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Around the Traps in Southeast Asia: Part 23

  • Written by Mega
  • January 9th, 2023
  • 30 min read

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A trip report on Thailand, Singapore, and Cambodia –  done in the final quarter of 2022.

 

Phuket

 

Soi Bangla, Phuket

 

After nearly a month in Phuket I was beginning to get itchy feet again. The trip I’d made to Vietnam, in August/September, had gone okay but the traffic and over-crowding of the place had seen me leave after just twenty days. I’d come back to Thailand earlier than I’d expected and found myself in Phuket in the depths of the southwest monsoon. Phuket is a great place to reside, but the rain seems to go on forever – far longer than any other part of Thailand. This is due to the island being hit by two monsoons. As soon as the southwest monsoon finishes in late October, the island cops the deluge blowing across from the Gulf of Thailand. Tourists coming to the island in December are often disappointed to find overcast conditions and rain squalls when they head down to the beaches. Often, the skies aren’t completely clear until mid-January. The reality of this monsoon double whammy gives Phuket an eight-to-nine-month rainy season.  Instead of extending my visa on arrival for an additional thirty days, and sitting through another month of rain, I put the wheels in motion to fly out at the end of September.

 

Singapore

 

Orchard Towers, circa 2012

 

First up was a brief (two nights) stopover in Singapore, to buy a couple of camera accessories, and then I’d fly on to Phnom Penh. I hadn’t been in the Lion City for almost three years (aside from airport transits) and was interested to see how the place was recovering from the Pandemic. Entry these days is easy enough; the only requirement is a show of your vaccination cert and a confirmed flight out of the place. Before boarding your flight you’re required to scan an app which takes you to an on-line government declaration form, which must be filled in prior to entry into Singapore. The information required includes your personal details, a copy of your vaccination cert, your passport info, the details of your flight out, and your hotel in Singapore. Once it’s submitted successfully, you’ll get an email from a government body, with a copy of your Singapore pass, which has a registration number on it, which must be shown when checking into your hotel. Entry requirements such as these are relatively straight forward these days and if you’ve got everything in order when you arrive, there’s very little delay in getting through immigration.

Singapore, as always, is a damned expensive place, even for a couple of days. Unfortunately, my visit coincided with the yearly F1 race and as such, the hotel rates were going astronomical. Even budget options (such as Hotel 81) were jacking their rates up to SGD 140 per night, for a room in which you couldn’t swing a dead cat in. Thankfully I’d only booked two nights. The one positive was I’d booked into Hotel 81 Selegie, which was a stone’s throw from Little India and Sim Lim Square.

After checking in I took a stroll through the precincts of Little India and found a couple of excellent  restaurants, with one was also serving Marsala tea. The prices were very reasonable and probably a lot less than you’d pay for a meal along the tourist trap of Orchard Road. Another great spot in Little India, is the Mustafa Shopping Mall. This is Singapore’s largest bulk goods shopping arcade and has just about everything you can think of, at the cheapest prices you’ll find anywhere. If you want to head downtown (Orchard Road) the Little India MRT station is only four stops from Orchard. You can be there in twelve minutes for a fare of around SGD 2.50.

On my final night in town, I made my way to Orchard Road to check out the infamous Orchard Towers (aka four floors of whores). I took the MRT to Orchard Station and stepped out onto the boulevard at just on seven pm. It was perfect timing as dusk was settling over the strip and the neon was flickering into life. I hadn’t been on the Orchard strip for almost three years, so was a little unsure what to expect.

To get things started I sat down at the street side cafe, in front of Wheelock Place, and ordered a Tiger. There were quite a few westerners sat around so it seemed a good indication the tourist industry was picking up again. Across the road and to the left stood the ever-present Thai Embassy. The large chunk of ground it occupied along Orchard Road was quite possibly the most expensive piece of real estate in the Lion City. One could only hazard a guess, but the two acres of ground it occupied was probably worth hundreds of millions of dollars. I’d been there several times in years past, for two-month tourist visas, but eventually realised it was a waste of time and money. A visa on arrival with one extension will give you sixty days (now 75 days), with a minimum of effort.

Around eight pm, and after another Tiger, I made my way up to the towers. This was an old whore-mongering stomping ground of mine, in years gone by. Mainly when I was traveling through Singapore on work contracts. As I got closer, I could see the lights of the Country Jamboree were on. This was a cowboy styled bar on the corner of the second floor. It bought back a lot of memories. Mainly of drunken liaisons with Thai working girls, which all seemed an eternity ago. As I neared the stairs to the ground floor entrance a petite, fair-skinned girl, sat on the steps, introduced herself and suggested “she go with me.” She was a Cambodian lass and, like most of them, was in Singapore for a month to make some money for the family back home. The usual banter ensued which included “I do very good massage” and “my price is low.” In an earlier time, I might have been tempted but these days the idea of paying an over the hill Southeast Asian hooker 200 SGD for one hour of sex, isn’t even a consideration. A lot of the ladies who end up in Singapore to “work” are on the wrong side of thirty. Many, closer to forty. They’re too old to compete in their own localities so they head to places like Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Walking into the building was a bit of a shock. As expected, many of the ground floor premises were shuttered up and displaying for rent signs. Upstairs, the Ipanema Bar (the meat market) was still open for business but, even three years ago, it was becoming a pick-up joint for local guys. A new addition to the bars on the second floor was an open style pub, set in the central area of the floor space. I sat down, ordered a Tiger, and surveyed the scene around me. Three years previously there was a good number of massage parlors along each side of the floor, staffed predominantly by teams of Chinese ladies. The Chinese were gone and in their place were Vietnamese ladies who, truth be known, weren’t much different in terms of their harassing capabilities. Another change was the style of the massage shops. The larger shops of times past had been replaced by what can only be described as single lady cubicles. This probably had something to do with the very high rental rates in the building. The larger shops had been reduced in size to what amounted to a doorway, fronted by the individual massage girl, with a small foyer area and closed off bed space at the back. It all had the look of the production line sex cubicles one might encounter in Amsterdam. I never inquired about the rates, but I surmised they wouldn’t be much different to street walker prices.

As I sauntered off into the night it crossed my mind that the golden age of “a night out along Orchard Road” was long gone. Those heady days of the nineties and two thousands, when we hit the bars with pockets full of oil patch cash were a distant memory. Over the past ten years the demographics of the working girls had changed as well. The fun-loving Thai ladies had been replaced by the cold, hard business model of the Vietnamese working girl. A lesser variation which was hungry for cash, and low on the fun side of things.

 

Phnom Penh

 

Riverfront, Phnom Penh

 

After two uneventful days in Singapore, I caught a Jetstar flight to Phnom Penh. The entry requirements were very relaxed compared to Singapore. Instead of an on-line registration, everything is still paper documentation to enter Cambodia. Getting through immigration was a breeze. The only thing you need to declare is if you are vaccinated, or not. I had my VOA in less than twenty minutes and was out the airport doors in under forty. I’d caught a late flight out of Singapore and the mid-evening difference in temperature was quite noticeable. Where Singapore was steamy, even at night, Phnom Penh seemed much cooler. As the tuk-tuk worked its way through the busy streets to the hotel the driver informed me the worst of the rains was over. October, while still having some rain, should be a much drier month. The only negative coming from his weather update being, there was flooding around Siem Reap.

A US nine-dollar tuk-tuk ride got me to the hotel. I’d booked two nights at the Le Vincent, a two-star hotel situated near the riverfront.  The primary reason for choosing the Le Vincent was I’d noted in Google Maps reviews a comment which mentioned the hotel having a lift. I’d pre-booked through Agoda and as I was checking in the manager, a guy with a disability in one eye, was quick to update me on the current bar-fine rates for the ladies. Why he thought I would need to know this on my arrival, was hard to determine. But nevertheless, according to old mate, “if you want to take a lady to your room the bar fine is now twenty-five dollars, not ten dollars same as before.” At least I had that knowledge before stepping out into the night.

The Le Vincent is situated approximately two hundred meters back from the riverfront (the Mekong). It’s a crowded part of the city with a lot of girlie bars lining both sides of the street. During the day things are quiet but once the sun goes down, and the neon comes on, dozens of hostesses can be seen hanging out in front of the bars. As you walk by, they call out, asking you to join them in their bars. Being an old Asia hand, with many years of experience in the region, the idea of paying for over-priced “lady drinks” holds no appeal these days. To the inexperienced, the friendliness of the girls can be enticing but, at the end of the day, the entire scene is transactional. They’re working and you, the unwitting Joe, are the job.

The riverfront, with its sweeping views across the Mekong, is a great place for an early evening walk. Once the sun dips towards the horizon, plenty of locals venture out to exercise and sit along its edge.  A few local fishermen can be seen along the embankment, with their baited lines dangling into the muddy, brown water. Late September is still the rainy season in Cambodia, the predominantly overcast skies say as much. The tail end of a Typhoon blowing across from coastal Vietnam, wasn’t helping matters. As I reached the eastern end of the river front concourse, a stiffening breeze hinted rain wasn’t too far away. As the light faded from the day, evening tour boats could be seen traversing the swollen expanse of the Mekong. With darkness falling, I made my way back to the riverfront road to check out the selection of restaurants. A Northern Indian establishment, with reasonable prices, filled the bill. Fish Tikka, Palak Paneer and Butter Nan are a regular favorite of mine.

With darkness well and truly set in I took a leisurely stroll back the hotel. The neon was on, and the girls had come out to play. The front one hundred and fifty meters of the street I was staying on, was stacked with girlie bars. The local demimondaines, wearing their short skirts and skimpy tops, occupied seating areas in front of their respective bars. There were plenty of the usual cat calls to entice me into their establishments. Some of the ladies looked quite attractive and it was noticeable they appeared a good deal slimmer than the average Thai bar-girl, these days. My trained eye fell upon the Lolita Bar, and it came to mind if there was any similarity to its namesake in Bangkok. I took a few moments to check out the establishment. The light coming through the open front door indicated it was just a standard beer bar. I was tempted but the idea of buying a gaggle of lady drinks, for the hungry troop sat out front, soon had me moving on. A foot massage at a premises near the hotel seemed like a better value for money option. Additionally, I needed to be up early the following morning, for the bus ride to Siem Reap.

 

Siem Reap

 

Angkor Wat Temple, Siem Reap

 

After an uneventful two day stay in Phnom Penh, I was on my way to Siem Reap. I booked a bus ride with Giant Ibis, a company I’d done the trip with before. The fare was a very reasonable US 12 Dollars and travel time is approximately six hours, for the 300 km journey. After a short delay, changing busses at a second terminal, we were heading up highway six at just after nine am. The route out of Phnom Penh runs along the western bank of the Mekong, for the first forty km, before veering northeast to Phnom Penh. The terrain for the entire journey is completely flat with hardly a hill in sight. Green, water filled rice paddies, all the way to the horizon, filled the landscape on both sides of the highway. The recent heavy rains had flooded much of the region and if wasn’t for the fact the road was elevated, the bus would probably have been partly submerged for most of the journey. The endless rice paddies, interspersed with rows of palms, reminded me of scenes from the movie “The Killing Fields.” As we rolled on, I wondered if some of these areas we were passing through were actual places depicted in that hauntingly memorable movie.

Siem Reap is the primary sightseeing location in Cambodia and is renowned for its impressive one thousand-year-old Hindu Temple sites. The most famous, and well known, being the Angkor Wat Temple. The main Temple area (known as ANGKOR ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK) is approximately seven km from Siem Reap Township and can be easily reached by motorbike, or Tuk-Tuk. Although there are a few guesthouses and smaller hotels near the temple sites, most tourists prefer to stay in town and be close to the restaurant and bar area. The PUB STREET locality, right in the town center, is where most visitors tend to stay.

After checking into my accommodation, the Sidewalk Hotel, I made a beeline to the town center to find a motorbike I could rent for a week. I settled on one of the smaller outlets with a manager who spoke reasonable English, and who filled the tank before I left the shop. After handing over my passport and US 70 dollars to seal the deal, I signed the contract and took off down Charles De Gaulle Boulevard headed towards the temples.

For anyone coming to Siem Reap, and planning to visit the temples, you’ll need to buy an ANGKOR PASS first up. The Angkor Pass Ticket Office, which sells these laminated passes (with your photo on it) is located a few hundred meters off Charles De Gaulle Boulevard, on Street Sixty. As of October 2022, prices are as follows: 1 day = 37 USD; 3 days = 62 USD; 7 days = 72 USD. Obviously the seven-day pass is the best value. NOTE: there’s no way you can fudge this entry fee. Every road leading to any of the temples has a checkpoint, and a sentry, waiting to stop any foreigner and check their pass. If you go with a guide, they will make sure you have your Angkor Pass before heading off to the temples. On the positive side, the Angkor Pass covers you for any of the more remote sites within Siem Reap Province.

My first trip to Siem Reap was in 2013 and at the time, things were loose regarding checkpoints and the number of park rangers being on any of the temple sites.  For photographers there seemed to be a lot less restrictions. Not so now. My first foray onto a temple site (for this trip) revealed a couple of odd rules regarding the equipment I could use, and my reasons for filming. Drones were a no-no, unless you had special permission from a government body, so I didn’t even bother with that. However, being told the use of tripods was also banned really surprised me. At the BAYON TEMPLE I was informed by a couple of park rangers that tripods, in their eyes, equated to a commercial type of video. Additionally, at a couple of other sites I was asked if I was filming a video for YouTube. In the end I just said I was making a holiday video. Unfortunately, the days of Angkor Archaeological Park being a historical temple utopia are well and truly over. With all the checkpoints and watching eyes on site, the commercial aspect has taken a firm grip on the place.

After a couple of days of checking out the big-ticket sites (Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm) I decided it was time to get off the beaten track and head to a couple of sites well away from Siem Reap. Prior to arriving in Cambodia, I’d had a look at Google Maps and realised I could do a loop tour through PREAH VIHEAR PROVINCE. The 460 km motorbike tour would run up towards the Thai border and take in KOH KER PYRAMID and PREAH VIHEAR TEMPLE. Luckily, during an outing to one of the Temples around Siem Reap, I met an English guy who was keen to join me on the trip. And so, the PREAH VIHEAR LOOP was created.

We planned a three-day (two night) trip on a route which would take us northeast from Siem Reap, into Preah Vihear Province, across into the remote Oddar Meanchey Province, and then back down to Siem Reap. Our proposed circuit was in a counterclockwise direction, along highways 6, 64, 68, and 66. All the roads we planned on traversing were sealed (apart from short side roads to sightseeing attractions) so the Honda semi-autos we hired were sufficient for the trip. At around 8 am on day one, we hit the road out of Siem Reap. Our intended first stop was the Koh Ker Pyramid, some 114 km northeast of Siem Reap. On the way to Koh Ker, we hoped to take a quick look at the Beng Mealea Ruins, which are on highway 64. Unfortunately, we didn’t get into Beng Mealea because I’d forgotten to take my Angkor Pass on the trip. I found, too late after the fact, that all Khmer Temple sites within Siem Reap Province are covered by the Angkor Pass.

 

Koh Ker Temple

 

Koh Ker Temple

 

Similar to a Mayan structure, this is Southeast Asia’s highest pyramid. According to Wikipedia King Jayavarman IV initiated the construction of the Koh Ker complex around the early part of the tenth Century. The central feature of the site is the impressive seven-tiered pyramid (prang) which stands at 36 meters high, at the apex, and is 62 meters square at the base. The site includes the central pyramid of Koh Ker and several outlier smaller temples such as SROT, SALAW, and BENG Temples. The distance from Siem Reap to the Koh Ker Temple Complex is 114 km. Travel time is approx. 2 – 3 hours. The entry fee for foreigners is 15 USD per person.

Access to the to the temple parking area is along a dirt road which does a circuit through several other minor historical structures. The access road branches off hwy 64 and approximately two hundred meters in, there’s a boom gate and a ticket office where the entry fee must be paid. From here the road is dirt all the way to the parking area. From the parking area, a trail takes you through the outlying ruins to the entry point to the pyramid. There are some interesting smaller structures and a surrounding moat to cross before arriving at the outer wall of the pyramid enclosure.

As per my usual filming routine, I had my video camera out and as I worked my way through these outer ruins I was approached by a couple of uniformed staff. “Are you doing a YouTube video?” This was becoming tiresome. Understanding arguing with them was pointless, I just said “no, I’m just filming a holiday video for friends and family.”

My first visit to the site was in 2013. At that time, it seemed a bit more remote and there was a lot less people about. In fact, apart from the tour guide I’d hired, I was the only sightseer at the site. I paid the park staff 5 USD (a small bribe) so I could climb to the top of the pyramid. These days there’s no need for the unofficial payment. On the northeast corner of the structure, a solid stairway has been put in place which enables sightseers to climb all the way to the top. Once up there, the views of the surrounding terrain are quite spectacular. At the very top of the pyramid there’s a hole which, according to a tour guide, “goes all the way to the bottom.” It’s basically a vertical shaft, like a lift well. I asked the guide if there was, “Anything down there?” His reply was quite interesting. “A long time ago there was a large golden statue (a Hanuman) but it was removed.” I looked down the shaft and wondered how the looters would have gotten a large statue (heavy) out of there.

Youtube Video for Koh Ker pyramid: LINK

 

Preah Vihear Temple

 

The largest structure at Preah Vihear

 

This impressive temple site is in the far north of Cambodia (just below the Thai/Cambodian border) and in years past, was the scene of a number border skirmishes between the two nations. A dispute over land surrounding the temple (between Thailand and Cambodia) started in 2008, after a UNESCO decision declared the temple site belonged to Cambodia. For one reason or another, the Thai government weren’t satisfied with this decision and its military personnel occupied the land surrounding the temple. In doing so, they were denying Cambodians access to it. Cambodia took offense and its forces lobbed a few shells into the Thai positions. This exchange of hostilities, where there were military and civilian casualties, continued for another three years. Eventually, the United Nations finally declared the temple and the surrounding lands were Cambodian, and that all Thai forces had to withdraw. However, when determining who owns what, it’s not as simple as that. If you zoom in on Google Maps, you’ll see that although the Temple site is in Cambodia most of the access road, to the parking area at the bottom of the temple site, is still shown as being in Thailand.

The important thing for Cambodia, and stability in the area, is the dispute has been resolved and sightseers are able to safely make their way to the temple. The entry fee for a single visitation is 10 USD and tickets must be purchased at an office a few kilometers back along hwy 62. There’s a check point (with a boom gate) next to the large Barray to ensure you’ve purchased a ticket. From there a wide (and well-constructed) road takes visitors part of the way up the 525-meter-high peak. This is part of hwy 62 which eventually comes to a dead end, with one of those small cement roads continuing off it. From here the road gets quite steep and it is understandable that taxi touts (back at the ticket office) were offering transportation (for 25 USD per head) for a ride up to the temple. In the rainy season it gets quite treacherous, and you need to keep your motorbike in first gear for the worst sections. I was close to stalling as I got near the top. Thankfully, one of the park staff noticed my predicament and ran down the hill to give me a push for the final few meters.

The temple complex is quite long and features four structures on a sloping plateau. The structures are connected by long, sloping pathways which are centrally aligned – from each higher structure you can stand in the central doorway and look straight down the pathway to the center doorway of the structure below. The fourth structure (the highest) isn’t too far from the edge of the cliff, which drops precipitously to the ground below. The viewing area, along the cliff-line, is stated as being some 525 meters above ground level. The views to the south are quite spectacular. Looking to the north, gives nice views across Thailand.

YouTube video for Preah Vihear Temple: LINK

 

Back in Siem Reap

 

Neak Poun site, Siem Reap

 

After completing the Preah Vihear Loop I still had a few days to kill in Siem Reap, before moving north to Laos. An excursion to the nearby Phnom Kulen National Park was at the top of the to do list. On our last day of the loop trip, we’d tried finding a back door route into the national park but had called it off after getting bogged down in mud. If we’d been on off-road bikes I might have considered pushing on, just for the hell of it, but the Honda scooters we were using were completely inappropriate for the terrain we were slogging through. Sam and I had a farewell drink back at the Revolution Hostel and went our separate ways. He was headed to Poipet for a visa run and I spent a couple of days hanging around Siem Reap waiting for the weather to clear up.

The Cambodian Tourism Authority is doing its best to get visitors to Siem Reap to stay around longer by offering bonus days on the purchase of the Angkor Pass. I bought a seven-day pass, which had an extra three days free of charge. Additionally, the pass was good for one month from the date of purchase. What this basically meant was, if you were staying in Siem Reap for an extended period, there was no rush to get out to all the temple sites. Instead of trying to cram all the sites into two or three days, you could pick a grouping, take your time having a decent look around, and take a rest day before heading to another area.

For most visitors, sightseeing around to the Angkor Archaeological Park normally means the big three: Angkor Wat, the Angkor Thom Complex, which includes the Bayon, and the picturesque Ta Prohm site. Other interesting but less visited sites are missed mainly due to a lack of knowledge or, most commonly, a lack of time caused by not having your own transportation. Renting a motorbike gives you the mobility to get to many of the lesser promoted sites around Siem Reap. One such site is just to the north of the Angkor Thom Complex. It includes two smaller temples and a large man-made lake (Baray) with a Temple Island in the middle, which is accessed by a boarded walkway. The Baray is Neak Poun and the temples of Preah Khan, and Ta Som are at it’s eastern and western ends.

To get there you need to ride completely through the Angkor Thom Complex, exit through the northern gate and follow the road around to the right for approximately 500 meters. Preah Khan is one of the larger temples in the Angkor complex and it has a couple of unique features, not seen at any of the other sites. From the western entrance there’s a short walkway to the outer wall of the temple complex. The entry doorway, on the outer wall, leads directly into a long tunnel (infinity tunnel) which runs all the way through the structure to the eastern gate. There’s also a shorter north to south tunnel, which intersects the east to west tunnel, at the exact mid-point of the structure. It’s at this intersection where you can see one of the unique features of the site. A stupa sits at the intersection of the two tunnels. If you stand back a few meters (on the east to west tunnel) you’ll see what appears to be a flame at the tip of the stupa. This is created by a hole in the stonework above (in the shape of a flame) which allows external light into the darkened interior.

In the northeastern corner of the complex there’s a structure which resembles Roman or Egyptian architecture. It is known as the Queens Room and is quite unique with its rows of rounded columns. It’s something which isn’t seen in any of the other structures in the Angkor Archaeological Park.

Ta Som Temple is at the eastern end of the Neak Poun Baray, and directly opposite to the Preah Khan site. The Ta Som Temple is smaller in size than Preah Khan but has a lot of ornate artworks (Apsara Dancers) on its walls. The site has been described as a cross between the Bayon and the Ta Prohm. Largely due to the four-sided heads adorning its entry gates and the trees growing into the stonework. The central area of the structure contains most of the ornate artwork. Although a lot of the structure is in ruins, there is still plenty of artwork to be seen on the remaining walls. The red stone combined with the green moss gives it a striking coloration.

Neak Poun is another interesting and less visited temple site, in the middle of a large Baray (man-made pond). The temple is on an island which is accessed from the northern side of the Baray, via a boarded walkway. The entry point to the walkway is at the mid-point of the northern side of the Baray. Opening hours are 0730 – 1730. There’s a secure parking area with local restaurants, drink sellers and rest rooms across the road from the entrance. You can park your motorbike here and head across to the entry checkpoint. The park staff on duty will check to see if your Angkor Pass is current, before granting entry.

The boarded walkway is approximately 200 meters in length and provides excellent views across the Baray, to the east and west. There’s a viewing point in the middle where you can get some great photos, particularly at sunset when there’s some nice coloration being reflected of the surface of the pond. Note: The site closes at 5.30 pm however, for those on the walkway after this time, you’re allowed until 6.00 pm to clear the site. On the way you can get some memorable sunset shots across the lake.

The Island is the central feature of Neak Poun Baray. The walkway takes you onto an island at the center of the lake which in turn, has another small pond within. This feature is quite remarkable as it’s obvious, from the shape and layout, it’s a man-made construction. There is a path around the edge of this internal pond which allows you to get closer to the smaller stone structures protruding from the water.

 

Phnom Kulen National Park

 

Phnom Kulen National Park

 

After what seemed like an interminable spell of overcast, rainy weather in Siem Reap the skies finally cleared and I hit the road for Phnom Kulen National Park. The primary geographical feature of the national park is a sandstone, jungle covered peak, located approximately forty-five kilometers north of the provincial capital. It’s the only elevated geographical feature in the area and can be seen from a considerable distance, owing to the surrounding flat landscape of endless rice paddies.

To maintain a budget, I decided to do the trip on the Honda scooter I’d been renting, instead of hiring a more expensive off-road bike. The road to the national park is sealed all the way to the entry point (ticket office and boom gate) which, as I was to find out later, created a false sense of expectation. The entry fee to the national park for foreigners is 20 USD, which makes the fees for Thai National Parks seem cheap in comparison. From the boom gate a sealed road winds up to the top of the mountain, from which point it turns into a muddy red bog. The road along the top of the plateau, to all the sightseeing attractions, is red dirt most of the way. And at the end of the rainy season the long stretches of mud were interspersed with only a few short, dry sections. To put it bluntly it was tough going on the Honda step through. Thankfully, on each boggy section, there were park staff standing by to give motorbike riders a push to get through.

A map at the park ticket office shows a spiderweb of roads, along the top of the plateau, leading to a considerable number of sightseeing attractions. Unfortunately, with the roads the way they were in mid-October, there was no hope of getting to the more distant ones – over twenty kilometers of dirt road – particularly on a Honda scooter. These more remote locations are best traveled to in the dry season.

The first easy stop on the sightseeing circuit was a location called “the Amazing Cliff Line.” This is essentially a sandstone cliff line, providing views across the surrounding jungle covered terrain, just one hundred meters from the road. At the end of the rainy season, when everything is green and vibrant, it’s a picturesque landscape and well worth a thirty-minute stop. There were quite a few people along the cliff-line, getting their selfies. Most appeared to be on a tour of some sort and had come up in SUVs, or 4 x 4’s.

From the amazing cliff line, the next sightseeing stop was the “cascading waterfalls,” some eight km further along the muddy road. Getting there was a slog and with the conditions being as they were, I eventually skidded out on a slippery corner, and dropped the bike. Thankfully I was only in first gear so sustained no injuries or bike damage. The park staff standing around quickly came to my aid and after helping me up, I was on the trail again.

The waterfall site – called the cascading waterfalls – in peak flow is well worth the effort of getting to. However, it’s an absolute tourist trap with restaurants, hawker’s stalls, and drink sellers everywhere on the path down to the falls. For a place which appears to be off the beaten track, there were certainly a lot of vehicles parked there at eleven am in the morning. A properly constructed pathway led down a series of levels to the primary waterfall at the bottom of a long stairway. At the bottom the volume of water coming over the falls was impressive. It was a raging torrent. A boarded walkway allows sightseers to get closer to the face of the falls. However, with the amount of spray in the air anyone doing so was in for a soaking.

All in all, it was good day out and worth the effort of getting up there. However, it’s a bit of a trade off in terms of how much you can see. A visit in the dry season will certainly make it possible to get to more sightseeing attractions. The downside of a dry season visit being the waterfalls will be far less spectacular.

YouTube video for Phnom Kulen National Park: LINK

 

Safe travels,

Mega

The author can be contacted at : megaworldasia360@gmail.com