Cambodia

Easy Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat at dawn

Angkor Wat at dawn

Easy trip to Siem Reap – just follow these instructions. We stayed with Andy at the V & A. You can follow the same principles if you stay elsewhere.

PRE-TRIP
– do some reading on Cambodia, Siem Reap, and Angkor Wat, preferably
– book airline
– book transport to and from your local airport
– book accommodation with Andy and tell him your arrival details for airport pickup
– pack – you can see here for my list for travelling light
– take care of any arrangements necessary for your home – these I can’t predict

THE TRIP
– On boarding plane – pick up entry form and customs form at gate, just before boarding and fill them out before landing.
– Deplane from steps, walk along outside terminal for three minutes and then into terminal.

visa form

visa form

– Pickup visa form in hall and fill in. Then hand in at long counter. USD$30 if you have one photo, $2 more if no photo. Wait for a few minutes and they call out your name and hand you your passport
– Then join queue for immigration and they take entry card. Fingerprint taken sometimes. Not for me, though
– Alcohol is about the same price in town, so no need to buy in the duty-free shop
– At customs as you exit they take customs form

You will exit where the crowd (of driver) is waiting in the middle of this photo. Turn to your right and you will see the SIM shop with green signs.

You will exit where the crowd (of drivers) is waiting in the middle of this photo. Turn to your right and you will see the SIM shop with green signs which you can see on the left of this photo.

– Get sim card – turn right when exit airport terminal doors and find shops selling sims

SIM shop

SIM shop

SIM prices. I took the first choice on the left which was ample for 10 days

SIM prices. I took the first choice on the left which was ample for 10 days and data was 4G

 

SIM

SIM

useful numbers to check account

useful numbers to check account

– I found it very useful to have a sim – I booked restaurants, called a few places and sent few texts. Many places have free WiFi, so I only used 500MB of data – for Google Maps etc. when out. The $5 calls and 1.5GB of data was sufficient for 10 days.
– Also, as you exit terminal the tuk tuk drivers are waiting with name signs. One tuk tuk should be sufficient for two people with their luggage. If you arranged it with V & A a tuk tuk will be waiting for you and will transfer you to the hotel free.  Most hotels do this.

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THE STAY
– It’s about 10 minutes by tuk tuk from the airport to the V & A .
– There is a hefty flat fee for withdrawing from ATMs. For UK cardholders this may not be charged if you use the Canadia Bank – I am waiting on my statement to check this. Thus it makes sense to withdraw as much as possible each time. For me I was limited to $400 per withdrawl. Their ATM is on the corner of Sivatha Street and Hospital Street.
– If you’ve done your research you know what you want to do during your stay. You can ask Andy to book anything you want.
– If you’ve done insufficient to no research, Andy will tell you what there is to do and arrange it for you. He’s very helpful.

some tour suggestions

some tour suggestions

 

ticket prices for the temples

ticket prices for the temples

– A few of the activities: temples galore, enough for days or weeks of visiting; a huge varied number of restaurants, many very reasonably priced; cultural shows; the circus; local life in villages to see; hiking and adventure activities; craft shops and manufacturing visits; Angkor Wat, of course, is the star.

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OTHER INFORMATION
– A tuk tuk should cost $2 within Siem Reap, from anywhere to anywhere. They will sometimes try for more, so ensure you negotiate before riding.
– As there were six of us we hired airconditioned vans with a driver to tour the temples. The cost per day mainly depends on how far you drive. It was $30 for the shorter distance days, and $60 for the longer day tour.  A tuk tuk makes you so hot and dusty if you use it for the temple tours, and costs very little less than a car or van. And it’s much slower. For two I would recommend a car, and for four or more a van. The ones we used were all Mercedes.

Mercedes van

Mercedes van

– I found the dust and fumes gave me an allergic reaction after few days. I bought a nasal spray at a pharmacy – about $10 – and rested for a day – and I recovered and carried on. I hate taking medicine, but in this case it was better to do so. I only needed it five times.
– You can see my blog from our visit to Siem Reap three years ago.
V & A is a very pleasant hotel, with pool, library, decent sized rooms, common area to chat to other guests, and importantly Andy, who will take care of any arrangements you need. It is a few minutes from the centre – you still pay the same for a tuk tuk to anywhere – but the air is cleaner than in the town centre. There are a few restaurants and coffee shops within a few minutes walk, too, on the main road.  You also have an unlimited free supply of drinking water, which as you know will save so much trouble buying water every day – plus not throwing away huge numbers of plastic bottles.

another typical power point

typical power point

one typical power point

one other typical power point

– As usual with all my blogs I earn no money or freebies from my blog, and I never have.  The aim was to make it very easy for you by giving my specific experience.

restaurant receipts

restaurant receipts

restaurant receipts

restaurant receipts

restaurant receipts

restaurant receipts

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Even more signs of Siem Reap, Cambodia

Last in the series:

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lotus flower in pool towel

lotus flower in pool towel

one typical power point

one typical power point

another typical power point

another typical power point

 Khmer traditional herbal steam sauna - Chupong

Khmer traditional herbal steam sauna – Chupong

 Khmer traditional herbal steam sauna - Chupong

Khmer traditional herbal steam sauna – Chupong

 Khmer traditional herbal steam sauna - Chupong

Khmer traditional herbal steam sauna – Chupong

typical electrical infrastructure

typical electrical infrastructure

typical electrical infrastructure

typical electrical infrastructure

so many motor bikes

so many motor bikes

market

market

many roundabouts have statues

many roundabouts have statues

many roundabouts have statues

many roundabouts have statues

many roundabouts have statues

many roundabouts have statues

houses have spirit houses

houses have spirit houses

there are so many comms towers and thus one gets a good mobile signal

there are so many comms towers and thus one gets a good mobile signal

in the suburbs of Siem Reap

in the suburbs of Siem Reap

yes

yes

a temple scene

a temple scene

on a bridge near Angkor Thom

on a bridge near Angkor Thom

two-faced?

two-faced?

nice Naga

nice Naga

nice Naga

nice Naga

about to leave

about to leave

about to leave

about to leave

Interview with a Trans-Siberian traveller to Penang

Idly browsing my blog statistics one day – something I almost never do – I saw that someone had been referred to my blog from a blog called Toad’s Travel Adventures. I read “Wind in the Willows” when I was a kid, so I clicked on this, to discover the author was soon planning to take the Trans-Siberian Railway to Beijing, and then catch the train through Vietnam and travel on to Singapore.  Well, I hope to do a similar trip,  have more or less done the train myself from Hanoi to Singapore,  and as he was stopping off in Penang on the way, we decided to get together. Meanwhile I read about his progress on his blog until he actually arrived in Penang. Here are his answers to my questions.

Matthew

Matthew

Matthew, a two times veteran of the Trans-Siberian Railway, talks about his two  trips.

Tell me about about your usual travelling style.

My normal travelling style would be much more luxurious I would say.  I’ve spent 20 years probably spending too much money on business class and enjoying nice lounges. But that doesn’t necessarily equal the experience I’m looking for. I’m not now trying to be a backpacker, but find some sort of middle ground that gives me some of life’s great memories without having to spend the sort of money I used to. It’s a much richer experience travelling by train. It is not about the luxury but more about the people you are with and the experiences.

I believe you did this trip before, but to Shanghai  last time – why are you doing it a second time?

I can now call it a dress rehearsal for the current one.  It was my first foray into solo train travel to places I hadn’t been to before. From Shanghai I hopped onto a plane down to Thailand and bumped into a couple of women from London on a cooking school who told me their journey, and I realised I hadn’t been adventurous enough. I realised I’d be able to go the whole way. After two months of thinking it was a mad journey I’d done, I realised how much I’d enjoyed it and I decided to stretch myself a bit more and do the whole mission. Even though it meant repeating the beginning of the journey – as far as Beijing – which takes 10 days to two weeks. The challenge this time was getting from Beijing down to Penang. The other thing is that generally land routes from Europe to Singapore have been quite difficult, but I realised that with the train it is possible to do it.

What was different about this overland trip to the last time?

To begin with I had more certainty of what was going to happen and that has advantages of allowing you to relax a bit. But the disadvantages are it’s not quite as impactful or meaningful. It’s been a much bigger stretch than the previous trip as it’s  longer and involved a considerable deal more planning from a red tape point of view and contact with a lot more local agents. The organisational phase was probably three times longer than the previous trip, but the rewards are probably three times greater, and the reward comes from the difficulty. It’s valuing personal achievement. So you’re having fun, but it’s been more of a challenge.

How did you decide the direction – west-east – as opposed to east-west?

As someone who lives in the west and always gone east it’s normal for me to think of going this way. If I were doing the silk route classically I would think of doing it east-west, and maybe I will. I think a key reason is the planning – it is easier to plan a trip from west to east because the greatest red tape problems come around exact dates of entering and leaving countries around Russia particularly, and if you start at that end it is easier to get that right rather than the other way unless you are absolutely precise about when you are landing it could be quite hard. I think there are two styles of traveller.  The free and easy “I’ll see if I can get a train there tomorrow” kind – and I applaud those people, but then there are the kind of people who are maybe a bit control freaky who want to know more precisely what is ahead. I’m definitely in that category,but I have a degree of flexibility; but I like to stick to a plan if I can, and I think that has benefits. So for my planning phase I can recall it was much easier going from the west to the east and also there was something else about the conditionality of visas. For example, for China, where you needed to be able to show exit and entry – it definitely just flowed better going in that direction.

Why do you travel by yourself?

As I have got older more of my friends have got family travel commitments, and I find two things. Firstly, fewer and fewer people have the time and focus on the thing you are interested in, and also the slightly selfish thing is that travelling alone is more fun. And I mean that from the point of view that you get that richness of – you can’t just sit back and not talk to people when you travel alone, so it forces you to get into the culture of a place a bit more.  So I am not saying I don’t enjoy travelling with friends . but the combination of a lack of friends with the same mission in mind, plus that means that solo travel is rather good. A perfect compromise would be to meet friends for a bit of a journey  – or meet up in a city for a few days – and then you don’t have the pressure of no two people wanting to do the same thing on an itinerary.

 How did you go about planning the trip, which is a really complicated thing I imagine?

 The research phase normally starts off with a visit to Seat 61,which everyone will go to, and it’s 98% bulletproof for basic travel planning. I think then there is a phase of checking with agents that the services you need are there and that they are affordable, which gives you the confidence that you can actually do it. I tend to spend a long period of time until I commit, wanting to know as much as possible about a trip before I finally pull the pin.

Which websites did you use apart from Seat 61?

I tend to try to hunt down blogs of travellers. I think that gives a more real edge to it and then compare those with the web sites of travel agents offering ticketing, transportation or tour services to the place you’re going and see you they compare.  It’s nice to see the alternatives to Seat 61. I found this blog of a German guy who went to Pyongyang and he’s got 10 years of blogged travel experiences of train travel around the world in extreme detail. And that’s quite a treasure trove. Whereas Seat 61 would just give the broad brush context, the timetable and the cost. It doesn’t  really tell you what it’s like crossing the border so it’s nice to find that depth of detail. I’ll have a large spreadsheet containing a calendar and then I’ll try like a large jigsaw puzzle to assemble each of the sub components of the trip. And see what days of the week the trains might be going and see where it fits together and where it doesn’t. And move the pieces around in such a way that you then get a viable itinerary.   There’s then that moment of wanting to know that everything’s possible before you commit to spending money on things – before you start buying a visa to a certain country, you book the hotel OK there,is the train available etc. etc. You try to de-risk it as much as possible. I would normally start with the train – if it’s a train trip – I would then be thinking about the visa requirement and then I would be thinking about the hotels, but I would check all three from the point of view of availability before booking any of them. Not that I am that fussy about hotels. But I might change the whole thing around so I can stay where I want to.

Why do you do these trips in winter?

That’s the available time of year. It’s easier to plan. But also I’d commend a Siberian winter to anyone. It’s quite good fun. It’s not that it’s cold on the train. It’s very hot.

You still need all the cold weather gear, don’t you?

You do.  This time I thought about trying to sacrifice some of it.  Because it’s not that long you’re outside for. But I don’t recommend it. You need a good pair of boots and you  need a good jacket. This year in Moscow it wasn’t cold enough, and there was a lot of black ice, so it was really dangerous on station platforms and so on.

Having more or less carried out your plan, do you think you could have made a better plan?

I can’t think of any massive flaws. I’d like to make more of Europe. I’d like to stop in Berlin. I stopped in Warsaw this time and loved that. If I was travelling in the summer I would always get off in Mongolia and I’ve not achieved that yet. But it’s not going to be comfortable in a ger in -35. I haven’t spent enough in Cambodia. I literally just dashed through the place. Other than that everything else has come together quite nicely. I think 6 weeks is a good length of time for it. 45 days gives you enough time to have a couple of semi breaks. 60 days’d be nicer,but…

If you had unlimited time, what would your plan have been?

I’d have stopped off a bit more in Vietnam, I’d spent time in Hue, Na Trang, Halong Bay, maybe tried to do something a bit off the beaten path in Cambodia. I’m quite interested in these motorbike itineraries you can pickup in Vietnam and Cambodia. Laos would have been an interesting side journey, but not on the main path, although I understand it’s possible to take a bus from China to Laos, and then a bus from Laos to Bangkok. I’d like to see St. Petersburg.

What went well, and what didn’t?

The plan went very well. It delivered everything I wanted it to from the trip.  The only problem was self-inflicted – too many oysters in central Vietnam which destroyed one of my train journeys. I think I over packed,but it’s been easy to get over whatever the situation. Every trip is different. There were a lot more mainstream tourists on the Trans-Siberian leg than the previous trip. It didn’t feel quite so Marco Poloish. The previous year there were very few of us. It’s funny how that changes the atmosphere and dynamics of a journey. On this trip, when I left Beijing for Hanoi I didn’t see a western person for the whole journey. Apart from that health problem, everything else has gone swimmingly.

What were your best memories of the trip?

Motorbiking with a side car in Hoi An was a definite highpoint – out in the fields. The food has been a high point. I’ve had some incredible dishes from around the world. And I’ve met some incredible people – local people I’ve met on trains in the country and also travellers on their own adventures. There are thousands and thousands of people doing similar but slightly different journeys and it’s great to meet them and compare plans. There’s a real spirit on the Trans-Siberian when everyone realises they’re arriving in Beijing. And the small-world paradox where you actually bump into people you have met on trains in other countries.

Is there anything I didn’t ask – or anything you’d like to add?

My next trip – I’m quite excited about the prospect about a central Asian escapade. But I’ve got all that research to do. Either to Vladivostok or head off from Moscow down to central Asia. That’s the next big question. I’d need to vary the season a little. Something tells me I should try that trip in September. I need to do the research.  And my mind is always trying to find film connections with stuff that I do. Has there been a film made there? As you see in my blog.

Thanks very much, Matthew.

Matthew at the Penang Club

Matthew at the Penang Club

So, have a look at his trip on his blog – http://toadstraveladventures.blogspot.co.uk/

Signs of Cambodia

The last blog on my trip to Vietnam and Cambodia this year – 2013.

The signs I liked on this trip:

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meanwhile back in the city

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perhaps it’s about helmets

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flag

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as seen from a central park

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found justice

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World Toilet Association

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yum

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more official buildings

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I like that cults get a mention

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a couple of street signs

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money can be beautiful?

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here they have a cute dog

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in response to the universal question in this country

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sounds good

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it seemed interesting at the time

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useful to know

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bus timetables

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anywhere you’d like to go?

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outside a hotel near mine in Phnom Penh

Then down at Otres Beach…

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Err, don’t tell her what, exactly?

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sounds nice

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they have everything

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you can go anywhere

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and get anything

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sounds good

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so many bars

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you may know now, you probably won’t later

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ditto

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a local convenience store

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another bar

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I’m told they are good

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I don’t think they were joking

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another Otres Beach menu

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Yep, Cambodia Beer

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Blame Canada? For what? 50 cent beer?

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Ritchies was pretty good

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gives you an idea of local prices

A stroll through Otres Beach, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

A stroll around Otres, showing also the sunsets, the Saturday night market, dinner at the beach, and an example of accommodation.  I start where the road comes in to Otres, walk along the road, then at the end of the built up area go to the beach, and walk back to the starting place but along the beach.

arriving at Otres

arriving at Otres

and you can finally see the sea through the gap

and you can finally see the sea through the gap

looking down the main road

looking down the main road

many huts for accommodation and restaurants

one of many huts for accommodation and restaurants

all with a nice view on this side of the road

all with a nice view on this side of the road

I like the name

I like the name

a "convenience store"

a “convenience store”

went there once

went there once

menu

menu

continuing along the road - mushroom hut accommodation and bar

continuing along the road – mushroom hut accommodation and bar

one of my favourites

one of my favourites – I have dinner here later

and almost at the end of the built up stretch of road - the Mushroom Point - where I stayed

and almost at the end of the built up stretch of road – the Mushroom Point – where I stayed. It’s the opposite side of the road from the beach, and thus more private

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reception area and bar

a mushroom hut with ensuite on left

a mushroom hut with ensuite on left

hut

hut

inside the hut - there are lights and a fan, too

inside the hut – there are lights and a fan, too

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the ensuite

cross the road to the beach

cross the road to the beach

and now walk back towards where we started, but this time on the beach

and now walk back towards where we started, but this time on the beach

this is at the mushroom bar, on the beach - you can run a tab and pay at the end of the day

this is at the mushroom bar, on the beach – you can run a tab and pay at the end of the day

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dogs aren’t dumb – they know where it’s cool

nice view

nice view

not really bothered by anything on the beach

not really bothered by anything on the beach

further along

further along the beach

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yes, really

Yes, really. I had a beer at this place, but some young guys there were smoking.

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close to the end of the built up area of the beach – and close to where the road came in

beautiful sunsets here

beautiful sunsets here

Mushroom Bar in the evening

Mushroom Bar in the evening

And on Saturday nights there is a market. About $4 by tuk tuk and 10 minutes to get there. Otres Beach becomes very quiet as many tourists and local shop owners go.

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there are bands

there are bands

Back at the beach at night…

the BBQ's are good

the BBQ’s are good

delicious

delicious

Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville by bus, and then back by minivan – in 2013

About 5 pm the day before our journey we asked the hotel to get bus tickets for the next morning to Sihanoukville. They booked and confirmed immediately, and we paid $10 per ticket. Interestingly, when we paid at the front desk they gave no receipt. So I asked, and they said the tickets would be the receipt, which they’d give us later when they were delivered. We trusted them, and it was fine.

It is supposed to take four hours to get there. We thought we’d have a half day in Sihanoukville.
USD$10 per ticket at the hotel

USD$10 per ticket at the hotel

At 9.30 am we were picked up in a minibus, and dropped off at the Sorya Transport bus station 15 minutes later.

Sorya Bus Station

Sorya Bus Station

Sorya Bus Station

Sorya Bus Station

We boarded the bus, but the a-c was off, so it was hot.

Bus to Sihanoukville

Bus to Sihanoukville

quite comfortable interior

quite comfortable interior

The bus left 10 minutes late at 10.10, and made a couple more pickups on the way out of Phnom Penh. The bus was a double decker, with passengers on the upper deck.

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It was almost full. Leaving PP was an extraordinarily slow crawl.

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Dusty and bumpy following lorries.

nice elephants

nice elephants

Around 11.15 we seemed to finally be out of the city, and the speed picked up to double digits.

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Sometimes 40 or 50, and even 68 when overtaking once. (My GPS told me the speed.)

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But often back to a slow crawl in a convoy of lorries, buses, vans… 20 – 30 until we could overtake.

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Towns all the way along, and dry. Some flies and mosquitos in bus. The land was very dry.

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Around 12.45 we stopped for a break for 20 minutes.

where we stopped for a break - juice, fruit, beer, food available. And pretty disgusting toilets.

Where we stopped for a break – juice, fruit, beer, food available. And pretty disgusting toilets.

After that the land became hilly and green. Sometimes we could pick up speed once we’d overtaken a lorry, but soon we’d catch up to another and crawl again.

it became greener

it became greener

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a typical village on the way

a typical village on the way

There were palm oil plantations in one area. Later it became flatter, but stayed green.

OMG, palm oil palms!!

OMG, a palm oil plantation!!

About 3 pm we started climbing a big hill. At 3.15 we passed a Welcome to Sihanookville sign, and then finally saw the sea a few minutes later.

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Then at about 15.35 we finally arrived at the terminal. Which appeared to be miles from anywhere. It had taken 5 1/2 hours, and we still weren’t at the beach.

bus terminal

bus terminal

Of course, I had asked the accommodation the cost of a tuk tuk, and had been told to pay no more than $7. I tried all my tricks, and was quoted up to double that, but even after all other potential tuk tuk passengers had gone I could see we’d be in for a very long wait unless I agreed to $8.  I had heard of the local tuk tuk mafia, and how they agreed between themselves to inflate all prices, and indeed the fares were far more than Phnom Penh, and Siem Reap.

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It turned out to be a long ride, though.

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passing through Sihanoukville town

lion roundabout

lion roundabout

distressingly, many people live like this

distressingly, many people live like this

it feels like we're getting closer to the sea

it feels like we’re getting closer to the sea

another stall along the way

another stall along the way

and finally, turning into the "main road" of Otres Beach. Almost there.

And finally, turning into the “main road” of Otres Beach. Almost there.

And 30 minutes later we arrived!

We've made it. There's the sea!

We’ve made it. There’s the sea!

At last!!

At last!!

So, it’s some journey to get here. We were told, and also read, that Otres Beach is the cleanest beach, and also where you were least bothered by vendors.  It was quite clean where all the accommodation and bars / restaurants were, but less so further away where there was nothing.  But there was not much reason to go where there was nothing, anyway.

AND WHEN IT WAS TIME TO RETURN TO PHNOM PENH

OK. The bus took 5 1/2 hours, and then another 1/2 hour by tuk tuk to Otres Beach.  I guess the bus is safest as it is big, but it is too slow to overtake, so it is a slow trip. What other choices are there?  Taxi – much more expensive, more dangerous as it’s smaller than a bus, but faster.  Or a compromise – a mini-van.  Safer than a taxi as it is bigger, but more power to overtake,  and so faster than a bus, and the fare not much more than a bus, – just hoping the driver is not a maniac. We decided on the latter.  The fare was $12, and the minivan departed from the town, and not the more distant bus terminal.  From Otres it took 15 minutes and $4 in a tuk tuk to get to the minivan terminal.

terminal for minivan

terminal for minivan

timetable

timetable

It was very hot there, and a few minutes walk down the road was a supermarket with an icecream and coffee parlour, which was where I relaxed until near departure. Turn left from the terminal, and it’s across the road after a few minutes walk. Hard to miss, really.

Icecream 50c a scoop, and coffee about $1 - with nice strong air-con

Icecream 50c a scoop, and coffee about $1 – with nice strong air-con

minivan, seating about 14 passengers

minivan, seating about 14 passengers

We departed more or less on time just after 13.45.  I am not going to show the scenery on the way back, but here are a few photos.

conductor's seating

conductor’s seating

on the road

on the road

At 15.40 we stopped for a break.  It did seem we were making much faster progress than on the bus.

break time

break time

There were so many Angkor Beer trucks on the road. They have a depot on this route.

Angkor Beer truck

Angkor Beer truck

At last we were in Phnom Penh. We passed the airport.

plane spotters at the airport

plane spotters at the airport

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At about 18:00 we arrived at the Rith Mony terminal.  It had taken 4 hours 15 minutes. Not too bad. And he was a safe driver.

Plenty of tuk tuk drivers were milling around, and I caught one with Roth – 017 622 240. He spoke good English and seemed to be reliable.