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Monthly Archives: January 2011

Great idea: let’s rent a motorbike!

People and places off the tourist trail often are the most interesting. And it’s difficult to spot them when you’re racing past them in an air-conditioned tourist bus. Therefore, renting a motorbike and do some long distance travel to those hard to get/find places seemed like a good idea.

I decided to verify my assumptions and ask some locals. The people of the orphanage looked surprised: why would you do that? Have you seen traffic here? I actually had a look at the Cambodian traffic and the one thing I noticed was that people are driving slooowly. It was Indian style chaotic, but nothing like the madness of Iranian traffic.

Sitting at the back of a motorbike to the Killing Fields, I saw two motorbike crashes happen right in front of me. I even fell of the motorbike in my rush to help the guy who just had crashed into the back of a car. When I pulled his bike off him, the car simply drove off. My driver and the onlookers reacted surprised. Not so much at his crash, but why I fell of the bike and tried to help the motorbike driver (the crash clearly was his fault). Needless to say that this story is written in a luxury aircon bus.

Postscriptum: both the driver and myself have no injuries to speak off

A visit to Bokor Hill station

Bokor hillstation is a highlight of my entire trip. It was founded by the French over 90 years ago as an escape from the high temperatures of Cambodian summer. It’s other attractions were a luxurious casino cum hotel and a spaceship with long legs. The view from the casino is stunning: from a 1000 meter high mountain decorated with a beautiful rainforest you can clearly see the sea which is just a couple of kilometers away. The hotel terrace on the cliff has two shocking tales. Firstly it was used to jump of by gamblers that had lost everything in the casino, secondly the Khmer Rouge killed people by throwing them off from the same location.

As you can see in the the photoshoot, Bokor Hillstatation now consists of abandoned buildings. Inside them literally everything is broken. Successive wars (Japanese, Kmehr rouge, Vietnamese) took care of that. The buildings are currently covered in a red-orange moss that give a particularly scary feel.

Please have a look at the pictures i took:
http://picasaweb.google.com/gcjbos/BokorHillStation

I arrived with a big group (30 people), but fortunately I was only one of three that had booked the two day trip (which included an overnight stay with the rangers in the national park).

As I carefully walked on the paths (the area had been cleared of landmines 3 times) and explored the buildings alone, I suddenly came to the shock realization that I was walking through a relatively recent (15-25 years) warzone. Now is the entire world probably a former warzone, but I had never experienced it this real and this recent. When I continued my way to witness the most beautiful cloudy sunset ever (next to a ransacked church) the images in my mind of a beautiful casino were replaced by the atrocities of war.

Now the whole area including the national park is leased to an international consortium ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bokor_Hill_Station ) for 99 years. It is expected that visitors won’t be allowed in anymore from the end of this year onwards (safety during construction work). The beautiful destroyed casino might wiped of the earth for good.

Travelers vs tourists

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Travelers vs tourists
On the road there is a big difference between travelers and tourists. The travelers think they know everything best. This includes where to go (undiscovered places), what to eat (local), what to drink (a lot) and how much to pay (very little). Moreover, travelers claim moral superiority over tourists based on the conviction that travelers don’t come to see for sights or mindlessly bake in the sun, but for the experience of getting to a destination.

In the defense of tourists, most of them seem happier than at home (especially the kids), even if tourists pay more than the minimum price it’s still much less than at home and the shop owner has a fantastic day (earning a week’s income with 10 seconds of bargaining), and a room with air-conditioning when it’s 30 degrees at 02.00 in the morning might not be such a bad idea afterall.

I fall in neither the traveler nor the tourist category. I’ve slept in ‘hotel rooms’ that would result in UN sanctions if prisoners from The Netherlands had to sleep in there. I’ve also taken trains with a cleaning frequency that left a lot to be desired (see the picture taken in an overcrowded overnight train in India). At the same time, I fly airplanes when I want to, rent a catamaran when there is wind, eat delicious fish in a nice restaurant if I feel like it and lie unashamed on the beach in Goa for days on end.

With this lifestyle, I enjoy myself (something that both travelers and tourists seem to forget). I get to see great sights (the famous ones and the undiscovered). I get to meet people from the country i’m staying in and interesting guests. At the same time, I don’t worry about paying 2 rupees to much for a drink, while if I only need ‘a bed for the night’ that’s exactly what I’ll get.

My personal way of traveling definitely isn’t for everybody. It takes quite a high tolerance for filth, one needs to be reasonably fit and not afraid of taking a calculated risk here and there. Most of all, you need to accept that plans can mess up badly. The only other thing you need is money, which will be the subject of a future post.