blog, Part 6, will advise how this went and will take you to both major islands before returning to Sihanoukville.

Many thanks for reading my blogs and I look forward to any comments/ feedback. Stay happy, healthy & safe.

Summary of My International Travel 2018 – Part 4 Phnom Penh – Cambodia

Summary of My International Travel 2018 – Part 4 – Phnom Penh – Cambodia

April 2018 – Staying at the Lumiere Hotel, 228 Samdech Mongkol lem St under my now completed 8day tour itinerary, it was a little above my travel budget even at 4 star (stretching my money as far as possible now due to no further income) so I searched for a good location for future sightseeing, etc and a few accommodation stars less than this upmarket hotel. I’m going to miss the views and the luxury. I found a bonus not far from the hotel called the Billabong Hostel in #158 Oknha Truong Cang St, one with private rooms, pool, bar & in-house food closer to the CBD. Most good accommodation places have tut-tuts congregating immediately outside so it was a very quick commute to this hostel.

Billabong Hostel had a few rules for some of the 80 or so stayers; No outside food & drink allowed, only their canteen in-house food and drink served from the pool deck area. Their menu for all meals were rather limited, plus it was mandatory for travellers over 40 to stay in private rooms, not the dorms. Missed that by 2 decades .. LOL!!! Pool deck made up for the disassociation though but surprisingly most of the younger travellers stayed in their groups and provided barriers even when good morning, etc were expressed. This hostel is very popular and has a good setup and provided a cosy atmosphere with lounge areas and a good-sized pool deck and chairs. They offered off site laundry and delivery plus anything else you required. An efficient Reception that sorted everything for you. Even a computer and printer in the communal lounge. I was very confident and safe here to help digest and address the travesty of the last few days with the Khmer Rouge consciously on my mind.

Phnom Penh, being a capital city didn’t inspire me too much although the sheer volume of scooters was certainly an eye-opener! I Googled a few websites for things to see and do in Phnom Penh but very little came to provide clear inspiration, so my opinion of a large city didn’t sway and yes, possibly the emotional axe of the previous few days was still operational within my body and mind. I came to the conclusion I would most probably return to Phnom Penh at some point when I would be leaving Cambodia so I would most likely see more of the city then. My mind was more driven on getting to Dale’s (ex-GF) beloved Sihanoukville (backpackers heaven) believing that would be a better place for me knowing of the stories she frequently raved about. Hence, I took a tut-tut the next day after the tour towards the older city ‘centre’ and particularly the railway station to book my ticket to Sihanoukville. I was told the train is far better than a bus. Safer and more relaxing.

Your first tut-tut ride in Phnom Penh is a rush, weaving in any man’s language through the ‘vines’ of scooter mayhem. Fumes are another thing when lined up at the traffic lights .. I am now seeing passengers and riders with all types of masks but they are not in the majority but I now wished I had a mask. Cough!!!! A brief 10minutes and I was dropped off at the Bayon Markets where it is the best spot for a tut-tut operator to get another fare so I was happy with that and it is the main daily focus for many Cambodians. The markets cater for anything you could imagine, such as fish, eels, meat, chicken, pigs, fruit, vegies, clothing, bags, shoes, jewellery and so much more.

My tut-tut driver pointed to ‘across the road’ to a large white building, very elaborate and somewhat historical, for that is the railway station. I was a little confused for it was ‘across the road’ but a long way down its own road and roundabout (old Buddha Stupa) and some buildings and other structures were neighbours to each end of this white building so where are the train tracks/ trains/ platform? Once I entered the building, I noticed the tracks were running 90° to the building and the station was definitely the end of the line, literally. A train unable to stop would plough through this building. I bought my Sihanoukville ticket from an English-speaking Cambodian young lady in the ticket booth who was so helpful. The train to Sihanoukville operates only 3 trips per week so mine will depart 7am on Sunday; today being Friday 13th April. The trip will be 7hrs non-stop and only cost $8USD .. so cheap.

Happy now with my ticket I saunted back to the markets and roamed about every aisle looking at everything on show. This place is so busy and very little room to manoeuvre and it was difficult to be polite and give way (as I do), as there was no curtesy provided by anyone. A sense everyone was walking through you in a pending emergency. I found an exit and began walking around a large perimeter of city blocks to take in whatever it brings and still not expecting much. The closest and most surprising building to definitely investigate is the Vattanac Capital, being the supreme high-rise structure in this city area. It won the architectural award in 2012 and then other awards followed. Exclusive areas throughout, such as a hotel, commercial offices, shops (Jimmy Choo – shoes), restaurants and bars placed at the top level and viewing platform. There was limited access today with some shops being fitted out and close to their holiday week.

There are quite a few of new structures standing out in this area so my walking became a marathon. Another city block and I came across the famous Raffles Hotel and just its street appearance seemed well above my budget and offered certainly the high-end market. Not far from this awesome hotel was the Embassy of the United States (looked like almost an entire city block actually). It was so impressive from the street view looking through the security gates and darkened glass. I dare not take a photo .. stay chilled Brian, I’m sure they are looking at you. Lots of security guards and all types of typical black vehicles you see on tv. It certainly portrayed power and professionalism.

With my larger perimeter walk I came across Wat Phnom again from the last tour day. It is a Buddhist temple (built 1372 & 27m high) which is located on the only Phnom Penh hill surrounded by major city roads like a huge roundabout. Today, their Easter & New Year Festival is in full swing and it is so crowded and very little space to walk. The cheering sounds of so many people plus the loudspeakers is insane in volume. So many families enjoying all the events and picnics. Everything seems so random and I’m sure there will be lots of parents and children sleeping well tonight. I did not pay the entrance fee as I could see plenty through the pool type screen fencing plus how could I fit into the squeeze of limited spaces? I walked around the circuit to see lots of the activities, dancing, juggling, limbo dancing, coits (Australian name given for throwing a woven ring to land on a raised short pole from a 2m distance) and so much more.

Moving on, I walked the streets and for some reason I seemed to be walking in circles .. Google Maps was certainly challenging me, cutting in and out and then resetting to another direction. So frustrating. I walked past a shop front showing a range of luxury cars selling Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Rolls Royce, etc .. so high-end, and in a country struggling to look after itself; so, who is buying these? I suspect Chinese only by what I am seeing within the show floor .. you could smell their money and it was so obscene to see them driving around the city in the vision of being called invaders with these luxurious chariots. The cost of one car could do so much for families here. It is upsetting to see such insane wealth and so brazen too.

Later, I eventually stumbled on the Central Market and isn’t this the biggest marketplace you’ve ever seen? So much to take in and a good chance of getting lost inside, so huge and busy as anything. It is all placed under a starfish type roof structure. Stumbling around now for hours I was ready to wind back beside the pool at the hostel with a cold beer .. or two. Not so far to walk now back to the hostel, so it was well timed. Once at the poolside I was feeling much better and gaining strength to fully overcome my ‘Cambodian Belly’ but still kept out of the pool. I found more communication with the Day Manager, Janny. She was really switched on in running the hostel and she thoroughly enjoyed my journey stories to date. It was great to have a conversation and especially better than the ones I have been having with myself for days now. Janny had always wished to travel and she hung on my every word.

The next day, Saturday, I stuck to the same walk around routine but this time I chose no tut-tut and trusted my feet to see the real culture of normal streets up close. Every house and shop front past were teeming with action and so many diverse products to sell, or services provided. Constant voices seem to be echoing off the walls. Even footpaths were taken up with merchandise so only the road was left to venture upon. Speaking of footpaths; the closer I came into the CBD area with traffic lights incorporating pedestrian crossings I would be standing at the kerb ready to walk and it was quite unnerving to have, say 10-20 scooters lined up directly behind me ready to hit the throttle. Pedestrians are barely tolerated here it seems and footpaths are part of the ‘roadway’. My Google Maps still played up and continued my frustrations. The amount of time wasted sometimes walking over the same traffic routes.

Google Maps shows an extremely large ‘waste’ area to the West of the old CBD. My research found that a few years ago a rich Cambodian woman owned this section and it was a large lake which was unkept and resembled a swamp apparently. Chinese developers bought this from her and criminally filled it in rather than clean it up and make it a city lung and peace place. Criminal, no other words for it in my book. Every city would kill to have a lake within its CBD boundaries. This was reaffirmed later when I visited Hanoi in Vietnam (a few blogs to go yet).

 It never dawned on me to seek out the Australian Embassy to see how our country is presented. Obviously, it would not be as impressive as the US Embassy but Google Maps shows it as a relatively new building not far from the Royal Palace on the Eastern side of the city. Post blog: I wished that I had ventured that way as it would have pointed me in a much better direction of the city where new development is progressing fast and incorporating better town planning. Overall, this day presented nothing much to see and/ or report, except for the sheer volume of scooters that never let up. Catching up with Janny and the pool area/ backpackers and night beers was a good stimulus before early bed. Thank God Janny reminded me last minute of my incoming laundry. Such a professional job and all folded perfectly at $4USD. This was 80% of my clothing so I could not afford to lose them. My backpacks feel so much better now, fully packed ready for tomorrow’s train trip to Sihanoukville. Like all my early morning departures and with the alarm set I become a much lighter sleeper and an early bed never seems to work.

Apologies, for the light material in this blog but in my defence, I was recovering physically from my ‘Cambodian Belly’ plus mentally on the Killing fields and S21 Prison. I trust you will stay tune for Part 5 coming soon. Thanks again for reading and look forward to any feedback that may be forthcoming. To date I have received a few comments and these have provided some gratification and clarification, so please keep these coming.

Please stay safe and healthy during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Summary of My International Travel 2018 – Part 3 Battambang and Phnom Penh – Cambodia

Summary of My International Travel 2018

Part 3 – Battambang and Phnom Penh – Cambodia

Following from my Part 2 Blog of Siem Reap, my 8 day tour guides Sun (Guide), John (Driver) & I left the floating village of Tonle Sap Lake and headed towards the Cambodian North Western city of Battambang (Battum .. bung) along the central highway incorporating some 3 hours drive (a long loop connection road). Of course, we participated in the appearance of a free-for-all driving manners and staying in the ‘rules’ of traffic manoeuvrers. Within every kilometre I lost count of how many different modes of transport and what each was carrying. Everyone and everything used this highway. Humans, roaming and herded animals, buses, trucks, scooters, bicycles all doing their different speeds. Prayed everyone was using their utmost concentration.

From all the different modes of transport as outlined above, Sun pointed out the ‘Chinese Cow’ along the way and there were so many of them. They are hard to describe. A mini tractor of sorts with only one set of wheels and long steering bars that towed all kinds of trailers and machinery. They are used everywhere, from transport to ploughing. Sun explained the machinery originally came from China and quickly replaced their dependence upon cows, bulls, oxen and elephants, hence “Chinese Cow”. They transported loads of caged or harnessed animals, timber, roofing iron, lucerne/ hay, bricks .. just about anything and there appeared to be no load limits either. 

Arriving in Battambang (Cambodia’s Rice Food Bowl region) at mid-day (population 200,000), John dropped me off at the Battambang Resort tucked away at the edge of town on a very dusty road amongst paddocks. There are no options of doing any sightseeing walking due to the surrounding wilderness solely of paddocks. The staff greeted me immediately with a mango juice drink and a light lunch in their café, beside the pool prior to being escorted to my private Lake 14 bungalow to unwind. The pathway was not conducive to open walking as you had winding stepping stones, low hanging vines and overgrown gardens. If you had suitcases you would be required to carry them the entire way. A half hour later I was provided a fantastic private massage for just $5USD. Totally relaxed now. The bungalow was very unique with a circular central bathroom and shower, a king-sized bed looking out at the pool and the wandering geese that took a liking to my bedroom window. Perverted geese.

Late afternoon, Sun & John picked me up for a 1hour drive to visit the bat cave below the temple of Prasat Bannon. Tourists were lined along the tiny roadway, next to a cemetery and local stalls selling all types of snacks, drinks and cooked insects (Spiders, ants, etc). My appetite escaped me promptly. As darkness drew, miniature bats started out from a tiny cave opening just above the roadway. The bats soon numbered in their millions and it takes some 30+ minutes for all of the adults to stream out. The young obviously stay within the cave until old enough. They are known to travel some 50klms each night and provide great insect control to the rice production in the fields. Time escaped us to venture to the temple of Prasat Bannon above so it was back to the resort for dinner and much needed sleep.

Waking up the next morning I felt quite ill with severe Gastro. Not sure if I obtained this from the resort or from the café on the way to Battambang. Gastro is usually from lettuce or tomatoes, etc where salads are washed in bad water. I have taken my drinking water in bottles, never tap water so I’m blaming something I ate. Luckily, I had my added first aid supplies with hydration tablets and diarrhea tablets. I doubled dosed initially considering the tour must proceed at the correct pace even though my strength has almost totally deserted me. So drained.

Today, Monday was my free day to wander around Battambang for site seeing but I was certainly not up to this. I retreated to the hotel, my bungalow and surrounds for the day. I took a meandering walk around the pond and overgrown gardens and wound up back at the pool for a sunny deck chair. You would think that would be relaxing but a close neighbouring temple had been using their loudspeakers ‘celebrating’ their worship and some sort of chanting ALL day long. To be honest, if I closed my eyes, I could believe I was at the races. Chanting was like a race call and very loud. Don’t know who won? LOL!!! It was sad it was a nothing day so caught up with my journal and tried to get well.

Tuesday, fully dosed up again I was packed and ready for Sun & John who were both upset of my new illness and seemed to take it personally. Once I showed them the normal Aussie way of dealing with things, they became more relaxed but they made sure I was taken the best of care of. Such gentlemen. Breakfast was mostly my favourite mango juice and toast (stale like bread with 10seconds in the toaster I think) and lots of jam. Food intake on hold after that.

Our first stop was the temple of Wat Ek Phnom. The old temple is quite small (1100AD) and severely damaged and looted over the centuries. The new temple setup adjacent shows more restoration and an enclosure to store statues, ornaments, etc. It is about 10klms North of Battambang so we had to backtrack South after this site towards Phnom Penh. We didn’t spend a lot of time here due to the timeframe ahead of us and that includes returning South 23klms from Battambang to Prasat Banan for the temple viewing.

Prasat Bannon Temple is an 11th century structure with 5 huge stone towers with the central one being the highest. To get there, plus to see the surrounding view of villages and pastures you must gain your stamina to climb the insane 358 stone steps flanked either side by nagas (dragons) to a height of some 400metres. The optimum word here is “INSANE”! Each step is approx. 400-450mm high with no relief until you get to what I call ‘Level 1’ … let’s say, 300+ steps, where there is a woman selling drinks and snacks out of an esky and a table. That was my Mt Everest … could not go any further .. so drained. I watched the 2 small boys (around 8 & 9years) interact with their mother after they climbed with me carrying a very large block of ice between them all the way up to their Mother’s esky. Can’t see how they can do this ice delivery every day (twice) for Mum to sell drinks and ice creams, etc. Their world was full of happiness. As I sat there ‘recovering’ I looked down at the mountain of steps to see a small group of New Zealanders all struggling too but their language was far more colourful and not really suited to a temple viewing, cursing EVERY step and this continued on their downward journey too! They were very heat drained and not looking good. The most insane temple steps encountered. Sadly, I was not able to see the temple and its 5 towers, nor the country views.

Finally, I managed to return to the van where John had my cold face towel and more cold water. I could hear the towel singe steam off my face! Such a relief! Sun broke up the several hours drive to Phnom Penh with some stopovers and the most surprising one was a small pottery factory off the highway run by 3 families. Such sad living conditions but everyone was very happy even though their pottery market was struggling more each day. They generally make the clay fired bricks and pots for the traditional Cambodian fired stoves however, the population is becoming more electrically and stainless-steel savvy in their cooking requirements. The men were all sitting around a work table having their morning break when out from around the corner I saw a couple of young children being coy (seeing a strange Aussie certainly) so I gave them a colouring-in book & pencils out of my backpack. All of a sudden, I was swamped with children from the property house some 50m away (all 3 families live together in this one standard house). They all had huge smiles & much laughter/ cheering. I managed to have the exact amount of books & pencils. 14 sets in all went in 30 seconds. So many young children and the mothers could not stop smiling and seeing the kids show some pages to them with excitement. I finally was rid of the 6kgs of extra weight in my backpack. Whew!!! Not one of the family’s members could speak English so Sun translated. They were immensely grateful, bowing heads and hands in prayer mode numerous times however their smiles alone were enough for me. Sun was also grateful that I gave him one set for his nephew living back in Siem Reap.

Back onto the highway the construction works started and the traffic congestion increased by manoeuvring in and around the roadworks. China is investing in the Belt and Road Funding where they are upgrading the highway to a super highway and a rail line alongside that will allow both to cross the open lands of Cambodia and enter into Thailand in the North. The project is huge but there appears a major lack in proper Project Management, not to mention safety. China is putting Cambodia into severe debt that they won’t be able to recover from. I was to find out later how much invasion China has inflicted upon Cambodia to the detriment of the country every passing day.

Our last stop before we get to Phnom Penh is an historical town of Oudong (40klms NW of the city) where we visit the mountain, Phnom Oudong. Here we find a temple with ancient steps but seems to be to today’s acceptable standard. These steps I can manage and notice my strength is returning. Yay!!! The temple is in very good condition and the surrounding landscape view is a sight well received. Looking down you can see the royal residence and Oudong was the capital of Cambodia for some 250 years until the 1850s and where Khmer Rouge first took hold in the early 1970s. The details of the temple carvings and walls are beyond belief. Such artistry. I was not allowed entrance into the temple. A sacred day I believe.

Nearing Phnom Penh you can feel the population swarm towards and envelope you with larger highways, traffic bedlam and horn blowing, scooters too many to count but they say around 7 Million (almost matching the population) and a cluster of high-rise buildings marking the CBD area. Winding through the convoluting narrow streets, not knowing which was North, South, East or West we came to an abrupt stop at a paved area where two valets met us operating out front of the Lumiere Hotel – 4star, a recently built high-rise. Sadly, it was time to say good bye to Sun & John, for they now hand me over to two local guides waiting there also to take me around Phnom Penh for the next day. Sun & John immediately returned to Siem Reap (5.5hrs, 320klms) which worried me until around midnight when Sun text me stating he had arrived home safely. I insisted Sun text me immediately he arrived home. So glad he did. There are no penalty or overtime rates in Cambodia so I gave them quite a large tip to make up for their wages. I was so glad to have them for the 7 days.

My hotel room and the view from the 14th floor was superb. The city lights and a whole building in the distance had a large ‘tv’ screen on its entire wall. So different in this city scape and it kept me occupied. Gaining the much-needed sleep after midnight I was able to get my wonderful brekky at the hotel on the top floor to an even better view of the city however, time was not available to soak it in. It is now the last day of the tour and my guides await me in the lobby.

Sadly, with smiles and my normal welcome, my guides are not too overjoyed. There is an instant disconnection .. names were casually thrown about, hence Sophea (Guide) is my only recollection to who they were. It took just seconds for me to be placed into a SUV and off to our first stop to the Royal Palace which is amazing and boosted my excitement. The grounds were impeccable and with a great museum showing how the palace operated and what clothing and rituals took place. A special flag was flying this day showing the King was present at the palace. He has maids in his care wearing the traditional gowns of the old days and there are 7 costumes used which allows the King to know which day of the week it was. True! The King is becoming old and remains single and has no children so I’m unaware what the future now holds for the dynasty. He has a nephew still but no news of such dynasty succession.

Our next trip was rather silent with some general conversation to a village 16klms away on the southern outskirts of Phnom Penh called Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre. It is commonly known as the “Killing Fields”. My guides leave me to wander to the entrance (fee is $6USD & included in my tour) and you are given a headset for walking commentary to respective locations around the site.

A point to note is, the village is very poor and run down and it goes along with the tragedy I’m about to uncover. The village grew out from the military post so I wished it would have been relocated as I do not know how the people here could live so close to this genocide. Surely, it must be a permanent scar to their living and feels more like a life of existing.

This blog can never achieve the tragedy and ruthlessness in what this place is unfolding to me. As you walk among the retrieval pods (only a few were unearthed) of mass graves you can still see clothing and bone matter protruding through the ground surface. It is visibly confronting. Some pods were approx. 5mx3mx3m deep and enveloped from 300 to 400+ people of all ages.

When all the pods for viewing were encountered, I was left with the centre piece monument to view. An amazing white and gold pagoda in a traditional Khmer architectural style some 25m in height. It has a central glass tomb housing thousands of human skulls in a museum type shelving system some 8m high. You are provided a very small floor area around its perimeter to closely view the horrendous crimes upon humanity. There is a catalogue of how each person was killed, some you could not even contemplate to be that evil against another person so I’ll keep this memory to myself. I was left shaking, knowing I was looking at thousands of skulls at very close range, and quite a few were children and I could not imagine any normal person spending more than 15 minutes in this monument. It is so confronting but respectfully done as best it could.

The Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot – Marxist Dictator) military 1975 – 79 used loud music hailers to muffle the screams of torture and killing. Prisoners arrived in the dark of night and mostly murdered before dawn. The transport finished just before midnight of each day so as not to raise suspicion. A nearby local farmer protested to the military of the horrendous smells overcoming to his property but took their answer as being an abattoir for the soldier’s food requirements. He was none the wiser even when the civil war was over. Baffles me how 2million people were killed in just these 4 years with virtually no interference from outside countries or world organisations. Pol Pot incredibly fought successive Cambodian Governments right up to the 1990s. It took the Vietnamese to invade Cambodia to defeat the Khmer Rouge in January 1979.

Returning to my guides, they communicated more openly to me, possibly due to my lifeless face before them. One of things I remember they stated was Cambodians still have difficulty with people wearing reading glasses. They were the first rounded up by the Khmer Rouge due to being associated as an educated person. I made damn sure after that I was discreet when I had to wear mine.

Without knowing (still in a tragedy maze) we arrived back into the city to view the commonly known S21 Prison, now called The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, slightly South of the city centre & West of the new Government area and embassies. Here a school was taken over and converted to a holding prison. Each main building (3 of) were 2 storeys high and the entire site surrounded by a high wall stone fence with broken glass bottles and barbed wire topping. The cells were anything from 3mx3m to a miniature 1.7mx1.3m of floor area (600 wide doors). Not all had windows either and most were above head height. There is a small steel box (ammunition box) in a corner for ablutions. Inside 2 of the other buildings there are hundreds of B&W photos of prisoner’s arrival. Each photo shows sheer terror on their faces, all of different ages. So, confronting and it takes courage from you to look into their eyes. Tears cannot be withheld and the viewing is held in supreme silence of those walking around. You then pass all the vile tools, shackles and stocks they frequently used.

The torture inflicted here is horrendous to the extreme. Most of the torture ‘survivors’ were later sent to the ‘Killing Fields’ for their final torture and ultimate death. If there was a blessing it is believed each were blindfolded in the long line ready for the mass killing … but this was a scheme to ensure no-one saw an execution or to raise the alarm to other prisoners. It was a matter to keep everything quiet for the loudspeakers to be the main accepted noise in the darkness. What evil clouds must of hovered above.

S21 prisoners, at times were hung high on a beam mounted on large posts with their feet and hands high with arching backs, then lowered head first into large kettle pots that were full to the brim of the entire prisoner’s excrement, bad water, etc later used for field fertiliser. This was their main interrogation method. Prisoners were also whipped and washed in sea salt. Sometime after they were returned to their cell, unwashed from the excrement. There were many forms of torture used here and all too frequently.

Upon leaving towards the prison’s exit I encountered a souvenir area. Behind the counter of one table was a very old, tiny and frail man asleep in his chair. It was Mr Bou Meng, one of the remaining two living sole survivors of this prison. 7 prisoners survived when the prison was invaded where some 16,000 people including Mr Meng’s wife were tortured and killed. Their children ultimately died from starvation at a KR children’s camp located elsewhere. Out of deep respect I dare not wake him for conversation, so I bought his book and clasped my hands in prayer and bowed leaving him in peace. To date, I have not managed to read his book ‘Bou Meng – A Survivor from Khmer Rouge Prison S-21’ by Huy Vannak … maybe soon. He knew if he saw the hour before midnight of each day; he would endure another day of terror here at S21 hell hole. He attends each day to promote the truth to the hardship faced by his people.

He possessed the courage to survive and ensure the perpetrators would be held to account and ultimately he was to provide a witness statement to the ECCC .. commonly known as The Khmer Rouge Tribunal commissioned on 2nd January 2001, and helped obtain a guilty verdict towards the military personnel, although several perpetrators were later given high ranking Government positions due to their spin and blame towards the US, etc while the Vietnam War was still circling in the arena. It was beyond abhorrent their feasible reasoning and demeanour was predominately accepted, even by the United Nations (who I personally have NO time for) and lived comfortably for the remainder of their lives. Where was the true justice?

A short walk away is the National Arts Museum which can take a while to wander through even though there is a volume of similar artefacts to encounter. I had trouble taken all this in due to the genocide visits earlier so I can’t recall anything magnificent here. My guides later took me to the historical area and fringe of the CBD to view atop, Wat Phnom, a Buddhist temple (built 1372 & 27m high) which is Phnom Penh’s central point and located on the only hill surrounded by major city roads. It is a place where all their festivals are held and a general area for families to bond and in the next few days Easter will be celebrated in a big way. It was a relief to finally get back to the hotel and now I find myself alone in Cambodia, my 8day tour has ended. Gulp!

In summary, from this last day it would take me about 3 more days to deal with the atrocities uncovered by this Khmer Rouge genocide. So, confronting. I’ll leave this blog here for now and rejoin you with Part 4 where I wander Phnom Penh and relocate to another hostel and ultimately seek out Sihanoukville.

I appreciate your time in reading my blogs and trust you will look for Part 4. I look forward to any feedback. Take care and be kind to each other. Be strong & nice during this Corona-virus lockdown.