The Skies in Places That I Have Been, 2013 – 2016

These are photographs by a very amateur photographer – me – using some very professional cameras (at times), of the skies and weather on my travels in Syria, Vietnam, Turkey, Cambodia, Bulgaria, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Spain, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Macedonia, Greece, France, Serbia, Ukraine & on the Sea.

They are randomly ordered and not labelled – the best ones (IMHO) are not at the top – but between time pressures and Blogger usability issues that is just the way it is for now – so scroll down to the end – some of the most interesting shots are dotted throughout. I will at a later date re-order them in terms of my preferences and also add descriptions of place and time.

Subject Matter 

So many colors, so many natural phenomena, so much beauty including Dawn, Sunrises, Sunsets, Dusk, Storm Clouds, Rolling Fogbanks, Rainbows, Double Rainbows, The Moon, Lightning, the Full Sun, the Blood Moon 2015 & Eclipses. 

Camera Types 

The pictures are of varying quality because they were taken variously with a Nikon Camera, Canon Camera, Pentax Camera, Sight Camera, iPhone Camera, Scope Camera & Samsung Phone Camera. 

No Copyright – Free to Use 

I hope that you enjoy them – they are offered for those who are interested in travel and photography and nature and not as a professional gallery. I do not enforce copyright on any of these images. Mother nature provided the spectacle for free and so do I. Feel free to share them or post them or print them or bin them 🙂 

We do not travel to escape life but so that life does not escape us. (Quote author unknown – at least by me at any rate).


Travelling in South East Asia – The Kingdom of Cambodia & The Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Introduction 

There are plenty of blog posts about Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat temple complex and its undoubted appeal as a tourist destination – this is not one of those posts. This post is a reasonably definitive first hand and unbiased guide to travelling to Phnom Penh in The Kingdom of Cambodia, travelling the NH1 Highway to Bavet via the Mekong Ferry and then crossing into The Socialist Republic of Vietnam at the Bavet-Mocbai border gates which are approximately 50kms from the outskirts of Ho-Chi Minh City – HCMC (formerly Saigon).

Angkor Wat Temple Complex, Siem Reap
(Photo Credit: Unknown)

NH1 Highway – Phnom Penh, Bavet-MocBai, Ho Chi Minh City
(Photo Credit: Google Maps Screen Shot)

Finding What You Want In This Blog Post 

I do not usually provide a table of contents in a blog post but as this is mostly a utilitarian post which people will want specific information from so I have detailed the sections below, so you can jump straight to the bit that you are interested in (navigation is manual). However, the post does follow a structure and can be read top to bottom from a “getting there”, “while in-country” and “getting out of there” context.

Table of Contents

  1. The Kingdom of Cambodia (in Khmer – Kampuchea)
    1. Political Stability & Economy
    2. Rising from a Low Base
    3. Attitude to Tourism 
  2. Phnom Penh in Brief
    1. The Airport 
    2. The Tonlé Sap, Mekong and Bassac Rivers
    3. Gambling & Casinos
  3. The Bavet Region
    1. The Moc-Bai Border Gates
    2. Duty Free Shopping
    3. Casinos & Gambling 
  4. Ho Chi Minh City in Brief
    1. The Airport 
  5. Getting There – Routes from Western Europe & the USA
  6. Airport Tax & VISA Rules & Requirements
    1. Airport Tax (Passenger Service Charges) 
    2. The list of entry points to obtain a Visa

    3. Visa Fees 
    4. Tourist & Business Visas 
    5. Visa Exemption 
    6. Visa Extension 
    7. International Border Crossings & Overland Routes
  7. What you Need to Know to Make the Best of your Visit
    1. The Locals
      1. Ethnic Groups in Cambodia
    2. Customer Service 
    3. A Dollarized Economy
    4. Counterfeit Dollars 
    5. The Weather 
    6. Accommodation & Hotels 
    7. Public Transport 
    8. Driving “In Country”
    9. The Tuk Tuk Phenomenon 
    10. Medical Facilities & Prescription Medicines 
    11. Shopping & Counterfeit Goods
    12. Drinking water 
    13. Eating Out 
    14. Street Food 
      1. Iced Coffee with Milk
      2. Chive Cakes
      3. Beek Skewers
      4. Fried Noodles
      5. Noodle Soup
      6. “Pop-Up” Restaurants 
    15. The Smelliest Fruit in the World – Durian
    16. Socialising & Night Life 
  8. Other Important Stuff 
    1. Law Enforcement
    2. Urban De-Militarisation 
    3. Tourists Shooting Guns
    4. Visit the Mekong Delta 
    5. Random Pictures 
1. The Kingdom of Cambodia 
Cambodia or in Khmer – Kampuchea – officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia, is located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. With a total landmass of 181,035 square kilometres (69,898 sq mi), it is bordered by Thailand to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, Vietnam to the east, and the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest.
With a population of over 14.8 million, Cambodia is the 68th most populous country in the world. The official religion is Theravada Buddhism, which is practiced by around 95% of the Cambodian population. The country minority groups include Vietnamese, Chinese, Chams and 30 various hill tribes.

Paying for Prayer – A Daily Ritual (Phnom Penh – off Monivong Boulevard)
(Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)
The capital and largest city is Phnom Penh; the political, economic, and cultural center of Cambodia. The kingdom is a constitutional monarchy with Norodom Sihamoni, a monarch chosen by the Royal Throne Council, as head of state. The head of government is Hun Sen, who is currently the longest serving leader in South East Asia and has ruled Cambodia for over 25 years.
1.1 Political Stability
Cambodia has had the same ruling party and leader for 22 years following the first election in 1993. The political environment has been more stable since 1998 following the establishment of a second coalition government. S&P and Moody’s have assigned ratings of B (Stable Outlook) and B2 (Stable Outlook), respectively, to Cambodia. 
Hun Sen is the 34th and current Prime Minister of Cambodia, President of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), and Member of Parliament (MP) for Kandal. He has served as Cambodia’s premier for more than 25 years, making him the longest serving head of government of Cambodia and one of the longest serving leaders in the world. 
From 1979 to 1986 and again from 1987 to 1990, Hun Sen served as Cambodia’s foreign minister. His full honorary title is Samdech Akeak Moha Sena Padey Decho Hun Sen (“Lord Prime Minister, Supreme Military Commander Hun Sen”). Born Hun Bunal, he changed his name to Hun Sen in 1972 two years after joining the Khmer Rouge.
Hun Sen is the 34th and current Prime Minister of Cambodia
(Photo Credit: Unknown)

The platform on which the prime minister has built his tenure, say his supporters, is his stewardship of the economy, which is run on markedly free market lines compared to some others in the region. 
1.2 Rising from a Low Base 
According to the IMF, Cambodia is expected to enjoy rapid economic growth over the next five years, driven by the current low base, the government’s healthy balance sheet and the government’s intention to rely more heavily on higher value-adding tourism services to drive economic growth. 
The Vietnam War, followed by the Khmer Rouge regime, had a devastating impact on the Cambodian economy. Despite the strong economic growth after the end of Khmer Rouge in 1978, Cambodia is still one of the poorest countries in Asia, with GDP per capita low at US$814 in 2010.
1.3 Attitude to Tourism 
The Cambodian government considers tourism as one of the priority sectors, after rice exportation, contributing to national socio-economic development. The Cambodian government aims to increase international tourist arrival from 2.5 million in 2010 to 4.5 million in 2015 and 7 million in 2020 via the implementation of the following initiatives.

Currently, majority of the visitor arrival enters the country via land and water transport. Despite direct flight from Phnom Penh to most key Asian cities, including Bangkok, Beijing, Guangzhou, Hanoi, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpar, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, Shanghai, Taipei, Vientiane and Incheon, half of the visitor arrival is still from land and water transport.

With the improvement in air connectivity and implementation of Visa exemption policy, tourist arrival from planes is expected to increase, which would drive the overall tourist arrival of the country.

2. Phnom Penh in Brief

Phnom Penh is the capital and largest city of Cambodia. Located on the banks of the Mekong River, Phnom Penh has been the national capital since the French colonized Cambodia in the 1860’s, and has grown to become the nation’s centre of economic and industrial activity, as well as the centre of security, politics, economics, cultural heritage, and diplomacy.

Central Market District, Phnom Penh
(Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)

Once known as the “Pearl of Asia”, it was considered one of the most beautiful French-built cities in Indochina. Phnom Penh, along with Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, are significant global and domestic tourist destinations for Cambodia.

The Phnom Penh metropolitan area is home to more than two million of Cambodia’s population of over fourteen million. The city is the wealthiest and most populous city in Cambodia and is home to the country’s political hub.

2.1 The Airport – Phnom Penh International Airport (IATA: PNH, ICAO: VDPP) 

The airport covers a land area of circa 400 hectares. It is located 10 kilometres (5.4 NM) west of Phnom Penh. There are two terminal buildings an international terminal and one for domestic operations. The international terminal has 5 air bridges built in 2003. The airport’s design capacity is 2 million persons per year.

Phnom Penh International Airport
(Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)

2.2 The Tonlé Sap, Mekong and Bassac Rivers

Phnom Penh is situated at the confluence of the Tonlé Sap, Mekong and Bassac rivers.

View of the Tonlé Sap, Mekong and Bassac River Confluence in Phnom Penh 
(Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)


2.3 Gambling & Casino’s

Phnom Penh hosts NagaWorld, Phnom Penh’s only licensed casino.

Vietnamese gamblers make up 38.5 percent of the players, with Chinese citizens accounting for 25.7 percent and Malaysian visitors 20.8 percent.

In Cambodia’s border casinos in towns such as Bavet and Poipet, the majority of the players are Thais and Vietnamese.

Exterior NagaWorld Hotel & Casino, Phnom Penh  
At Night (Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)

                                                                         
NagaWorld Hotel & Casino, Phnom Penh
(Photo Credit: Unknown)


Inside NagaWorld Hotel & Casino, Phnom Penh – PHOTOS STRICTLY FORBIDDEN
(Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)


3. The Bavet Region
Bavet is an international border crossing between the Kingdom of Cambodia and Socialist Republic of Vietnam and is located in Svay Rieng province. Its counterpart across the border is Moc Bai, Vietnam. 
Bavet belongs to one of the poorest provinces in Cambodia. The main economic resource of Bavet is its position on NH1 (National Highway 1), connecting Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh. National Highway 1 or National Road No.1 (10001) is one of the national highways in Cambodia and extends 167.10 km (103.83 mi) connecting the capital of Phnom Penh with Bavet on the border with Vietnam. 
Cambodia-Vietnam Border at Bavet & Proximity to Ho Chi Minh City
(Photo Credit: Google Maps Screen Shot)
In 1981, Cambodia opened a newly repaired section of National Highway 1 to the Vietnamese border, the road having suffered damage during the war years. In Phnom Penh the road converges with the National Highway 2 near Monivong Bridge. 
3.1 The Moc-Bai Border Gates
The Moc-Bai Border Gates is the entry point to Vietnam and passport control is in operation. 
 
View of the Moc-Bai Border Gates from the Cambodian Side 
(Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)
  
The Moc-Bai Border Gates 
(Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)
3.2 Duty Free Shopping
There is a specially designated Duty Free Zone between the Bavet and Moc Bai border posts. The area is being developed as a mass market duty free, leisure and shopping hub.
 
The Duty Free Zone between Cambodia & Vietnam Border Crossings 
(Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)
3.3 Casinos & Gambling 
The location also contains multiple casino and gaming establishments. The location removes the need for Cambodians nationals, Vietnamese nationals or tourists to have their passports stamped if they wish to visit the casinos. 
  
 
Casino’s on the NH1 at Bavet, Cambodia
(Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)
4. Ho Chi Minh City – In Brief
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly named Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam. It was once known as Prey Nokor, an important Khmer sea port prior to annexation by the Vietnamese in the 17th century. Under the name Saigon, it was the capital of the French colony of Cochin-china and later of the independent Republic of South Vietnam from 1955–75.

South Vietnam, as an anti-communist republic, fought against the communist North Vietnamese and Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, with aid from the United States of America and countries including Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.

Saigon fell when it was captured by the communists on 30 April 1975. Vietnam was then turned into a communist state with the South overtaken. On 2 July 1976, Saigon merged with the surrounding Gia Định Province and was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City after Hồ Chí Minh although the name Sài Gòn is still commonly used.

The city center is situated on the banks of the Saigon River, 60 kilometers (37 mi) from the South China Sea and 1,760 kilometers (1,090 mi) south of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. The metropolitan area, which consists of the Ho Chi Minh City metropolitan area, Thủ Dầu Một, Dĩ An, Biên Hòa and surrounding towns, is populated by more than 9,000,000 people, making it the most populous metropolitan area in Vietnam and the countries of the former French Indochina.

The Greater Ho Chi Minh City Metropolitan Area, a metropolitan area covering most parts of Đông Nam Baộ plus Tiền Giang and Long An provinces has an area of 30,000 square kilometers and a population of over 20 million people.

According to the Mercer Human Resource Consulting, Economist Intelligence Unit and ECA International, Ho Chi Minh City is ranked 132 on the list of world’s most expensive cities for expatriate employees.

4.1 Ho Chi Minh City Airport (SGN) 

Tan Son Nhat International Airport (IATA: SGN, ICAO: VVTS), is the largest airport in Vietnam. It is located 4 mi (6 km) north of the center (District 1) of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The airport operates from two terminal buildings – Domestic Terminal 1 and International Terminal 2. The new international terminal opened in September 2007 with the capacity of 8 to 10 million passengers per year, giving the airport a total capacity of 15-17 million passengers per annum.

Tan Son Nhat International Airport, Vietnam 
(Photo Credit: HoChiMinhCityAirport.com)
5. Getting There – Routes from Western Europe & the USA
If you are not an experienced traveller or dislike long haul flights then there are multiple options of getting to this destination from Europe or the USA – with stop-overs. Prices vary widely based on the usual criteria – travel class, booking in advance, airline preference and so on. Best travel duration is about 18 to 24 hours but can be up to 40/50 hours depending on your selection. Some examples:


Skyscanner Flight Options, Prices & Stopovers
(Photo Credit: Skyscanner.com)

6. Airport Tax & VISA Rules & Requirements
(Visa Information Credit to http://www.tourismcambodia.com/tripplanner/essential-information/visa-passport.htm)

For most visitors to the Kingdom, visa are obtainable upon arrival at both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap International Airports in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. At the land crossing from Thailand, visas are available at Poipet Banteay Meanchey and Cham Yeam (Koh Kong province).

Visitors who enter from Vietnam through Bavet (VN: Moc Bai) or Ka-Om Samnor (VN: Chao Doc) will need to have already obtained their visas prior to their arrival through a Cambodian Embassy or Consulate overseas.

Tourists also can obtain visa through the online E-Visa. Some nationalities are required to get a visa in advance at the Royal Embassy of Kingdom of Cambodia in their country – these countries are Afghanistan, Algeria, Arab Saudi, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Nigeria.

A passport and visa are required. Tourists and business travellers may purchase a Cambodian visa valid for one month at the airports in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and borders. Both require a passport valid for at least six (6) months from the expiry date and a recent passport-sized photo.

A departure tax is charged on all domestic and international flights. All charges that apply are listed below for the various scenarios:

6.1 Airport Tax (Passenger Service Charges) 

  • For International Travel Foreigner: Adult US$25 Under 12 years old US$13 Under 2 years old FREE 
  • Cambodian: Adult US$18 Under 12 years old US$10 Under 2 years old FREE 
  • For Domestic Travel Foreigner: Adult US$6 Cambodian: Adult US$5 

6.2 The list of entry points to obtain a Visa

Airports: Phnom Penh International Airport & Siem Reap International Airport

Cambodia-Vietnam border: Bavet International Check Point (Svay Rieng Province); Kha Orm Sam Nor International Check Point (Kandal Province); Koh Rohka International Check Point (Prey Veng Province); Banteay Chakrey International Check Point (Preyveng Province); Tropeang Sre International Check Point (Kratie Province); Prek Chak International Check Point (Kampot Province); Phnom Den International Check Point (Takeo Province); Oyadav International Check Point (Rattankiri Province); Tropieng Phlong International Check Point (Kampong Cham Province);

Cambodia-Thailand border: Cham Yeam International Check Point (Koh Kong Province); Poi Pet International Check Point (Banteay Meanchey Province); Osmach International Check Point (Odor Meanchey Province); Sihanoukville International Check Point (Sihanoukville Province); Choam Sanguam International Check Point (Banteay Meanchey Province); Prum International Check Point (Pailin Province); Doung International Check Point (Battambang Province); Preah Vihear International Check Point (Preah Vihear Province);

Cambodia-Lao border: Dong Krolar International Check Point (Steung Treng Province); Tropieng Kreal International Check Point (Stung Treng Province)

It is required for the visa applicants to submit passport, application forms, a recent passport-style colour photograph, and such other documents as determined by the status of stay.

6.3 Visa Fees

  • Single entry visa fee for tourist (T) (30 days): US$ 30 
  • Single entry visa fee for business (E) (30 days): US$ 35 

6.4 Tourist & Business Visas 

Visitors from countries not under Visa Exemption Agreements must apply for a Tourists (T) or Business (E) visa valid for one month at the point of entry. Visa K can be issued to a Cambodian national entering the Kingdom on a foreign passport. (The applicant has to provide well-documented evidence, such as proof that one’s parents were Cambodian).

6.5 Visa Exemption

The nationals of the Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia do not need a tourist visa and may stay in Cambodia for 21 and 30 days respectively.

6.6 Visa Extension 

The tourist (T) and business (E) visas can be extended at the Immigration Department, National Police. The Diplomatic (A), Official (B) and Courtesy (C) visas can be extended at the Consular Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A tourist visa can be extended only once for up to one month (single entry). A business visa can be extended for: One month (Single entry).

Three months (Single entry) Six months (Multiple entry) One year (Multiple entry) Overstayers will be fined US$ 5 per day.

6.7 International Border Crossings & Overland Routes
Border Crossings & Overland Routes
(Photo Credit: Google)

7. What you Need to Know to Make the Best of your Visit
7.1 The Locals 
Almost universally friendly – I have always had positive experiences with the people of Cambodia. It is often foreigners in Cambodia that are the problematic ones. 
7.1.1 Ethnic Groups in Cambodia
  • Cham – Descendants of Cham refugees who fled to Cambodia after the fall of Champa. 222,808 (2012 est.) 
  • Chinese – Descendants of Chinese settlers in Cambodia. 695,852 (2012 est.) 
  • Cambodian Hokkien Khmer Khmer Kandal – “Central Khmers” Ethnic Khmers indigenous to Cambodia proper. 
  • Khmer Krom – “Lowland Khmers” Ethnic Khmers indigenous to Southeastern Cambodia and the adjoining Mekong Delta region of Southern Vietnam. The provinces of South Vietnam all bear ancient Khmer names as they were once part of the Khmer Empire, until the 19th century when the French made Cambodia a protectorate. 
  • Khmer Surin – “Surin Khmers” Ethnic Khmer indigenous to Northwestern Cambodia and adjacent areas in Surin, Buriram and Sisaket provinces in Northeast Thailand, in the region known as Isan. These provinces were formerly part of the Khmer Empire but were annexed by Thailand in the 18th century. 
  • Khmer Loeu – “Highland Khmers” Umbrella term used to designate all hilltribes in Cambodia, irrespective of their language family. 
  • Mon–Khmer speakers Kachok Krung – There are three distinct dialects of Krung. All are mutually intelligible. 
  • Krung Brao Kavet Kraol – 2,000 (est.) Mel- 3,100 (est.) 
  • Kuy – A small group of people mostly located in the highlands of Cambodia. 
  • Phnong Tampuan – Ethnic group located in the Northeastern province of Ratanakiri. 
  • Stieng – Often confused with ethnic Degar (Montagnard) Ra’ong Mnong – Ethnic group located on the eastern province of Mondulkiri. 
  • Samre Chong Sa’och Somray Suoy Austronesian speakers Jarai – Mostly located in Vietnam, the Jarai extend into Cambodia’s Ratanakiri Province. 
  • Rhade – The majority of Rhade, or Ê Đê, are located in Vietnam. They share close cultural ties with the Jarai and other tribes. 
  • Tai Thai – 43,000 (est.) Lao – Living mainly in the Ratanakiri Province. 
  • Shan Kula Vietnamese – Live mostly in Phnom Penh where they form a considerable minority and parts of southeastern Cambodia next to the Vietnamese border. 
  • Hmong–Mien – The Miao and Hmong are hill tribes that live in urban and rural areas. 
  • Miao Hmong Yao Tibeto-Burman Burmese – 4,700 (est.) 
  • Japanese – mainly first generation entrepreneurs and investors in Phnom Penh 
  • Koreans – mainly first generation entrepreneurs and investors in Phnom Penh
7.2 Customer Service
Friendly and many in the hospitality industry speak intelligible English. 
7.3 A Dollarized Economy
The official currency is the Cambodian Riel – however most payments are made in US dollars and change will be in US dollars except where change is coinage in which case you will normally receive Riel. 
7.4 Counterfeit Dollars 
Rampant US dollar counterfeiting plagues South East Asia. If your dollar bill is torn in any way, if the serial number is worn or if the note is defaced in any way then it will not be accepted. 
It is not unusual for you to present a USD100 dollar bill for payment for a meal and then have the waiter ask you to take note of the serial number before they take it away and check its authenticity. When they return and decline to accept it because of concerns they have about the note then check the serial number and make sure that it has not been switched. You will then be asked for alternative payment. 
Similarly the Bureaux de Change in country and also in Thailand will only accept pristine notes for conversion to your local currency when you are returning home.  
7.5 The Weather 
(expert commentary courtesy of https://www.selectiveasia.com/cambodia-holidays/weather)

Cambodia is blessed with one of Asia’s simpler weather systems and despite having two distinct weather seasons you can travel in Cambodia all-year-round. In general, the entire country is subject to the same weather patterns, mainly due to the relatively uniform altitude and latitude throughout Cambodia.

There are two distinct seasons – dry (October to late April) and wet (May to late September). Within each season there are variations in temperature, with the final few dry months leading up to the wet season (March and April) and the early months of the wet season (May and June) usually being the hottest of the year with temperatures in excess of 35°C at times.

Humidity is at its height during March and April whilst the coolest months of the year tend to between October and December, however this is cool for Cambodia but far from chilly (avg temperatures 24°C – 26°C).

7.5.1 The Dry Season: October – April / Early May

Cambodia’s dry season lasts from October to April, when the dry north-east monsoon arrives, characterised by hot wind blowing across the entire country. Whilst November to January are quite cool (high 20°C’s) by April the weather is scorching making early morning and late afternoon Angkor Temple tours, with a few hours by the hotel pool at lunchtime, the preference for many.

Thanks to the hot weather this is unsurprisingly the season when Cambodia’s tourist numbers peak. In more remote parts, the roads are at their best and journey times are shorter because of this. Kep and Sihanoukville on the south coast are popular during this season as they bask in the brilliant sunshine and sea conditions are very favourable.

7.5.2 The Wet Season: Early / Mid May – October

Cambodia’s wet season comes courtesy of the southwest monsoon and lasts from May to October, bringing with it almost 75% of Cambodia’s annual rainfall. Across Cambodia, throughout much of the rainy season, daytime temperatures average between 25°C and 27°C. The early months of the wet season (May – July) remain very hot with infrequent rainfall usually in the form of short downpours. In the latter months (late July – September) the rains tend becomes more constant and is heavy at times, especially in coastal and rural regions.

Monsoon Downpour, Thunder & Lightning – Plantation Hotel, Phnom Penh 
(Video Credit: Graham Penrose)

Travel in the more remote corners of the country is almost impossible due to the state of the roads and journeys into the north east are inadvisable during the peak wet season because of this. There is also very limited access to Bamboo Island (near Kep) due to high seas. On the upside, travelling in monsoonal Cambodia does have its advantages. The dust is gone and the lush greenery of the countryside returns. Angkor Wat in particular is stunning in the wet season, with moats brimming with water and a severe drop in visitor numbers.

7.6 Accommodation & Hotels 

Plenty of choice catering for all budgets and tastes – in Phnom Penh:

Accommodation Options & Prices
(Photo Credit: booking.com)

7.7 Public Transport 

There are no state run public transport services. 

Public “Transport”
(Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)


Outside of Urban Centres – Highway Standards
(Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)

7.8 Driving “In Country”

Simple one this – “don’t do it” – driving is not for the faint hearted. Yielding “right of way” translated into local road etiquette means wading into a sea of oncoming mopeds and hoping they stop. Sometimes they do – sometimes they don’t. If you are a meek sort of person you will be trying to make a right turn for several hours if you do not take the plunge and stick your vehicles nose out.

When and if you do try this it is a roll of the dice whether you will end up in a collision. The only way to lessen the hassle here is to drive a vehicle with government plates – not easily sourced.

“Rush hour” starts at 05.00 hours and lasts until 22.00 hours. Where China has bicycles Cambodia has mopeds.

                              
                             

Typical Street Scene – Traffic (Mopeds)
(Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)

On rural roads – where I have been rear ended several times the excuses and reasoning for the collision are generally hilarious if they were not so worrying. On Highway 1 close to the Mekong ferry we slowed our Lexus 4×4 to allow cattle who were blocking the road to be moved out of the way.

While stationery we were rear ended by a Vietnamese registered coach with 90 people on board. The perfectly acceptable explanation that was given by the driver of the bus was that it was not his fault as the brakes on the bus did not work and therefore he could not stop. Seems fair.  


                                                                        

Collision with Vietnamese “Coach” – NH1 Highway
(Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)

The mopeds also act as the work horses for goods haulage and can be seen all over the country clearly heavily overloaded and quite dangerous. The drivers appear to have an uncanny sense of balance on non-windy days.

Heavily Overloaded Vehicles are Commonplace (Mopeds)
(Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)

The moped also acts as a form of mass family transport.

“People Carriers” – Cambodian Version
(Photo Credit: Google Images)

Mini-vans are also frequently seen loaded beyond safe capacity. Stay well clear and never tailgate – loads regularly dislodge. Give these guys a wide berth.

Heavily Overloaded Vehicles are Commonplace (Mini Vans)
(Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)

7.9 The Tuk-Tuk Phenomenon



The most popular form of “taxi”. They come in all shapes and sizes but safety is a concern. No collision protection and no seat belts in most. Cheap and cheerful – always negotiate – there are no meters and no rate cards – USD3 will get you from one end of Phnom Penh to the other during the day.

Tuk-Tuk Types
(Photo Credit: Google Images)

7.10 Medical Facilities & Prescription Medicines 

There are local clinics and hospitals – many medications requiring prescriptions in the West are OTC in Cambodia – but the street stalls selling them trade counterfeit medication with all the attendant risks. Stick to the pharmacies in the large shopping malls.

7.11 Shopping & Counterfeit Goods

Buyer beware – brands are counterfeit in 90% of the cases unless buying at one of the international brands local stores of which there are few.

Street traders will consistently pitch – all their stuff with few exceptions is knock-off. Don’t be tempted.

Also your “change” will more than likely be in counterfeit dollars – adding to the hassle later when you try to use them.

Street Vendors at the Mekong Ferry Terminal
(Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)


7.12 Drinking Water


Do not drink the tap water – ice cubes in your drink may be ok – but why take a chance.

7.13 Eating Out 

The most important part of every meal is rice. In fact, Cambodians greet each other by saying “Nyam bai howie nov?” (“Have you eaten rice yet?”)

Plenty of choice for local dishes – slippery slope after that – plenty of fast food outlets serving chicken and KFC’s on every corner but Cambodian concepts of acceptable poultry bear no resemblance to Western standards.

7.14 Street Food 
(Excerpts from and credit to http://www.movetocambodia.com/food/eating-street-food-in-cambodia/ for elements of this section)

Many visitors believe that the Kingdom’s roadside delicacies consist of little more more than deep-fried tarantulas and stir-fried crickets. Concerns about hygiene also keep some foreigners from indulging.

But the best street food isn’t about bugs–either the edible or intestinal kind–and it’s too good to miss. You just need to choose wisely. The safest street foods are those that are cooked in front of you and served hot, which kills off bacteria.

“Street food has two advantages over food cooked in restaurants: transparency and immediacy. When you eat on the street nothing is hidden; you can judge whether or not the person handling your food, the surface on which it’s prepped and the plate on which it will be served is clean,” said food journalist Robyn Eckhardt, who has written extensively about street food in Asia and Turkey for international publications.

“And because the time from stall to table is just seconds, you can be confident that your food hasn’t languished long enough to collect the odd bacteria.” Here are some of the safest and tastiest dishes that you’ll find on the streets of Cambodia. Although they are usually sold at street-side stands and by roving vendors, you’ll also find them at the food area at Central Market, which has grown-up-sized seats and perhaps slightly higher hygienic standards.

7.14.1 Iced coffee with milk: Perhaps the easiest introduction to street food is its beverages. The thoroughfares of Phnom Penh are lined with coffee shops selling kar-fe toek doh koh toek gok, or iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk. If you’re like me, knowing that the beans are roasted in lard makes the sweet, strong coffee taste that much better. Some choose to have it without the condensed milk, but they underestimate the mental clarity aroused by the tingling of dental cavities caused by the drink’s unabashed treacliness.

7.14.2 Chive cakes: Fried in shallow pans by mobile street vendors, num kachay are small chive cakes, made with glutinous rice flour and served with a sweet, spicy fish sauce. You’ll find similar versions of this dish in Thailand, but the recipe is believed to have originated in China.

7.14.3 Beef skewers: A common afternoon or evening snack in Cambodia, sach ko chomkak are skewers of beef cooked over hot coals. They’re best enjoyed tucked into a crunchy baguette and accompanied by tart green papaya slaw and spicy red chili sauce. Cambodia street food fried noodles Not the most visually appealing, but fried noodles are some of the cheapest, most filling street food in Cambodia.

7.14.4 Fried noodles: Variations of fried noodles abound in Cambodia, but whether they’re made with short, thick rice noodles that resemble worms, soft yellow egg noodles or packaged deep-fried instant ramen noodles, mi char is one of the simplest and most satisfying afternoon snacks. While sellers have many different variations, beef and pork stir-fried with tender greens are the most common. For an added treat, ask for a fried egg on top.

7.14.5 Noodle soup: One of the most popular breakfasts in town, kuy teav is a noodle soup made from pork or beef bones and rice vermicelli and topped with fried shallots, green onions and bean sprouts. Fish balls and pork are usually added, although you’ll sometimes find rare-beef kuy teav as well. But don’t dare call it pho! Many Cambodians believe that the dish originated in Kampuchea Krom–the area of Southern Vietnam that was once part of the Khmer Empire–and that the famous Vietnamese soup came second. A delicious Phnom Penh speciality version of the soup, kuy teav Phnom Penh, featuring blood, liver, intestines and tongue, is not for the faint of heart (or squeamish expats).

7.14.6 “Pop-Up” Restaurants

These exist on the footpath / sidewalk and are common place. Street stalls line the streets.

Not for me but if it is to your liking – go for it – knock yourself out – you probably will. My Simple Rule – DO NOT EAT IT.

Street Food Samples
(Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)
7.15 The Smelliest Fruit in the World – Durian

Worth a quick mention is durian whose name is derived from the Malay-Indonesian languages word for duri or “spike”, a reference to the numerous spike protuberances of the fruit. There are 30 recognised Durio species, at least nine of which produce edible fruit.

It is regarded by many people in southeast Asia as the “king of fruits”, the durian is distinctive for its large size, strong odour, and formidable thorn-covered husk.

No Guns : No Goats : No Smoking : No Durian : No Drinks : No Dogs
(Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)

The fruit can grow as large as 30 centimetres (12 in) long and 15 centimetres (6 in) in diameter, and it typically weighs one to three kilograms (2 to 7 lb). Its shape ranges from oblong to round, the colour of its husk green to brown, and its flesh pale yellow to red, depending on the species.
                                                                                
It is common to see these signs in Hotels & public places which gives you and idea of how offensive the odour of this fruit is to many people.

7.16 Socialising & Night Life 


Surprisingly, the nightlife is good fun but PP is not bangkok – still it offers a selection of dance clubs, sports bars, neighbourhood pubs, karaoke, upscale clubs and more.

Bars and clubs are scattered across the town but as the city is fairly compact it’s never more than a five or ten minute ride between places, usually less. And there are several little clusters of bars and nightspots around town allowing you to hop easily from one to the next.

There is no centralized red light district in Phnom Penh, but the area around Street 130, Street 136 and Street 51 is where the majority of bar girls can be found, at any time of the day or night. Most of the ‘bars’ are little more than brothels with beer.

Pimps shuttling their workers to clients – these guys will shadow your Tuk-Tuk and try to “negotiate” a price while dodging traffic

                                                                       (Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)

Popular spots if that is your thing are: Catch 22 B, Island Bar, Sharky Bar, Martini Pub, Matilda Bar, 69 Bar & Mr. Butterfly Bar.

Best nightclubs are: D.R Bar Night Club/Discotheque Dance club, open into the very late evening. DJs every night playing hip-hop, rap, funk, trance, house and R&B. Attracting a young local crowd as well as tourists and expatriate. Full bar with beer, spirits and cocktails.. #40, Street 214, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 7:30PM – 4:00AM Tel: 011-337327 and Heart of Darkness Bar.

8. Other Important Stuff

8.1 Law Enforcement
Do not get into trouble in Cambodia – the experience of spending a few days in custody will more than likely far outweigh what you may or may not have done.

Rural Police Station (Eastern Cambodia) & Law Enforcement Officers

                                                                       (Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)

8.2 Urban De-Militarisation 

It is illegal to carry a firearm within 30kms of an urban area. 
8.3 Tourists Shooting Guns
It is illegal – blowing up cows with bazookas is not acceptable and it is illegal and you will be prosecuted. Tuk-tuk drivers will offer you this and the opportunity to lob some rounds from heavy guns across a rural field – do not take their offer.

You will also be offered “special” deals at tattoo parlours. Wait until you get home. Although personally I have had tattoos done in SEA but with people I knew and who were highly recommended.

8.4 Visit the Mekong Delta 

The Mekong

                                                                       (Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)

8.5 Random Pictures

Jungle, Sunset on the Mekong & Temple Gates (they are everywhere)
                                                                       (Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)

Finally here is a picture of a very cute and very small dog I met while hiking in Poipet. He was not impressed – clearly.

Man’s Best Friend – In a Bad Mood
(Photo Credit: Graham Penrose)

Thailand’s coup – a serious threat to stability in Myanmar and Cambodia

In late May 2014 the Thai military seized power in a widely anticipated coup by the hawks who have been hinting at same for some time now. This is the twelfth coup in Thailand since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932 (BBC, 2014) and the army justified their intervention on this occasion for the need to stabilize the volatile political situation.

Thailand has been in turmoil during recent years and the already tense situation – where two sides kept rallying against or for the government – began to escalate in November 2013 when MPs approved a controversial bill which would help former Prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra avoid prison on corruption charges. The situation worsened in May 2014 when the Constitutional Court removed PM Yingluck Shinawatra from power. (BBC, 2014)

Thaksin Shinawatra & Yingluck Shinawatra
Shortly afterwards, the army stepped in and started clamping down on intellectuals and opposition, limited the freedom of speech and imposed a curfew. Western leaders criticized the coup and are closely watching what impact the situation will have on the South-East Asian region. Of particular interest is the impact on the Kingdom of Cambodia which is struggling with an influx of its citizens from Thailand, and on Myanmar, itself a former military regime. Can these emerging democracies and key players in the “sphere of influence” stand-off between China and the USA in the region, withstand the Thai crisis?

Struggling Thailand

Leader of the Thai coup, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, announced in late June that Thailand will not have free elections until October 2015. The reason why was given as “We want to see an election that will take place under the new constitution… Today, if we go ahead and hold a general election, it will lead to a situation that will return to the old cycle of conflict, violence, corruption by influential groups in politics, terrorism and the use of war weapons.” (BBC, 2014)


General Prayuth Chan-ocha

Thailand is divided internally and its economy has been struggling with slowing growth and outflows of capital (The Irrawaddy, 2014). Prior to the current political unrest, there was a need for Thailand to take action to stay competitive in the Asian market, given the emergence of other countries such as Myanmar, Indonesia and the Philippines as attractive alternative places to invest. The country, once a symbol of democracy and prosperity in the region, is now in turmoil, its intellectual elite and media live in fear and the political upheavals are impacting Thailand´s neighbors.

Exodus to Cambodia

Cambodia was hit by a huge wave of returnees. Almost 200,000 Cambodian workers in Thailand started moving eastwards once the rumor spread that the Thai junta would clamp down on illegal migrants. This led to a row between the two countries as thousands of desperate Cambodians headed for the border.

Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng blamed the Thai army for the exodus and said it “must be held responsible”. (BBC, 2014) The generals defended themselves and issued a statement saying that only illegals would be targeted. The issue is not helping the already tense relations, given the legacy border issues over the area around the Preah Vihear temple in the Dangrek Mountains which led to riots and armed conflict in 2003.


Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng

The fragile Cambodian democracy and the country’s economic potential are at stake. The return of ex-pat Cambodians may harm the local economy and affect border security in the disputed region.

In addition, Thai intellectuals seeking exile in Cambodia – something unimaginable a few decades ago – and who may plan to organize resistance from there against the junta places Phnom Penh in an “awkward position” (New York Times, 2014).

Economic Windfall for Myanmar

In Myanmar the government is struggling to come to terms with events in Bangkok. Myanmar which only a few years ago was home to a ruthless regime is a delicate balance of democratic aspirations assisted by foreign direct investment by China and the USA in particular in an attempt to nurture and preserve the new political climate. Events in Thailand are familiar to the Burmese in particular dictat’s curtailing the freedom of speech and the regular announcements of names of detained citizens on Thai TV.

And there are fears in Myanmar that the Thai coup will threaten their emerging freedom and destabilize the region. These fears come, interalia, from the National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition party. “I am sad to learn about the coup, it could give the government an idea,” Win Htein, a MP for NLD said (Bangkok Post, 2014). “The lessons in all this for Myanmar are plain to see. … And for whatever reason, we must not let our guards down,“ Burmese Professor Aung Naing Oo teaching in Thailand warned (ibid).


Professor Aung Naing Oo

But others are not that fearful, government MPs are generally condemning the coup saying that Myanmar – as current ASEAN chairman – will “respond soon” and “see how soon the power goes back to people”. Historically, coups in Thailand and Myanmar / Burma are different, in Thailand the army always gave back the power, while in Burma the coup of 1962 meant decades of tyranny.

Win Htein (right)

The Thai coup is likely to lead to Myanmar competing for foreign direct investments previously ear marked for Thailand before the uncertainty. Myanmar has potential in gas and oil development and investors will prefer projects there if Thailand remains unstable – the additional capital investment in addressing the infrastructural challenges in Myanmar may seem more palatable than an all or nothing bet on Thailand not descending into serious civil unrest.

International Response

Criticism of the coup by Western governments and Australia is not helping Bangkok. (The Irrawaddy, 2014). Elsewhere the response has been muted and benign, most Western governments are focused on events in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.  

In Myanmar politicians are not worried about regional instability. “I am more worried about people sabotaging the peace process (between the government and ethnic groups),” Burmese MP Ye Myint told Bangkok Post. (Bangkok Post, 2014)

In Cambodia, the government is taking as diplomatic a stance as it can, without seeming weak, and hoping that the more sinister predictions regarding the Thai military and their designs on the disputed border regions, are avoided

Sentiment in Thailand is mixed but most is negative “I think there will be problems in this country for a generation or two,” a business owner in Bangkok was quoted as saying “I would like to get out of the country safely,“ he added. (New York Times, 2014)

Is this the end game for Thai democracy, a potential spark to ignite a wider Thai / Cambodian conflict to allow the Thai military divert attention from internal issues or a motivator for similar minds in Myanmar to return that nation to a military administration? Or is it just another intermezzo in the decades of peculiar Thai democracy and South East Asian politics in general.
Sources

BBC NEWS. (2014) Thai army promises elections in October 2015. [Online] Available from:
[Accessed: 29th September 2014].

BBC NEWS. (2014) Cambodia ramps up criticism of Thailand´s junta. [Online] Available from: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-27898652
[Accessed: 29th September 2014].

BBC NEWS. (2014) Why is Thailand under military rule? [Online] Available from: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-25149484
[Accessed: 29th September 2014].

BOOT, W. (2014) Thailand´s Coup May Affect Burma´s Oil and Gas Sector. The Irrawaddy [Online] 6th June. Available from: http://www.irrawaddy.org/business/thailands-coup-may-affect-burmas-oil-gas-sector.html [Accessed: 29th September 2014].

CNN (2014) Cambodian migrant workers flee Thailand [Online] Available from: http://edition.cnn.com/2014/06/18/world/cambodia-thailand-migrants-border/index.html
[Accessed: 29th September 2014].

FULLER, T. (2014) In Thailand, growing intolerance for dissent drives many to more authoritarian nations. New York Times. [Online] 6th June. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/07/world/asia/in-thailand-a-growing-intolerance-for-dissent.html?_r=0 [Accessed: 29th September 2014].

VERBROGGEN, Y (2014) Myanmar stunned by coup, and they should know. Bangkok Post. [Online] 1st June. Available from: http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/investigation/412921/myanmar-stunned-by-coup-and-they-should-know [Accessed: 29th September 2014].