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Traveling to a Cambodian temple by dirt bike

Special to the Daily/Luc Pols
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Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of travel stories from local resident Luc Pols, who is traveling through Southeast Asia.

There are two choices to go to Preah Vihear, a private car/taxi for $450 for two days, a fortune here or anywhere in Asia for that matter, or by dirt bike for $50 per day.

Never even having been on a dirt bike before, and therefore absolutely not on one with a ’90s vintage suspenion “1890s that is, as I found out later ” I still decided to give it a try for the 250 KM one-way ride. Yes, I know, one of these days I will grow up!



My tour guide for the last three times here, Mongkhean, volunteered to drive with me as the passenger and I was quite optimistic. That optimism didn’t last long, however. After about an hour-and-a-half, the bike stopped dead and neither Mongkhean or me, had a clue why. Someone helped us, but an hour later on “highway” 67 the bike did it again and we decided to have an expert look at it. Two-and-a-half hours and a whopping bill of $6.25 later we were off again. Unfortunately highway 67 is little more than a glorified cowpath with potholes the size of Volkswagens. We fell only once and luckily into a huge mud puddle and nobody was hurt, but I feared for my life on a number of occasions.

With all the delays we didn’t arrive at our destination until sunset and we had to postpone visiting until the next day. We stayed at an outrageously expensive (for the quality) guesthouse at $10 per room per night, without breakfast, but with a mosquito net.



I survived the night and early the next morning we drove the last 7 KM up a slope with grades of up to 20 percent and arrived at Preah Vihear in a very heavy fog. We first checked the border, which is now closed, with about a thousand Cambodian troops throughout the jungle and I assume the same number of Thai soldiers across. I could only see a large militairy camp on the other side, but I couldn’t cross. There was barbed wire strung up along the crossing and we all hoped that nobody fired the first shot, because that could start a full scale war here. As a matter of fact, Cambodian soldiers are not allowed to carry their weapons, they are all stored in their tents, for fear of the mixture of alcohol and firearms! I only saw one soldier with a rifle over his shoulder. I talked with some of the soldiers and while the atmosphere seemed to be relatively relaxed, you could feel the tension.

Here is some of the background. That piece of land, including the temple at Ta Moan avbout 134 km from here, has been a bone of contention between Cambodia and Thailand for more than 100 years, but in 1962 the International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled in favor of Cambodia. All was quiet until July 6 of this year, when UNESCO declared the temple here a World Heritage Site. All of a sudden tensions flared again and soldiers from both sides were dispatched to the area. A a matter of fact, there are still about a dozen Thai soldiers camped at the temple monastery there and when I asked why they had not been expelled, people just shrugged. Strange.

But here is a fact and you can decide as to who is right or wrong. In 1935 Thailand put the temple at Ta Moan on its heritage list, renovated it, maintained it and constructed a road there (also to Preah Vihear). While nothing was ever said or done by the Cambodians for more than 70 years, the UNSCO declaration changed all that and now they claim the territory as theirs and want the Thai out. There are no “roads” to the temples from the Cambodian side of the border, while the Thai have constructed beautiful asphalt roads there. So, who is right? You decide.



So, is the sight worth visiting? First of all, it is not Angkor Wat by any stretch of the imagination, but if you have the time and the inclination, the ruins are interesting.

However, do it only from the Thai side, not from Cambodia until they have constructed a road, which might take upwards of 10 years, if then. If you decide to go, check two things ” find out which of the two countries the temples are located in when you go, and, if they’re in Cambodia, make sure the border is open.

Due to the fact that the bike broke down, there was no time to visit the temple at Ta Moan and I spent the last day visiting the Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap. Admission was $3 for Cambodians and $12 for everyone else! I am leaving for Malaysia tomorrow and I’ll have more for you next week.

Have a travel essay you’d like to share with Vail Daily readers? E-mail High Life Editor Caramie Schnell at cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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