As I expected the weather in Denmark to be bloody awful in January I opted out for that month at home. In 2017 January were spent in The Kingdom of Cambodia. On the pages in this section you’ll find photos and experiences from my visit in Cambodia.
I find Cambodia very similar to Myanmar, of course there are differences between the two. But as a traveller it can be tricky to tell the difference – likewise I would
Some of the differences that I have found
- Traffic and infrastructure
- Recent history
In both countries the major religion is Buddhism, in Myanmar many people visits the temple every day and most say that they live according to the philosophy of Buddha. Because of this the temples are open at all days, detailed decorated, in god maintenance and clean. In Cambodia the population is Buddhist like Danes are Christian, they say the are, but do not attend the temple on a regular basis. Because of this the temples are not as large as in Myanmar and not as detailed decorated. You will find that some of the temples are closed most days of the week.
In Myanmar many roads are still in a poor condition and even main roads between larger cities are without a sealed surface. In Cambodia main roads has sealed surface and most of those I rode was in good condition over long stretches, but of course not of European standard. The roads has holes and bumps some places, but you’ll have a reasonable comfortable travel most of the time.
Traffic is like on most other SEA countries mixed of bikes, motorbikes, tuk-tuk, cars (very old to brand new), minibuses, trucks and buses. The Cambodians seems to be in a hurry when driving, they drive fast without consideration of circumstances. In a shared taxi I could see the speedometer going towards 75 Mph, the speed limit showed 60, so I thought he was only about 25% above, but the sign was actually in Kmph. As vehicles are not capable of running at the same speed – a minivan with 40 passengers standing in the cargo bay, do not perform like a SUV with a driver and a passenger – so the drivers tend to be driving in speed lanes. Going from right side of the road you’ll find bikes, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, slow cars, fast cars, buses and minibuses. Add to the fact that the road is 1 lane in each direction. When you are approaching a slower vehicle from the back, don’t adjust your speed, just honk the horn and go past the slower obstacle, believe that the drivers in the other direction will seek to their right to avoid hitting you. Mines are no longer the largest cause of death and injury it has be surpassed by traffic.
To the above you need to add, that safety equipment like belts and helmets are missing for many vehicles. However it is mandatory when riding in front seats to wear belts and motorbike drivers helmets. Many vehicles is rather old and poorly maintained. When loading people and gods on board it’s not a question of what the vehicle was designed or approved for, it’s a question of how efficient you can pack it together. The engine will over time be able to put speed to the whole bunch, and the brakes might be able to stop it again.
We went by a minivan for a trip, when we arrived at the garage the driver was putting some seats into a very old and battered Toyota HighAce – don’t think 2 doors were of the same colour. The seats were not fixed to the floor, the were just laid on a set of rails down the length of the compartment. He fitted 4 rows of seats, providing 3 rows of 3 seats and 1 of 4. By my European mindset that sums up to seats for 13 passengers plus 1 in the front passenger seat. On the floor below the seats 2 tires for a tractor were place, occupying most of the floor. As we went along more and more passengers were picked up. At peak there were 18 adults, 2 children and 3 chickens. The seat arrangement did not provide a luggage space, so luggage were piled up between seats and people. When we arrived at the destination we could not get of at the preferred stop, we had to go on for additional 500 meters, the reason was that the motorbike that was tied to the tailgate blocked the access to our luggage, which was fixed under the rear seat row. Luckily the minivan did not drive fast when it was fully loaded, but I don’t think it was due to the drivers caution only to poor engine performance.
When you are to do a left turn you’ll take the vehicle to the outermost left part of the road and drive against the traffic there for 1-200 meters. When entering the road just drive on, don’t look back. If someone think its dangerous they will honk their horn. The procedure can be performed from both sides of the road.
My conclusion not that Cambodians drive like children, they drive like drunk children.
In Myanmar and Thailand (out side Bangkok) I have often found that traffic is running slowly with a great deal of caution.
Compared to central Myanmar you can feel that you have travelled some 1.000 km to the south. It’s a few degrees warmer and even in the mountains in the north east it’s not cold like HsiPaw or Pyin oo Lwin .
When travelling in Myanmar you get used to getting a large smile on almost every face when you greet the person with a ‘Hello’ or ‘Mingalabar’. Cambodians seem to reserve the smile for better occasions, and when visiting tribes in the north eastern part you can get the impression ‘Please go away, we are not interested in your visit’. But don’t be scared away if you need assistance for getting to another place or to buy something they turn out to be as helpful and pleasant as the Burmese. They are on approximately the same level on English competences some be prepared to gesture from time to time.
Both Myanmar and Cambodia have an unpleasant recent history. But the generals in Myanmar are amateurs in mistreating the country and population when compared to Khmer Rouge. The Pol Pot lead regime is unsurpassed when it comes to brutality and inhumane behaviour. Be prepared to face the cruelties, as many Cambodians have memories about the regime – it collapsed in 1979, so people at the age of 45 and more have memories – some are prepared to share their story, and it’s not nice. Around the country you’ll find memorial sites for the genocide. The sites are mostly placed on the actual site of the crime – Killing Fields – be prepared to be presented to skulls and bones piled up for display, statues of torture scenes and base relief of killing and torture scenes. Reflect on the facts and take part in the knowledge and participate to avoid that anything like this can happen again.
Despite the traffic and the Khmer Rouge I have enjoyed to travel around Cambodia. I will recommend to do so, and especially go beyond Siem Reap, Phnom Pehn and Sianoukville.