We're not yet quite used to road signs in Cambodia and so it happened that we got lost. But just maybe 100 km. We're a bit confused by a fact that cities have the same name as districts. On road signs is every time marked a junction and there is written even the district. So when we drive to Preah Vihear and on every road sign it is written so it means that we go by a correct road. Up to the point that we're unable to find a city which we currently pass trough on the map.
Our mistake took us into a beautiful region close to the borders with Thailand and later with Laos. In a village where we stay one night we became attraction number one. We decided that we will take on the way out a road which lines national park. We named it immediately Forest highway. We learned that after 20 km is the end of tarmac and that surprises us a bit. Well... let's go it is supposed to be like 50 km so we will make it somehow maybe. After 12 km we encounter red. It gives off dust like in cement works, nonetheless the road is good. After some kilometres we are asking for the way. We go along the advice and the road deteriorate more and more. It starts to be strange and the people around too. We are asking a guy who harvests poppy. He's a bit weird – he's having a dull look and poppy which he harvests it still green. Weirdo. But according to him we are on the border and if we will continue more we will be in Thailand again and without customs. We're going back and continue in dusty drive.
On the next junction we are 100% sure that here it is possible to leave dirt road. After 50 km our certainty is on 20% and after some more is our certainty back at 100 % that we go wrong way. It shakes so good that our mirror on Vespa broke off. After several hours we hit Mac as local calls Mekong. We know where we are but we don't know why. It looks like mistake in navigation or in map materials. More likely the map, because if we follow it precisely we would have to dodge the trees.
Our vehicles underwent a stress test by which we are uncertain how it turned out. The trip prolonged to 150 km through dust and bumps. Anyhow we know that for something more like this we need to tune our darlings. Tuktuk don't have an air filter at all and in Vespa there is something to prevent flies to go in.
As if we didn't had enough we went later in the east to see a waterfall. Before we visited a beautiful lake and we swam. The way to the waterfall started as standard dirt road and so we took it. We arrived to a hill which is pretty steep and thanks to the fact that there is a lot of cars going and their wheels spin on the spot sometimes so the hill is covered with really fine dust into which your leg sinks up to an ankle. It reveals that the dust hides a lot of potholes where the level of dust reaches half the height of wheels. One local guy is driving fast on his motorbike and when he looses his flipflop so he said goodbye to it immediately without even trying to look for it. To the waterfall it should be 17 km and this looks like a dare :o) It is clear to us that on the way back we will go maybe by a tractor.
Almost every hill is the same. Potholes so huge that some of them we have to run around and lots of superfine dust, which when driven through by some local off roads is lifted and makes a red mist. The way to the waterfall took more than 1,5 hours. Some poetic soul who wrote our guidebook said about this trip that the road winds nicely between rubber plantations and farmers houses. That guy had to go by feet! Otherwise I can't explain how he perceived it all. To us the view shakes as if when working with jackhammer. Waterfall itself wasn't maybe even worth the effort, we encountered better ones on our journey. When returning we arrived back to the first hill which was clearly the most steep one and we could do nothing more than to state that the tuktuk is wallclimber. It didn't even lost it's breath :o) We arrived back to the lake which we left totally clean. Boys collecting the entrance fees and who adored tuktuk on our first visit yells "For free, for free." We have no clue whether it is because of our state or tuktuk state, but into the lake we jumped with all our clothes on. Tuktuk doesn't like the the water so he didn't jumped with us, but because it was really though he got a wash by the hotel, little piggy.
First evening in Cambodia we decided to try local beer as a celebration of entry. For some time we shyly looked on the offer. Beers are laid in full sun and brand have funny names - Angkor(most famous Cambodian historical site), Anchor, Cambodia.... We ordered one and we got it how else than on ice and with a straw :o) After dinner we just roamed the city and as mosquitoes we were attracted by the colourful lights in one garden. There is some feast and so we just peek in from a distance how do they celebrate in here. In a second some guys are after us, probably to throw us out. Before we can do anything we sit by the table beer in hand and baby powder with tint of camphor(which is here in the east maybe even on condoms) spread all over our faces.
Local ruler of the district organized a celebration of New Year for his employees, so he invited us on one beer. According to local customs is good for luck to smear faces of each other with baby powder.
Everyone is white and they have powder everywhere. Nice custom except for it is going into your eyes and beer. I don't know what is worse. People dance around fountain in free style. In fact it is just walk with waving hands somehow. We got ourselves carried away with this and waved also. It is maybe first time anybody seen Kozáč dancing :o)) Unfortunately I didn't bring my camera in spite of darkness and so there is no proof. We got informed that Cambodian king studied in his youth in Prague. Most probably college U Fleků(famous pub).
Celebration is at it's best and local policeman in civilian life DJ is mixing like hell. Beer, which we wanted just to taste today flowed. Suddenly its eleven and as if in magic everyone disappears. Everybody jumps in their cars and the fun is over. They didn't even waited for midnight.
New Year accompanied us afterwards, sometimes even a bit unpleasantly. When we reached Siem Reap, city famous by temple Angkor Wat, we have been informed, that hotel which is for 5$ per night will cost 30$ during the celebrations and almost everywhere is booked up. After leaving this city we encountered a problem that all restaurants were closed and we were unable to get something to eat.
During our trip through villages on the north we experienced one more side of New Year. You're driving in peace on the road and suddenly there is a crowd of people trying to stop you. You slow down – maybe there is some accident perhaps a buffalo run over by a small tractor because nothing else is not going on these roads – and all at once splash in your face lands a bucket of water. You brake and immediately there is old friend powder which everyone around tries to rub in your face. Lot of people rather speed up to not to get this treatment. However I got it three times just for sure.
Driving in Cambodia have it's rules which we need to learn quickly. Thanks to the character of landscape it is not easy to drive here. Cambodia is totally flat and roads were designed by a guy who wanted to verify himself the theory of infinity of parallel lines. Driving is not only boring, but also anaesthetizing. Locals hence found a way how to stay always alert. They drive in a way which keeps high level of adrenalin not just for themselves but also to all road users. During the day any time somebody just drives into your path without even looking, a motorcyclist going 30 km/h changes direction of drive without being interested in what's going on behind him. Overtaking in two rows is also the order of the day. In the middle of this all suddenly comes a motorcyclist whizzes from opposite direction. At night it is even more thrilling. In order that your eyes don't close itself every odd car have high beam turned on and as a bonus there is sometimes so called ghost car – driver without any light at all. Warranty that you don't fall asleep is almost 100%. The one who falls asleep will mostly sleep forever. After finishing first drive I'm sure that adrenaline sports are nothing for me - after this experience I would fall asleep with boredom by most of them.
Owing to the fact that our Thailand visa are almost expired, we have two possibilities. Either extend our visa in Bangkok = more delays, or cross the border. Of course we are for the second option and so we run like a wind(in our case more likely a breeze to windlessness). The only dial in tuk is ammeter. According to it we dash it almost 15A(by estimation 50 km/h). As soon as you manoeuvre out of Bangkok (which took almost 20Ah = 40km) the landscape starts to be pleasant - everywhere a rice field and after almost a month spent in a city it is a superb look. On the way tuktuk misbehaves and so we look for a repairmen, but what's wrong - nowhere in the surroundings nobody knows a zilch about tuktuks. Since we left Bangkok we haven't met a single tuk in 300 km. We must go for the border in any case. Visas are expired and for every day there is a fine fine. Border is nice but unfortunately for us they are unable to clear through customs a international traffic. To avoid more sanctions a get new visas he need to cross the border at least by foot - get Cambodian visas and enter the country again. Because we are looking for some info wee crisscross the border in fact illegally and with no passport. In the end some guy makes visas for us and so after getting visas we enter Cambodia only virtually. We've made a fine trip for fine and now we can fool around in Thailand again.
After the repair of toucan on the ground in front of bus station we go again to Cambodian border. This time another border crossing. We were warned before that it is almost impossible to cross with tuktuk. Cambodians allegedly don't like Thais and tuktuk is a symbol of Thailand. Some time we try to persuade custom clerk to let us out of country. Registration documents are not in our names, but we have a buying agreement. They let us out and now the ball is on Cambodian side. Cambodian visas we already mastered - we don't do them for first time :o) In addition we fill in a lot of papers and we go. Through the border I gurgle in tuktuk as sign says. Barrier is up and so everybody including me pass through. Kozáč on Vespa is stopped and checked. In a minute he joins me and we're in. YYYEEEEAAAH CAMBOOOOOO BABY. Some guy on motorbike is catching up with us and says something about going through without customs and I have to go back to the border. In the office is quite a nice guy and we chat. Afterwards quite calmly says, that he won't let me into Cambodia. WTF???? I have to have some letter from capital city to continue. I'm telling him a half-truth, that my friend passed through (I'm not telling him that he went with motorbike - those are with no problem). In the end he lets me go with the resolution that he won't give me a stamp and he will leave it to custom officers whether they let me go or not. One of them seems to have a good mood and when I explain to him everything he says: "I'm supposed to check whether you have visas and entrance stamp. Which you have. Concerning me everything is all right". Yyyyeeeeaaah Camboooo baby.
Today I will describe the advantages of driving tuktuk. Professional tuktuk driver is having unlike for example truck driver both hands tanned. Another advantage - the most significant feature which you will notice when driving our cart is it's speed. Maximum achieved speed is circa 58 km/h, but then you wouldn't hear ship siren over the engine noise. Such common travel speed is 50 km/h. That's ideal speed for traveling in the world, because nothing will escape your attention. At the same time you have almost no problem with traffic limits - you can go at the full speed village or not. Just sometimes they have limit 60 km/h so we have to speed up. We didn't get the fine for speeding, but we're trying as hell. Of course on 30km it will not be fair, even almost cowardice so we don't try there. Not that we avoid fines, but not yet for speeding.
Fines are a chapter by itself. As soon as we got stopped in Thailand by a policemen it is clear that we will pay. So far the worst fine was for two things at the same time - we don't have road tax paid(and as foreigners we are unable to do so) and what's more according to the cop we're not allowed to drive the tuktuk. It finishes by removing my driving licence and I have to stop by next day for it. Funnily looking station assembled of two Portakabins and hidden under highway flyover becomes even more funny during an attempt of explaining the offence. At the station nobody speaks English and so we are communicating with the help of thin police vocabulary, which contains just phrases:"Hello, how are you.","It would be *fill in the sum* baht.","Goodbye" and with the help of nicely made Thai-English fines menu. I'm trying to explain that my international driving licence covers also driving tricycles and that our tuktuk is no more a taxi, but private vehicle(difference in plates). It is going rally hard, because both of us just basically repeat the same, but as the saying goes repetition is mother of wisdom and so the guy is getting wise slowly and from 1000 baht we descend to 300. Satisfaction on both sides. So far it was the only official fine(all of the others were bribes) and so far the most cheap one.
It starts to happen to us, that some people recognize us in the streets - mainly professional drivers like other tuktuk and taxi drivers. From them we 're maybe even getting biggest support. Whenever we go somewhere they wave to us and show us a lifted thumb. In one shop we were approached by one tuktuk driver. We think that he will offer his services to us as usual, but he just says: "You buy tuktuk". And thumb. It's time to get out.
Our preparations are almost finished. We bought last spare parts, which we can carry. We would preferably take Tuktuk and Vespa twice for spare parts. Thanks to assorted complications we overrun our planed stay from 2-3 weeks to 4, which is a bit too much for us. In Bangkok we started to go with closed eyes and we can open tourist office with information how to get where you need in here.
Trust of local people in Vespa have no limits. When we are buying last things we get throttle cables, lightbulbs and tyres. We got no more ideas what to buy, so we explain to the guy, that we have 15 thousand kilometers ahead of us and like what he will recommend as spare parts. We await that he will start to heap half of the store, but the guy just turns around and lays spark plug on the counter. Two of them. Let's hope that his trust proves well-founded. So what, the die is cast :o)
Thailand had till recently high percentage of accidents in schools. For us quite not understandable. From light ones, across broken bones up to some tragic incidents ending by death. They were hit in class by falling mandatory picture of king. Until we saw the picture with our own eyes it didn't make sense. In the end, to stop this accidents, a decree was issued, that the wall which holds the picture have to be concrete one and the picture is to be hanged on steel hook 3cm in diameter.
We have to admit it. Before we dared to go into real traffic with tuktuk we did rather a dry run :o)
After long period of failure we start to consider emergency solution with Vespa. One of them is to buy expensive Vespa, through which you can see the road and second is to buy super-expensive Vespa, through which you can't see. Both from a shop of a merchant. When we finally decide to take super-expensive, there emerge another opportunity - gorgeous, incredibly cheap, but circa 1000km from us. But for the money... We wait for the weekend, but suddenly the guy don't have time and supposedly in a week. No way. In total desperation and depression I discover a new ad. We arrange meeting immediately and we go there. Vespa is good, but as we learn on the spot, it was standing 6 years in garage and doesn't thrum. Not a Vespa more. Next day we take tuktuk and we go for a distance of 2 fines(cca 15 km) through Bangkok. On the spot we tear out the seats stuff the Vespa inside. The seats follow back and the remaining space we fill with Kozáč. Vespa won't budge. Along the journey locals wave at us and sometimes even take a picture. Ensue a swift repair by pros in Piaggio service - above all unusual(nobody is taking us to shop spare parts and it looks like they would prefer if we even weren't there). On our return to hotel there awaits a surprise. In front of hotel is a delegation and the major himself is handing to us a honorary citizenship for transport of Vespa in the style which will leave no local guy embarrassed.
Info about the machine for interest:
Volume: 125 ccm
Type of engine: 2 cycles, 1 piston
Year of manufacture: 1965
Vin starts with (for gourmets from ranks of Vespa maniacs): VNB6T
During our stay in the hotel we also notice unpleasant sides of residing in a district, where only foreigners live. The most tormenting and ingenious at the same moment is a form of livelihood of one of the local beggars. Every night he appears in front of our hotel and plays a flute. Two hours. At a stretch. Only song over and over again. After two days we know it by heart. After one week we contemplate how much to give him to never hear him again. After two weeks we speculate best way to dispose a body. Now we get used to it and we are tooooo toooo toootally all right.
We're still short on funds. If you like our expedition, please consider some small doantion