Center of the Conflict

Trip Start Dec 26, 2010
Trip End Feb 03, 2011

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Where I stayed
Heart of Angkor

Flag of Cambodia  , Khétt Siĕm Réab,
Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bora my moto driver was right on the dot in the morning and brought me to a nearby stall for pork noodle soup breakfast. Without Bora's translating, breakfast would have taken longer. The first stop was a new village/refugee camp set up by PM Hun Sen to accommodate fleeing villagers from Koh Muy near Prasat Preah Vihear when the armed conflicts between Thai and Cambodia soldiers were intense. A kilometre long, flanked by huts on both sides, a billboard masterplan shows a greater design plans of modern shops, amenitiesand improved infrastucture.
For an hour on the road, I saw countless military barracks, some with chinese donated tanks under camouflaged nets. Bora reminded me only Prasat Preah Vihear is at stake. The Cambodian government is doing everything they can to ensure that this ancient world heritage site remains on cambodian soil. However at the other western Thai/Cambodian borders, relations are alot different. The squabbles are mainly between the neighbouring governments. the soldiers at the western borders are great friends with each other, often crossing over regularly for beers and food. Whenever the political scene turned bad, they would only fire their arms up in the sky, never at each other. Ever watched the Korean film JSA?
Approaching Kor Muy and the foot of the mountain, more soldiers with AK47 were roaming but decidedly in low key mode. The government had also commenced on improving the road starting at the bottom route, hence major civil works were pounding away. What was even more major - they found gold deposits when demolishing rocks, creating a big buzz with the villagers visiting, hoping to collect scraps of gold rock. It was here that I had to transfer to a sturdier scooter with a boosted up coolant tank. This driver spoke no English but the ride up the insanely steep route was over in twenty minutes. I remarked "Huh? We are here?". It was another 500 metres walk to the mid point of the monument stone steps. Right there, I can hear the market chatter coming from the Thai border.
Wasted no time, I took on the challenging stone steps, at times on fours, navigating the grandiose entrance. Preah Vihear, built 889 -1115 AD is nothing short of breath taking spectacular. The premise stretches 800 metres and perches atop the cliff face of Dangkrek mountains. Exploring the ruins of the temples, I was consistantly in awe with the grand planning, the stone craving artworks and magnificent atmosphere. To top it off, I exited the last walls to face an aerial view of low lying Cambodia, 550 metres above ground. What stupendous views! This was truly the cream of the rewards for making this trek.
In near future, a new road linking Sra Em to Tbeng Meanchey will be completed, bringing busloads of Angkor circuit tourists to Prasat Preah Vihear. Although the new roads would mean tourist dollars to the local communities and will drastically improve their livestyles, I considered myself lucky to be able to visit Prasat Preah Vihear without the bustle of obnoxious aunties and uncles.  Within two hours, I was out of here and having lunch back in Sra Em. My plan was to stay the night and catch 7am bus back to Siem Reap. This all changed when I passed the taxi booth and was offered a US$15 shared taxi back to Siem Reap. I merely exclaimed 'What? My bus fare is only US$7!" And I was offered US$10 for the ride which I took up without hesitation. With only twenty minutes to departure, I quickly returned to pack up and was on my way.
It took another thirty minutes waiting in the car for the driver to snatch (literally) another two passengers so that we would not travel half empty. A moto delivered a soldier and his wife with baby to the taxi booth Every driver rushed to snatch their bag and it seemed that whoever gets it will earn their ride. It was my driver and two other blokes wrestling away plying the bag from each other's hands for a full ten minutes. It was left to my driver and one guy who firmly had the bag locked between his chest and arms. My teenage looking driver was not going to give up, tugging the bag at every attempts, eventually managed to steal the bag and securely locked it between his arms. While I was snapping away, I thought they were coming to blows and heated words were exchanged. even when the bag was safely in the boot of our car, the competitor was so disgrudged that he was trying every means to open the boot. All this while with the two passengers 100 metres away at the taxi booth waiting for the fiesco to end. Suddenly, when the winner was clear, it all turned to laughter and the competitor playfully kicking my driver's bottoms with his foot. I thought that was hilarious!
So I was on my way in a right hand driven car on a left hand road system. I truly thought that I was in trouble when I sat at the front. There were a few close calls with oncoming trucks but otherwise the traffic was light. Back in Siem Reap at the door of my guesthouse, Pov my tuktuk driver from the bus terminal yelled out "I was waiting for 3 days!" He was relieved to have found me again especially after I moved from Greentown guesthouse to Heart of Angkor and disappeared for two days to Sra Em. Pov turned out to be a fantastic tuktuk driver for my next three days around Angkor. A bubbly and honest Khmer.
I had my room changed to one that faced away from the pubs and enjoyed my sleep peacefully. 
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