Wednesday, January 15, 2014

27. Nang Rong, Buriram Province - Preah Vihear - Ubon Ratchathani

367 km

"The U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens avoid travel along the Cambodian-Thai border in the provinces of Preah Vihear, Oddar Meanchey, and the Banteay Ampil district of Banteay Meanchey province because of a continuing border dispute between the two countries. Thai and Cambodian soldiers have been stationed along the border in this area since July 2008 and have exchanged gunfire on several occasions."

The conflict between Thailand and Cambodia over who is the legitimate owner of the lands around the historic site of Preah Viharn is a long enduring one. After Cambodia's independence from France, Thailand used the weakness of the new independent country and claimed the site for itself, the International Court of Justice at the Hague in 1962 ruled that the temple is indeed part of Cambodia's territory. The Thai government first refused to accept the 1960s ruling of the court and later backed down. 

Now, a few weeks ago, Cambodia again asked for a clarification by the U.N., since Thai forces regularly intrude in areas occupied by the ancient site. Again, the United Nations court ruled that the site belongs to Cambodia. Thailand already offered an explanation by saying it would not accept the court ruling. This was at the end of last year, in November. Since then, some minor exchanges of gunfire took place, some Thai soldiers who intruded into Cambodian territory were shot, nobody was hurt seriously.

Since this UNESCO World Heritage site is such an amazing Khmer temple site, dating back to the 9th century, and located spectacularly on a 1500 meter high cliff like no other temple, my plan was to visit from the Cambodian side. This attempt needed to cancelled since the roads were not passable. Today I tried to reach the area from the Thai side, again without success. 

This time the roads were in perfect condition, however the Royal Thai Army blocked my way up to the temple plateau. Everybody was friendly, spoke a little English, we made jokes and chatted, took pictures, but the result was that  I would not be able to pass the checkpoint. Some 4-6 Thai military Humvees were let through, but I had to return.

My guess is that in case the Thai military stages a coup to end the quagmire between political parties in Bangkok in the next few weeks, they most likely will start a little war to recapture the temple site, just to raise the Thai national pride a little again, after so much political upheaval. We'll see. When they do, I will be gone.

Yesterday at the hotel in Nang Rong I met a group of riders from France on rented KAWASAKI's who are on an organized motorcycle trip, with support vehicle, no less. They started their ride only two days ago and were all a bit nervous still, especially when they saw me arriving, covered from head to toe, including the motorcycle, in this brownish-yellowish dust.

Another two hours of pleasant riding and I am in Ubon Ratchathani were I will spend the night.

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