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Enjoy some pictures of the worldrecordtour, taken in Cambodia

 
 
Cambodia Map
 
 
Map of
Southeast Asia

click a picture to see details

 

 

 

 

 

With much excitement we drive through the border gate into the Kingdom of Cambodia
Fuel is sold along the
road from plastic bottles
This grandmother is wearing
the traditional head dress
 
Archaic wooden hand carts packed with different goods and even people are barreled by hand through the dusty streets. Overloaded busses and trucks push their way through the compact crowd with all kind of merchandise. Men, women and young children carry heavy baskets on their heads. This is the crazy and overwhelming sight at the Thailand exit border at Aranyaprathet, as we approach it in the early morning hours of December 9, 2005. Behind us lies Thailand, before us lures promisingly the Kingdom of Cambodia, our 151st country. Our feelings are very mixed and every moment, we expect to be approached by an aggressive tout – at least, this is the warning in our guide book. But everything remains wonderfully quiet. When the golden letters „Kingdom of Cambodia“ on the high entry gate with the Angkor Wat symbol are greeting us temptingly, a buzz of excitement runs through us.
 

 

 

 

Farmers are working in their rice field
A water buffalo carriage
is crossing our way
Alongside the dusty road people
live in simple dwellings
 
We park in front of the visa booth and are amazed that our visas, costing US$20 per person for a stay of one month, are ready within five minutes. This is our first surprise. The second one follows at the immigration desk. In a third world country like Cambodia we never expected to find its equipment as modern as in the United States. Not only our new machine readable passports are scanned, but we even are simultaneously photographed. The third surprise we experience at the customs. The friendly officer carefully studies our carnet de passage and suddenly asks: “How old is your car?” We reply that it is year 1982. “I do not think that it is allowed into Cambodia - it is too old!” We hardly can believe his words and stare at him in disbelieve. Suddenly, he walks away and disappears through the next door just to return shortly afterwards. With a broad smile, he proclaims proudly: “Passed”. Later, this law does not seem so absurd to us anymore when we see all the brand new Lexus, LandCruiser’s and Mercedes circulating on Cambodia’s roads.
 

 

 

 

The now interrupted narrow-gauge track of
the earlier railway between Europe and Southeast Asia, leading from Russia -
Mongolia - China – Vietnam – Cambodia to Thailand and further on to Malaysia and Singapore, once passed between these houses
A young mother is waiting for buyers
A family is rolling joyfully with a
board on the interrupted railway track
 
The first overwhelming impression hits us immediately after leaving the border post of Poipet with the many casinos attracting especially Thai people. All at once, we feel set back for decades, as we follow the narrow gravel road full of pot holes. To our right and to our left lush green rice fields are stretching to the horizon with farmers attending them. Alongside, simple huts appear, built on stilts and made of any material – wood, cardboard, tin, plastic, cloth or fiber mats. Many of them are still surrounded by small ponds - still a result of the heavy downpours of the last rainy season. And many of them are covered with carpets of lovely red water lilies, adding some color to the dreary dwellings. In front of each door are huge, round clay pots where the water is stored. There is no electricity. Rice is spread out to dry on every possible spot, even along the road. We encounter motorcycles with live pigs, strapped to the back seat, up to three at a time, and chickens by the dozens, dangling upside down by their feet and transported to the market. Bullock drawn pot sellers are passing by. We definitely have plunged into a completely different world.
 

 

 

 

A modest bicycle repair workshop
along a road in Sisophon
Our LandCruiser always attracts
people, here at the Wat in Sisophon
Men are checking their fighting cock
 
Everything with two, three or four wheels is driving “slalom” on the road to avoid all the treacherous, deep potholes. And everybody is honking strongly and uninterruptedly when overtaking. Each time a car passes or crosses us, we are inevitably smoke-screened by a huge cloud of red dust. We just wonder how the skinny cyclist in front of us can cope with this situation without protecting himself with any mask. Also we ask ourselves how people can live here at all, where everything is always covered with a film of red dust. Or why the young boy is herding his flock of ducks exactly on the side of the road where the dust catches him the most.
 

 

 

 

The family of the Ratana Guesthouse
in Siem Reap, posing for a picture
The tree branches at the ‘Royal Independence Gardens’ in Siem Reap are crammed with bats
Making a short afternoon break
 
When mid afternoon we reach Sisophon, the first small town, we definitely need a break from all the swallowed dust and decide to spend the night here. Strolling through the streets, we realize that people might soon suffocate from their own garbage. Even in the richly decorated Wat – the Buddhist temple - which in Thailand always are clean and oasis of tranquility - plastic and paper decorate the floor everywhere. Between the many dilapidated buildings, we discover to our amazement a narrow-gauge track – part of the earlier railway from Europe to Southeast Asia through Russia - Mongolia - China – Vietnam – Cambodia to Thailand and further on to Malaysia and Singapore. Now it is interrupted in Cambodia, destroyed by the Khmer Rouge in the late seventies and has become the playing field for children, who joyfully roll on them with simple boards. Coincidentally, we lately just heard on TV, that Vietnam has offered as a development aid to reconstruct the missing stretch as far as Phnom Penh. For the continuation to the Thai border, it looks that additional donors from other nations have to be found.
 

 

 

 

View of the floating village of
Phnom Krom at the ‘Tonle Sap’-Lake
View of the wetlands
of the ‘Tonle Sap’-Lake
The floating houses at
the ‘Tonle Sap’-Lake
 
Next day, we are approaching Siem Reap with the legendary Angkor temples - a UNESCO world heritage site. Entering the town, we are really surprised to find so many luxury hotels lining up - what a striking difference to all the simple dwellings we just passed. On the lookout for a cheap guesthouse, we stop at the roadside, where a couple of motorbike drivers are resting under a shady tree. As soon as we step out of the car, one of them points to our back left tire, which is loosing slowly but steadily air and we discover also the thick screw, causing our 154th flat tire. How annoying, not really a nice welcome to Siem Reap! Of course, we have to change it immediately. Luckily, it does not take long to find nearby a clean air-conditioned room at the Ratana family guesthouse on the airport road for relatively little money: US$10.
 

 

 

 

A happy young vendor in the
market of Siem Reap
There is no shortage of eggs
in the market of Siem Reap
Also the choice of vegetable is plentiful
 
But what we need the most now are some ice cold beers. Therefore, we head straight away into town, just two miles away. By chance, at the ‘Royal Independence Gardens’ with their beautiful alleys of old trees, we find a perfect spot to park the car. Above our heads, the branches are crammed with bats – hundreds of them - producing an overwhelming noise. Amazingly, they are day active and from time to time they suddenly fly away only to settle down a few minutes later again. In front of us, the golden ‘Preah Ang Chorm Shrine’ is shining in the bright light of the evening sun with a freshly married couple posing in front of it for some wedding pictures. Besides us is one of our favorite trees - the “voyageur” - the “travelers” tree – resembling a huge fan, and in front of us, a flower stall is selling beautiful garlands and bouquets made from exotic blossoms for religious offerings – a sight which soon makes up for our initial bad start!
 

 

 

 

Angkor Wat reflecting in
the pond filled with lilies
Two Buddhist monks in their
shiny saffron robes sitting on
the steps of the Angkor Wat
The main temple of Angkor Wat with
its five towers viewed from the hill
of the ‘Phnom Bakheng’-Temple
 
The next day being a Sunday is not really recommendable for exploring the overcrowded ruins of Angkor. Therefore, we decide to visit the floating village at Phnom Krom on the nearby Tonle Sap Lake with its simple huts made of bamboo and palm tree leafs instead. Also here, life seems to be still the same as it has been half a century ago and probably still will be the same for decades to come. It is an autonomous world in itself, with children going by boat to their floating school and with groceries paddled by boat from door to door. But we find also many fishermen huts along a narrow, dusty, potholed earth dam. Through their thin walls made of palm leafs, we see whole families sitting on straw mats on the floor. Most of their belongings are stapled outside, beside the street – from cooking pots, water containers, wood, fish on racks to dry and bicycles. And amidst of all the stuff, children are playing joyfully with a ball, a women is frying something indefinable, a boy is sucking tiny raw ousters, men are playing cards – and astonishingly, nobody minds at all that we are taking discretely pictures. It really is surprising that people have not attracted the “tourist fatigue” yet, as day by day rickshaws with tourists are passing by on their way to board one of the many boats lining up, heading for Phnom Penh or other destinations.
 

 

 

 

One of the many magnificent
bas reliefs of Angkor Wat
Three sweet girls try to sell postcards and Lonely Planet guide books at the ruins
Many of the relief’s of Angkor depict
episodes from the war and daily life
 
“Do you have a drivers license?” asks us the young man at the toll station to the Angkor ruins the next day, as we give him US$40 per person together with a photo to get a three days personal entry pass in return – unfortunately valid only on three subsequent days (one day alone costs 20, 6 subsequent days US$60). He really is serious about his question and adds: “Otherwise you will get into real trouble if somebody checks you”. His childish naivety makes us smile! We are so happy that we are allowed to explore these unique, widely spread temples with our own car. Already on our way to the first one, we enjoy the ride along the peaceful lake with some patches of red water lilies floating, the green canopy of the still mostly untouched forest and the encounter with a curious family of monkeys hanging around at the roadside on the lookout for some food from the many visitors driving past. But at the parking lot of Angkor Wat, it is a different story: It is packed with tour busses, food stalls, souvenir shops and children who, among other things, sell postcards and inexpensive pirated Lonely Planet guide books for other countries (we find out though, that mostly only the cover is new, and the content is a photocopy of an older edition). Very cute is a small girl who follows us all the way to the entrance of the temple and asks us where we come from. When we say Switzerland she adds: “Berne is the capital”. Not all of the children have learnt their lesson so well, but for the time being, it seems to be their nice way to make contact with potential customers.
 

 

 

 

Our LandCruiser is driving through the gate to the Bayon temple with its gigantic stone faces
The Bayon temple is
reflecting in the calm pond
Gigantic stone faces stare at us from
each angle of the Bayon temple
 
Standing in front of the ruins of ‘Angkor Wat’, we feel the same sensation of greatness and uniqueness we experienced elsewhere at other extraordinary places in the world: It was at the Maya ruins in Tikal/Guatemala, at Peru’s Inca town of Machu Picchu or at the Taj Mahal in Agra/India. Amongst its splendid ruins, this ancient civilization seems to come to life again. Angkor was built in the 12th century and has been greatly influenced by Indian architecture. What most impresses us is the wealth of the intricately carved bas reliefs, ornamenting entire walls and pillars, mostly telling episodes of the life of the Khmer Empire. The center is the 175ft high main tower, flanked by four smaller ones. Climbing up the steep, often crumbling steps brings back memories of Tikal again, where the steepness, height and the collapse was much more dramatic and where the purely thought to have to descend again, made our blood freeze. Here it is rather the never ending stream of visitors, which is dramatic. When one of the many tour groups arrives, a one way system applies! Nevertheless, we still are able to find some peaceful moments: At noon, when most of the tour groups return to their hotels for lunch, or in the evening, when the majority is climbing to the hill of the ‘Phnom Bakheng’ Temple for sunset. Then we return to the silence of the water lily pond in front of this great temple waiting anxiously for the “picture book” sunset to appear. But we wait in vain - the first day, the second day and also the third day.
 
 
 
 
The temple of ‘Ta Phrom’,
engulfed by the roots of a fig tree
Flowers are blooming through
the cracks of the ruins
The ruins are the home of dozens
of spiders, which retreat in their
holes at the slightest movement
 
Our second favorite temple is the Bayon with its 216 giant stone faces watching over us from every angle of its 54 towers. It is a magic place, which we enjoy for hours as we are able to picnic in our car right in front of it. Our third preference is ‘Ta Phrom’, left mostly as it was a 100 years ago. The stone structures are entangled by impressive roots of the fig trees, which now support most of the structures keeping them in place. It is an extraordinary sight to watch the jungle swallowing step by step parts of this great ancient civilization. Very impressive are also the elephants and leper’s terraces with their outstanding reliefs, which we admire for hours and where we are able to park for lunch under a shady tree just opposite to them.
 

 

 

 

Our shady picnic spot opposite
the Elephant and Leper’s terraces
Two sisters and their dog visit us
Monks and children in front of
a Buddha image at the ruins
 
It is a big advantage that we can park within the ruins in many places. Also within the temples itself, there are no restrictions of movement. We are allowed to wander around freely everywhere, unless renovation work is in progress. We wonder however, how it will be by 2010, when they plan to receive 4 millions visitors per year instead of the nowadays 1 million. On our third and last day, we drive the big circuit and explore also the smaller temples, which are scattered 12 miles around in the jungle. Each one is different and special in its own way again. The most treasured moment though occurs on our last evening in front of the main temple ‘Angkor Wat’. The crowd has left already, complete silence has returned and the moon is rising slowly behind the ruins, adding even more mystery to this most beautiful temple of the great Angkor Empire.
 

 

 

 

The splendid Royal Palace of King
Norodom Sihanouk in Phnom Penh ..…
..... the Royal carriage .....
..... and the throne hall
 
Hence rural life is catching up again, as we drive 200 miles on the good and new tarmac road to Phnom Penh. The capital of Cambodia is not love at first sight. On our first day, we feel quite distressed at the big number of begging children, who follow us persistently with open hands and imploring eyes. But soon we realize that they belong to the image of Phnom Penh as do the luxury cars of the privileged. Later we learn that they are not opportunists, but a well organized “mafia” of beggars, making up to US$400 a month from Western tourists. But after some days, we get accustomed to them and they do likewise the same. We are becoming a kind of attraction with our special car too. Whenever and wherever we park the vehicle, we become surrounded by a crowd of curious people who admire and study the list of visited countries listed on both sides of the car, trying to count them and start to talk to us in Cambodian despite that we do not understand one word. Sometimes somebody speaks a little bit English, usually then translating loudly everything, what attracts more and more people. And after some days, we even start to like Phnom Penh – its provincial character, broad avenues and slow, rather relaxed traffic; but also the range of cheese and ham in the two major supermarkets, the exotic street markets, the many internet cafes and the numerous choices of restaurants are nice to explore. Our favorite spot remains the Mekong river front, which gets very lively with families in the evening when the heat cools down and where always at the same time “Rambo”, the old elephant, is passing by with its mahout on its way home. “Rambo” loves our bananas, which disappear always very fast in its throat.
 

 

 

 

The ‘Iron House’ in the
Royal Palace in Phnom Penh
„Rambo“, the Elephant, trotting
with its mahout through Phnom Penh
Monks wandering around the city
 
At noon, when the scorching sun is burning from the sky, we park under a shady tree on a quiet area along the Mekong River and eat mostly out of our board kitchen. Our neighbors are a couple, living in a dilapidated wooden hand cart with their few belongings. Like many others too, they are collecting plastic bottles, beer cans and cardboard to make some money. If it starts to rain, they just cover their “home” with a plastic tarp. For their daily shower, they use a coincidentally available water hose which seems never to be turned off. Many times, both of them just doze. We see them every day, and they are always in good mood and never become “sticky”. What could we spare from our “household?”. I am searching in our LandCruiser and find some clothes, shampoo, soap, tooth brushes, toothpaste and a comb with a mirror. The next day, the slim woman wears my blue blouse and is washing her hair with the given shampoo.
 

 

 

 

A Chinese tomb on a hill
The ‘Tuol Sleng’-Museum in Phnom Penh
with its moving photos of prisoners ..…
..... and the mountains of skulls and bones
 
Unfortunately, they are not the only homeless people. Whole families live in similar dreadful conditions with their children, often just under a tarp along the river shore. And in sharp contrast, unscrupulous government officials and NGO’s are cruising with their luxury Lexus’ and expensive LandCruiser’s through Phnom Penh’s street – and not only a handful! It is the biggest gap of rich and poor we have ever seen in a country before. When darkness is falling, we drive over the bridge out of town five miles back in direction Siem Reap to our ‘Chai Hong’ Hotel. Very soon we realize that it is a “out of the ordinary” hotel. Every evening, dozens of very young girls, beautifully dressed in evening robes, wait for customers. But we do not care: The room is clean and air-conditioned, has hot water, a fridge and TV, the linen is changed daily including mineral water, soap, tooth brush and toothpaste - and our car has a safe parking lot. For only US$6 a night, we do not mind to vacate it every morning for the use of the ‘hourly guests’.
 

 

 

 

Children in Phnom Penh practicing a dance
 
Again and again we wonder how this people were able to keep and regain their admiringly lovely nature, their broad smiles and their cheerfulness despite the overwhelming poverty and the incredible atrocities they had to endure firstly under the terror regime of the Khmer Rouge and then during the Vietnam war. Their terrible past is still weighing heavily on the country. Alone the sight of the many people with amputated or deformed limbs is testimony of this cruel past. One day, we decide to visit the ‘Tuol Sleng’ Genocide Museum, which in earlier time acted as a high school, but was transformed by the Khmer Rouge into the main house of torture. Its victims were especially the wealthy intellectuals (wearing glasses or just knowing a foreign language meant automatically belonging to this class) collected from all over the country - regardless of their nationality, but also every man, woman or child suspected of opposing Pol Pot’s vision for a peasant-dominated agrarian society.
 

 

 

 

Rural Cambodia
Everything is transported on
motorbikes, even living pigs
A clay pot seller on the tramp
 
They were kept in small cells and shackled with chains fixed to the walls or the concrete floor. In each cell, the regulations were posted on small pieces of black board, one of them reading: “While getting lashes or electrification, you must not cry at all”. One room is filled with wrenching photos of victims awaiting their fate, and shocking pictures of mountains of skulls and bones. Another room depicts many moving family dramas. They tell from loved ones who one day were fetched by solders and have never returned, their fate still being unknown. Inevitably, memories of the horrendous atrocities of the Nazi regime come back as well as certain similarities from our visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, only that Cambodia’s genocide has largely remained unnoticed by the world community. We read some overwhelming figures: Killed or disappeared: 3.3 millions people; destroyed: 635’000 homes, 5’857 schools, 796 hospitals, 2’100 houses of worship; missed: 1 million cattle.
 

 

 

 

Ponds with red water lilies are a common sight
Majestic palm trees dot the plain
White flowers in a pond along the road
 
All what we have just seen and read is so disturbing, that we do not want to make our hearts heavier by visiting also the “Killing Fields”. Therefore, we give them a miss – may be for wrong. Instead we head to the splendid Palace of King Norodom Sihanouk and admire the Throne Hall with the golden throne and the beautifully painted ceiling; the Silver Pagoda which is named in honor of the 5’000 silver tiles that carpet the floor, weighing 2 pounds each; a Buddha made of solid gold, covered with hundreds of precious diamonds and a wealth of other valuable objects of the Khmer civilization. In its lush gardens, the pyramid shaped shrines of Kings offer another striking sight. The entire splendor immediately transfers us into a completely opposite world, into a dreamy world.
 

 

 

 

Barber working under an umbrella
in a street in Phnom Penh
Sitting and chatting
Bicycles in the market street of Phnom Penh
 
Christmas is on the door steps – without any nostalgic Christmas music and without any sign of festive lights illuminating the city of Phnom Penh. It is exactly on December 25th, when we finally decide to move on towards the Vietnam border. Everything is going along just nicely, until we reach the mighty Mekong River skirted by simple dwellings, where a car ferry is crossing to the other side. Immediately, I am captivated by the lively scene around us: The waiting busses, where whole families, even with small children sit on the roof on top of all kind of goods and where young girls gather in groups on the pavement, selling fruits and all kind of exotic food. I leave our car to make some pictures while Emil prefers to remain inside, surrounded by all the persistent vendors.
 

 

 

 

Rays of the setting sun across
the river in Phnom Penh
A wedding in the city park
One of the many lovely temples,
looking like a castle
 
Suddenly, I am pushed and smashed strongly to the floor and I feel a terrible pain. Only now I begin to realize that a Cambodian hit me from behind with his car and has rolled with the front wheel over my left leg. I am panicking and screaming and at the same time the crowd around me starts to shout as well. Until Emil - who is still sitting in the car - understands what happened, I am already surrounded by dozens of curious people. Immediately, he pushes his way free and drags me carefully back to the car. Not hesitating one moment, he turns around immediately and speeds the 40 bumpy miles back to Phnom Penh. In between, he puts two pills of 500mg Aspirin into my mouth – firstly against the increasing pain and secondly for thinning my blood. It would not have made any sense at all to argue with the responsible, probably drunken driver as mostly they are not insured anyway and the culpable is always the foreigner for the mere reason of being present: If he wouldn’t have been here, it wouldn’t have happened! Much more important was that I get the right medical treatment as quickly as possible.
 

 

 

 

This woman’s head protection
is typical for Cambodia
A common sight: trailer packed
with people, drawn by a motorbike
Happy face in Phnom Penh
 
In the capital of Cambodia, we head straight for the first hospital described as reliable in the Lonely Planet Guide. It is the Naga Clinic under French Management, where we can communicate with the doctors at least in French. At that time, my leg has reached already the double of its normal size. I am rushed to make an x-ray which shows that it is luckily “only” a straight bone fracture and that the broken part is not displaced. It could have been much worse if this idiot had hit my ankle-joint. Then, I would have had to be flown out to Bangkok for surgery, as Cambodia is not necessarily the best place to have done a complicated operation. Being Christmas day, the doctor for splinting my leg is at home, celebrating with his family. He has to be called by phone. Soon afterwards, he arrives with his little son and with the help of a nurse; he plasters my leg up to the knee.
 

 

 

 

Grass is still planted by hand
Where rice fields meet
the Mekong River
A meadow with blooming hyacinths
on our way to the Vietnam border
 
When I ask him, whether I am allowed to continue the next day to Vietnam, he probably thinks that I am completely crazy. He repeats not only once but several times that we have to watch my leg very carefully because the risk of a thrombosis is not to be underestimated and cannot be excluded. Then he gives me some pills to dilute the blood, antibiotics, aspirin and a strong pain killer and shows us on the city map where we are able to buy a crutch on Christmas evening. As we wave good-bye to the friendly doctors, we once more realize that in third world countries, the well-being of the patient comes always first and only secondly the payment (we made the same experience 1993 in Bangkok, when Emil had to be hospitalized for food poisoning). Exactly the opposite we remember from Las Vegas, when both of us caught the really bad millennium flue at the same time and had to wait with high fever in a cold hospital lobby for at least half an hour, until our admission papers and credit card payment were settled! Being really worried about the danger of a clot of blood, we decided to postpone our departure to Vietnam one more day.
 

 

 

 

The x-ray shows Liliana’s fractured leg –
on the right in the upper third part
The friendly doctor’s team at the
Naga Clinic in Phnom Pen
Liliana with her cast in front
of a Durian fruit tree
 
On December 27, 2005, we finally make our second and final attempt to reach the Vietnam border. At the Mekong ferry, the same young vending ladies rush immediately again to our LandCruiser and push their heads through the window. This time though, they do not want to sell us something; they just want to check how I am doing. When they see my thick cast and my swollen leg - which started in the meantime to change its color into black - they look very concerned. I am moved when one of them insists that I accept her huge pealed grapefruit as a farewell gift. This lovely gesture belongs to our last beautiful memories of Cambodia - a country, whose people have captivated us from the very beginning with their broad smiles. A different story is that I am leaving Cambodia with an extraordinary “Christmas present”, a plastered leg, just because two days ago I was standing at the wrong time on the wrong place. Luckily, at that moment, we did not know yet all the consequences of this Christmas day. When we board the ferry towards a new country – Vietnam - , people are waving at us and we are waving back at them.
 

 

 

 

Dwellings on stilts skirting
the Mekong River
Young women sellers at the Mekong
ferry looking curiously for the broken leg
The Mekong ferry brings us
to the other side of the river