Trip Start Sep 26, 2004
Trip End Jan 15, 2005

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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

December 22, 04

I just spent a few really good days in Southern Cambodia before heading back to the capitol city. The beaches are wonderful here in Sihanoukville. Soft sand and warm water. Not crowded at all either. I rented a scooter, called a 'moto', and visited various spots over the two days. It was a relaxing way to kill time while my Vietnam and Laos visas were sorted out. When I returned to Phnom Penh I immediately booked a bus to the river town of Kratie, where I will pick up the boat to the Laos border. Actually it's 2 boats, I need to change somewhere along the way due to low water and possible sandbar problems. The Mekong is fed in large part from the Himalayas. This is the dry season so the river is way down. In the spring you can take a boat all the way from the ocean through Vietnam, into Phnom Penh and then Laos. When I arrived here in Kratie I wanted to get my boat ticket for the next day asap. I checked into my room, (a nice bed, fan, shower and view for $2) then hopped on the back of a moto for a ride to the ticket office. The hotel sent me with one of their guys and we were soon on the outskirts of town. I wondered why the boat ticket office wasn't centrally located, but said nothing to the driver. We ended up turning into a shanty town of shacks and small dwellings on stilts. I was more than curious at this point, so I asked if this was the way to the office. He assured me it was. We went deep into the rows of homes before stopping. There was a man sleeping in a hammock under one of the houses. The driver got off went over to him and shook him awake. (If he had poked him with a stick, I would have laughed out loud) He got up looked at me and said "Come" and pointed up the stairs. It looked safe so I went up the steps into the house. I figured there would be pictures of boats and various tours on the walls. He went over to a cabinet pulled out a small ticket book and said "$8..... boat leaves at 12" His office was the cabinet. I smiled and got my ticket and a ride back to the hotel. Kratie is pretty small, but I didn't think it would be that small. The boat trip went smoothly. A 4 hour ride in a large boat that went maybe 25 miles per hour. I sat on top most of the way with the other backpackers and a few locals. Once in Stung Treng, I was able to get my ticket for the fast boat to the border from my guesthouse. The fast boat is fast. It's a long narrow boat which sits right on the water. We probably were traveling at close to 40 mph the whole trip. It has an 8 foot shaft with the prop on the end for skimming the shallow waters. The drivers run this route everyday, but I'll have to admit I was a little concerned at the speeds we were going. There are markers for sandbars and rocks, but we sailed as close to them as you could get without touching the sides of the boat. There were 2 others with me for this trip and we had to sit right on the floor of the boat. I was maybe 15 inches above the water, so the feeling of speed was intensified. After about an hour we made it safely to the Cambodian checkpoint. I have walked across borders before but never arrived by boat. The border I walked across was between Hungary and Slovakia. It was one building with a yellow line on the floor. There were two desks, one on each side of the line. I walked in got stamped, stepped over the line, got stamped again, and then walked out of the building. This time the offices were on opposite banks of the Mekong. This is not a usual departure or entry point. The guards are bored and tried to extract some extra cash out of us when we went through. I got out of it in Cambodia but had to pay $1 in Laos. Not bad, I have heard much worse stories from other travelers. Laos is very inexpensive. I went across the border a few miles and found a ferry to a group of islands on the river. Very relaxing way to spend a few days. I wish I had done some better research, as I would have come here sooner. The place I stayed had little bungalows on the river bank. Single rooms built out of bamboo with mosquito nets and a decent bed for a dollar a night. Food is cheap also. It's tough to spend $5 a day even with a few Afternoon and evening cocktails thrown in. I hated to leave as there were several people staying through the holidays here. A good group of travelers from Canada, Holland, Belgium, England and Germany.The atmosphere is very laid back, and these islands are just starting to attract foreign visitors. I am running out of time so it's on to Vietnam. I should be there by Christmas. Have a good one! Allen
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