Sunday I went to the largest boulder gym in Thailand. In order to get there I first took the shared minivan to the minburi market. Here I was the only foreigner and I took my lunch, as all locals here. Some very yummy Pad Thai. After this short stop I got a songthaew to the airport link, but as this one was affected again by traffic jam it took me almost two hours to get there. Then with the airport link and the BTS skytrain to Udom Sok station, followed by a short bus drive. After this epic journey of 4 hours, I finally arrived at the climbing and boulder gym. Again, beside a very large boulder area, they also have many toprope routes and a few lead climbing. But I did only bouldering today, and due to the large selection, I had plenty of choices and in the end was very happy to ended up there. And as always the locals were super friendly and helpful, and you easily can connect to them. On the way back it was only hard to find a bus, in the end I ended up in a songthaew to Bang Na BTS station, and once I was there it was again easy…but long. But I met Yim in the city centre at Terminal 21 shopping mall, and from there we continued getting back together.
Saturday my host Yim and me went to the Khlong Lat Mayom floating market. Unfortunately, she was living about 35 kilometres away from downtown, but still in Bangkok. But due to the bad public transport – there is only one airport link, two BTS lines, two MRT lines, a few express boats and for sure lots of buses and songthaews, but they are also highly affected by the always present traffic jam – it takes 2-3 hours to get from her place just to the city centre. And from there on additional 90 minutes to the floating market. Hence, everything is in Bangkok, it’s a daily excursion. The market is only open at the weekend and is very popular for tourists, but also visited by locals. You can buy different types of food which are all very yummy. So better go to various vendors to have different tastings. We took also a short boat trip across the small canals around for about 50 minutes to a orchids plantation. The main area of the actual market is actually on solid floor and there are only maybe a dozen boats which are actually selling something, but it’s mainly fruits only. Beside the location and the few boats there is nothing special compared to other markets in Bangkok. On the way back we didn’t took a taxi back to Bang Wa BTS station but rather a songthaew to the Chao Phraya river near the Thonburi railway station. We wanted to have a drink at a nearby bar, but unfortunately all tables were occupied. So we took the express boat down for two stations to Wat Arun. As it was already late I didn’t want to go inside, especially as I didn’t expected to see something more than from outside…and closing was just a short time later. So we crossed the river again to the other side in order to enjoy the sunset at another bar, but also this was full. So we got a piece of cake at a nice bakery nearby. After that we went to the tourist district for lunch and walking a bit around. But there was nothing special, so we just headed back to her place. In general Bangkok is a very modern city with plenty of shopping malls where you can buy all brands of clothing you desire. But if you’re looking for some special outdoor equipment, you’ve almost no chance to get anything appropriate here.
One week ago I continued my journey, but before I could take the train in Aranyaprathet I needed to cross the border. Hence, I walked backed to the train station, which was empty today, as the train back to PP already left one hour earlier, and then walked a few hundred metres along the track until the large roundabout. All the railway station premises is fenced with barbed wire, in order for the preparation of the cross border trains. But this didn’t prevent the locals from cutting holes into it, for a shortcut crossing of the tracks. I just followed the tracks, which lead underneath a large hotel and then to a market on the tracks and finally to the border bridge. But this was for sure fenced on the Thai side and obviously, this time, nobody went there. Hence, I was suddenly on the bridge for the pedestrians until I realised that I still hadn’t stamped my passport…and I didn’t want to give it a try without. So in essence, I needed to walk back for about 200 metres until I found the building with the border police. After a short queuing I was stamped and, surprisingly, this time without stamping fee. Maybe, they got a visit today from that anti-corruption authority. Well OK, everything fine. Let’s go to Thailand. Once I arrived, I got my immigration card and went upstairs…and queued up…for almost 90! minutes. Never had such a border crossing ever before. This seems to be the busiest border crossing to Thailand as lots of tourists are crossing here…and sometimes only one officer was in charge, as the others had to take a break. But finally I entered Thailand without any issue.
Now I left finally Cambodia. It is further developed than Laos but far less than Vietnam. In the tourist towns you can easily find anything you want Sex, Drugs and
Rock’n’Roll Party. And this in huge amounts and for a very cheap price, including possible fines. That’s for one large part of travellers the main reason to come here. They just want to have fun and it has to be cheap. And as white guy, if you’ve just some dollars, you can act as an emperor here. The others are interested in Siem Reap (Pub Street 😏…and Angkor Wat). In the rural areas you see at lot logging, as long as there are still trees to log, as this seems to be the only other alternative income beside the tourism. As Cambodia is using the US$ semi-officialy as second currency, everything seems to be a bit pricey, if you’re ending up in the tourist bubble and you’re not able to get out of it. The economy, and hence the people which are still living in traditional wodden stilt houses in rural areas, still seem to suffer from the Khmer Rouge times, but also from the omnipresent corruption.
Once I crossed the border, I was a bit in a hurry, as I didn’t expected to take it that long. I just walked back to the tracks and followed them for about 6 kilometres to the railway station of Aranyaprathet, as the train stops there and not (yet) directly at the border. And I felt more save than walking along the street. After less than 90 minutes I arrived at the railway station and was able to purchase a ticket, as the whole train is 3rd class. There are two trains daily and I took the afternoon train, and still had about one hour time, until the train leaves, for lunch. The railway station was pretty nice decorated with flowers, as also all the others. The train stops at each station, so everyone can get on and off easily. Each railway crossing seem to be equipped with an electric barrier. You’ve again the feeling of a robust operation and not some kind of experimental operation as in Cambodia. Also the maximum speed is with 60 km/h almost the same, but in Thailand you feel save travel, whereas in Cambodia it’s always bumby and you’ve the fear of derailing. As the train stops in each station, the doors are always open. In Cambodia the conductress complained once the day before, when I opened it for making some pictures. As the doors are open, people smoking outside, without harming others inside. In the evening I entered finally Bangkok and arrived with about 20 minutes delay at the old (well actually not yet, but almost) railway station.
Wednesday morning one week ago I finally continued my journey. This was exactly 2 months after I arrived the first time in Phnom Penh by train from Kampot, but happened rather by chance. The northern line between Phnom Penh and Poi Pet was just back in operation a few months ago, after it was 45 years out of service. But unfortunately in the beginning of October a train derailed and suddenly the day after a three months maintenance was announced by the railway company…just after 4 months of operation. Surprise. Surprise. Just at the beginning of the year the railway operation were resumed, but unfortunately only with one weekly service so far until end of February. Hence, I skipped my stop in Battambang as I didn’t want to stay there for one week, just because, if I could finish the visit in 1 day. Recently it was also announced that the railway will be directly continued to Thailand beginning with March this year. As the railway was out of service for such a long time, the rolling stock is even older. The carriages are 50 years old and were built in Uerdingen, and are still originally equipped with windows, buffer and bearings (supplied by FAG), whereas the cargo carriage was built in France in 1953. In the latter a diesel engine is running for electricity supply. This is needed mainly for the Air Conditioning but also for the CCTV, as each carriage is equipped with 4 outside cameras which were on display at one TV screen inside the carriage. Hence, you always see what happens outside. Surprisingly the train had no emergency brake, but therefore some storage compartments on top of the train. There were only two carriages this day in operation but I think there were at least 5 railway employees, excluding the train driver, which were operating the train. It felt more like a private tourist train, rather than a public transport. So you can clearly see the missing 45 years of operational experiences. The people along the track were always surprised and happy to see the train approaching. A lot of them were taking videos or photos. When the train crosses the villages it was always taking the horn for the whole time. It was annoying, not only for the passengers but also for the people there, but it was necessary. As the people are not yet conditioned to the train. We had an almost accident as one young woman tried to cross the tracks with her scooter, for sure not looking left or right, no driver is doing that, they don’t give a fuck what happened around them, they’re just driving, this was always my impression. So and after 45 years no suddenly a train is using it’s tracks. She just could jump off here scooter, whereas her mother with the baby, already was of the scooter before. Additionally, the cattle didn’t got used to the train and is sometimes eating next to the tracks. When the train is arriving they’re running…along the tracks and also suddenly cross the tracks. Once they run through the yard of a small farm where 4 children were watching the train and sadly hit one small boy, but as far as I could see, he immediately stood up afterwards. The train only stopped at the major towns of Pursat, Battambang, Sisophon. If you want to get on or off in between you had to flag down the train, which one man did. In the end the train was 1 hour ahead of schedule, and we left also the intermediate stops ahead of them. I think this was the first time I ever encountered that a train was leaving on purpose ahead of the timetable.
Monday one week ago I went to the Phnomclimb boulder gym. After three weeks of not doing any rock climbing it was a good workout. The gym is a bit out of downtown, hence I took again one of these city buses, which all have air conditioning and free WiFi. Also the very prominent bag snatching from Tuk Tuk’s is also prevented. Additionally, not so many people seem to use them, even if for some locals these buses are even for free. Hence, there are plenty of seats available. On my way to the bus station, just two blocks away, I passed several workshops they seem to overhaul heavy duty diesel engines…for the next 1 Mio. kilometres.
The boulder / climbing gym is pretty small and consists mainly of a top-rope area, and just a few but then hard lead routes, and a boulder area. That one only has two walls. For my one shot visit it was perfect, as I climbed everything I could climb 😉. The route setting was fine, nevertheless, after a while always same-same, and not a real variety. But it still was fun, to get the moves. The entrance fee was for Cambodia with 9 US$ pretty high. That’s maybe the reason why mainly expats are hanging out there, while locals are mainly “staff” and doing bouldering probably each day.