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Monthly Archives: January 2011

Angkor Wat sunrise: a picture tells more than a thousand words

The sunrise at Angkor Wat is stunning. The majestic temple is lit from behind by a sleepy sun. The most enchanting moment occur when the reflection of the sun can be seen in the pool right in front of the temple. All this is decorated with the sound of ancient drums in order to scare the moon away. Unfortunately, those drums didn’t prevent (literally) thousands of tourists of trying to capture the moment on camera. I would guess that more than 10.000 pictures of that sunset were taken on this day alone.


The sad news is that probably 100% of these pictures are crap. People using mobile phones and their flash in order to capture this beautiful moment. 99.9% of the people present couldn’t have seriously thought that they were really making a reasonable picture.

So why do people show up taking pictures anyway? For the enchanting moment? Surely, being packed together with 1000’s isn’t that enchanting. Is it the ‘shared experience’? Then why do they stare mindlessly into their camera’s viewfinder? Are they to lazy to Google the picture? Surely it would have been easier than leaving your bed at 05.00. Is it having ‘your own’ picture of exactly that moment in time? Maybe it’s that.

And just for the sake of it, here’s my special moment:


Angkor Wat: the best tourist trap in the world

Most tourist traps I’ve seen are about a natural phenonomen. The beaches in Goa are a great example: beautiful, but superficial. The tourists who go there fit that profile too.

I’m now in probably the best tourist trap in the world: Angkor Wat / Siem Riep. Sure it has all the bad things of a tourist trap. Sports bars with the English soccer league, more tourist buses than I can count and a terribly busy main street.


At the same time, all these people come to see one of the greatest monuments of our planet. Imagine gigantic temples which were covered for centuries by jungle, (ab)used by the Khmer Rouge as an army base and filled with little hideaways where you can let the natural & human beauty take hold of your soul.

The ‘tourist trap’ side brings even more advantages: want a fish massage? It costs $3. Arrive late on a Friday night without a hotel? In ten minutes and for $10 you’ve got a western quality hotel including breakfast. And no need to feel guilty as wages apparently are higher than in the rest of the country. And as every tourist pays $20 entry fee per day, the restoration work gets funded too.

Isn’t there anything bad about this tourist trap? Sure there is. The guide’s only dream in life was to own a Lexus RX 300 (the car of choice of the rich and powerful in Cambodia). Authentic human-human conversation is difficult to find and the prostitutes probably would have chosen a different job if the would have had a real choice.

Let’s call it the best of the worst.

Welcome, whoever you are!

I just checked the statistics for The shocking news is: the stories that were written for family and a couple of friends have been read 65.000 times in more than 16.000 visits!

Thank you for taking the time to read what I’ve typed on the small keyboard of my iPhone. I hope you enjoy what you read and that you’ll be inspired to make a similar or completely different trip.



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:

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 ( ) 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


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.