Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cambodia Trip 1.2

On my second day of the trip, things started to get interesting.

Turns out I was mistaken about how to get to Choam Sa Ngam and for a little bit, there in the Surin bus terminal, I was in a quandary as to what to do. I rejected other options like crossing at Choam Jom (which I’ll probably do next time) or Aranya Pathet/Poipet. I was determined to see not only the small border crossing at Choam Sa Ngam, but see the heartland of many of the last of the Khmer Rouge: Anlong Veng.

In the end, I took a minivan to Sangkha figuring there had to be transpo linkages from there. Once at the Sangkha bus station, I waited over four hours for a connection further. If it wasn’t for the helpful employees there, I would have missed the bus that let me off by the side of Highway 24, at the junction (near Sano) to Highway 2201 that lead to the border. I had heard that you could hire a moto (a driver and motorcycle) to take you the 37 kilometers to the border and that’s what I did. It was a bit pricey at 400 baht (almost twice what I spent for a night at the Amarin), but my options were limited.

Unfortunately, it had just started to rain and the driver drove sometimes up to 70 kph (about 43.5 mph), much faster than I’ve ever ridden on a motorcycle in Thailand and far more risky than I would have liked. On the flip side, the driver seemed to know every pot hole and surface irregularity the entire 37 kilos. He had provided me with a helmet to use and I had my poncho, so some safety measures were taken as myself and my gear stayed mostly dry.

The scenery leading to and up the Dangkrek Mountains (Chuor Phnom Dangkrek, in Cambodian; Sayphou Damlek in Lao) is beautiful and I found myself wishing I had some land here, but, really, what would I do with it?!

Choam Sa Ngam is the smallest border crossing I’ve ever used. I liked it cuz it was rustic and there were no queues.

A view looking at the Cambodian checkpoint:

... And a view looking at the Thai checkpoint (building on the left) right after I checked out of Thailand:

... Also, here's some video I shot. Screen dimensions are off a little bit, but you'll get the idea. Opens with a view of the Cambodian checkpoint and pans right to the Thai checkpoint and a view back at Thailand through the Dangrek Mountains:

Sa Ngam Border Crossing, 2013 from Malcolm Gault-Williams on Vimeo.

After stamping out of Thailand and stamping in to Cambodia for my very first time ever, I arranged another moto to take me on to Anlong Veng. I told the driver – an older teenager, not very friendly – that I wanted to “stop Pol Pot,” but I guess he did not understand me. By the time I realized we were well passed it, I figured what the hell. Several hundred meters from the border is where Pol Pot was cremated in a pile of tires and trash in 1998.

Here's what I missed:

... And, although I cannot confirm this, these are photos purportedly taken just shortly before Pol Pot's cremation:

I drew quite a lot of stares from females of all ages as I rode with my driver on to Anlong Veng. When we got close to town, flooding was quite evident, where Ta Mok’s Lake was threatening the small bridge into town.

I checked into the Monoram Guesthouse where the little kids were friendly, the adults a little cold and I was virtually invisible to every teenager I saw. Quite a big difference compared to Thailand or Lao.

The Monoram was a good value at $8 USD (I was now using U.S. Dollars, getting change in Riel). I showered and hit the guesthouse’s restaurant where some local police and guys who dressed casual but looked to be influential in the town/city sat and watched attentively to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen addressing the country’s top elected leaders after a much-contested election.

I ate some dried beef that was very good, spooned a lot of rice into me, had some pickled cucumbers, drank a couple of 12 ounce Angkor beers, and watched Hun Sen, too.

Yes, the Cambodians in the Anlong Veng area seemed “distant.” Later on I found out that it had only been around thirteen years before that the very last of the DK (Democratic Kampuchea) army (the Red Khmer, or Khmer Rouge) had ended their fighting here. Anlong Veng had been the center of the last remaining DK units. It was likely that most of the males over 30 that I saw were former Khmer Rouge, including the guys watching Hun Sen on TV.

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