The boarder-crossing to Cambodia at Had Lek / Koh Kong was harmless, no odd fees to be payed, nor did I get the 3 month visa. Right after the border. Kids are waving again on the streets, the pavement is more bumpy and the surrounding hills are widely deforested – the same as on the way out at Pailin two weeks ago.
First stop in Koh Kong, a fairly nice town on a big river, close to the Sea. As the starting point for the Koh Kong island tours, there are a few tourists around, and the there is a good choice of hotels and Western style and prices restaurants. The barber is painful after almost 4 weeks not shaving. He's not using foam, and is very greedy with the cold water. Just spent one night in Koh Kong, and make my way towards Shianoukville on the fairly new road through the mountains and the well preserved forests. On the side of the road, there are funny elephant warning signs every once in a while, yet no elephant to see. From the top of some passes there are nice views of untouched forest covering soft hills and valleys until the horizon. Big rivers run from the mountains in the north to the Sea in the south. Big bridges cross them, looking like from a different world compared to the small shops and wooden houses beside. There are only few villages, so Bernards information about places to stay and eat and the long distances in between was indeed very helpful. The first night I stay in Trapang Rung in a nice homestay near a river, organized by the local Eco-tourism agency. Big fires in the woods spill smoke and burned palm leave parts in the air. I get no explanation for this fire. On the next day just after the first 40 kilometers in the mountains I arrive in Andoung Toek, stop at a little coffee shop and get into talk with a man that introduces himself as teacher at the school on the other side of the street. The more we talk, the more curious I get about his project here. Coming from a town from the other side of the Cardamom Mountains and having worked for a few big NGOs before, he and his colleague want to help the villagers with education in English and organic farming, introduce bio-gas installations to reduce the demand for firewood and electricity and set up eco-tourism here to gain additional income for the villagers. As well, they are curious about my thoughts to reduce the strong money dependency of the villagers. They would be happy if I would come again and help them teaching English for a while. We spent hours talking over lunchtime. We exchange contact details for further discussions, and I take off for the next 45 kilometers to Sre Ambel, a nice town on a river with two scum guesthouses beside each other.
One more day to go to Shianoukville, a 100 kilometers with aching knees and a wound bum on a narrow road with mental truck and bus drivers, and the last 16 kilometers of ups and downs almost kill me. I decide to take the first guesthouse in town rather than exploring the beaches for tonight. 3 months, 3000 kilometers. Time to rest.
Shianoukville is a prospering Cambodian city, due to both the big deep sea harbor and the beaches that attract lots of foreign tourists. Some of them would come for a few party days on the rather crowded and expensive Occheuteal Beach with all the hotels, some move on to the more remote and quiet Otres beach and the bungalow resorts. Others would stay on Victory hill, known for affordable long term stay guesthouses and resorts and those certain girls in the bars at night. I stayed everywhere in these days, meeting and talking with all sorts of tourists, those who came and got stuck, those rushing through all the SEA countries in a few weeks and those elderly big European man that live their lifes as comfortable as possible here with cheap accommodation, drinks, girls and food. Mad world, mad world!