Cambodia


Cambodia is a land of contrasts. From the majesty of the former Khmer Empire showcased by the legendary city of Angkor to the country’s recent history under the Khmer Rouge still echoing in the Killing Fields, Cambodia is a mixture of triumph and tragedy. The country has emerged from the dark shadows of the past and is rapidly developing into a modern, vibrant society that stands side by side with magnificent edifices and artifacts. Few visitors to Cambodia leave without being somehow touched by the warmth of the Cambodian people, its rich culture and history, and stories laced with sobering realities. Its diverse land stretches from pristine beaches and wetlands along the Gulf of Thailand to the rolling Cardamom and Annamite mountains. Nestled in between is one of Southeast Asia’s largest wildernesses. Those looking for a fun, fascinating and unforgettable journey should spend time in Cambodia.

More About Cambodia

Top Ten Things to Do on Holiday in Cambodia

Heading to the Coast (National Highway 4)

Driving the Coast (National Highway 48)

The Cambodian Wilderness

Koh Kong

2012_12_26 Cambodia Angkor Wat

2012_12_30 Cambodia Silver Pagoda

2012_12_26 Cambodia Angkor Horizon

2012_12_31 Cambodia Tatai River

Map picture

Cross-posted from MGEdwards. Visit MGEdwards for more great travelogues, photos, and video from around the world.

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Top Ten Things to Do on Holiday in Cambodia


Here is a list of top ten things to do if you visit Cambodia, a country in Southeast Asia. This list is based on my travels in Cambodia from December 2012 to January 2013. It’s generally ordered by proximity to the country’s premier tourist destination, Angkor.

The destinations and activities below will give you a taste of what this incredible country has to offer. A study in contrasts, from the majesty of the former Khmer Empire showcased by the legendary Angkor to the country’s recent tragic history under the Khmer Rouge still echoing in the Killing Fields, Cambodia is unique. It is a wonder to behold. These are some of the best places where you can experience what Cambodia has to offer, although this is by no means a complete list.

1. Angkor: The capital of the Khmer Empire from 802 A.D. until its conquest by the Thais in 1351 A.D., Angkor today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in northwest Cambodia near the city of Siem Reap. Hailed as one of the world’s most spectacular ancient historical sites, Angkor is a large complex that includes the former palace of Angkor Thom and dozens of Hindu and Buddhist temples scattered across an area more than 1,000 square kilometers (390 square miles) where as many as one million people once lived. Today more than two million tourists flock annually to this remarkable place to see the timeworn temples, buildings, and points of interest that coexist with contemporary Cambodia. Angkor is by far the most popular tourist destination in Cambodia, and its highlights would easily fill their own top ten list. The site is so far flung that it has inner and outer roads to take you to take you near and wide around Siem Reap.

2012_12_27 Cambodia Angkor Pre Rup

2012_12_27 Cambodia Countryside

2012_12_27 Cambodia Siem Reap Traffic

2012_12_28 Cambodia Countryside

2012_12_26 Cambodia Angkor Sunset

Angkor Wat: A Hindu temple built between 1113 and 1150 A.D., majestic Angkor Wat overshadows the Angkor complex and is by far its most popular attraction. It is splendidly beautiful. No visit to Cambodia would be complete without spending time in Angkor Wat. Walk around the gardens, admire the reflecting pools, and climb up to the main courtyard where you can see an amazing 360-degree view of the horizon.

2012_12_26 Cambodia Angkor Wat (4)

2012_12_26 Cambodia Angkor Wat (3)

Moonrise Kingdom

Angkor Thom: The former Khmer capital in the epicenter of Angkor is surrounded by a wall with preserved gates you can drive through in a car or tuk tuk. Several important sites are located inside its walls, including the Bayon, Baphuon, and Terrace of the Leper King.

2012_12_26 Cambodia Angkor Thom Gate

Angkor Thom

2012_12_26 Cambodia Angkor Horizon

2012_12_27 Cambodia Angkor Thom

Bayon: The state temple of the Khmer kings, the Bayon is a Buddhist shrine built in the late 12th Century or early 13th Century. The out-of-this-world mystical site is filled with towers graced with faces carved into the stone, giving the impression that the temple guardians are watching you. The walls also features impressive bas-reliefs.

2012_12_26 Cambodia Angkor Bayon (3)

2012_12_26 Cambodia Angkor Bayon (4)

2012_12_26 Cambodia Angkor Bayon (2)

Baphuon: A Hindu temple built in the 11th Century, the Baphuon lies northwest of the Bayon and just south of the royal palace. The collapsed temple was rebuilt in the last half of the 20th Century and now offers a great view of Angkor Thom from the top. The back of the temple features one of the world’s largest Reclining Buddhas. Can you spot him in the picture below?

2012_12_26 Cambodia Angkor Baphuon (2)

2012_12_26 Cambodia Angkor Baphuon Reclining Buddha

Terrace of the Leper King: The semi-submerged structure at the center of Angkor Thom winds through a hillside like a snake, its walls adorned with images from Hindu lore. The site was reportedly used for cremation ceremonies and named after an Angkor king who had leprosy.

2012_12_27 Cambodia Angkor Leper King Terrace

2012_12_27 Cambodia Angkor Leper King Terrace (2)

Ta Prohm: A Buddhist monastery located to the east of Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm is the second most popular of the many temples and monasteries after Angkor Wat. Much of it has been left its natural state, although some efforts have been made to preserve the site and keep it from being gradually torn apart by the roots of the tetrameles nudiflora trees growing on its walls. The site is otherworldly – a scene from the movie “Tomb Raider” was filmed at Ta Prohm. One hopes that it won’t fall to ruin from the very trees that make it more awe-inspiring than computer-generated imagery (CGI) animation.

2012_12_27 Cambodia Angkor Te Prohm (5)

2012_12_27 Cambodia Angkor Te Prohm (2)

2012_12_27 Cambodia Angkor Te Prohm (4)

2012_12_27 Cambodia Angkor Te Prohm

Ruluos: A cluster of Hindu temples in Angkor about 15 kilometers southeast of Siem Reap, the site is dominated by the Bakong and Preah Ko temples. Built in the 9th Century, they were among the first shrines built by the Khmer kings.

2012_12_27 Cambodia Roluos

Ruluos

2. Siem Reap: Cambodia’s tourist hub is a fun city of about 200,000 located near some of Angkor’s most stunning sites. Stay in the center and enjoy the town in the evening after a long day touring Angkor. Siem Reap has several markets, including a night market, and its lively evening atmosphere makes it a great destination for food, shopping, and entertainment.

2012_12_26 Cambodia Siem Reap Nightlife (2)

3. Kompong Phluk Stilt Village/Tonle Sap Lake: Kompong Phluk Stilt Village is located about 25 kilometers southeast of Siem Reap off National Highway 6; the entrance is just past the road to Ruluos. During the dry season when it’s not flooding, villagers who make a living fishing on Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia’s largest, live in stilt houses that rise more than five meters (15 feet) off the ground. The town offers an interesting glimpse into the lives of local fishermen and looks like the set of a post-apocalyptic movie. Wooden boats take tourists downriver past the town on a brief cruise through a semi-submerged mangrove forest and along the shore of Tonle Sap Lake. It’s a great daytrip combined with a visit to Ruluos. Those who don’t have a car can take a tuk tuk or taxi from Siem Reap for a reasonable price.

2012_12_28 Cambodia Tonle Sap Kompong Phluk (2)

2012_12_28 Cambodia Tonle Sap Kompong Phluk

2012_12_28 Cambodia Tonle Sap Mangrove Forest

2012_12_28 Cambodia Tonle Sap Lake

4. Koh Ker: Briefly Angkor’s capital from 928 to 944 A.D., Koh Ker lies about 120 kilometers (75 miles) northwest of Siem Reap in a remote area of Cambodia. The seven-tiered pyramid is the most famous of several historical sites in Koh Ker. Perhaps most significantly, Koh Ker is a nice get away from the throngs of tourists who congregate around Siem Reap.

Koh Ker

5. Preah Vihear: An ancient Hindu temple built in the 9th Century on the edge of what was once Angkor, Preah Vihear sits atop a cliff in the Dangrek Mountains of Cambodia overlooking a plain in Thailand. The temple is beautiful and the view spectacular. A 140-kilometer trip from Siem Reap, the temple sits on the Cambodian-Thai border. Tensions between Cambodia and Thailand over access to the location and instances of violence has made the area somewhat volatile, although the situation has been quiet as of late.

Preah Vihear

6. Phnom Penh: Cambodia’s capital is a study in contrasts. It is fast emerging as a dynamic engine of growth for development with the opening of a new stock exchange and financial center. And yet, it can’t escape its brutal past under the Khmer Rouge regime that captured Phnom Penh in 1975 and decimated the city and its people until its overthrow in 1979. A walking tour of the center, from Wat Phnom Penh temple to the markets near the waterfront for shopping and a meal, to glimpses of historic sites such as the French architecture along Monivong Boulevard and the Cambodia-Japan Friendship Bridge, are reminders of Phnom Penh’s past and present. Try some Cambodian food with French coffee and dessert at one of Phnom Penh’s many eateries.

2012_12_30 Cambodia Phnom Penh Skyline (2)

2012_12_30 Cambodia Phnom Penh Monivong Blvd

2012_12_30 Cambodia Phnom Penh Waterfront

2012_12_28 Cambodia Phnom Penh Japanese Bridge

7. Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda: Cambodia’s Royal Palace and famed Silver Pagoda – named for the silver tiles on the temple floor covered by carpet – are among the most beautiful sites in Phnom Penh. Much of the palace of the Cambodian king is closed to the public, but it still offers a taste of Cambodia’s rich culture and heritage.

IMG_8939

8. Tuol Sleng (S-21) Prison: This former high school in a quiet Phnom Penh neighborhood was once the site of unspeakable horrors. An estimated 20,000 victims of the Khmer Rouge were interred, interrogated, tortured, and killed at Security Prison 21 (S-21) or transferred to the Killing Fields to be executed. Only 12 known survivors escaped death here. Today the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum serves as a poignant reminder of the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. It is a sobering look at the darker side of Cambodian history and the tragedy of genocide.

Tuol Sleng

2012_12_29 Cambodia Phnom Penh Genocide (3)

2012_12_29 Cambodia Phnom Penh Genocide (2)

2012_12_29 Cambodia Phnom Penh Genocide (4)

9. Cheong Ek Memorial / Killing Fields: Cheong Ek, better known as the Killing Fields, is a former Chinese graveyard and orchard used by the Khmer Rouge to torture and execute thousands of victims in a horrific act of genocide. Mass graves with the remains of 8,895 out of an estimated one million victims of the Khmer Rouge were discovered at the site. Today it is a memorial with a stupa (tower) filled with the skulls of more than 5,000 victims and a walking tour of the grounds that will leave you in tears. The graphic photos and depictions of torture and execution at Tuol Sleng and Cheong Ek are not for young children or those faint of heart but a necessary reminder of the country’s past. It’s important to focus on all that is good about Cambodia during your visit, but these sites should not be overlooked.

2012_12_29 Cambodia Phnom Penh Killing Fields (2)

2012_12_29 Cambodia Phnom Penh Killing Fields

Cheong Ek

10. Cambodian Coast / Sihanoukville: The Cambodian Coast is a generally unspoiled region waiting to be enjoyed by those who like great beaches, national parks, tropical forests, mountains, and nature hikes. A stopover in Cambodia’s largest seaside city, Sihanoukville, is a great starting point for travel along the coast. See my recent series on the Cambodian Coast for more information about the Cambodian Coast.

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (2)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (3)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (6)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (8)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (9)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Tatai River (2)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (5)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast Sunset

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong

Map picture

clip_image0013[3]M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2013 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

The Cambodian Coast–Koh Kong


This is the final article in a four-part series about the Cambodian Coast. This one is about Koh Kong, a coastal city in western Cambodia on the Cambodian-Thai border. Previous articles featured National Highway 4 heading from Phnom Penh to the coast, National Highway 48 along the coast, and the coastal wilderness. This series is intended as a resource for those interested in exploring this intriguing area of Cambodia.

After a long day driving from Phnom Penh through the Cambodian wilderness on New Year’s Eve 2012, we arrived in Koh Kong City at nightfall.

nh48

I wished that we could have stayed in town but had to settle for a rural lodge several kilometers up the road. We stopped for a quick sunset photo on the Koh Kong City waterfront and headed to our hotel. I suddenly fell ill and celebrated the New Year in bed with a fever. What I thought were symptoms of dengue fever turned into a 24-hour flu, and thankfully I felt better in the morning.

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong

The next day we drove the 7-kilometer long Koh Kong Bridge back to town. Built in 2002, the bridge spans the mouth of the wide but shallow Prek Kaoh (Kah Bpow) River.

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (15)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (17)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (18)

The capital of Koh Kong Province and largest city in Cambodia’s western coastal region, Koh Kong City has a population of more than 35,000 but looks smaller with its residents scattered across a large area. With no stoplights and little traffic, the city streets resembled a ghost town when we visited. The city has long had a reputation as a “Wild West” frontier town and a haven for smugglers, but recent efforts to improve access via Highway 48 has helped integrate it with the rest of the country. It’s now more of a convenient stopover on the way from Phnom Penh to Bangkok, Thailand than a remote outpost.

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (1)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (2)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (3)

The regional branch of the National Bank of Cambodia, also known as the “Red House,” is one of the more recognizable landmarks in town. It’s more pink than red, but who’s quibbling?

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (8)

This lodge in the town center had a uniquely Kampuchean (former Khmer Rouge Cambodia) look to it with an odd melding of Cambodia architecture and communist symbolism.

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (23)

Canals and boat moorings crisscrossed the city center, creating picturesque views and great photo opportunities.

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (4)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (5)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (6)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (7)

When we visited, the city was in the process of sprucing up the waterfront, paving roads, and laying sidewalks in what looked like a half-hearted attempt to attract tourists, but it seemed like local officials were in no hurry to finish any projects. The place had an unkempt charm and organic look that centralized planning couldn’t duplicate. The tropical scenery just past the city center that gave the town a wild vibe.

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (11)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (12)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (9)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (10)

Koh Kong City has both Buddhist and Muslim communities served by the Neang Kok Temple and Al-Mubarak Dubai Mosque. We saw Buddhist statues in a local park and two monks asking a local store for alms.

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (13)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (14)

After our brief tour of Koh Kong City, we crossed the Koh Kong Bridge again and drove to the Cambodian-Thai border. The Prek Kaoh River looked more like a lake than a river.

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (16)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (19)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (20)

On the way to the Cambodia-Thailand border, we passed a hodgepodge of eclectic architecture, including a Thai-style Buddhist shrine, Khmer-style gate, and the gaudy entrance to the Koh Kong Safari World Resort.

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (21)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (22)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (25)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (26)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (24)

The drive from Koh Kong City to the border is about ten kilometers through some pretty countryside punctuated by a few beach resorts and homes. It’s one of the more organized, orderly, and uncrowded border crossings I’ve seen.

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (27)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (28)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (29)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (30)

2013_01_01 Cambodia Koh Kong (31)

Although crossing into Thailand was somewhat confusing with few English speakers in the Customs and Immigration offices on both sides of the border, we made it through and entered Thailand after sorting out paperwork and communicating in hand signals.

For more information about driving in Cambodia, contact me at me@mgedwards.com.

More About the Cambodian Coast

Heading to the Coast (National Highway 4)

Driving the Coast (National Highway 48)

The Cambodian Wilderness

Map picture

clip_image002[4]

M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, and a short story collection called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. He also wrote and illustrated Alexander the Salamander and Ellie the Elephant, two books in the World Adventurers for Kids Series. His books are available in e-book and print from Amazon.com and other booksellers. Edwards graduated from the University of Washington with a master’s degree in China Studies and a Master of Business Administration. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2013 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

The Cambodian Coast-Coastal Wilderness


This is the third article in a four-part series about the Cambodian Coast. This blog post is about the Cambodian coastal wilderness, Botum Sakor National Park, and Peam Krasaop Wildlife Corridor. The first two articles featured National Highway 4 southwest of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, and National Highway 48 along the western coast. The final post will focus on the Koh Kong, a coastal city in western Cambodia and the Cambodian-Thai border. This series is intended to be a resource for those interested in touring the Cambodian coast.

When my family and I visited Cambodia in December 2012, we drove from Phnom Penh to the city of Koh Kong on the Cambodia-Thailand border. Along the way we passed through the country’s pristine southwestern wilderness. To the south, Botum Sakor National Park lay on a peninsula between the Gulf of Thailand and Kampong Som Bay. To the west, the Peam Krasaop Wildlife Corridor hugged the coast near the city of Koh Kong. To the northeast, the rolling Cardamom Mountains stretched from Thailand to the coast. It’s a spectacular triangle filled with scenic beauty in one of the most isolated corners of Southeast Asia.

nh48

Home to the second-largest wilderness in Southeast Asia (the largest is in Burma/Myanmar), the Cambodian coast has one of the largest native forests still left in Southeast Asia. It’s a place rich in beauty and diversity explored by few. Wildlife inhabits the forests and wetlands along the coast. Although there have been reports of illegal logging, poaching, and development in the area that may have had an affect on the local ecology and threatened local wildlife, it was unclear how widespread the damage was when I passed through. Improvements to National Highway 48 have made the region more accessible to people but also increased the human footprint here.

We saw some incredibly beautiful scenery during our drive through the Cambodian wilderness. Here are some of the best landscape shots.

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (2)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (3)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (5)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (7)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (9)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (10)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (12)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (13)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (16)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (17)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (18)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (19)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (21)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (23)

As far as we could tell from our limited vantage point, humans seemed to coexist harmoniously with nature. While there was some clutter such as a broken-down vehicle and road-side litter along, the local residents seemed to take care of their environment. The forests we saw were generally intact.

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (8)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (1)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (11)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (24)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (20)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (15)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (14)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (6)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (22)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (4)

At the end of our wandering in the Cambodian wilderness, we were treated to a gorgeous sunset.

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (26)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (27)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (28)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (29)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (30)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (31)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness (32)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Wilderness

For more information about driving in Cambodia, contact me at me@mgedwards.com.

More About the Cambodian Coast

Heading to the Coast (National Highway 4)

Driving the Coast (National Highway 48)

Koh Kong City and the Cambodia-Thailand Border

Map picture

clip_image002M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, and a short story collection called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. He also wrote and illustrated Alexander the Salamander and Ellie the Elephant, two books in the World Adventurers for Kids Series. His books are available in e-book and print from Amazon.com and other booksellers. Edwards graduated from the University of Washington with a master’s degree in China Studies and a Master of Business Administration. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2013 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

The Cambodian Coast–Driving the Coast


This is the second article in a four-part series about the Cambodian Coast. This post is about the drive along coastal Highway 48. The first article featured the drive on National Highway 4 from Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, toward Sihanoukville. Future posts will focus on the Cambodian wilderness and Koh Kong, a coastal city in western Cambodia near the border of Thailand. This series is intended to be a resource for those interested in driving the Cambodian coast.

During my family’s drive through Cambodia in December 2012, we headed from the capital Phnom Penh to the coast via National Highway 4 (NH4). After a nerve-wracking drive filled with an assortment of traffic – trucks, cars, motos, buses, bicycles, tractors, pedestrians, cows, chickens, carts, and anything else that moved – potholes, speed bumps, toll booths, and bad drivers, I was more than glad to turn off onto the secondary National Highway 48 (NH48). It wasn’t just quiet – it was too quiet. We passed a few trucks, cars, and bicycles but not much else. It was as if this road newly accessible to the world had yet to be discovered as an alternate route from Phnom Penh to Thailand.

nh48

One of the least populated areas of Southeast Asia, the coastal region of Cambodia wedged between the Gulf of Thailand and the Cardamom Mountains is a true wilderness with virgin forests, rolling hills, and wildlife that mingles with the few locals, mostly farmers and fishermen, who live along the coast. If you have time during your Cambodia trip after requisite stops in Siem Reap (Angkor) and Phnom Penh, consider adding the coast to your itinerary. Botum Sakor National Park, Peam Krasaop Wildlife Corridor, and the surrounding region offer a view of Southeast Asia you rarely see.

This coast is an as-yet unspoiled gem protected by years of remote isolation. The only highway in the area, NH48, was built in 2003. The notoriously slow ferry crossings across wide rivers that hindered travel in the region were replaced by five concrete bridges in 2011. The bridges made the coast much more accessible, and tourists can now easily tour the area by car or bus.

The drive from NH4 to Koh Kong, a city on Cambodia’s southwestern border with Thailand, takes about 4.5 hours in good driving conditions. If you’re planning a trip to Cambodia’s coast, the photos in this travelogue will give you an idea of what to expect. These photos were taken in December 2012. Note that road conditions are subject to change.

For the first half hour of the drive, NH48 is tarred and sealed with rock chip and in good condition from the junction of National Highway 4 to the Srae Ambel River crossing. Traffic was light with some trucks hauling heavy freight and cows wandering on the side of the road. The concrete bridge was solid. The countryside in this area offered beautiful views of low-lying mountains to the northeast. A Buddhist temple and monastery just off the highway reminded me that I was in Southeast Asia.

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (1)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (2)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (3)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (4)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (5)

For the next hour beyond the Srae Ambel River, the road showed signs of aging and the affects of the rainy season with warping, pavement chafing, and potholes – nothing unavoidable if you drive at a prudent speed. The landscape was flat with some picturesque scenery that included some quaint bungalows, rice fields and fish ponds interspersed with wild foliage.

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (6)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (7)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (8)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (9)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (10)

The road quality was fair as I drove west on NH48 toward Koh Kong and passed the second new concrete bridge crossing a river that flowed into Kampong Som Bay on the Gulf of Thailand.

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (11)

About 1.5 hours into our journey, we arrived at the town of Andong Terk and crossed the wide Preak Piphot River not far from the mouth of the Kampong Som Bay. This large, brand-new bridge spanned the river in a high arch that allowed fishing boats to pass below. We stopped on the bridge and took some great photos of the gorgeous river and delta that spread out below in all directions.

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (12)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (13)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (14)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (15)

We drove on through the foothills of the Cardamom Mountains along the northern edge of Botum Sakor National Park. While we didn’t spot much wildlife, we did see some beautiful views. At this point our GPS loaded with Cambodia maps failed and could not pinpoint our location. We knew then that we had really gone off the beaten path! Considering that there was just one paved highway in the area, we were confident that the road would bring us to our destination, Koh Kong. Eventually.

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (16)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (17)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (18)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (19)

The road was in poor condition through the national park with severe warping and some axle-bending potholes. Our vehicle had to creep through some place where the highway had become a washboard. To make matters worse, the road grew winding and traffic volumes increased as trucks slowed down to navigate their way around the tricky potholes and curves.

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (20)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (21)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (22)

The road condition improved after we passed the fourth bridge across the Khlang Yai River at the small town of Trapeang Rung. The Cardamom Mountains offered stunning views in this area. Although the road surface was better here, the highway wound through the mountains in sharp curves. With dusk approaching and another 1.5 hours to drive, I had to consider both the road condition and the fact that driving in the dark on an unknown route was difficult. It turned into a race between sundown and reaching Koh Kong.

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (23)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (24)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (25)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (26)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (27)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (28)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (29)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (30)

An hour later, we arrived at the Tatai River, our final crossing before Koh Kong. This was the most picturesque location on our drive. Pointing at the stilt homes with rusty corrugated roofs along the river’s edge and the tropical forest beyond, I told my wife, “We’re definitely in Southeast Asia! Look at this view.” The colorful houses and boats persuaded me that despite the frustrations along the way – the traffic, roads, driving into the unknown – the trip was worth the effort.

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (31)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (32)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (33)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (34)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (35)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (36)

We drove the final half hour to Koh Kong on battered roads. As the sun set, the light faded to gray, and the dim light cast a rose-colored hue before the shadows and darkness set in. I wanted to enjoy the view but had to focus on reaching Koh Kong before nightfall. The twinkle of city lights in the valley beyond the Cardamom Mountains assured me that we would arrive before nightfall. And we did.

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (37)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (38)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast (39)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Coast

For more information about driving in Cambodia, contact me at me@mgedwards.com.

More About the Cambodian Coast

Heading to the Coast (National Highway 4)

The Cambodian Wilderness

Koh Kong City and the Cambodia-Thailand Border

Map picture

 

M.G. Edclip_image002wards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, and a short story collection called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. He also wrote and illustrated Alexander the Salamander and Ellie the Elephant, two books in the World Adventurers for Kids Series. His books are available in e-book and print from Amazon.com and other booksellers. Edwards graduated from the University of Washington with a master’s degree in China Studies and a Master of Business Administration. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2013 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

The Cambodian Coast-Heading to the Coast


This is the first article in a four-part series about the Cambodian Coast. This post is about the drive from Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, on National Highway 4 toward Sihanoukville, the country’s largest port. Upcoming articles will feature coastal Highway 48, the Cambodian wilderness, and Koh Kong, a coastal city in eastern Cambodia near the Thailand border. This series is meant to be a resource for those interested in driving the Cambodian coast.

When my family and I drove from Bangkok, Thailand to Cambodia in December 2012, we entered uncharted territory. Few visitors do self-drive tours in Cambodia. We learned through trial, success, and error that it’s possible to drive a 1,500 kilometer circuitous route from Bangkok, Thailand through Cambodia and back to Bangkok. Possible but not easy. Our 2.5 week road trip in the Khmer kingdom was a fascinating but trying experience with bad traffic, uneven roads, and routes that led to unknown places with sparse GPS coverage and meager route information in English.

Driving a right-hand drive (RHD) vehicle from Thailand, where you drive on the left side of the road, complicated matters in right-side drive Cambodia. My family acted as spotters to help me spot oncoming traffic in our RHD vehicle. Cambodia does not typically permit these vehicles in country, and enforcement can be haphazard. You may want to rent a left-hand drive (LHD) vehicle in Cambodia in lieu of entering the country with a car rental. If you don’t have experience driving in a developing country, you might consider hiring a car and driver that could make your vacation more enjoyable and less nerve-wracking.

Cambodia trip

We met adventure head on in the coastal region of Cambodia. One of the least populated areas of Southeast Asia, the beautiful area is truly a wilderness frontier. Internet research yielded little information about the region and whether it was possible to navigate a passenger car through the area. It is, as we learned along the way.

The drive along the Cambodian coast is now easy to do compared to the logistical challenges it once was. The Royal Cambodian government with international assistance improved National Highway 4 between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville on the coast as well as National Highway 48 heading northwest from Highway 4 to the Thai border (see map for reference). The paved roads have been improved, and most significantly, concrete bridges now span five rivers that flow south into the Gulf of Thailand. It’s a major improvement over the five ferries that once took hours to transport cars across these wide waterways. As of 2011, it was possible to drive along the Cambodian coast from Phnom Penh to the Thailand border in 4.5 hours without taking a single ferry ride.

A drive along the coast is well worth the trip. It’s a place rich in beauty and diversity explored by few outsiders. Home to the second-largest wilderness in Southeast Asia (the largest is in Burma/Myanmar), the region boasts one of the largest native forests remaining in Southeast Asia. Wildlife inhabits the forests and wetlands along the coast; although most are hard to spot from the highway, there are birds a plenty.

2012_12_31 Cambodia Hwy 4 (1)

To drive to the Cambodian Coast from Phnom Penh, head southwest on National Highway 4. The 140-kilometer drive to the junction of Highway 48 takes about 2.5 hours depending on weather conditions, traffic volumes, trucks, buses, tractors, cow crossings, potholes, speed bumps, toll booths, bad drivers, motos, and pedestrians. The highway is a free-for-all with anything that moves using it as a thoroughfare. With few passing lanes, drivers will try to pass no matter whether it’s safe and may occasionally force your over to the shoulder when they misjudge the distance between oncoming traffic. The road is generally good despite potholes and curves that decrease visibility and make drivers more daring. This is one highway where it’s better to be safe and drive slow than be sorry and end up in a local hospital.

2012_12_31 Cambodia Hwy 4 (2)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Hwy 4 (3)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Hwy 4 (4)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Hwy 4 (5)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Hwy 4 (6)

Although the drive can be frustrating, the great views make it more bearable.

2012_12_31 Cambodia Hwy 4 (7)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Hwy 4 (8)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Hwy 4

Stay tuned for more travelogues about driving the Cambodian coast. For more information about driving in Cambodia, contact me at me@mgedwards.com.

More About the Cambodian Coast

Driving the Coast (National Highway 48)

The Cambodian Wilderness

Koh Kong City and the Cambodia-Thailand Border

Map picture

clip_image002M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, and a short story collection called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. He also wrote and illustrated Alexander the Salamander and Ellie the Elephant, two books in the World Adventurers for Kids Series. His books are available in e-book and print from Amazon.com and other booksellers. Edwards graduated from the University of Washington with a master’s degree in China Studies and a Master of Business Administration. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2013 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya, Thailand


This is the final installment of a five-part series about Ayutthaya, Thailand. This article features Wat Mahathat, the ruin of Buddhist temple dating back to the Ayutthaya Kingdom period (1350-1767). Previous posts discussed the historic City of Ayutthaya; the temple ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram; Buddhist monastery Wat Phu Khao Thong, and temple ruins of Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon.

Wat Mahathat, or the “Monastery of the Great Relic” according to the website History of Ayutthaya, is a former Buddhist temple located in the heart of historic Ayutthaya not far from the old royal palace. It is one of the most famous sites in the Ayutthaya Historical Park.

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (1)

Wat Mahathat is best known for the photogenic Buddha’s head embedded in the trunk of a banyan tree. The well-preserved face with a serene look leaves a lasting impression. Experts believe that the sandstone head either fell from a statue and landed in the tree or was left there by a thief who could not haul it away.

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (3)

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (6)

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (9)

Although most visitors come to see the famous head, the temple itself is just as interesting.

Wat Mahathat was one of the largest and most important temple complexes in the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Historical records indicate that it was either built by King Uthong (Ramathibodhi I, 1350-69), King Borommaracha I (1370-88), or King Ramesuan (1388-95). The site fell into disrepair in the 1630s and 1730s before the Burmese razed it in 1767. Many of the prang and stupa or chedi (spires) collapsed after years of decay. Efforts have been underway since 1956 to preserve the site.

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (11)

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (12)

The temple served as the religious center of the Ayutthaya Kingdom and was the seat of the supreme Buddhist patriarch of Siam (early Thailand). It once housed relics captured during military campaigns in Cambodia and elsewhere. During the annual Kathin (royal barge) ceremony, the Ayutthaya kings sailed in a procession of barges down a canal from the palace to the temple, where they would disembark, pray, and make offerings to the gods.

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (13)

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (14)

Like Wat Chaiwattanaram, the Khmer-style Wat Mahathat was built in the shape of five-pointed structure (quincunx) with a large central prang (tower) more than 50 meters (165 feet) high representing the legendary Buddhist mountain Meru (Phra Men). Four smaller prang on the corners formed a cross symbolizing four continents facing the sea (a large, grassy courtyard). An ordination hall lay nearby. Records indicate that the temple’s architectural style, artwork, and relics grew more ornate during subsequent renovations as befitted a place of religious significance.

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (24)

Although efforts have been made to restore or add Buddha statues, most remain headless after being decapitated by the Burmese in 1767.

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (26)

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (27)

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (28)

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (29)

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (30)

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (32)

Some preserved prang, chedi, and a few murals amid a discombobulated maze of rubble are all that’s left of this once-magnificent place. While not as visually stunning as Wat Chaiwattanaram, Wat Mahathat has a larger footprint and an openness that lets you explore up close monuments of the former kingdom.

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (33)

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat
If you plan to visit Ayutthaya and the historical park, make a stop at Wat Mahathat. It’s one site you don’t want to miss!
Video clip of Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya, Thailand
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More About Ayutthaya, Thailand

Click here to read about the City of Ayutthaya and the Ayutthaya Historical Park

Click here to read about Wat Chaiwatthanaram, the ruin of a former Buddhist temple

Click here to read about Wat Phu Khao Thong, a historical Buddhist monastery

Click here to read about Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, a historical Buddhist monastery

buythumb42M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.