Wednesday, December 18, 2013


1. Klong Yai (Thailand) - Sihanoukville (Cambodia)

270 km

This morning I was anxious because of  two reasons: 1. I wasn't really looking forward to my ride back on the narrow concrete planks through the fishing village, and 2. Due to the upcoming border crossing into Cambodia. 

Before today's venture into Cambodia, I had to fabricate myself "blinds" for the headlight of the motorcycle, since riding with the lights on here is strictly forbidden; it is reserved only to VIP politicos. The clueless foreigners on rented scooters who are not familiar with this law are one of the major sources of income for the underpaid Cambodian police officers. The imposed fine for this very common violation (the other one is riding without a helmet, same as in Thailand) goes straight into the pocket of the officers. (Illinois may be the most corrupt U.S. State, Thailand is very corrupt too, but nothing compares to Cambodia!)

Since I equipped the motorcycle in the U.S. with a detachable TOURATECH Lexan headlight protector (against impact of rocks on dirt roads) , I thought the easiest way to obscure the lights is to paste a vinyl film over the protector, in "carbon-optic" of course. I bought the sheet at a shop which does banners and advertisement out of film or vinyl for .80 cents. In case I would ride at night, I would simply snap the headlight protector off.

There is a trick also how to turn the headlights of on a BMW R1200 GS ADV:
The procedure is as follows:
  • Turn the ignition on and allow the startup-check cycle to complete. The headlights will be off (this is normal).
  • Hold turn-signal cancel switch for 4-5 secs.
  • Hold right turn-signal switch for 4-5 secs.
  • Start engine.
  • Lights should remain OFF.
This will reset next time you switch off the ignition. The headlights will be off, but the running lights and tail light will remain on.

This is nice, but I know myself, in the heat of the day I might forget and I don't want to pay the salary of the police men in this country.

The vinyl film, on the other hand, is very "classy" and also fool-proof!

What caused me to be soaked in sweat yesterday, appeared relatively straightforward this morning. Chin, the owner of the guesthouse where I stayed last night, walked in front of me across the boardwalk and tried as good as he could to get the most prominent obstacles out of my path, very much to the enjoyment of the fishermen-ladies who were in the process of cleaning the catch from the night before. Chin is a character all by himself, he is not only a good cook and great guy, but also an upholsterer who owns a shop on Nantucket Island, MA, where he spend six month of the year. We talked a lot last night.

My ride through the meandering maze of the village, some 8 feet above the water level, went A-OK, and soon I was back on Thai Highway 3 towards the border.

TOURATECH clear headlight protector with pasted on vinyl film, cut to size.

"Carbon-look" no less!

Chin clears the path, I am heading out of the village.

I arrived at the border soon after. 

The Thai side was very formal, I had to submit my immigration departure card, had my passport stamped, needed to cross the street to have the paperwork for the motorcycle inspected, photocopied, stamped and handed back to me, back to the other side of the street to submit the Temporary Import docs, get a photocopy for my return to Thailand (When? I'm not sure, most likely in January 2015) All in all the process on the Thai side of things was relatively smooth, everything takes a while of course, but everybody is friendly. There were no penalties imposed, no outrageous fees collected and all the other nonsense you nowadays read on the Internet sometimes.

Thailand Border Checkpoint and Immigration.

Cambodian Checkpoint and border crossing.

A happy motorcyclist after everything was done.
One of the customs officers took the picture.

Now, the Cambodia border checkpoint was interesting. 

First I had to get a "Health Check" done, by an official pointing an infrared thermometer on my forehead taking a reading (?). That I passed with flying colors.

And then a nice young man, some sort of a semi-official person showed up, and asked me in fairly good English about my plans. I submitted my e-Visa which I had obtained from the Cambodian Customs website some weeks ago, and in the file I placed my -expired- Cambodian driver's license. He saw it: "Oh, you have a Cambodian license!" he said and took all the paperwork and my passport to the counter. He filled out all the documents for me, communicated everything to the "real" Customs people in the building, and I was done in about 15 minutes. The motorcycle wasn't even mentioned once. No papers, no temporary import documents which will eventually expire, nothing.

The young man came back with my passport, stepped aside a little, and said to me: "I help you, you help me?" Of course! I paid him a very small baksheesh in Thai Baht, and he was deeply grateful. Very nice. 

Four factors contributed to this easy process, I think:

1. The young man, the Cambodian "fixer', of course;
2. My Cambodian Driver's License;
3. My military-style boonie hat with the Cambodian flag sewn on;
4. My e-Visa. Very easy. It shows them that one comes prepared.

Back on the bike and off I went. I passed through the border town, a police checkpoint came up, and an officer signaled something to me, but I had checkpoints enough for today and just ignored him and went on. It wasn't long down the road an I saw another little checkpoint building and thought by myself what if the guy called ahead and they already wait for me? But nothing happened, nobody came out of the guard house and the Cambodian landscape was in front of me.

The change from country to country on any border worldwide is something real and palpable. Here coming from hectic, busy, (almost) highly developed Thailand into Cambodia the change is dramatic. Especially in an out-of-the-way border region like this one. Almost zero traffic, no industry, no warehouse complexes and factories littering the landscape, just vast forests, valleys and very big rivers. Partly this is due also to my route which goes through Boutum Sakor National Park ឧទ្យានជាតិបុទុមសាគរ. 

The quietness and my lonely ride cause all of a sudden a strong feeling of "happiness" to come up. I think that was also partly to the fact that I could relax after the border was behind me.

Not everything was "happy-happy" all the time since the downside of Cambodia's relative backwardness are also the bad roads. Some 20% of today's ride was across dirt roads. Sometimes a good, asphalted, high-speed section changes abruptly into gravel, mostly in curves, of course. One has to be extremely careful here in this country. Thailand's drivers are so much more careful and predictable than the folks who control the wheel here in this country. They also often not seem to care. Maybe the sentiment is: Out of 7 million Cambodians 4 million were killed by the Khmer Rouge, how can traffic be any worse than that?

Andoun Tuek, Prek Srae Ambel bridge. 
The bridges are fairly recent, before that the drive to Sihanoukville had to use five ferries.

Oil on the road from disabled vehicles such as this one is a major hazard for motorcyclists.
The branch behind the vehicle is the emergency "warning triangle".

Landscape "pure".

After more than 7 hours I arrived safely in Sihanoukville where I will spend a couple of days to get my Cambodian Driver's License renewed and a Visa extension (needed for the Driver's License.)

One final note concerning GPS coverage here in Cambodia: 

The software the friendly gentleman in Chaing Mai put on a mini-SD card is pretty much worthless, or should I say, "approximate". It will be maps from here on out. Oh, well, I guess we're not in Thailand anymore.

Check back soon!

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