Wednesday 13th, Off to Tonie Sap Lake today, the largest lake in South East Asia and home to a number of floating villages. The one we’re headed for is Vietnamese catholic, called Kompong Luong and is just 5 miles east of Krakor on the main road northwest from Phnom Penh to Thailand. We arrive in Krakor in the heat of the day, locate the only Guesthouse in the town and retreat inside to get the body temperatures down – always the first priority on arrival. It’s still the Cambodian New year celebrations week so everyone is partying at night and in a coma during the day, so getting food and service is more difficult than normal.
After a scungy feed at a local dive, we head down to the lake shore to check out the village. The scene is mildly shocking just because the village on the shore is so filthy and the sight of kiddies playing around on the shoreside cesspit is a bit distressing. We decide it’s too hot to venture out to the floating village so head back to the Guesthouse for a few hours, telling the longboat tout that we’ll be back around 5pm. Which we duly are and head on out to the village. The waters are fetid and the kids are now swimming in them alongside their floating homes. It really is not an attractive scene – novel perhaps, but the charm is lost in the filth.
Why are these folk out here? They make their living fishing, the lake remains abundant in the species they sell locally. Also being Vietbnamese Catholics (the village has its own church) the group is a minority and being out here provides some buffer from the locals on the mainland. Having said that the history of the village hasn’t been without incident and the group were persecuted for a while in the 1990’s.
Thursday April 16th – Early start today and leave the dump that is Krakor for Battambang, a heavily French-oriented city up near the western tip of Tonle Sap lake. In line with that theme we chose another boutique hotel for the next night, Au Cabaret Vert. It doesn’t disappoint, the natural swimming pool and the great cuisine. A motorcycle tour of the city before we settle in, reminds us that the raucous New Year celebrations are still underway and we get water thrown at us (it’s good luck you know) numerous times as we cruise the alleyways and boulevards. It’s reminiscent of ‘Carneval” in South America where the same behaviour prevails for a week or so before Easter each year.
Friday April 17th – From Battambang across the border and a stay at Aranyaprathet, just inside Thailand today. Border days are always a bit stressful and getting back the bikes back into Thailand proves a little challenging as the authorities cannot understand why we would take them out only to bring them back a few weeks later. Our hotel is nothing to write home about but the aircon works. Once we’ve surmounted the hurdle of bureaucracy it’s altogether too hot continue riding so we decide to all a stop here and set off early tomorrow.
Saturday, April 18th – Huge day in effect riding the width of Thailand from just inside the border with Cambodia across to Kamchanaburi, where the Mae Klong river is formed as the confluence of the Kwae Yai and the Kwae Noi rivers, and over which the mis-named Bridge Over the River Kwai spans. Apparently the Kwae comes from the Kwae Noi valley along which the Burma railroad was built by prisoners and forced civilian labour in 1942-22.
Our ride is 430kms, and we began at 5.30am and end up arriving at 5pm. We were going to stop halfway but on arrival found the prospect uninspiring, in the end preferring to do the extra miles and get to a meaningful destination. Good decision – we enjoyed an evening beer at the Kwai River Resort watching the sun go down behind the bridge and then a meal at a restaurant alongside the tragic structure.
The traffic in Thailand is less suicidal than in Cambodia, mainly because the roads are far better and we’re on dual carriageway most of the day. But also the SUV drivers are a bit more civilised here which presumably comes about because of the presence of more police and Army near the roads, and the mere fact that Thailand is way further developed economically now than its neighbour. Indeed it reminds us of an earlier South Korea and we can imagine at this rate it too passing New Zealand in terms of economic development.